In the worst of times, we need leaders who call us to heed “the better angels of our nature.” In the wake of the terrorist attacks in Paris, right-wing media, officeholders, and candidates have instead embodied the term “ugly American.”
“Ugly American” is a pejorative term used to refer to perceptions of loud, arrogant, demeaning, thoughtless, ignorant, and ethnocentric behavior of American citizens mainly abroad, but also at home.
We’ve been here before. Too many times, in fact. The world is reeling from yet another senseless terrorist attack, and the loss of so many lives. The terrorist attacks in Paris, for which ISIS/Daesh has claimed responsibility, did exactly what terrorist violence is meant to do. They inspired fear.
Coming without warning, striking where people were most vulnerable and unguarded, how could they not inspire fear? From across the Atlantic, it’s easy for Americans living in a post–9/11 reality to imagine ourselves in the places of the Paris victims, going about our lives — attending a sporting event, going out to dinner, enjoying a concert, going out for a drink — when deadly violence suddenly breaks out.
Americans may have become inured to the reality that random gun violence may break out in suck places, and massacres may happen our schools, workplaces, shopping malls, and movie theaters at any time. Terrorist violence is of another order, however. They may seem random, but terrorist acts are usually planned, and carried out with specific victims in mind, and the clear intention to send a message to those targeted: You are not safe anywhere, at any time.
Whether ISIS/Daesh planned and facilities the Paris attacks or merely claimed credit for it afterwards, its intention goes far beyond just inspiring fear. Fear is merely one face of an emotional coin. The other is anger. They are a powerful combination when people cycle from one to the other, like a spinning coin, and incredibly destructive.
ISIS/Daesh knows this, and that’s why it wants to keep us cycling between fear and anger, until both spin out of control. There is nothing easier, at a time like this, than giving way to fear. This week, in response to the Paris attacks, right-wing media, Republican presidential candidates,and GOP officeholders gave ISIS/Daesh exactly what it wants.
Worse were the right-wing attempt to wrap their vilification of Syrian refugees in “good heartedness” and “compassion.”
- On Thursday House Republicans passed a bill that would suspend the Syrian refugee program. Senate Democrats hope to block the measure, and President Obama has promised to veto it.
- Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) used the Paris attacks to introduce a bill delay the implementation of the USA Freedom Act, which passed in June and will curtail the NSA’s unconstitutional surveillance program.
- Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump said that said the US may have to take extreme measures, including requiring Muslims to have national ID cards and be registered in a database.
- Former Florida governor Jeb Bush and GOP presidential candidate Jeb Bush said that the US should only accept Syrian refugees if they are Christian. However, when a reporter asked just how refugees would prove they’re Christian, Bush was stumped, could offer no explanation.
- Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson compared Syrian refugees to dogs, at a campaign stop in Alabama, where he suggested blocking possible terrorists from entering through the Syrian refugee program was like handling a rabid dog. Just because you want to get rid of a “mad dog,” Carson said doesn’t mean you don’t love dogs, and that shutting out refugees doesn’t mean America doesn’t have compassion.
- Presidential candidate Ted Cruz (R, Texas) said that its impossible to vet Syrian refugees because, “There’s a religious philosophy in Islamism that encourages them to lie to carry out Jihad.”
- In February 2014, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) declared that Syrian refugee should be allowed to enter the US, and that it could be done without risking national security.
- Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) called admitting Syrian refugees to the US “cultural suicide.”
- Anti-immigrant activist Tom Tancredo posted pictures of corpses in Paris to Facebook, to gin up anti-Muslim sentiment.
- Radio host Laura Ingraham railed against President Obama’s “anti-American” “call for compassion,” for those fleeing Syria. Only a conservative could come up with the idea that compassion is an “anti-american” notion.
- In a disturbing rant posted on his website, right-wing Christian activist Theodore Shoebat said that those who were killed while attending an Eagles of Death Metal concert during the Paris attacks are “worshippers of the devil” and “got what they deserved.”
