Late last Friday evening in Paris, the very tenets of humanity were violated in an act of terror that resonated far beyond the confines of the city of lights and love. The intention by a despicable group of individuals to inflict pain and suffering left a city reeling, and a world gripped with fear and horror. We all watched as scenes, broadcast on Periscope and on Twitter, of violence continued in six different locations around Paris. And in the midst of bloodshed -- at the time the scope of which was still unknown -- a hashtag started appearing on social media. #PorteOuverte.
The hashtag, which means "door open," was a symbol put out by Parisians who didn't know what was going on in the Bataclan, or at the restaurant in the 10th Arrondissement of their city. They only knew that people were running, bloodied, and likely had no place to go. So Paris opened up its doors. "Come, stay with us," Parisians said. They didn't ask for verification of religion, or ethnicity, race or immigration status. They saw inhumanity -- and offered its antithesis.
#PorteOuverte was about open hearts, open minds, open arms and open doors. What we've seen these last few days by U.S. politicians has been a shameful subversion of that spirit: closed hearts, closed minds, clenched arms, barred doors.
As of Tuesday, over half of the U.S. States' governors and senators have said they won't accept any Syrian refugees in to their communities. This stance -- coming so soon after the Parisian spirit -- is devastating. It also smacks of a woeful misunderstanding about who conducts acts of terror (hint: not refugees), whom these acts of terror have mostly been against (hint: the people who are now refugees) and the dangers facing Americans from refugees coming from Syria. And, as David Sirota writes in the International Business Times, many of these same politicians backed the Iraq war, and are now opposed to accepting refugees -- the modern-day political equivalent of making your bed and refusing to lie in it.
The governors are acting out of fear, of a protectionism and tribalism that is unwarranted and has no basis in reality. Consider the process to gain entry to the United States as a refugee -- to be approved to enter the country is enormously challenging, lengthy and can, in some instances, take up to two years, as this piece by Dara Lind over at Vox helpfully explains:
No immigrant is legally allowed to come to the US if she's ever been affiliated with a terrorist group, or if she's provided "material support" to one. For refugees, that ban extends to the spouses and children of anyone who's been affiliated with or materially supported a terrorist group. And it's one of the things investigators most consider when they conduct a security check on a refugee -- and a big reason why it takes 18 to 24 months to process a resettlement application.
The situation is simply different in Europe, where many EU nations are governed by the Schengen Agreement -- a set of laws that allow people to flow freely among EU countries. (This open-border policy is now under threat as a result of the oversights in security between Belgium and France that have come to light in the last few days; as more information is being uncovered about the eight Paris attackers, none so far are thought to be Syrian.)
Of the hundreds of thousands of refugees that have passed through Europe's corridors in the last few months, there haven't been mass incidents of violence, criminal activity or terror. Germany, which has taken the largest number of refugees, issued a report in October that clearly states the crime rate in the country has not increased as a result of accepting Syrian refugees and other displaced people into the country.
Rochester, NY, Mayor Lovely Warren is adamant that these politicians who are resolved to keep refugees out are simply wrong. As Mayor Warren told me on HuffPost Live on Tuesday:
"If a country that has been founded on freedom, that has been founded to embrace that sentiment [...] to say we are not going to support them, and we're going to turn our backs on them, I think is very wrong."
And it is wrong.
The stance of these governors refusing Syrians refugee doesn't just threaten to upend the possibility of safe haven in the US for refugees, but also the safe haven of all Muslim Americans. Anti-Muslim sentiment among Europeans seems to be contained -- for now at least. We can't say the same here in the US, where Muslim communities have already talked of their fear of backlash and Islamophobia. It's not surprising given the recent statements by 2016 candidates, like former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, who is asking for a system that prioritizes Christian migrants over other religions. Bush, like his GOP colleagues, seems to be woefully misinformed about who ISIS targets -- predominantly Muslim, not Christian, individuals and groups.
We need to call on our politicians to think and act on the tenets upon which this nation was founded. Long-term, what we do to combat ISIS will involve mass international coordination, an understanding of the motives and recruitment tactics of the terrorist organization, and enormous feats of political will. What we do in this moment to refugees involves moral judgement, strong leadership and, ultimately, perhaps little more than compassion and common sense.