Token Dissonance

Black & gay, young & conservative. A Southern gentleman writes about life and politics after Yale


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A Song for Barbarian Refugees

“‘I am not going to be a slave or a wife. Even if I am stupid and talk funny and get sick, I won’t let you turn me into a slave or a wife. I’m getting out of here. I can’t stand living here anymore’… They reached again and again for a high note, yearning toward a high note, which they found at last and held—an icicle in the desert.” –Maxine Hong Kingston

Syrian refugees - UNHCR

Hat tip to Google for this clever bid for awareness: http://betagoogle.com/refugees.html

I didn’t really understand anything about “Islam” or “Mohammed” as a child, but I knew the Muslim family down the block in our sleepy Virginia neighborhood was lovely. The father was a soldier like mine, and like mine, he was away a lot, going about the difficult business of serving his country during the turbulent Clinton years. The mother wore the hijab and took care that their daughter did, too. She was best friends with my mother, a devoutly evangelical Christian, and would often babysit us in her home, with her young son and daughter.

This friendly Muslim neighbor woman introduced my younger siblings and me to the saporific wonders of curry and taught us some basic awareness of Islamic culture, like that they did not celebrate Christmas like we Christians (i.e., everybody else). And if memory serves, the first time I visited Philadelphia (and crossed the Mason-Dixon Line) was on a trip where we met some of her kin. In that quaint Virginia town, our families most often came together, frequently with other neighbors, for the holy rituals we all could celebrate together as American patriots: watching football. For the bigger games, like the Super Bowl, the father might even throw a party and play host to a full living room of rowdy soldiers, spouses, and kids.

Like so many others, I never saw that family again after the Army moved us elsewhere. But I remember them fondly, and it is perhaps for having known them—and others I would eventually meet, like my Pakistani best friend in high school—that I never developed a generalized fear of Muslims or idle suspicion of Islamic paraphernalia after the trauma of 9/11 and all that came later. Call it one of the many prejudices from which my multicultural Army upbringing shielded me.

I often think of those Muslims I knew growing up amid the ongoing debate about whether America should accept a small sliver—and 10,000 is but a drop in a restless ocean—of Syrian refugees. It’s not so much that I think those ghosts of my past and these modern victims of Islamism have much in common besides the Quran. Rather, it amazes me how many politicians have rushed to posture overmuch about how the Islamists and their victims also have in common the Quran. The sober, responsible leaders we elected these politicians to be ought to meet panic and anxiety with calm and reason—like focusing on the vital task of how to integrate refugees from the brutal reach of Daesh (an appropriately derogatory term for ISIL) into the norms and values of Western civilization—rather than grandstand about means (imagined in the case of governors) to block or expel them. But instead, we see the politics of fear and the exploitation of fear that, to his credit, George W. Bush nobly resisted in his presidency.

The first failing, of course, comes at the top. President Obama failed so spectacularly to make a compelling case for his administration’s ability to vet incoming refugees that the House of Representatives just passed a bill to implement its own preferred security regime over the administration’s objections with veto-proof, bipartisan support. Strangely, taking immature partisan swipes at how the more-than-just-GOP skepticism of his refugee plan is “scared of 3-year-old orphans” did not help.

Rather than churlishly mocking reasonably concerned Americans who look to the President for critical, life-or-death assurances, Obama and top security officials should have focused all along on painstakingly educating the public about the contours and reliability of the security apparatus that will vet all refugees and keep us safe. If the administration needs advice on how to do this, they could look to the empathetic, conciliatory way sometime Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice addressed the concerns of refugee-skeptic Gov. Robert Bentley, among other governors, at conference in their native Alabama. In fact, he might have been wise to reach out to her and other leaders, like devout Christian churches, in that sagely humanitarian effort as he dutifully balances compassion and security. But we have learned not to expect such perspicacity from this White House.

Still, there is failure all around. The callous dismissal of the plight of refugee children, as we see from the likes of Chris Christie, is part and parcel of the disconnect between Christian governors attempting to pause or block refugees and Christian leaders—evangelical, Catholic, and mainline Protestant—actively preaching for a more humanitarian response as the Christian duty of believers. Likewise, various politicians’ apparent disinterest in a perceived surge of anti-Muslim hostility hews too closely to a climate of fear and fearmongering than to the kind of mindsets our leaders should encourage.

