Death to “America”

On Holocaust Remembrance Day, the President of the United States banned Syrian refugees from entering the country. Thus continued the long hypocrisy of American anti-immigrant sentiment.

In an executive order insultingly titled “Protecting the Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into the United States,” Donald Trump signed his name under the following:

Pursuant to section 212(f) of the INA, 8 U.S.C. 1182(f), I hereby proclaim that the entry of nationals of Syria as refugees is detrimental to the interests of the United States and thus suspend any such entry until such time as I have determined that sufficient changes have been made to the USRAP to ensure that admission of Syrian refugees is consistent with the national interest.

It has been widely pointed out, perhaps most effectively by the twitter account @Stl_Manifest, that this is not the first time the United States has turned away refugees. According to Smithsonian,

In late 1938, American consulates were flooded with 125,000 applicants for visas, many coming from Germany and the annexed territories of Austria. But national quotas for German and Austrian immigrants had been set firmly at 27,000.

Right now, nearly 5 million Syrians are refugees outside their homeland, displaced due to the ongoing Syrian Civil War and sectarian strife. Olympian Yusra Mardini was a refugee; when the motor on her overcrowded boat gave out, she and others swam for three hours to push the craft to the Greek island of Lesbos. Others were not so lucky; the body of three-year-old Alan Kurdi washed up on a beach when the inflatable in which his family was traveling capsized. Alan Kurdi was among the 3,771 refugees who drowned in the Mediterranean Sea in 2015. More than five thousand died last year. Millions are suffering in refugee camps, living in tents or abandoned buildings, many lacking access to even the basic necessities: food, medicine, fresh water. Millions are living in poverty in foreign nations, begging for food, going deep into debt to keep themselves and their families alive as the conflict devastating their nation nears a sixth year.

The desperate circumstances of these refugees are a direct result of the actions of the United States. The invasion and occupation of Iraq led to the formation of the Islamic State. Decades of support for a brutal Saudi regime allowed it to export the cruel brand of Wahhabist fundamentalism embraced by the main Salafist militias in Syria : Jaysh al-Islam, Ahrar al-Sham, and Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, formerly known as the al-Nusra Front or “Al Qaeda in Syria.”

That the United States government would turn its back on innocent people suffering from a disaster for which it is directly responsible is disgusting, but it is hardly new. It is the experience of freed slaves in the Jim Crow South, and it is, with little exaggeration or exeption, the domestic and foreign policy of the political elite.

It is a great and bitter irony of America and its capitalist system that a nation whose economic dominance was built on the exploitation of slave and immigrant labor became so viciously anti-immigrant as soon as it had no economic need for them. It is a longstanding open hypocrisy: the sons and daughters of one generation of immigrants will look down their noses at the next, attacking them, exploiting them, expelling them, and barring them from entry.

This nation is built on twin genocides: the extermination of indigenous people, and the chattel slavery of black Africans. It was through xenophobia alone that lives that could have been saved were allowed to be extinguished in the Nazi gas chambers. It is through that same xenophobia that we allow indiscriminate misery and death to visit the lives of the Sryian people.

In the harbor of our greatest city stands a statue, a gift of friendship. On the Statue of Liberty is the text of “The New Colossus,” a poem by Emma Lazarus and one of the great works in American history. It reads:

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

The huddled masses are crying for our help. They are tired, they are poor, and they are homeless, ravaged by the storm of brutal conflict. If the United States of America was anything like what it pretends to be, our President would be exerting all efforts to save these millions. Instead, he leaves them miserable and dying and calls them terrorists.

The same political leaders who exclude refugees are those most likely to proclaim America’s unquestioned moral superiority: that this is a land of freedom, or liberty, or a thousand other empty lies. This country is a country of hate. It is sick in its soul. America is exceptional: no country has the capacity for so much good, claims as many high-minded ideals; no country fails as often to live up to them.

The current idea of what America is must be destroyed. The image of “the land of the free and the home of the brave” must be ground into dust and left behind. We must accept that this is a nation of brutality and hate and merciless exploitation. Only then can we build a society worthy of the mantle it claims.