- Fox contributor Bo Dietl offered “safety tips” for dealing with terrorism, including bacon-enhanced hollow point bullets. “I also put bacon in my hollow point bullets so when I whack the terrorists, he’s ain’t going to the 72 virgins,” Dietl added.
- It’s not just Republicans. The Democratic mayor of Roanoke, Virginia invoked the shameful history of Japanese internment during World War II, in defense of his decision to ban Syrian refugees to settle in his town.
- Tennessee Republican state Rep. Glen Casada urge his state to deploy the National Guard to “gather up” any Syrian refugees in the state and “politely take them back to the ICE center and say, ‘They’re not coming to Tennessee, they’re yours.’”
- Texas Republican state Rep. Brian Babin sponsored a bill to defund the resettlement program, which he calls “insane” and suggested restricting to Christians only. Babin defended his bill against criticism that it flew in the face of his own religion’s story, saying “Mary and Jesus didn’t have suicide bomb vests strapped on them, and these folks do.”
- Rhode Island Republican state Sen. Elaine Morgan wrote in an email that, “we should set up [a] refugee camp” to keep Syrian refugees “segregated from our populous.” Morgan also suggested that the refugees, who are mostly women and children, should stay and fight a civil war instead of fleeing.
- WordNetDaily columnist Burt Prelutsky wrote that the US should “bomb Mecca off the face of the earth, not concerning ourselves in the least with collateral damage, letting the Muslims know once and for all that our God is far more powerful and, yes, vengeful than their own puny deity.”
There are always consequences for this kind of rhetoric. Muslim communities across America are on alert for misguided retaliation after the Paris attacks. And with good reason. An FBI report released the week showed that while the total number of hate crimes in the US declined last year, hate crimes against Muslims increased by 14 percent. Since Friday, the DC-based Council on American-Islamic Relations has reported a spike in calls about anti-Muslim incidents. Mosques and Moslems in at least eight states have reported vandalism at religious centers and violence against individuals.
- Shots were fired at a mosque in Meriden, Connecticut on Sunday night, and local police have turned the investigation over to the FBI.
- An Eiffel Tower was spray-painted outside a mosque in Omaha, Nebraska.
- In Texas, a man carrying an American flag was arrested after walking onto a mosque and wiping his boots on prayer rugs while screaming obscenities at worshipers.
- Vandals hurled dog feces and ripped apart a Koran at a mosque in Pflugerville, Texas.
- A Syrian refugee family scheduled to arrive in Indiana this week, after already waiting three years in Jordan to enter the US, were quickly diverted to Connecticut, after Indiana officials demanded the family arrival be suspended or directed to a state that would accept them. Indiana governor Mike Pence could give no specific reason why the family was barred from resettling in his state.
- A Muslim community meeting in Spotsylvania County, Virginia, had to broken up by sheriff’s deputies when a two men arrived and began shouting down a presentation to update members about the building of a new mosque. The men, who refused to leave, shouted at those gathered that, “every one of you are terrorists.”
- An Uber driver reported that a passenger who mistook him for a Muslim attacked and threatened to kill him.
- A Florida man was arrested after leaving voicemail messages threatening fiancé against a mosque in Pinellas County, Florida. Martin Alan Schnitzler warned, “This act in France is the last straw. You’re going to f*cking die,” and threatened to firebomb the building and “shoot whoever’s there on sight in the head.”
This is what ISIS/Daesh wants. It wants the western world to turn against Muslims. It wants westerners to be hostile to Muslims in their midst. ISIS/Daesh wants us scared, angry, and lashing out. ISIS/Daesh wants Muslims to feel alienated and isolated form the communities where they live, because of a belief that Muslims will then have nowhere left to turn but to ISIS/Daesh. Recruitment well be a lot easier if. All they will have to say is, “See? We told you so. They are not your friends. These are your enemies. These are enemies of Islam.” And, no, Ohio governor John Kasich’s proposal of “a new government agency to push Judeo-Christian values around the world,” wouldn’t do much to counter that alienation. (How it would even get past the First Amendment?)
