Updated: November 24, 2015 at 7:31 pm
The Dallas Morning News. Nov. 23, 2015.
Armed protest at Irving mosque out of bounds
Imagine leaving Sunday church services with spirits flying high only to be greeted in the parking lot by an armed group of Muslim-Americans who denounce your very religion.
The outcry would be loud and long.
It should be the same today after a dozen armed protesters toted their guns and signs at the Islamic Center of Irving mosque on Saturday during afternoon prayers.
The small band said they were spurred by an Islamic group's terrorist attacks in Paris. The protesters, like many Americans, want to block Syrian refugees from coming here. They said they were armed for self-defense and want to stop the "Islamization of America."
This is America. Free speech and the right to protest are our calling cards.
But AR-15s at a place of worship? That is out of bounds, and it shows how very close we are to chaos.
This is also Texas, where a handful of gun owners have carried their weapons to many a Chipotle and Chili's throughout the state to demonstrate their right to do so.
But there's a difference between taking your gun to a local food joint and taking it to a mosque.
One of the organizers of the Irving protest said the group resorted to the protest after trying unsuccessfully to talk to mosque leaders. But do you blame them for not talking to people who so hate them that the protesters would bring guns to the place they pray?
The Anti-Defamation League expressed concern Sunday about the Irving protest and the anti-Muslim sentiment throughout our country. As Americans, we have the right to worship as we please, it pointed out.
Roberta Clark, the league's regional director, was on the mark when she said, "It's hard to believe a house of worship would feel anything but threatened by people protesting . with weapons and hateful rhetoric."
But this is Irving, where Muslim high-schooler Ahmed Mohamed was arrested and suspended for bringing a clock to school that officials thought was a fake bomb. And this is the city where Mayor Beth Van Duyne has railed against Shariah law. News comes now that Ahmed's family, claiming civil rights violations, is demanding $15 million and an apology from the mayor and police chief.
Ahmed's case got international attention. Armed bullies outside a mosque in Irving should, too.
The Anti-Defamation League and several other civil rights groups have called on Americans to reject hatemongering and xenophobia.
It's a shame that appears to be a tall order as we look for real solutions to deal with real concerns over protecting ourselves from violent terrorists.
We all should collectively pray for peace — in whatever house of worship we choose — and leave our guns at home.
The (Bryan-College Station) Eagle. Nov. 18, 2015.
We can't let our fears destroy America's generous nature
On May 13, 1939, the Hamburg America Line ship MS St. Louis set sail from Hamburg, bound for Cuba. On board were 937 refugees fleeing Nazi oppression, most of them Jews.
Although the passengers had legitimate visas for Cuba, when the St. Louis arrived in the harbor at Havana, the ship and its passengers were turned away. The captain, Gustav Schroder, then sailed north toward Florida, hoping to find a friendly America to take the refugees. Again, the St. Louis was turned away.
Schroder then sailed toward Canada, but, for the third time, the refugees were rejected.
So the St. Louis returned to Europe, docking in Antwerp, Belgium, on June 17, 1939, after more than a month at sea. Great Britain agreed to take 288 of the refugees. After much negotiation, France agreed to accept 224 refugees, Belgium took 214 and the Netherlands accepted 181. Of course, those countries were overrun by Germany and the majority of those refugees were sent to prison camps.
An estimated 227 died in those camps. Their lives would have been spared if only Cuba or the United States or Canada had given them asylum.
Now, more than 75 years later, some Americans, including at least half the nation's governors — most Republican, including our own feckless Greg Abbott, but at least one Democrat — are seeking to deny admission to victims of war and persecution. This time, those being rejected are from Syria, which has been wracked by civil war and, more recently, attacks by ISIS terrorists.
Last week, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan said, "Our nation has always been welcoming but we cannot let terrorists take advantage of our compassion.
