Has History Taught Us Anything About Refugees?

It has only been seven decades since the Holocaust and the exodus of Jewish refugees into Western Europe and North America. The images of the Holocaust, the images of one of the worst regimes in history still lives within the minds of many. Millions of Jews and 'social outcasts', were killed under this brutal regime, a regime influenced by a mixture of neo-nationalist ideology and a violent interpretation of religion.

Jews had indeed been persecuted throughout the centuries, but the Holocaust is the most brutal example of this. This mass exodus of Jews escaping the clutches of the Nazis had few places to go, yet they were determined to search for a better life. Many of these Jews tried to reach North America and enter the United States and other perceived safe havens. The United States refused to settle the majority of these refugees for a variety of disturbing reasons, though perhaps most notably that Jews were communists and were bent on overthrowing the Capitalist system of the United States. This bizarre belief system equated Judaism with communism due to the founder of communism, Karl Marx, being Jewish himself.

Americans had an extremely negative perception of Jews, and very few wanted to resettle Jews in the United States. When polled in 1939 on the question of taking 10,000 refugee children from Germany, most of whom were Jewish, the vast majority of Americans opposed an influx of Jewish refugees. Only 30% of Americans polled were willing to accept Jewish children into the United States, German Jewish children who were being slaughtered by perhaps the most brutal regime in history.

In the 21st century we look back at the inaction of the United States to take Jewish refugees with horror, as indeed we should. There are millions of refugees from countries like Syria, Iraq and Eritrea who cannot return to their home country for fear of persecution. This is not including the countless economic migrants who are seeking a better life in the West, a diverse and wide group who pursue a noble good as well. These refugees are people whose livelihood has been destroyed by brutal governments like in Syria and Eritrea, and the world's most brutal manifestation of theocracy. These are people who have rejected the extreme interpretation of Islam preached by ISIS, Al Nusra, and other Jihadist groups controlling territory in Syria and Iraq (they also control a limited amount of territory in other countries like Yemen, Afghanistan and Lebanon.)

It is important to remember that no one is advocating for the United States to take all economic migrants, nor even all refugees. These are very different groups, with economic migrants coming from poorer countries whom they could theoretically live in without a security threat, while refugees cannot return or live in their home country without a fear of persecution. There are many economic migrants from Albania, Bosnia and Serbia, who seek economic opportunities better than what they have in their home country. That does not minimize their noble pursuit, yet we have to make a distinction between those whom very well may be killed if they refuse to leave their home country and those who seek better economic opportunities.

When politicians advocate for a religious test (which is anti-American, and easy for someone to lie on), they are forsaking the core tenants of this country. One of the most notable symbols of 'Americanism' the Statue of Liberty, has inscribed on it, "Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore." Obviously there are limits on this phrase, as the United States just like any country has limits when taking refugees, yet to outright reject the symbolism of this American symbol is forsaking the core values of America.

Many have taken a hard stance against refugees for fears that there will be terrorists embedded with the refugees, something that is likely true. To simply take over a million refugees without a secure vetting process would be dangerous, and could lead toward straining security systems. Germany has taken over one million refugees thus far, and we can see that while perhaps a noble goal it has had its consequences. It is almost important to note that there have been no terrorist attacks by refugees in Europe despite all the fear mongering, although there has been in Turkey, a nation whom has taken over two million refugees with little to no vetting process.

Beyond the fears of refugees, an immense fear of Muslims has recently taken hold by some Americans, particulary those in the far-right. No one is saying that there are not fundamentalist Muslims who do pose a security threat, yet to generalize about a diverse group is akin toward what Americans did in the 1940s with Jews in their fear of 'Jewish communism.'

Recently leading Republican candidate Donald Trump claimed that American Muslims should wear badges to identify them, and that Muslim refugees are not welcome in the United States.

He has also claimed that mosques should be closed period, without delving into what the different branches of Islam are. The fundamentalist Muslims we see committing violence come largely from a sect of Sunni Islam known as Wahhabism, not from Shias, Sufis and Ahmadis. He has generalized all Muslims (a group of 1.6 billion) as fundamentalist Sunni Wahhabis, a relatively small group when compared toward the larger Muslim population.

No one is saying that we should let in three million refugees without proper vetting and cultural integration, for this would in fact cause immense problems. American culture is different than the culture that many of these refugees grew up in, and this fact will mean that refugees will take time to integrate. When president Obama encouraged congress to let in ten thousand refugees he received immense scrutiny, despite the fact that this is a very small number who could be feasibly integrated.

Perhaps I am a tad biased being Jewish who most likely had members of my family die in concentration camps, but this rhetoric sounds almost identical to what was done to Jews not even a century ago. The fact that a leading Republican figure can get support when advocating discrimination against a diverse group of people and can get away with it is deeply disturbing, and it should be rejected by all Americans. It is not a question of faith or politics, rather it a question of what values should America emulate?