Religion, Refugees, Hate, Fear, and Politics
This is the fourth entry in an ongoing project on Religion and Refugees. Check out my profile to get caught up and for more information.
When I first began to write this post, it was meant to be an exploration of the various comments and stances on refugees by the current candidates for the presidency. However, upon evaluation of the stances of the candidates, they’re what you would expect. Former candidate Marco Rubio stated in a televised debate that the U.S. could not accept anymore refugees. Ted Cruz famously stated that he would allow Christian refugees into the U.S., but that Muslim refugees should flee to other “Muslim” countries. Edit: Cruz is now calling for increased policing of Muslim neighborhoods in the U.S. John Kasich wrote to President Obama requesting that no further refugees be allowed into Ohio while also urging the slowing down of admissions of refugees into the United States. These hard-line approaches to the problem are very problematic, with Senator Bernie Sanders and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton calling for an openness to refugees, an increase in the amount of refugees accepted, and the institution of a vetting process. Sanders, when questioned further, was unable to provide a more well articulated plan than this. Clinton, having experience as Secretary of State, is more able to describe her plan and how it would be implemented. In any other election, each of these different platforms would call for pause and much evaluation, and I am certain that there are many people out there doing just that.
However, Donald Trump’s rhetoric, his hatred, his policy, his plans, are the most vitriolic and dangerous. Perhaps his beliefs are in line with many other candidates and he simply does not censor himself. It is because of his radical approach to refugees and his unabashedness about this that he becomes the most beneficial to analyze. Using the frames that we have discussed thus far in our conversation, Orientalism, media depictions of Muslims, and the Arab Trickster Trope, we can discuss, evaluate, dissect, and reject the policies that Mr. Trump has put forward.
Trump and Muslims
Donald Trump has called for the ban of Muslim travelers, constructing a database of Muslim Americans, and the surveillance of existing mosques in the United States. These ridiculous proposals are evidence of the belief that all Muslims are terrorists, and that their mosques serve as breeding grounds of anti-American sentiment and action. This is Orientalism in it’s most pure form. These statements, these hate-filled messages of division, reflect a belief that Islam, a religion of 1.3 billion people, can be boiled down into one stereotype. This stereotype does not allow for individual agency and neglects the reality that only 6% of terrorist attacks from 1980–2005 were carried out by Muslims, fewer attacks than were carried out by Jewish extremists (this is the most recent compiled information accessible).
However, Trump is not calling for the ban of Jews, and he shouldn’t. This would be blatant antisemitism. How then are his supporters able to claim that Trump’s approach to Islam is not Islamophobia but instead common sense? There are no grounds for this. It is a blatant disregard for, misunderstanding of, or ignorance of the reality that Muslims are human beings. We as moral and intelligent individuals have a responsibility to stand up to this hatred. We must speak out as mosques are vandalized and Muslims standing quietly are removed from Trump rallies. We must develop relationships with our Muslim neighbors and form a network of support for them. Regardless of if Trump wins the election, he has taken part in a perverted alchemy that transforms base hatred and fear into political capital. We must be ready to deal with the consequences of this, whether it be frustration in his loss or in celebration of his victory.
Trump and the Refugee
Trump’s proposals for dealing with refugees, and I use the term “dealing” purposefully, are crass and reflect a basic misunderstanding of what exactly a refugee is. In Trump’s official platform, he states that, “ Applicants for entry to the United States should be required to certify that they can pay for their own housing, healthcare and other needs before coming to the U.S.” There is no room in this policy for asylum, refugee status, or compassion. How does one certify that they are able to pay for their own expenses? Trump complains that three out of four refugees on food stamps are on another form of welfare. This is not reflective of the value of these individuals or the importance of their safety. Trump has based much of his campaign around the phrase, “I am very rich.” He neglects the reality that financial stability or wealth is not indicative of moral, intellectual, or character superiority. This stance neglects the moral responsibility of humanity to care for humanity.
