Donald Trump wants to put a hold on Muslim immigration. Recent terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino make this appear like a reasonable idea. But history tells us that practicing broad-brush immigration programs do not hold up in the long view of history. The Chinese, the Japanese, the Germans have all been subject to variations of these policies, and there are always a group of people, sometimes a majority that think such policy safeguards the country.
I visited an exhibit yesterday at the Huntington Library in San Marino that told the story of an attorney, Y.C. Hong, who fought for Chinese-American inclusion. He worked to change the Chinese Exclusion Act, a U.S. law that excluded Chinese immigrant labor from 1882-1943.
I hear in the news that Muslims in America are working to help law enforcement counter active terrorist threats. That is both comforting and scary. I don’t know what they mean or whom they are preventing from attacking me. I wonder what are the capabilities and plans of these unknown people? It does not help me to know that anonymous plots are being countered within the Muslim community because that confirms my fears. I fear that among American Muslims are people who want to overturn my world and my country and culture. I fear that the Muslim religion intentionally teaches that converting or killing all non-Muslims is a requirement of the religion.
I am not convinced that we need to block all Muslim immigrants yet. But given my level of fear, is it any wonder that Trump is gaining traction on this issue?
Politicians telling us we should not fear and just live life as normal, but then tell us that they are actively countering internal terrorist plots. This contradiction only makes me wonder when will they miss another San Bernardino. But I don’t want to live in a country with a government that has the ability to stop every eventuality, that is a dictatorship.
Blocking new immigrants would not have stopped the San Bernardino attack. True, it may have prevented the murderer’s wife from entering and therefore it could be argued that there would have been one shooter instead of two. But the fact remains that the problem is spreading of a radical, deviant version of Islam; at least, that is what I hear about Islam.
Muslims must convince the Western world they are not interested in establishment of a global caliphate. They wear this mantle whether they want it, whether it is fair, whether it has nothing to do with them personally. Muslims must publicly and repeatedly reject the inhumane treatment of people that is systematized under versions of Sharia law now enforced by radicals and “non-radicals” alike.
The fundamental reason behind Mr. Trump’s proposal is safety. The Chinese Exclusion Act was based on racism and fear of losing jobs to immigrants. None of these issues are new. Blaming immigrants for social problems is nothing new. But we do not seem to learn from bad policies of the past, even though the fear and the misguided assignment of blame is not new.
“The other” is what people fear, the outsider, especially the dangerous outsider. Radical “Muslims” are giving Americans and other Westerners good reason to fear them as “the other” and fearful people are often dangerous animals.
The long view and not near-term fear should drive immigration policy. It should be informed by mistakes of the past and by our values. Our values must be upheld and fought for by all people, including Muslim Americans and immigrants. Our values are not up for negotiation, not up for sale, not up for reactionary alterations and pruning. America as a melting pot, as a combination of diverse cultures, religions and people is glued together by commitment to American values, and that includes the value of immigrants. We have built our country by welcoming the downtrodden, not excluding them.