"This is a moment where it's better to be safe than to be sorry, so we think the prudent, the responsible, thing is to take a pause in this particular aspect of this refugee program in order to verify that terrorists are not trying to infiltrate the refugee population."
This comes just weeks after a photo of 3-year-old Aylan Kurdi whose tiny body washed up on a Turkish beach so moved the world to the plight of those brave Syrians who took — and continue to take — to tiny boats and rafts and anything else they can find to escape the horror of their homeland. An estimated 200,000 Syrians have died trying to reach freedom.
President Barack Obama announced several weeks ago that the United States would accept up to 10,000 Syrian refugees in the coming year. That's four times the number accepted since the Syrian civil war began in the spring of 2011.
About half the 2,500 Syrian refugees allowed to settle in America are children. Another 2.5 percent are 60 or older. Only about 2 percent are single men of combat age. Each of them underwent a rigorous screening by several government agencies, much of it conducted overseas. Only half of those seeking asylum were granted entrance to the United States. The others were rejected or have cases still pending.
The vetting process for any newer Syrian applicants for asylum would be just as rigorous.
Those who want to "postpone," ''delay" or halt admitting Syrian refugees to this country are responding to the terrible events in Paris that claimed 129 lives. Of course, officials around the world are right to be cautious in the wake of those terror attacks. But there is a difference between being cautious and being reactionary. There is every reason to be the former, but no reason to be the latter.
In the words of Jewish poet Emma Lazarus, words inscribed on 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!"
Those words embodied the American Dream, the spirit that brought our ancestors to this country, seeking a life better than the one they left behind. Many arrived with little more than the clothes on their back, yet they pitched in to build better lives for themselves and a better country for us all. There is no reason to think refugees from Syria would be any different.
There were times in our nation's past when we tried to block the immigration of Jews or the Irish or Chinese for fear of what they would do to America. We tried to bock blacks from coming here — except, of course, those we brought here in chains. For the most part, those immigrants and others made us better, stronger. As we learned, it is wrong to deny groups of people based on race or religion or ethnicity or country of origin.
Our fight is not against the Syrian refugees, but against the thugs and criminal who would harm us, no matter who they are or where they come from.
By all means, keep the terrorists out of America, but let's not turn our back on the good, decent people of Syria who simply are seeking a better life — and they are seeking it here
Don't let our fears guide our lives.
Corpus Christi Caller-Times. Nov. 24, 2015.
This is no way to make Texas safe from terror
Our response as a state and nation to the plight of Syrian refugees will help define the kind of people we are. Let us pray that Gov. Greg Abbott and 30 other governors who want to close the door on those refugees define who we are not.
Our compassion and our way of life — our most powerful weapons — strike fear in the people these refugees are fleeing. If our way of life is, as we believe, the best way in this imperfect world, what better way to demonstrate it than to let these desperate people experience it? They have fled what we believe to be the worst way. Who better to make the comparison?
It's an ultimate-victory strategy that has worked before. Take a trip to the neighboring cities of Rockport and Fulton and ask the Vietnamese Americans who were Vietnamese war refugees a generation ago how it worked for them. They came here with nothing, settled, worked, built. Among their prize gifts to their adopted state and nation was a special one that had no precedent in their culture, a gift the Texas Aggies and Dallas Cowboys shouldn't soon forget — linebacker Dat Nguyen.
Of all the things Nguyen's people gave us, an NFL-caliber athlete was the least foreseeable. And so it could be with the Syrians. Who knows what gifts to America lurk among these mostly women and children?
Abbott and the other governors have chosen to play upon our worst fears of what may lurk, conjuring stereotypes and prejudices. It's the worst of ironies, treating victims of radical Islamic terrorism like they're radical Islamic terrorists — or at the very least, sympathizers or harborers of terrorists. Abbott, the other governors and some Republican presidential candidates are banking that we as a people are so ignorant that we can't differentiate Syrian refugees of 2015 from the Saudi and Egyptian radicals who launched the 9/11 attacks in 2001.
