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Tag Archives: President Obama

In Which We Kill Two Birds With One Stone

The stone is the Syrian refugee crisis.  The two birds are demonstrating (1) the inhumanity and (2) the stupidity of the right wing in this country today.

I’ve toyed with whether to post on this issue for at least the 36 hours.  I really don’t want to go here, but …

The Syrian refugee crisis provides the perfect example of what is fundamentally wrong with the right wing and most Republican leaders in America.  Let’s start with some background …


syria war damage #2

In case you don’t get the connection, that’s the destruction in Syria.  In case a picture isn’t worth a thousand words, let’s talk some facts.  Estimates are that approximately half of Syria’s population of 22 million people have been displaced from their homes.  So, let’s say that’s about 11 million people.  Half of those displaced people are children.  Estimates of deaths range from 60,000 to 350,000.  Regardless of that number, it is estimated that thousands of children have died as a result of the conflict.

Chemical weapons have been used repeatedly during the course of the conflict.

No group is safe.  The “leader” of Syria, Assad, is an Alawite — a subset of the Shia sect of the Muslim faith.  But, the Alawites, although they have maintained power and control in Syria for decades make up only about 12-15% of the population of Syria.  Meanwhile, ISIS, a Sunni sect of the Muslim faith, is using the turmoil in Syria to expand its territory and, in combination with territory in Iraq, creating a caliphate — a theocratic country ruled by ISIS’ belief in a brutal, repressive, and medieval interpretation of Islam.

There are also other groups operating in Syria.  al Qaeda.  The Kurds.  Moderates, whatever that might mean in the modern Middle East.  And others, too convoluted to discuss here.

What does all of this mean.  Well, the Alawite forces led by Assad will kill anybody who oppose the Alawites — meaning the Sunnis, the Christians, the Druze, the Kurds, basically anybody who isn’t an Alawite.  And ISIS will kill anybody who opposes ISIS — meaning the Shias, the Christians, the Druze, the Kurds, and … drum roll, please, any Sunnis who are moderate, liberal, or remotely close to the modern world who are unwilling to succumb to ISIS’ retro interpretation of the faith.

In other words, there is no religious or ethnic group that is safe in Syria.  And thousands are dying, including innocent children.

Into this crisis, our fearless Republican leaders have boldly stepped forward.

Chris Christie:  “I don’t think orphans under five are being, you know, should be admitted to the U.S. at this point.”  (I think this speaks for itself, no commentary is needed.)

Mike Huckabee:  “If you bought a 5 lb bag of peanuts and you knew that in that 5 lb. bag of peanuts there were about 10 peanuts that were deadly poisonous, would you feed them to your kids?  The answer is no.”   (Because you know, nothing says logic and compassion like comparing refugees and children trying to escape the horrors of Syria to peanuts.)

Ben Carson:  “We cannot put our people at risk because we’re trying to be politically correct.”  (Yes indeed, nothing is more politically correct than saving lives and providing those escaping death and destruction with an opportunity to live their lives.)

Donald Trump:  “This could be one of the great trojan horses.”

Rand Paul:  “I say from the MIddle East, we don’t need any more immigration … students, refugees or otherwise.

Jeb Bush:  “There are a lot of Christians in Syria that have no place now.  They’ll be either executed or imprisoned, either by Assad or by ISIS.  We should focus our efforts as it relates to refugees for the Christians that are being slaughtered.”

Ted Cruz:  “President Obama and Hillary Clinton’s idea that we should bring tens of thousands of Syrian Muslim refugees to America — it is nothing less than lunacy.  On the other hand, Christians who are being targeted for genocide, for persecution, Christians who are being beheaded or crucified, we should be providing safe haven for them.  But President Obama refuses to do that.”

Apparently, at least Paul and Cruz have introduced legislation to either prohibit Syrian refugees from entering this country entirely (Paul) or limit those allowed refugees to Christians (Cruz).  Because, you know, none of those Muslims are facing the same kind of harm the Christians are.  Or maybe not.

I read these statements from our leaders and I wonder as I do all too frequently these days whether I live in the same country as those making these statements.  This is not my America.  I do not believe in letting fear control our policies and our lives.  As Winston Churchill once said:  Fear is a reaction, courage is a decision.  I believe that we can only show courage if we stand true to our principles and values as a country even in the face of great danger.  Closing our borders, building walls, establishing religious tests for the Presidency, for refugees, and denying the opportunity for safety and security to the downtrodden will never be a part of the values and principles of my country.  The statements of the Republican candidates are a demonstration of their utter inhumanity and willingness to play to the worst of our human weaknesses.

