Ebola, ISIS and Our Borders

Ebola is a horrible illness. With more than 4,000 deaths from this outbreak in West Africa, I can only imagine the pain and suffering. But we have lost our perspective. The World Health Organization reports: "Influenza occurs globally with an annual attack rate estimated at 5%-10% in adults and 20%-30% in children. Illnesses can result in hospitalization and death mainly among high-risk groups (the very young, elderly or chronically ill). Worldwide, these annual epidemics are estimated to result in about 3 to 5 million cases of severe illness, and about 250,000 to 500,000 deaths." However horrible the virus is to those who have to face it, it's a blip compared to how the flu affects the world every year -- and many of us don't even get vaccinated for a virus that is actually airborne!

So why are we fixating on this right now? Fox and CNN seem to be covering it perpetually.  CNN has even gone so far as to ask the burning question: "Is Ebola the ISIS of biological agents?" It's absurd, but it may be pointing toward what's actually going on. Ebola is terrifying. ISIS -- noted for public beheadings -- is terrifying. Both happen to be in the news right now -- and terror sells coverage. Information -- that which is most sacred to a functional secular society -- has been co-opted for profit -- and TV journalism has largely gone the route of fake reality TV mixed with video blogging to large audiences.

This isn't politics. It's cultural. We are experiencing a profound shift in American identity right now. News that's not sensational isn't valuable and comes and goes faster than the wind. Stories that will grip us, even if they're not actually worthy, in the scheme of things, of perpetual analysis, will linger because they keep us watching. They either reinforce our own beliefs or they foment fear. That's propaganda. We are beginning to live in a state of propaganda.

Ebola and ISIS seem to have nothing in common, yet they keep getting linked. We're hearing story after story of fears that Ebola will invade us through Mexico or that ISIS will invade us through Mexico. On Thursday of last week, Fox News falsely reported that four ISIS agents had slipped through the border. In fact, our department of Homeland Security clarified that four Kurdish terrorists, who are part of an anti-ISIS group, had slipped through back in September and were detained. Was it ISIS or the enemy of ISIS that got into our country? And did they slip through or were they detained? Can they be detained and at large at the same time? That's the level of terror-fomenting we're living with right now.

So we're stoked on terror and we stay glued. But is that all that's going on? I think the fear around ISIS (a Middle Eastern horror) and Ebola (a West African horror) and our Mexican border (where human beings are trying to work, migrate and find better homes for their children) is not about ISIS and Ebola, it's about racism. We can't argue against immigration reform with integrity, because most of us are decendents of immigrants from the past 100 years, so we need to come up with another way to keep Americans from trusting our neighbors from the South.

Just a few months back we had an influx of children fleeing gang violence, trying to find a home in the U.S. and the same media outlets were espousing fake stories about how safe it really was for children there. We can know this is factually untrue if we just think about ourselves. If you're a parent, could you imagine risking your family's life, crossing through a killing desert with your family, just to drop your child off somewhere else? And not doing that for any other reason than it's just simply THAT bad back home? And factually speaking, we actually do know there's significant violence from gang and drug cartels in Central American countries despite what some politicians will openly lie about. In the U.S., we call all that gang violence, part of the War on Drugs, yet we'll pretend it's not happening when we have kids show up on our doorstep asking for help.

When did we give up being the nation that welcomed the wretched, tired and poor upon our teeming shores? Now we imagine they are terrorists armed with viruses. We have shut our borders and imagine that every entry (from countries with people of color) are imminent threats to our safety and health.  That we're a religious (or Christian) nation that can also ignore the pain and suffering of foreign nations wracked with illness -- as if caring for the suffering weren't a religious value. Ignoring the strife and illness in other nations, when they're asking for help, doesn't develop allies. It only seeds chaos and nurtures future unrest, that we know from history, often leads to more violence. It's not a wise a path. It's not a compassionate path. And it's not a patriotic path to ignore people in need asking for help. We are more than that.