Of immigration and generalisation.

It is no secret that I avidly follow the news and current affairs. Not just locally, or even nationally. I like to keep a tab on the political scene across mainland Europe, and not to mention the US too. (Studying there for a year was quite the dream come true, in terms of being immersed in American local and national news and politics for the year – especially when the mid-terms rolled around in November 2014.)

So, naturally I watch the news, read newspapers, follow news channels and newspaper publications on social media and merrily avail of daily emails from a variety of publications, including POLITICO, POLITICO EU, and The Telegraph. I like to be kept involved, to see what is unfolding in the world.

Today, I received the daily email from The Washington Examiner, bearing the subject line, ‘Obama gets really angry… At Americans.’ This was in relation to Obama feeling frustrated at the calls to deny asylum seekers entry and subsequent refuge in the US. According to The Washington Examiner, Obama is not listening to the American people, who apparently widely oppose his plans to accept and settle Syrian refugees.

All of which makes more grating Obama’s denunciation of Americans critical of his call to admit 10,000 refugees here. In Antalya he accused them of closing their hearts to victims of violence and of being “not American” in suggesting prioritization of the Christian refugees who have been singled out for torture and murder.

He could have acknowledged people’s qualms as legitimate and argued at greater length, as former Ambassador to Iraq and Syria Ryan Crocker did in the Wall Street Journal, that we have processes in place that would effectively screen out terrorists. Or he could have proposed, like Speaker Paul Ryan, a pause before accepting any.

But that would have meant not taking cheap shots against the political opposition at home — the people who really make him angry.

(Of course, the publication can happily make cheap shots instead against Obama for his continued message regarding acceptance of asylum seekers.)

The Washington Examiner also shared a report that at least a third of Middle Eastern refugees ‘lie about being Syrian to gain admission to sympathetic European nations’.

When I watched the news this morning prior to getting ready to attend uni, it is still dominated by Paris – but the media are fixated on discussing the attackers, discussing how they were born into Western lifestyles and over time became radicalised. There was also discussion on American news channels pertaining to whether or not Syrian refugees should be accepted into the US, considering the recent events in Paris.

Upon arriving at uni and pulling my books and papers out in the library, I scrolled through my twitter feed to find this excellent article from Der Spiegel which covered the events in Paris, and discussed the attackers:

As of Tuesday, five of the seven perpetrators killed in Paris had been identified as citizens of the European Union. They were French or Belgian, homegrown in Western Europe… If the French now have an interest in emphasizing that the attacks of Black Friday were steered from Syria, it also serves the purpose of disguising the fact that the attackers were ultimately locals who apparently hated their home countries so much that they trained in Syria to become killers.

Every perpetrator in Friday’s attacks who has thus far been identified had at some point in time been identified by intelligence services or the police as a potential danger. And all had fallen off the authorities’ radar, which fits in well with recent patterns in international terrorism. Some perpetrators go underground entirely before their attacks, while others pose as inconspicuous, normal citizens…

With those paragraphs, this article addresses the issue that thus far other media outlets and indeed politicians, mostly American, (yet let us not forget Marine Le Pen’s anti-Islam/anti-immigration stance, and Nigel Farage’s claim that British Muslims have ‘spilt loyalties‘ ) have failed to grasp: these terrorists were not asylum seekers. They were not refugees. This was a case of so-called ‘homegrown terrorism’. Europe, perhaps, is coming to terms with this. But America has not. America simply views this as a dangerous consequence of immigration.

Since the horrific attacks in Paris on Friday 13th November, I have noticed a prevalent theme in the media the world over. And it is not just professional media, no. Social media users are actively promoting their views, too.

No matter where I look, be it on Facebook, Twitter or whilst skipping through news channels, I keep seeing the same stance regarding immigration. I have read so many posts in favour of the recent GOP-dominant call to prevent asylum seekers from entering the US. I keep reading that you ‘cannot trust these immigrants’. I keep reading about how ‘no Muslims should be taken in’ -because apparently if you are a Muslim, you de facto are terrorist too. Even aspiring Republican Presidential candidate Rand Paul (the junior-Senator for Kentucky), one whom I respect for his libertarian stance, believes the US should not accept immigrants, visitors and students from countries that are attempting to deal with homegrown terrorism. The full requirements in Sen. Paul’s proposed bill includes a 30-day waiting period on ‘all entries to the U.S. in order for background checks to be completed, unless the traveller has been approved through the Global Entry program.’ According to Sen. Paul, that would include even French citizens who would like to study in the United States. European students, visitors, workers – general citizens, all painted with one brush.