Nicholas Henin was held hostage by ISIS/Daesh for 10 months, and knows them better than any politicians or pundits. After the Paris attacks, Henin wrote that it is our unity ISIS/Daesh fears most, not airstrikes.
Central to their world view is the belief that communities cannot live together with Muslims, and every day their antennae will be tuned toward finding supporting evidence. The pictures from Germany of people welcoming migrants will have been particularly troubling to them. Cohesion, tolerance, is not what they want to see.
Why France? For many reasons perhaps, but I think they identified my country as a weak link in Europe; as a place where divisions could be sown easily. That’s why, when I am asked how we should respond, I say that we must act responsibly.
There were some hopeful signs, from leaders who stood against this madness. French president Francois Hollande led by example, announcing that France is still committed to welcoming 30,000 refugees. Though he noted that “some people say the tragic events of the last few days have sown doubt in their minds, Hollande said that a ”humanitarian duty“ to help those fleeing extremist violence in the Middle East need not conflict with ”our duty to protect out people.” Hollande said refugees would undergo thorough security checks.
President Obama blasted Republican candidates and governors for their panic-fueled, uninformed, fearful reactions to the Paris attacks, and their refusal to admit Syrian refugees. The president made these comments during a press conference with Philippines president Benigno Aquino.
“When candidates say we should not admit 3-year-old orphans, that’s political posturing. When individuals say we should have religious tests, and only Christians, proven Christians, should be allowed, that’s offensive and contrary to American values.”
“I cannot think of a more potent recruitment tool for ISIL than some of the rhetoric coming out of here in the course of this debate. ISIL seeks to exploit the idea that there’s war between Islam and the West, and when you start seeing individuals in position of responsibility suggesting Christians are more worthy of protection than Muslims are in a war-torn land, that feeds the ISIL narrative. It’s counter-productive, and it needs to stop. And I would add these are the same folks who suggested they’re so tough that just talk to Putin or staring down ISIL (will work) … but they’re scared of widows and orphans coming into the United States of America as part of our tradition of compassion. First they were worried the press was too tough on them in the debates, now they’re worried about 3-year-old orphans. That doesn’t sound very tough to me.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (R-Mass.) took to the Senate floor to denounce efforts to block refugees seeking asylum:
“We are not a nation that delivers children back into the hands of ISIS murderers.” She added, “It is easy to proclaim that we are tough and brave and good-hearted when threats feel far away—but when those threats loom large and close by, our actions will strip away our tough talk and reveal who we really are.
- Oregon governor Kate Brown stressed in a Facebook post that her stye would continue to follow the words engraved on the Statue of Liberty. She later tweeted, “Clearly, Oregon will continue to accept refugees. They seek safe haven and we will continue to open the doors of opportunity to them.”
- In a letter to Republicans urging him to Refuse Syrian refugees, Pennsylvania governor Tom Wolf wrote: “We must not forget that those fleeing Syria—and other places in crisis—are families, elderly, and orphaned children seeking to escape a daily life that includes the same horrific violence that occurred in Paris…Our commonwealth can be a safe haven for refugees.”
- Minnesota governor Mark Dayton called statements from his fellow governors who seek to bar Syrian refugees “ludicrous”: “I think it’s showmanship on the part of the governors…I want to protect the people of Minnesota every bit as much those governors want to protect the people of their states. To stand up there with swagger, and say ‘I’m going to prevent the wrong people from entering my state’ to me is just ludicrous.”
- Washington governor Jay Inslee stated that he would not be joining the list of governors refusing to admit refugees to their states.
- Republican combat veteran Rep. Steve Russell (R-Okla.) laid into his party for its stance on Syrian refugees. “If we use our passions, anger, and fear to snuff out her flame by xenophobic and knee-jerk policy, the enemy wins,” Russell said on the House floor. “We have played into their hands, period.”
- Fox News contributor Juan Williams called out host Sean Hannity for “inspiring fear and discrimination against” Muslim refugees.