He also states that the money that he will save by cutting refugee programs would be used to care for impoverished American families. In contradiction to this, he has also claimed that he will cut food stamps. This position is an obvious attempt to create a false competition between impoverished Americans and Middle Eastern refugees. Trump has never cared about the poor. He merely wants to play upon financial insecurity and anxiety in order to create an us-vs.-them dynamic that he can exploit for political gain.
Given that these two plans form the basis of Donald Trump’s platform on refugees, it is evident that they do not hold up. Donald Trump, if elected, would behave in ways and attempt to influence policy in ways that would lead to further marginalization of Muslims and leaving refugees in desperate situations. Throughout the next few weeks of this project, we will be having conversation on the Abrahamic faith traditions and their teachings on how we should interact with strangers, travelers, and aliens. However, before we can do that. . .
I’m aware that this post is somewhat outside the bounds of normal academic writing. An accusation could be levied that this is too political, that this is little more than an attack on the front runner for the GOP. However, I believe that the Academy has a responsibility to critically evaluate thought and political leaders in order to create a more informed populace. Donald Trump represents a failure of critical thinking and a submission to prejudices. We as academics have a responsibility to make this evident.
As a Christian, my understanding of my role in academics comes from 1 Chronicles chapter 12. In this passage, members of the various tribes of Israel are reporting to David in his rebellion against Saul. It is a veritable role call of warriors. However, in verse 32, Isaachar stands out, “ from Issachar, men who understood the times and knew what Israel should do.” David needed scholars who understood the times and how to react to them in order to be successful. As a Christian scholar, I feel a holy responsibility to evaluate current events, process them, and critically consider a course of action using the framework of my academic study. This information, and my interpretation of this, should then be made available to the public. I do this, risking that I may be accused of being overly political. However, I think it would be neglectful not to engage the “real” world with academic thought, and to keep my careful considerations private would compromise my academic integrity.
Dominic J. Mejia
“A Fair and Humane Immigration Policy.” Bernie 2016. Accessed March 10, 2016. https://berniesanders.com/issues/a-fair-and-humane-immigration-policy/.
“Defend Our Nation.” Ted Cruz 2016. Accessed March 10, 2016. https://www.tedcruz.org/issues/defend-our-nation/.
Diamond, Jeremy. “Donald Trump: Ban All Muslim Travel to the U.S.” CNN, December 8, 2015. Accessed March 7, 2016. http://www.cnn.com/2015/12/07/politics/donald-trump-muslim-ban-immigration/.
“Immigration Reform.” Hillary for America. Accessed March 11, 2016. https://www.hillaryclinton.com/issues/immigration-reform/.
“Immigration Reform That Will Make America Great Again.” Trump: Make America Great Again. Accessed March 11, 2016. https://www.donaldjtrump.com/positions/immigration-reform.
Mak, Tim. “Bernie Sanders ‘too tired’ for this Syrian refugee.” The Daily Beast, March 10, 2016. Accessed March 11, 2016. http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2016/03/10/bernie-sanders-too-tired-for-this-syrian-refugee.html
Rowland, Darrell. “Kasich asking Obama to keep Syrian refugees out of Ohio.” The Columbus Dispatch, November 16, 2015. Accessed March 10, 2016. http://www.dispatch.com/content/stories/local/2015/11/16/kasich-syria-refugees-ohio.html
Schleifer, Theodore. “Ted Cruz: Muslim refugees from Syria should go to other Islamic Countries.” CNN, November 17, 2005. Accessed March 11, 2016. http://www.cnn.com/2015/11/17/politics/ted-cruz-refugees-syria/
“Stand Against Isis.” marcorubio. Acessed March 10, 2016. https://marcorubio.com/issues-2/isis-plan-policy-proposal-defeat/.
The Federal Bureau of Investigations. Terrorism 2002–2005. Washington, D.C.: The Department of Justice, 2006.