Every time a terrorist group that aligns itself with Islam attacks, we see a backlash against the peaceful Muslim majority. And while the most recent acts of terrorism occurred in "far away lands," their aftershocks can be felt even in Central Oregon.
Following the attacks in Paris, governors of multiple states came out with statements saying they would not accept Syrian refugees—despite the fact that they don't actually have the authority to turn refugees away, and that most Syrians are fleeing the Daesh (also known as ISIS), not trying to join them. Even Oregon Gov. Kate Brown was initially silent on the issue, though she eventually issued a statement of support.
"Clearly, Oregon will continue to accept refugees. They seek safe haven and we will continue to open the doors of opportunity to them," Brown wrote on Twitter. "The words on the Statue of Liberty apply in Oregon just as they do in every other state."
But not all Oregon lawmakers seem to agree. Two of them, Rep. Kurt Schrader (a Democrat) and Rep. Greg Walden (the Republican representing Central Oregon), both voted last Thursday to block Syrian and Iraqi refugees from resettling in the United States. That bill passed the U.S. by a wide margin of 289-137.
"The terrorist attacks in Paris make clear just how serious the growing threat of ISIS is to the free world," Walden said in a statement following the bill's passage. "While our nation has a strong tradition of welcoming people who are seeking a better life, we cannot allow terrorists to take advantage of our compassion. It would be reckless and dangerous to bring in more Syrian refugees to this country until the government can ensure that none among them poses a security threat to the American people and our way of life."
Walden's statement ignores the fact that the United States already has a stringent process for evaluating Syrian refugees that typically takes 18-24 months to complete to ensure that none are attempting to enter the country under false or nefarious pretenses. It also fails to explain in what way Syrian refugees threaten our "way of life."
But the growing movement to keep Syrian refugees out is more than just flawed foreign policy, it's a red flag signaling the start of a slippery slope marked by fear and ignorance. This cold welcome is already drawing comparisons to refugee crisis created by the Holocaust. And while that analogy might seem extreme, it should be taken seriously. When a presidential candidate, and one currently enjoying the top spot among Republicans in the polls, seriously suggests creating a registry of Muslims in America, it's a grave wake-up call.
It can be easy to think that all this has nothing to do with us. After all, we're a mostly white community with an exceptionally small number of Arab or Muslim residents, and we're unlikely to see many Syrian refugees resettled in Central Oregon. But this anti-refugee sentiment, which knows no geographic bounds, is a symptom of a larger ill. It's our fear of the other, our unwillingness to see those with different backgrounds as part of the same social fabric.
One needs look no further than Dallas, Oregon, where a City Councilor recently went on a social media tirade against both Muslims and transgender students. Or Lewis and Clark College, where a black student was recently assaulted following racist rants on the app Yik Yak.
By failing to see the common humanity in those who are different from us, we fall prey to the kind of tyranny this country was founded to escape. And that's where the real danger lies. Not in Syrians fleeing a brutal civil war, but in our own festering hatred fueled by fear. The whole point of terrorism is to make people fearful. But that only works if we give into its demands.