My Head Tells Me to Fear the Refugees, My Heart Tells Me to Love Them

A friend told me the other day that her daughter cancelled her flight to come home for Thanksgiving because she feared another Paris-like attack in this country. She's driving, instead.
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A friend told me the other day that her daughter cancelled her flight to come home for Thanksgiving because she feared another Paris-like attack in this country. She's driving, instead.

I wouldn't be honest if I didn't say that, like my friend's daughter, I haven't considered avoiding public places -- especially concerts or sports venues -- since the Paris attacks. I wouldn't be honest if I didn't feel that I should be suspect of all Muslims, especially as I board planes.

I know that's not politically correct, but it's honest, and I believe that we owe one another honest conversation.

There are myriad potential hazards involving Muslims that my head can imagine, but my heart tells me to love Muslim refugees -- from Syria or elsewhere -- because that's what I stand for. That's what I believe America stands for, as well.

As I toggle continuously between my head and my heart, ultimately America's values tell me to welcome the refugees. My religious values tell me to "welcome the stranger."

After 9/11, President George W. Bush said that, "We're not going to let the war on terror change our values."

But we have. Across America we are talking about compromising our core values, especially in sound bites that litter the Republican presidential campaign trail.

Donald Trump has called for registering all Muslims. Ben Carson has equated refugees from Syria to "rabid dogs" that run around our neighborhoods. John Kasich has called for a Judeo-Christian Federal Agency. And, I'm certain that countless Americans have their heads saying, "Watch out for the Muslims; monitor the Muslims; fear the Muslims."

Even beyond the Republican candidates, as reported by Helene Cooper on Meet the Press, 33% of Iowans believe that Islam should be outlawed in the United States. Outlawed! So much for our Constitution, history and heritage. So much for our values.

In a TIME Op-Ed, former Secretary of State Madeline Albright, recently wrote: "These proposals are motivated by fear, not by the facts, and they fly in the face of our country's proud tradition of admitting refugees from every corner of the globe and every faith background. We have always been a generous nation, and we have in place a rigorous process for refugee resettlement that balances our generosity with our need for security. It works, and it should not be paused or stopped."

In fact, according to NBC News, 785,000 refugees have come to the United States since 9/11. Twelve were barred because of terrorism concerns. None of the 9/11 terrorists were refugees; all were admitted on temporary visas.

Despite the facts, fear is a powerful force and formidable adversary both to the individual and the nation. If left unchecked, fear will compromise who we are and what we stand for. There is no level of Judeo-Christian Federal Agency (especially one that, by definition, excludes Sikhs, Hindus, Buddists, Muslims and others) that will eliminate fear. Fear will place a cataract on our national vision and ultimately blind us, just as it did when we incarcerated innocent Japanese-Americans during World War II.

What will allay -- albeit not eliminate -- our fears are vigilance and values. Government must be vigilant in protecting us and screening foreign visitors within the confines of our values. And we all must repeat within the inner voice of our heads and hearts that America stands for welcoming the immigrant, especially those who are victims of war.

In community meetings, at high schools, middle schools and elementary schools, at churches, synagogues and mosques, we must not only pledge allegiance to the flag, but to our values, as well.

These values are best represented by Emma Lazarus' quote, inscribed at the base of the Statue of Liberty: "Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me: I lift my lamp beside the golden door."

These words greeted my parents and grandmother, survivors of the Holocaust. They knew that, despite their tragedies, they could count on America as a place and promise to start a new life and provide for their children. As they entered New York harbor and saw the Statue of Liberty, my father proclaimed to my brother Ed that, "We are in America. We are going to be Americans. We're free. No one can hurt us anymore."

But fear can hurt us, if we let it. As proclaimed by a lady on the street to NBC News, "If we give up and stop living our lives, the terrorists win."

In a few days, we will celebrate Thanksgiving. Ironically, we're having this conversation about Syrian refugees during our national holiday of gratitude and hospitality. Legend has it that this tradition started with Native Americans welcoming immigrant Pilgrims.

Psychiatrist Dr. Gerald Jampolsky, in his iconic work, "Love is Letting Go of Fear," offers us one solution to fear. But for those who believe that "love" is too soft -- and many Americans do -- I have another antidote to consider:

While we're chomping down our turkey, enjoying family and friends, and sharing with others, may we all remember what we and our country stand for and what Thanksgiving truly represents. May we drown out the demagogues, and may we live our values in how we treat and welcome the refugees who see America as their hope and haven.

Muszynski is Founder of Purple America, a national initiative of Values-in-Action Foundation to re-focus the American conversation to a civil, productive and respectful dialogue around our shared values. To see America's shared values and get involved, go to Project Love is a school-based character-development program of Values-in-Action Foundation. To see information about Project Love school programming, go to

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