Sober leaders should remind us of facts and critical nuance as we face tough, complicated decisions. This would include explaining why it matters that the Tsarnaev brothers were not refugees but recipients of asylum who entered the country on a tourist visa. To be resettled in the United States, refugees must undergo extensive evaluation after an initial referral from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

From the State Department:

The [Resettlement Support Centers (RSCs)] collect biographic and other information from the applicants to prepare for the adjudication interview and for security screening. Enhanced security screening is a joint responsibility of the Department of State and the Department of Homeland Security and includes the participation of multiple U.S. Government security agencies.

Officers from the Department of Homeland Security’s U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) review all the information that the RSC has collected and also conduct an in-person interview with each refugee applicant before deciding whether to approve him or her for resettlement in the United States.

All USCIS-approved refugees undergo a health screening to identify medical needs and to ensure that those with a contagious disease, such as tuberculosis, do not enter the United States. Finally, the RSC requests a “sponsorship assurance” from a U.S.-based resettlement agency that is experienced in providing assistance to newly arrived refugees. Most refugees undergo a brief U.S. cultural orientation course prior to departure for the United States.

[…]

United States Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP) is comprised of:

  • The Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration (PRM) of the U.S. Department of State.
  • U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
  • The Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
  • Five international or nongovernmental organizations operating Resettlement Support Centers around the world under the supervision and funding of the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration (PRM) of the U.S. Department of State
  • Nine domestic nongovernmental organizations with a total of about 350 affiliated offices across the United States.
  • Thousands of private citizens who volunteer their time and skills to help refugees resettle in the United States.

The total processing time varies depending on an applicant’s location and other circumstances, but the average time from the initial UNHCR referral to arrival as a refugee in the United States is about 18-24 months.

In contrast to the intensive refugee process, tourists, including those who eventually seek asylum, face much lower barriers of entry. That asylees, unlike refugees, are already in the country when they seek asylum status (in addition to international legal requirements) to stay may explain much of the difference in screening. But in any case, terrorists have a variety of other ways to get into the U.S. (if they are not already here), and each of those ways is quicker and easier than going through the refugee process. Attempting to block refugees to fight terrorism would be even worse security theater—providing the illusion of security with none of the substance—than the useless TSA. Whereas the TSA is mostly just inconvenient (on a good day), the anti-refugee campaign actively puts and keeps lives in danger without doing anything whatsoever to prevent terrorist attacks.

This is not to say there is no risk that a terrorist may slip in among refugees—the possibility certainly exists, but in truth, the refugees do not pose a serious security threat. Moreover, any terrorists who could make it through the refugee screening process, which is the most strenuous we have, could easily arrive through other means, which remain available if refugee status is denied them. The only reason a terrorist would deliberately seek the difficult and unnecessary refugee route would be to poison the well between the vast majority of resettled Muslims looking to be peaceful, hardworking contributors to society and the broader Christian public. But, again, they do not need to go that route and can still come if it is denied them.

It is also worth driving home the point that 10,000 is basically a rounding error compared to the numbers of refugees and what other countries are taking. Neighboring Muslim-majority countries are hosting the lion’s share, and there is doubtlessly more we could do to help them there:

Syrian Refugee numbers map - Vox

 

In light of the paltry American numbers, the rise of comparisons to the Holocaust and Japanese internment, common among as disparate groups as liberal activists and the Southern Baptist Convention, are as poignant as they are compelling for many of us who believe on some level we are, when the blood cries out, our brother’s keeper. But it would be uncharitable not to acknowledge that one can sympathize with the Holocaust Museum and still hold, as many do, that the specific threat of Islamic terrorism makes the Syrian situation different from our deplorable indifferent to the earlier plight of German Jewry.

It would be absurd to pretend, as the Obama administration and allied progressives often do, that the tactics, goals, and other evils of Daesh and other Islamists have nothing to do with their Islamic faith. Critics of the administration are right and fair to point this out. But it is one thing to demand an honest reckoning of how sincere Islamic belief forms a cornerstone of systemic violence and illiberal terror. It is quite another to consign the predominately Muslim victims of Islamic extremism to the cruelty of a neo-Inquisition because they happen to believe in the same prophet. It would be even worse to double down, like Donald Trump, on the crescendoing echoes to the crisis of World War II by entertaining the (unconstitutional) identity politicking tactics of the thwarted fascists of yesteryear. No, Donald Trump and fans, we will not be closing down mosques, instituting religious segregation, or devising a national database of religious minorities. It is bizarre that such things may need to be said, but we live in interesting times.

In a recent study, the Pew Research Center found, unsurprisingly, that the great majority of Muslims closest to Daesh regard the organization with fear and loathing. Israelis and Palestinians seem rarely to see eye-to-eye politically, and tensions remain high with Palestinian radicals repeatedly attacking and murdering innocent Jews. But even amid all that mutual hostility, the Jews and Muslims of the Holy Land hold overwhelmingly negative views of Daesh. It turns out, the Quran and ties to the desert are just about all the Islamists and their Muslims victims have in common.

