At Tuesday’s Presidential Debate, candidate Mike Huckabee had this to say about the Syrian refugee crisis:
If it’s such a doggone good idea to bring people here that we really don’t know who they are, and Obama thinks that we are being unchristian to not do it, I’ve got a suggestion – let’s send the first wave of them to Chappaqua, Martha’s Vineyard, and the upper eastside of Manhattan, and to the south lawn of the White House where we’ll set up a camp. Let’s see how that works out. And if they behave wonderfully, that’s fine. I want to say, I don’t want someone lecturing me about what it means to be a Christian that I should invite a potential terrorist into my backyard.
Huckabee is repeating a popular myth about refugees that only stokes the flames of fear that is spreading throughout the country.
- Myth #1: “We really don’t know who they are.” We do know a lot about Syrian refugees. They go through a rigorous screening process. Jana Mason, an advisor to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, told Time that, “Of all the categories of persons entering the U.S., these refugees are the single most heavily screened and vetted.” The process takes between 18-24 months and includes in-depth interviews of the refugees, reference checks of their home country, background checks for military involvement, and even biological screenings. Syrian refugees are the most scrutinized, with the FBI, the State Department, the Department of Defense, and the Department of Homeland Security all involved in the vetting process. We know who the refugees are.
- Myth #2: If they behave wonderfully, that’s fine. “If.” Such a little word that’s loaded with accusation. Underlying that word is an assumption that the refugees won’t behave wonderfully. But here’s the thing, since September 11, 2001, about 750,000 refugees have been admitted to the United States. As the Time article reports, during the last 14 years, refugees have behave wonderfully. “None have been arrested on domestic terrorism charges, though two – a pair of Iraqis in Kentucky – were charged with terrorist activities connected to aiding al-Qaeda.”
- Myth #3: Every Syrian refugee is “a potential terrorist [in] my backyard.” This is a clear example of scapegoating Syrian refugees. We could accuse any group of people as having the potential to be terrorists. The leading presidential candidate of the GOP has even suggested that we “kill innocent family members of terrorists.” And Syrian refugees are the potential terrorist? President Obama’s drone policies, which no presidential candidate criticizes, has missed nearly 90% of their intended targets. Those drone attacks kill innocent civilians, civilians that the U.S. then labels “enemy combatants.” But their only “crime” was being in the way of a United States military attack. Studies show that, “U.S. drone strikes have killed scores of civilians in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia since 2009.” But don’t let that bother you, it’s those Syrian refugees who are the potential terrorist!
- Myth #4: Lectures about Being Christian. What does it mean to be a Christian? Getting “lectured” by President Obama about Christianity clearly stung Huckabee, especially since a recent CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll claims that 29% of Americans still think Obama is a Muslim. Ouch! But Huckabee, and many other presidential candidates, use anti-Christian rhetoric to propagate the myths above to create scapegoating distinction between “us” and “them.” Jesus calls his followers in an entirely different direction – to care for the marginalized, persecuted, weak, and the poor – to love and include them with radical hospitality.
René Girard taught us that myths are stories that we tell about our scapegoats. Those stories are based on demonizing them so that we can expel, lynch, and murder our scapegoats with impunity. That myth silences the voice of our scapegoats and covers over our own acts of violence and terror. The narrative that Syrian refugees are potential terrorists is a mythical story that needs to be challenged with the truth. We discover the truth by listening to their own stories. We will also discover the truth when we have the courage to take responsibility for America’s own violence. Our drone attacks and careless murder of civilians are examples of how we are aiding and abetting ISIS’s recruitment of terrorists. Violence breeds more violence. If we really want peace, we need to stop scapegoating Syrian refugees and take responsibility for our own acts of terror in the Middle East.