 I think that out of all the proposals and statements and soundbites which have been spouted from various American politicians, this one hurt me the most. It is such a sweeping statement, from a man I thought would not tread the same, weary pathway of the other Republican candidates on the issue of immigration. 

Stereotypes. Sweeping generalisations. Fear-mongering. Prejudice. Hyperbole. I’m beyond fed-up with it, because this is not the America I was privileged to live and study in last year. America welcomed me, embraced me, and provided many fond memories and exciting opportunities.

But I am reminded of a time in my PR class there, when we were talking about the PR communications adopted by both the pro- and anti-immigration camps.

My PR professor mentioned the sanctuary cities and the increasing use of the words ‘illegals’ and ‘aliens’. She discussed how people of Hispanic origin and descent may feel discriminated against. She then turned to me, and said, ‘Leah is an international student. She’s not American. But we were happy enough to take her in, right?”

The class nodded, albeit with confused smiles. I slunk slightly in my chair. I knew what was coming.

“Why was that? Maybe it’s because she has a nice accent, she speaks English – and she’s white. She doesn’t look foreign. She looks like us.”

(If there ever were a time for a real-life mic drop, that would have been it.)

This is not just a problem in the US. It’s here in Ireland and the UK too. Comments about closing our borders to keep us safe, and prevent what occurred in Paris to happen in our own communities. But the comments from America make me feel particularly saddened, because a country I know to be so welcoming, so friendly and full of culture may turn its back on desperate souls fleeing death who have nothing.

Obviously, safety and security measures are important. Of course national security is important. The well-being of citizens is a priority. We all desire a safe, stable and peaceful country to reside in. But we have that. These refugees do not. Not anymore, since civil war and ISIS started to destroy Syria and other countries in the Middle East, and destroy homes, families and hope.

America says terrorists blend in with refugees, ergo the refugees must be kept out. Asylum seekers cannot be trusted. But, to anyone who says that these asylum seekers are terrorists in disguise, I have news for you. Of the 750,000 immigrants from the Middle Eastern countries who have moved to the US post-9/11, exactly none have been arrested/charged for terrorist offences. *

Giving testimony to Congress in June 2015, Seth Jones, the director of the International Security and Defense Policy Center at the RAND Corporation, stated:

“The threat to the U.S. homeland from refugees has been relatively low. Almost none of the major terrorist plots since 9/11 have involved refugees.  Even in those cases where refugees were arrested on terrorism-related charges, years and even decades often transpired between their entry into the United States and their involvement in terrorism. In most instances, a would-be terrorist’s refugee status had little or nothing to do with their radicalization and shift to terrorism.”

Oh, and to address those users of social media, proudly posting your messages of #NotoMuslims and various other anti-immigration messages: if you think that being Muslim means by definition you are a terrorist, does my being from Northern Ireland mean I am a member of the IRA? That I am an active member of a paramilitary organisation? If you should answer, ‘of course not’ then you need to realise you are not willing to generalise me, but you are prepared to generalise Muslims.

 

Moreover, we now have one Donald Trump calling for increased surveillance – of American Muslims – and for the consideration of faith-based identification requirements, such as compulsory ID cards – for American Muslims. This comes along with floating the ideas of closing mosques and warrantless searches.(So he has moved on from generalising Hispanic-Americans to generalising American Muslims. I’m debating whether that is indeed progress or not.)

If you believe that ISIS truly represents Islam, if you believe that they are true Muslims – kindly desist with such thinking and educate yourself further. ISIS is to Islam what the KKK is to Christianity. Does that comparison make you feel awkward and uncomfortable? Good. It was meant to.

The irony is that according to Paul’s argument, I would be barred from entering the US too due to travelling from Europe. Had my scholarship programme commenced this coming summer, I would perhaps struggle to be granted a student visa.

Yet, because I am a white Christian, I would maybe be permitted to enter via prioritisation.

What a funny, sad and frustrating world we live in.

~~~~

*This has become a contested statement due to the complex analysis required behind the report, and the complicated legal definitions and legislation. Yet the evidence does suggest that the threat to US security from refugees remains very low.

**Twitter avis and usernames have been covered to protect the users’ privacy. These were just two of the many messages I have seen. Search the hashtags to find more – if you can stomach it.

The author acknowledges that these (social media) messages represent a minority. She does not wish to make sweeping generalisations, such as the ones she has criticised in this post. (Now that would be ironic to be sure.)

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