The November 13th Paris attacks had a short shelf life on the public’s collective conscience. Within days, the trending #prayforparis, a halfhearted effort in itself, was replaced by more pressing concerns such as the new Hunger Games movie and Justin Bieber’s album. Yet as the public loses interest in the City of Light, world leaders must respond to the Islamic State’s atrocities. France’s President Hollande has vowed a “merciless” retaliation. The possibility of war with ISIS is only one part of the equation. Domestically, the United States of America must act to prevent Islamophobic paranoia, as well as address the plight and status of Syrian refugees.
The disparaging and paranoid anti-Muslim rhetoric made after the attacks seriously undermine American values. To be sure, Islamophobia is neither new nor rare in America and the world. However, it is not always embraced with such zeal and enthusiasm, and especially not by public figures and presidential candidates. A week after the events in Paris, Republican Presidential Candidate Donald Trump expressed support for a “database” and “watchlists” in which all American Muslims (as well as refugees) would be obligated to register in. He also encouraged the close surveillance of American mosques. Another forerunner of the Republican Presidential Candidates, Ben Carson, who in the past declared Muslims unfit for public office, insisted that he saw Muslims in New Jersey celebrating the September 11th attacks, but has since backed down from his claim.
This blatant Islamophobic sentiment not only turns the situation into a Christian versus Muslim conflict, but also, if followed through, would be unconstitutional. The Constitution explicitly prohibits invasions of privacy and religious discrimination. Requiring all Muslims to register themselves because simply because of their beliefs clearly violates ideals of religious freedom. There are those that argue that national security takes precedence over the Constitution, but in the United States, the average mosque or Muslim is no more of a threat to national security than a white Christian.
Trump’s call to register Muslims and refugees in a giant government database and Carson’s declaration of Muslims as unfit for public office are eerily reminiscent of an earlier leader’s view of those practicing the Jewish faith.
It is faith, not fascism, that is central to the houses of worship that Trump denounces; despite this, many people have resumed attacks on Muslims and Islam. In Fredericksburg, Virginia, a mosque that has stood in the community for more than a decade was publicly called an “evil cult” and its members, American citizens, dismissed as “terrorists”. Throughout the United States, backlash against Muslims has taken the form of vandalism and threats of violence. (A mosque in Connecticut was sprayed with bullets less than a week after the Paris attacks.) Such ignorance, hate, and paranoia are only encouraged by public figures such as Trump and Carson.
While Islamophobia and the safety of American Muslims are pressing concerns, the United States must also address the status of the thousands of refugees that seek asylum in America. Millions have fled the Middle East, and thousands have died en route, presenting a potent humanitarian crisis. So far, the US has admitted 1500 refugees, a number insignificant in comparison to the 500,000 that Germany (a much smaller nation geographically) plans to take. Thirty-one American governors, most of them Republicans, have vowed to prevent refugees from entering their state’s borders. Most of them, such as Texas governor Greg Abbott, politely cite security concerns as the reason for their decision.
However, the Islamic State’s attack on Paris has moved the GOP away from politeness. As Presidential Candidate Ben Carson equates refugees with “rabid dogs”, there is the growing notion that jihadists are among the masses of the hungry and tired. Although French authorities have found that one of the massacre’s perpetrators, Ahmad Almohammad, was a Syrian refugee, his passport has since been confirmed false. Thus, there is no evidence that infiltrating refugees played a role in the attacks.
In addition, accepting refugees in the past has hardly proved detrimental- in fact, the US has benefitted. Whether they were Eastern Europeans fleeing Soviet persecution or Asian “boat people” displaced by the Vietnam War, many refugees became professors, business owners and other productive members of society. Contrary to the paranoia perpetuated in the aftermath of the Paris attacks, the Syrians seeking protection and a better life are likely to enrich, not degrade, the United States.
But instead, America has returned to its post- 9/11 reactionary world, one characterized by mass hysteria and, in retrospect, bad decisions.
The GOP’s divisive fearmongering increases; meanwhile, the status of thousands of refugees is yet to be addressed. Islamophobia, intolerance, and prejudice have resurged, stronger than ever. The United States is not yet half a decade out from the war in Iraq, and we are once again considering more military intervention in the Middle East. Americans are willing to exchange their own rights, and those of their neighbors, for temporary and fleeting safety. Ethics and the Constitution itself are simply being pushed aside.
History, sadly, seems poised to repeat itself.