Malice Towards Some Is Disgrace For All | Vets for American Ideals
By Colin Raunig
As a former E-6b Mercury Naval Flight Officer on Tinker Air Force Base, I never served with interpreters, but I know those who have. These interpreters, translators, and other local allies served alongside my friends who deployed into harm’s way in Iraq and Afghanistan.
My friend Mike, who is an armor officer in the Army, deployed twice to Iraq, and many of the interpreters who assisted in his mission have resettled in the United States though the Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) program. Without them, Mike may not be here today. Without them, the United States would have suffered.
Today the SIV program is in jeopardy. It has been since before the election. The Iraqi program ended in 2014 and the Afghan program only allocated 1,500 new visas in 2016, leaving thousands of applicants stuck in the pipeline. Trump’s recent executive order, though currently on hold by the courts, undermines this program, barring entry of all refugees for 120 days, prohibiting the entry of Syrian refugees indefinitely, and banning the citizens of seven predominantly Muslim countries, including Iraq. This order stokes fear in a peace-loving world and undercuts American values.
It is a disgrace.
For those who think this is a partisan issue: you are mistaken. This is about wrong vs. right, not Democrat vs. Republican. Trump supporters, Republicans, military veterans, Democrats, progressives — we all have the opportunity and civic obligation to stand united for the beliefs that we as people share, even if our politics divide us.
Many people have stood up already. After news released of the White House executive order on immigration, which impacted SIV holders from Iraq and was, for all intents and purposes, a Muslim ban, protests spontaneously mounted at airports across the country. At Denver International Airport — just 60 miles from where I currently attend grad school in Fort Collins, Colorado — more than 1,000 people gathered to protest the ban and to welcome the affected individuals who were arriving to the airport. Days later, Denver hosted another event, “Protect our Muslims Neighbors Rally.”
I recently joined Veterans for American Ideals, a nonpartisan group based out of Washington, D.C. and affiliate of Human Rights First. They seek to protect refugees and counter Islamophobia. I joined after the election, hoping to be part of a unifying movement that brings people back to America’s founding ideals as a country that stands up for the vulnerable and persecuted. I hoped that Trump would not follow through on the hateful words that he spouted throughout his campaign — but he has.
After 9/11 President George W. Bush said, “Islam is peace,” and touted the millions of Muslims who call America home and admonished those who spoke out of prejudice against Muslims. These words were a salve in a time when fear threatened to drown out hope. These words set a positive example for the world to follow. President Trump, instead, has stoked fear and prejudice, including attempting to block some of our closest Muslim allies from entering the country and affecting some Muslim Americans’ abilities to see their families.
We should know better. We have not always acted in accordance with our values, for example, when we turned away Jewish refugees fleeing the Holocaust or put Japanese Americans in internment camps. But we should learn from the mistakes of our past and always strive toward more perfect realization of our national values. We should know better than to think that turning our back on our Muslim brothers and sisters is better than reaching across to them, to find what binds us. We should know better than to let this ban, and the treatment of our allies and fellow Americans who are Muslim, become another stain on our history.
Although I never served in combat, I have served with members of foreign militaries. For my last active duty tour in the Navy, I was the sole American officer at the Japanese Naval Academy, located across the bay from Hiroshima. I was proud of my mission there, even if I felt I didn’t always live up to it. But I was constantly impressed by my Japanese Naval counterparts. I was also humbled by what they thought of me, not just as a person, but as an American. In my words and actions, they looked to me to find the values of United States and our military. They looked to our country as an example.
What kind of example are we as a country setting now? In light of recent events, what do my former Japanese co-workers think of America? I think I know the answer to that question. But with VFAI, I hope to be a part of changing it.
Colin Raunig graduated from the United States Naval Academy in 2007 and was a Naval Officer for eight years. He is currently a MFA student of fiction at Colorado State University.
Originally published at www.vfai.org on February 16, 2017.