The recent attacks in Paris have opened the floodgates of anti-Muslim and anti-refugee sentiment in the U.S. Language that was once the province of white-supremacist screeds has become part of our mainstream dialogue. For me, however, what’s worse than the xenophobia and the hate, are the lies.
The New York Times recently editorialized about Donald Trump’s repeated and vile mendacity: “it’s become a full-time job just running down [his] falsehoods…. It’s no easy task for journalists to interrupt Mr. Trump with the facts, but it’s an important one.”
Mr. Trump is a presidential contender, and thus subject to some scrutiny. But the internet abounds with lies, and given the atomized nature of social media, it’s easy to immerse yourself in this fictitious and paranoid world. It’s also easy and, in a way, comforting to have your own world view go unchallenged, and to believe that you are among the privileged few who knows The Truth. The Lame-stream media be damned!
There are, of course, websites devoted to correcting inaccurate internet rumors, but how can they possibly keep up with the torrent of falsehoods that daily flood our in-boxes? And even if they could respond to each phony news story, the people who accept such stories are unlikely to read—or believe—the fact-checkers.
Given the futility of the task, there’s probably little point in posting a few internet rumors here and then debunking them. But one of my two favorite fictional heroes is Don Quixote, and so I thought I might tilt at a couple of wind mills (if you must know, my other favorite fictional hero is Rocky Balboa – Yo). Anyway, here are a few “news” stories that arrived in my in-box post-Paris, and some thoughts on their veracity:
– From Brian Hayes at Right Side News: “BREAKING: They’re Here! First Load of 10,000 Syrian Refugees Has Arrived in New Orleans…” Accompanying the article is a photo showing dozens of swarthy young men, looking vaguely dangerous. Have these young jihadists landed in New Orleans? Are 10,000 Muslims invading the Big Easy? No, in fact, the photo of the young men was taken in Hungary in September 2015 and has nothing to do with refugees in New Orleans. Also, while President Obama has committed to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees, very few have arrived in the U.S. What we know is that over the last four years, the U.S. has resettled a total of 2,070 Syrian refugees as part of the regular refugee admissions process. As for New Orleans, it appears that two Syrian families have arrived and one more family is expected. So much for the 10,000 young jihadists.
– From Jeffrey T. Kuhner of the World Tribune: “Obama welcomes an Islamist Trojan horse: Consider who is selecting our refugees.” This article claims that under the President’s plan “millions [of refugees] could be allowed to flood our country” and that “the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees… in coordination with the Organization of Islamic Cooperation… selects which refugees can be settled within our country.” It also states that “Mr. Obama now poses a clear and present danger to America [because of his] stubborn insistence on resettling so-called ‘refugees’ from Syria.” Where to even begin with this nonsense? First, 10,000 ≠ 1,000,000. Mr. Obama has been president for almost seven years. Until the recent announcement about the 10,000 Syrian refugees, he has continued the same refugee policy as President Bush. So don’t try to tell me that all of sudden, in his final year in office, somehow “millions” of refugees will arrive on our shores. Second, while refugees are often referred to the U.S. by UNHCR, the United States (through the State Department, DHS, and the Office of Refugee Resettlement) conducts the background checks and decides which refugees to accept. Neither the Organization of Islamic Cooperation nor the UN decides which refugees will be allowed to resettle in our country. Finally, what the hell is a “so-called” refugee? I suppose the implication is that the people fleeing the Syrian civil war are not really refugees. Maybe the whole “so-called” civil war in Syria is just a farce to send jihadists to the West. They sure put on a good show, those Syrians.
– From Andrew C. McCarthy in the National Review: “Refugee ‘Religious Test’ Is ‘Shameful’ and ‘Not American’ … Except that Federal Law Requires It.” Mr. McCarthy writes–
Under federal law, the executive branch is expressly required to take religion into account in determining who is granted asylum. Under the provision governing asylum (section 1158 of Title 8, U.S. Code), an alien applying for admission must establish that … religion [among other things] … was or will be at least one central reason for persecuting the applicant.
In reality, 8 U.S.C. § 1158 states that, in order to qualify as a refugee, a person must establish that she faces persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, particular social group or political opinion. It is not a religious test at all. If you fear persecution on account of religion (any religion-including Islam), or any other protected ground, you can qualify for asylum. Either Mr. McCarthy has no understanding of the Immigration law or–more likely–he is twisting the language of the law into something it is not. Either way, he has no business writing about this subject.
Professional liars like Mr.Hayes, Mr. Kuhner, and Mr. McCarthy clearly have an agenda–to inflame passions against Muslim refugees. They create an alternate reality where President Obama is “willing to potentially sacrifice countless Americans on the altar of liberal multiculturalism [and] is gambling with our lives.” Well then, it sounds like he must be stopped–by any means necessary.
But of course the “alternate reality” described above is not reality. It is a false story, planted to paint Mr. Obama as a “clear and present danger” to our republic. Had Mssrs. Hayes, Kuhner, and McCarthy bothered with the facts, they would have found a much more nuanced situation, where reasonable people can disagree on policy, and where no one is evil.
The danger of all this should be obvious. When we falsely label other Americans as the enemy, when we use inflammatory and divisive language, and when we forgo efforts at understanding those who disagree with us, we damage our democracy and impoverish our national debate. In the black-and-white world of the fear-mongers, it makes sense to open fire on a Planned Parenthood Clinic. And if “so-called refugees” are actually disguised jihadists, wouldn’t it make sense to subject them to the same treatment?
Reality is complicated and messy. The straw men we create to comfort and enrage ourselves rarely comport with reality. There are legitimate grounds to oppose refugee resettlement, and the more rationale opponents of refugees rely on such arguments. But that is not what we are talking about here. There are far too many liars and charlatans involved in the refugee debate. Their false alarms are designed to turn Americans against each other. And that is a real threat.