Oh, well, we weren't so perfect when Nguyen's family and the other Vietnamese refugees arrived. They faced prejudices and suspicions in their war-weary adopted homeland. Their entry to the shrimp fishing industry led to the ugly shooting skirmish depicted in the film "Alamo Bay," in which a young Dat Nguyen was an extra.
We should try to do better this time, not worse. The U.S. commitment to take in Syrians already is embarrassingly modest for a country our size — 10,000, all of whom would undergo rigorous scrutiny before being allowed here. And, like the Vietnamese who settled here, the Syrians won't be the freeloaders their detractors on these shores would have us believe. One of the biggest causes of friction in European countries has been their willingness to work for a fraction of prevailing wages.
One trope being used to justify dismissal of these refugees is that we should take care of our homeless veterans first. Why not also stop building schools until the ones we have meet exemplary standards and the dropout rate is zero? Bottom line: There is no cause-effect between placement of Syrian refugees and displacement of veterans from their homes — or between refusal of refugees and solution to the homeless veterans problem.
This is a free state and nation with a guarantee of freedom of religion, which means no religious test. Abbott's heavy-handed declaration that Texas would not accept refugees is not just an overstep but a dictatorial one. There is confusion whether he has the authority to stop refugees from coming. Unfortunately, there's no question that he has authority to intimidate participating social service organizations and threaten their funding.
If he prevails, we won't be any safer from terrorism and the terrorists he purports to thwart will have won because our principles as a state and nation will have been betrayed. Remember Alamo Bay and its survivors.
Austin American-Statesman. Nov. 20, 2015.
Fear weakens us in the fight against terrorism
In early September, 3-year-old Aylan Kurdi lay dead in the surf of a Turkish beach. Though Aylan was only one of hundreds of refugees who have died trying to cross the Mediterranean this year to Europe, heartbreaking photographs of the drowned toddler framed the Syrian refugee crisis as a moral imperative and prompted European and American leaders into promising to accept more Syrian refugees.
No sooner had last week's terror attacks in Paris ended than that moral imperative gave way to fear here in the United States. Those who tend to equate all Muslims with terrorists began doing the same with Syrian refugees. Never mind that the refugees are themselves victims of the Islamic State and the security risk they pose to the United States is exceedingly small. Panic tramples perspective and compassion, as does the opportunity to score political points by exploiting fear.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott was a leading voice this week for more than two dozen governors — almost all of them Republicans — who declared they would not allow Syrian refugees to settle in their states. Not to be outdone, Republican presidential candidates elbowed one another aside in a rush to see who could strike the toughest anti-refugee pose; while members of the U.S. House raced to pass legislation, introduced by U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul of Austin, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, to stymie Obama's plans to resettle 10,000 Syrian refugees in the United States.
The House agreed Thursday to entangle the already rigorous, multilayered refugee screening process in additional red tape by requiring the secretary of Homeland Security, the FBI director and the director of national intelligence to unanimously certify that a Syrian or Iraqi refugee does not represent a security threat before being allowed to enter the United States. Forty-seven Democrats, many of them motivated not by fear of terrorism but by fear of losing their seats in next year's elections, voted for the bill.
The legislation's fate in the Senate is uncertain, but the 289-137 vote total in the House represents a large enough margin to override Obama's threatened veto should the bill reach his desk.
New Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin described McCaul's legislation as a prudent pause to "make sure that we have the proper standards in place to make sure something like what happened in Paris doesn't happen here." We can accept that reasoning. No program is perfect and should be constantly re-evaluated. Pauses can be helpful and reassuring.
But just as border security is used as an excuse to never do anything about immigration reform — because a border can never be absolutely secure — we cannot let calls for prudence be used as an excuse to permanently block all Syrian and Iraqi refugees from entering the United States.