The Syrian refugees are fleeing a scourge so evil it has managed to align the disparate interests of the United States and Russia, Israel and Iran. If America is to be the beacon, that shining city on a hill President Reagan envisioned, we must prove equal to our values. We must, as patriots of a civilized nation, take in these refugees and turn them into loyal, hardworking Americans whose living well among us will represent the clarity of our moral and civilizational superiority to everything the barbarians promote.

In the end, welcoming these tired, poor, huddled masses yearning to breathe free is in our own national self-interest. We are at war with barbarian hordes, as vicious as they are shrewd, for the very nature of the human condition. We need every ally of every faith to repel the darkness of Daesh with the triumph of the human resilience that reflects in us the unyielding image of God. To take in the refugees from the barbarian advance is to win converts to the Western principles of freedom which America must always exemplify. And, as with resettled Afghans from an earlier conflict, today’s refugees may make tomorrow’s American soldiers who will continue the cycle of life and heroism.

As the Gipper once said, soon after taking office in the house Jimmy Carter left:

We shall continue America’s tradition as a land that welcomes peoples from other countries. We shall also, with other countries, continue to share in the responsibility of welcoming and resettling those who flee oppression.

Let us be true to our traditions.


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Right Quick: Valar Dohaeris

It seems I’ll be writing quite a bit about death at the start of this week, which is a curious way to welcome the month of June. Like most people, perhaps, I don’t care to dwell too long on the empty silence of eternity that yawns beyond the swan song of a heartbeat. But alas, Death awaits us all, and with all things, what matters is what we learn and do while we can.

Frank Lautenberg, a veteran of the U.S. Army Signal Corps and senior U.S. Senator from New Jersey, was the last veteran of the wars that rent worlds serving in the Upper Chamber. His passing has now ended forever the era when those who defended freedom in the Great Wars of the early 20th Century represented entire states of free men and women in Congress. As the world tumbles on, which it always will, we should take a moment to remember that we stand on the shoulders of men who built and defended across the world a civilization that we now take for granted.

The things these men must have seen and known…

If we are lucky, neither us nor our children will ever be called to dutifully face the martial belligerence of the extinction of liberty. While all of the men who did will soon be gone, we should always remember and honor the fact that such men lived. Thank God that such men lived, fought, and went on to serve their families and country in civilian life. The ultimate gift they will leave behind is a nation increasingly distant from the cost of constitutional virtues that are neither free nor universal, even if they ought to be.

It is easy to forget in good times the horrors that can surface in terrible times, but there is the enduring paradox of building the peaceful prosperity of a nation on the solemn sacrifices of a generation of mortals who knew they lived far too close to an abyss. Can we live peacefully in a free world where ever fewer of us know firsthand the costs of peace and freedom?

I did not agree with Sen. Lautenberg, may he rest in peace, on many or most political issues of the day, but I certainly share his love of country and zealous commitment to the American project. In short, I’m glad that such a man lived and served for people like me. I’m likewise glad that men and women today still serve and bring the raw edges of wisdom in a broken world to those of us who will never see suffering as they are called to.

Someday, as assuredly as Ozymandias reigns over sand and dust, my generation will have perished and with us the firsthand knowledge of life in the Second Millennium. Whether the values and wisdom we hold and accumulate will translate well to those who inherit our stations is a question our lives will serve to answer.


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Guns, Taxes, and the Devil

“Washington is often a contact sport.” –Deputy Secretary of State Thomas Nides

God’s in the SEC. All’s right with the world.

The first few days of 2013 have been eventful.

First, we got a belated deal on the tax side of the fiscal cliff. Democrats declared victory because taxes will go up on “the rich”. Republicans licked their wounds as the coalition inclined to blame the recession on the Bush tax cuts just extended 99% of those cuts into perpetuity. In the meantime, it turns out “the rich”—as defined by those who alone will see higher taxes—constitutes nearly every American worker who receives a paycheck. Nothing like a healthy dose of Hope & Change™ in the wallet! But rest assured, Democrats want more revenue and give us their oh-so-credible word that they are serious about cutting spending. They just don’t want to negotiate on it at a time when they might be forced to follow through. I’m sure that’s somehow the Republicans’ fault.