Which leads to their stupidity.  Today I have discovered a great groundswell among the right wing as evidenced by right wing blogs and commenters that President Obama is lying to us all.  In response to Republican proposals to limit admission of refugees to Christians, while slamming the door on Muslims, he has stated that there is no religious test for admitting refugees.  His exact words are:

And when I hear folks say that, well, maybe we should just admit the Christians but not the Muslims, when I hear political leaders suggesting that there would be a religious test for which person who’s fleeing from a war-torn country is admitted, when some of those folks themselves come from families who benefited from protection when they were fleeing political persecution, that’s shameful.  That’s not American. That’s not who we are. We don’t have religious tests to our compassion.

The right wing blogosphere is in an uproar because there is, in fact, a religious test for admitting refugees.  It says it right there in the law.  Andrew McCarthy started it off at the National ReviewRedState quickly piled on, quoting positively from McCarthy’s piece and suddenly this idea was everywhere.  A commenter on PowerLine linked to the McCarthy piece.

So, I looked at the cited federal law, which defines refugee for purposes of granting asylum.  Both of the cited federal statutes use it in the same way, so I’ll only quote one of them.  Title 8 U.S.C. section 1101(a)(42) defines “refugee” as follows:

(A) any person who is outside any country of such person’s nationality or, in the case of a person having no nationality, is outside any country in which such person last habitually resided, and who is unable or unwilling to return to, and is unable or unwilling to avail himself or herself of the protection of, that country because of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion, or (B) in such special circumstances as the President after appropriate consultation (as defined in section 1157(e) of this title) may specify, any person who is within the country of such person’s nationality or, in the case of a person having no nationality, within the country in which such person is habitually residing, and who is persecuted or who has a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.

This is the provision the right wing has suggested proves that the President is wrong, that he is lying to us.  That there is, in fact, a religious test the federal government must apply for purposes of granting asylum to refugees.

Please people, look through the smoke and mirrors.  It isn’t the President that is lying to you.  It is the right wing.  Either that, or they’re too stupid to understand what they are reading.   How to read a law.  The President spoke out against the idea that in considering refugees for asylum we should approve them based on whether they are believers in a “good” religion versus a “bad” religion.  The statute quoted above has absolutely nothing to do with, nor does it require or allow, such a distinction to be made.  Instead, what it requires is that asylum be granted where a refugee can establish that they are being persecuted or have a well-founded fear of persecution based on a list of different characteristics.  It could be race.  It could be political opinion.  And it could be religion — regardless of what the religion is.  There is no distinction between a “good” religion and a “bad” religion.

Here’s my final point … if the quoted statute really did include such a religious test for asylum, why would the Republicans need to introduce legislation to require such a test?

Keep The Dream Alive

And yet they chose a different path. In the face of hatred, they prayed for their tormentors. In the face of violence, they stood up and sat in with the moral force of nonviolence. Willingly, they went to jail to protest unjust laws, their cells swelling with the sound of freedom songs. A lifetime of indignities had taught them that no man can take away the dignity and grace that God grants us. They had learned through hard experience what Frederick Douglas once taught: that freedom is not given; it must be won through struggle and discipline, persistence and faith.

The above is excerpted from President Obama’s speech commemorating the 50th Anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s speech in Washington, D.C. — the greatest speech in the history of humankind.  And one of the keys for me is what is described in that quote above.  Like Gandhi before him, MLK recognized the power of peace and love.  Of turning the other cheek.  Of taking the pain and the hurt and turning it around to something completely different.  Those who hate couldn’t possibly hope to overcome those twin pillars of a civil and just society.  They faced hate with prayer.  Violence with peaceful, nonviolent protest.

For a brief, all too brief, shining moment in our nation’s history, MLK showed the way to a better place.  Where violence and hate can be overcome by peace and love.  It worked wonders.

Sadly, since then, his lessons have been lost.  Far too much violence and hate is met with simply more violence and hate.  I think it’s time to get back to MLK and his ideas.


Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.  Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.

— Martin Luther King, Jr.



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