Meanwhile, French President Françoise Hollande reinforced his nation's commitment to accept 30,000 Syrian refugees throughout the next two years, even as the number of people killed in last week's attack rose to 130 and the French government moved to strengthen its security forces. And many members of Congress who criticize Obama for not doing enough in Syria continue to resist giving him the war powers he has been seeking for months to fight Islamic State.
Terrorists seek to incite fear and panic. Fear causes people and nations to overreact and exclude groups of people from the rest of society. In doing so, they risk harming their own values and economies and creating more terrorists. You wouldn't know it by listening to this week's rhetoric, but Islamic State is losing ground in Iraq and Syria. No, a gradual turning of the tide is not victory — and Islamic State's recent defeats likely make the group more dangerous abroad as they strive to take their violence beyond the Syrian and Iraqi battlefields to maintain their narrative and image as a powerful force.
But we should keep in mind as we move forward that terrorism is an act of weakness, not strength. And by reacting fearfully, we weaken ourselves.
Waco Tribune-Herald. Nov. 22, 2015.
US traditions, Christian values on line as Syrian refugees flee Islamic State terrorism
The United States has two major threats at this point in time — terrorists such as Islamic State, whose recent attacks in Paris, Beirut, Mali and high above Egypt indicate a broadening of its merciless reach, and our homegrown demagoguery and fear about innocent Syrian families fleeing such horrors. By taking a heartless approach in the latter, we unwittingly confirm the claims and insidious designs of our enemies.
Americans who respect the Constitution; our proud tradition of offering sanctuary to victims of political or religious persecution (immortalized by the Statue of Liberty — a gift from the French); and the teachings of Jesus and the Bible can only lament and question statements by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, who vows the United States will not place in Texas those Syrian refugees fleeing slaughter and domination, and Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller, who likens the refugees to rattlesnakes.
Yes, national security is a vitally relevant issue in all this. Those such as House Speaker Paul Ryan who call for hitting the "pause button" in resettling Syrian refugees in the United States by doubling down on vetting each and every refugee dispatched here have a legitimate point. Yet Ryan is also right to dismiss calls for religious tests such as those demanded by U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, whose once-assumed grasp of constitutional principles looks more and more tenuous.
Ironically, the United States and its partners have what looks like a pretty stern, unforgiving and meticulous screening process already, one that includes interviews, background checks (including use of terrorism databases) and can exclude someone if he or she even remotely raises red flags in one of 40 or so different criteria. The White House says 7,014 Syrians have been interviewed by the Department of Homeland Security and other agencies since 2011; 2,034 were admitted. Number arrested or removed on terrorism charges: Zero.
Plus, the House refugee bill passed last week does not show due diligence, the sort Ryan vowed of legislation only a few weeks ago. There have been no hearings, no expert testimony speaking for one side or the other, no amendments — a situation that has outraged the far right as well as the left. True, it is touted as "emergency legislation," but given Syrian refugees face up to two long years of intense and repeated screenings, why the mad scramble?
Those who would deny sanctuary for refugees risk bolstering claims by radical Islam's adherents that Americans are quick to ostracize and condemn those different from them, particularly Muslims. And spurning desperate refugees conflicts with powerful arguments for everything from the sanctity of human life to the sweeping power of American Exceptionalism. Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice last week noted our nation welcomes those "who are fleeing tyranny, who are fleeing danger."
While arguments on this page are generally grounded in constitutional, statutory and historical evidence, it's fair to re-examine our religious values. When the Trib editorial board began discussing this issue, one board member who knows his Bible shook his head wearily and quoted Leviticus: "You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God."
The Supreme Court of the United States has already made it clear in Hines v Davidowtiz (1941): the federal government, not the states, has supremacy over foreign affairs, "including power over immigration, naturalization and deportation." Given the simplicity of this legal text, it's obvious Abbott and other governors rebuffing refugees do so for political ends — and not the safety of our nation.
This tempest diverts attention from a far more important task: how we annihilate Islamic State. That's the debate all of us should be having.