Whatever your feelings on the coming debt ceiling fight, understand this: lawmakers are exceedingly averse to spending reform. Neither side is particularly innocent here. Without some external—or self-created—pressure compelling them to do so, it would strain credulity to expect President Barack “We Don’t Have a Spending Problem” Obama and this Congress to make the sort of tough, responsible choices we need them to make to rein in the deficit. Washington seems to be defined by failure of leadership and deficiency of character these days. (Mike Shanahan is well in the running for Worst Person of 2013.)

Secondly, a newspaper in suburban New York is taking heat for publishing an interactive (and inaccurate) map with the names and addresses of gun owners (and law enforcement) in several counties. While I certainly don’t approve of this journal’s employees receiving threats or being targets of illegal behavior, we must acknowledge a rather vicious irony in their taking umbrage at having their own names and addresses published in retaliation. There is also the matter of their hiring armed guards (which are supposedly terrible for schools) to protect them from the repercussions of having private information broadcast to the public by hostile media. Karma sleeps with Irony tonight.

For my part, I would recommend that folks stop patronizing this particular paper rather than harass the staff. We should continue to highlight the unintended consequences that most reasonable people foresaw in directing criminals to exact households where they may (try to) steal weapons or more safely target unarmed families with minimal fear of harm:

“Legis. Aron Wieder (D-Spring Valley) called the publication of the list “irresponsible journalism” and said he now fears for his safety because the map broadcast that he does not have a gun license. At the news conference Friday morning, he handed a $150 certified check and a completed pistol permit application to Rockland County Clerk Paul Piperato.

I never owned a gun but now I have no choice,” Wieder said. “I have been exposed as someone that has no gun. And I’ll do anything, anything to protect my family.”

Piperato, who also serves as president to the New York State County Clerks Association, said all 62 counties in the state are supporting the state legislation to amend the law that makes gun permit holder information public.”

As a broader cautionary tale—or, as the President would say, a teachable moment—gun control enthusiasts should be wary of alienating potential allies in the push to change gun laws.

But enough about politics, we have my fourth-favorite holiday to celebrate: BCS Championship Monday! (It falls right behind the Fourth of July, Memorial Day, and SEC Championship Saturday, and just ahead of Super Bowl Sunday and Christmas.) As we all know (especially in South Florida), Nick Saban is the devil. However, devils are occasionally useful (see: Job and the temptations of Christ), and this particular incarnation is charged with securing the seventh straight BCS Championship for the Southeastern Conference.

For those of you not blessed with ties to God’s Country, Jared Freid has some words of wisdom on how you should approach tonight:

“Not only do Notre Dame grads feel their alma mater indicates a different class of people, they also believe that the rest of the country sees it that way, too. They believe they’re not just kings, but also populist heroes… And that’s the kind of delusion I can’t support – that I MUST root against… For this great country was founded on the noble notion of dissidence, in defiance of unaware monarchies and specious dictators. That a man has the right – nay, the RESPONSIBILITY – to call bullshit. To root for Notre Dame is to root for Orwellian propagandist lies (“Ignorance is Strength, Freedom is Slavery”). To root for Notre Dame is to root against America.

And so, on January 7th, flag draped on my shoulders and a cold Budweiser at my lips, I’ll utter two words in solemn solidarity with the rest of the freethinking nation: Roll Tide.”

Roll Tide Roll.


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Right Quick: Sic Semper Tyrannis

Sometimes the working classes are besieged by an army of the ruthlessly dependent. As unmoved by decency as they are contemptuous of self-reliance, these mooching tyrants mercilessly invade the homes of the well-to-do. They raid the coffers of the successful for security against the threat of having to provide for their own welfare. And they are not satisfied with being a burden, living in splendor built on the hardened backs of those who pay their keep. No, having deemed themselves entitled to the treasures of others, these hordes of parasites tear asunder the communities of their benefactors, murdering the leaders and enslaving the population to a new generation of dependents.

In time, this new generation raised on handouts will organize to subjugate another once-independent colony and bend another set of hardworking backs to the government of the freeloader. And thus the cycle begins anew.

But every so often, those workers raise their dirtied, hardened backs to shrug against the yoke of their bondage. They may not drive out their slavers in a night—or a fortnight—but they can, perhaps, gain some bit of solace in undermining a murderous, foreign regime sustained by the fruit of their labor. They do this not for themselves—for there is hope, but not for them—but for their unconquered neighbors. They fight on because, one day, the parasitic menace might be defeated, and future generations might thrive in peace and independence. Freedom is not free. But there is vengeance.

“Only 45 per cent of the parasite’s offspring survived to adulthood.” Not a one pays any taxes.

Thus are the lives of ants.