A Culture of Fear

Over the past two decades especially, the political climate in the United States has become extremely divisive.  I think I can pinpoint 9/11 as the beginning of that change.  When that horrific tragedy happened, Americans came together like at no other time.  How we recovered from the tragedy is what has separated us.  One way has been to become more fearful and less trusting of others.  I think that is probably the most automatic human reaction.  It’s understandable to go into a mode of protection when one has been hurt. As time goes on though, if we stay in that mindset we begin to think that everyone wants to hurt us.  The “us vs them” is further entrenched into our culture. That mindset is contrary to the culture that the United States was founded on.  A quote from Emma Lazarus on the Statue of Liberty reads, “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.”  That is the idea that has made the US great.  The one filled with hope, strength and charity.

Germany has a different history and culture, but I see them struggling with some similar values.  They have never been the “melting pot” of the United States.  However, in their history, many Germans were the refugees after WWII.  I speculate, but I wonder if that is what leads them to be as welcoming as they have been to the current Syrian refugees.  All Germans however haven’t been so happy about the acceptance of refugees to their country.  The interesting thing to me as an American studying German current events and culture, is that there are so many similarities between the anti refugee crowd in the US compared to those in Germany.  The common theme is fear.

Being concerned about hundreds of thousands of people from war torn countries with a different culture/language and many with a different religion isn’t surprising and doesn’t make one a xenophobe.  With that said though, the vitriol I have read online from some Americans and Europeans about this subject has been really disturbing to me.  There is a lack of humanity in their rhetoric.  Fear that has been carefully cultivated and refined by propaganda.  These are a few of the comments I have read today about the refugees….

“Go home terrorists. Nobody wants you but fools.”…..American

“not migrants not refugees but invaders & criminals”…UK

“Now we know when and how our civilization will end.“… Canadian

Although i reject statements like these, it doesn’t mean that I don’t understand concerns that people have.  The reality is that we live in a world where we have had violence levied by radical Islmamic extremists.  We have also endured much tragedy and violence by radical Christian extremists.  Extremism is destructive.  No one knows that better than Germany.  However, I refuse to allow fear to override my humanity.  I will also not allow it to override my logic.  Logic tells me that since there are 1.6 BILLION Muslims in the world and up to 12 MILLION of them in the United States, that if they were all violent terrorists the world would see much more terrorism than it does now. My religion tells me that even when culture and religion differ, we are all God’s children. My humanity tells me that I have a responsibility to help others when I can.  When I can look at families fleeing across oceans and hundreds of miles on foot to live somewhere safe and I don’t feel compassion for them, I no longer want to live in this world.  When we are so consumed by fear that we lose our humanity then the terrorists have won.

I have more questions than answers about what should be done about the refugees running for their lives.  I agree that there must be checks and safeguards and that one country can only do so much.  I do expect the leaders of the world to come up with a solution to this.  The US has a responsibility.  We have had a hand in the Middle East for many years now.  The destabilization of the Middle East is in part a result of ousting Hussein in Iraq and the vacuum of power that created.  These are difficult problems that require wisdom and diplomacy and can’t be driven purely by fear of what might happen.  What I hope is that we all remember that much of our good fortune is that of chance and grace.  There but for the grace of God go I.