After Paris: Less Heat and More Light

By Jon D. Melegrito



It feels like the days after 9/11 all over again. Following the carnage in Paris, war hysteria and race prejudice are driving the national conversation about Syrian refugees.

At a public meeting in Spotsylvania – a county in Virginia about an hour away from Washington DC – two residents shouted down a trustee of an Islamic Center, who was making a presentation about a proposed mosque. “Every one of you are terrorist,” one man yelled. “Every Muslim is a terrorist, period.”

Listening politely, the Muslim trustee said later: “You keep hoping that, as we evolve in this country, that we will not completely put a blanket designation on any group ... especially for religion.” He was no doubt also talking about some presidential candidates who wanted to welcome only Christian Syrians, but not Muslims. This prompted a rebuke from President Obama who called it “shameful” that the candidates would put “a religious test to compassion.”












Above pic: Syrian refugees

In Roanoke, Virginia – about four hours away from the nation’s capital – the mayor tried to justify suspending all assistance to Syrian refugees by comparing the situation to World War II: “President Franklin D. Roosevelt felt compelled to sequester Japanese foreign nationals after the bombing of Pearl Harbor,” he said, “and it appears that the threat of harm to America from ISIS now is just as real and serious as that from our enemies then.”

His comments unleashed angry reactions from Asian American organizations, notably the National Council of Asian Pacific Americans: “As Asian Pacific Americans, we are shocked that Mayor David Bowers would justify his actions by referring to one of the darkest chapters in American history, when an entire community was unjustly held in suspicion, taken away from their homes and livelihoods, and interned because of their ethnicity. Instead, we must learn from that tragic time and refuse to demonize Muslims, Syrians, and others seeking safe haven in America, as many of our forebears once did.”

The mayor apologized two days later, after an uproar over his racist and bigoted remarks.

Those fanning fear at home, however, appear to be “unburdened by facts and seduced by a swelling hysteria.” As the Washington Post pointed out, of the nine suspected assailants in Paris, at least six were either French or Belgian citizens, not Syrians.”

The Washington Post also criticized the “political posturing by the House of Representatives,” when it passed a bill requiring the FBI and Homeland Security to “confirm that each applicant from Syria and Iraq poses no threat.” The House has also threatened to cut funding to Syrian resettlement in this country, a move that 29 governors validated when they announced banning Syrian refugees from entering the U.S.

But rather than engage in thoughtful and rational discourse, candidates who expect to lead this country are instead fueling an ugly national panic. At times like this, we need less heat and more light.

Among the presidential candidates, Bernie Sanders has offered perhaps the most convincing explanation of what causes international conflict, and more specifically terrorism. Unmitigated climate change, he says, causes instability. He cites a landmark study which provided compelling evidence that a multiyear drought linked to global warming helped spark the Syrian war, which helped give rise to ISIS.

"If we are going to see an increase in drought, in flood, and extreme weather disturbances as a result of climate change, what that means is that people all over the world are going to be fighting over limited natural resources," the Vermont senator said on CBS. "If there is not enough water, if there is not enough land to grow your crops, then you're going to see migrations of people fighting over land that will sustain them. And that will lead to international conflict."

So, Sanders was asked, is there an explicit link between a drought and the Paris terrorist attacks? "When people migrate into cities and they don't have jobs, there's going to be a lot more instability, a lot more unemployment, and people will be subject to the types of propaganda that al Qaeda and ISIS are using right now," Sanders said.

Paul Ballard, an economist at the World Bank, adds his insights on solutions to the current crisis by asserting that massive security crack downs alone will breed more extremist violence. He calls for an understanding of “the deeper underlying political and social conditions of depravation and repression in Middle Eastern societies that are spurring extreme forms of protest.” Instead, Western governments are aiding and abetting these repressive governments by supplying them with weapons, money and intelligence. “No wonder so many young people in the Middle East view the West as part of the problem not a potential source of help for a solution,” Ballard maintains. “If all that Western governments do now - in response to Paris - is to increase the military and security crackdown, without any effort to change the repressive policies that got us here, then - even if ISIS is defeated soon, another successor to it will emerge in a few years.

“A far sighted political solution that recognizes and upholds the rights of peoples in the Middle East, is urgently needed now. To develop it, Western governments need to be knowledgeable and sensitive to the local political conditions, and to find effective ways to respond and help Middle Easterners' aspirations - especially youth.”


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