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Saturday, February 25, 2017

Xenophobia: Terrorism in Politics

This is the fourth, and final, post in my Immigration mini-series (see also my reaction to The Day Without Immigrants, The history of Immigration Policy in the U.S., and my exploration of Immigration Policy impacts on Families and Children).  I was inspired by the February 16th Day Without Immigrants to do further research into the topic.  This post will focus on Xenophobia and U.S. Politics. 

Xenophobia is the intense dislike of people from other countries.  It is a fear of something foreign.  There have been a number of organized waves of Xenophobia throughout American history.  Of course the earliest form of American Xenophobia is towards Native Americans, but it has also included 1850s regulations on Irish Catholics, the late 1800s ban on Asians, to fear of Germans in the early 1900s, and of course the targeting of Japanese during WWII.  America has been plagued by Xenophobic thought and policy. 

More recently in Xenophobia towards Middle Easterners has plagued not only immigrants but also those who simply “look” like they might be Middle Eastern.  The social and structural prejudices that plague descendants and new immigrants from these countries is immense.  These Xenophobic fears have been propagated by political turmoil in U.S. Politics and are largely unsubstantiated. 

We know that a large amount of Terrorism is the result of Radical Islamics from the Middle East.  Certainly, we have seen our share of Radical Terrorists and the threat is real.  I remember 9-11.  It’s one of the few truly terrifying memories that has been etched into my mind.  One of the few days that I can remember with such clarity that I could detail almost every moment.  I believe that there is a real threat from terrorism, specifically from those who have warped and twisted their religious beliefs into Extremism.  But I do not believe that we can take the image of those radicals and superimpose the fear and pain that they caused us on the entirety of people who may look like them or who also come from a Middle Eastern country. 

Muslims are a truly peaceful people.  Islam is a peaceful religion.  Those who have warped it into Extremism are the problem.  Those who have taken Islamic teachings and mutated them to create hate are the problem.  I served on a Board not long ago with a Muslim woman.  Not knowing she was Muslim, I complemented her on her hair, to which she laughed and told me “it’s a wig”.  I was in shock!  Firstly because it looked so nice and real, but secondly, that this woman (who I’d know for quite some time) wore a wig.  I asked her why she wore the wig.  I will never forget what she said to me “My religious beliefs require me to cover my hair in modesty, but I find that if I wear my hijab I get looks, people ignore me or try to avoid being near me, and I find myself fearful of others.”  She went on to tell me that she was born and raised here in the U.S., as were her parents before her, but that in the years since 9-11 they had all moved away from wearing a Hajib because they found that they could function better in society without the stigma attached to it. 

This not only infuriates me (that my friend has had to live in fear because of the stereotypes cast on her) but also makes me incredibly shameful of being an American.  Yes, that’s right.  Ashamed to be an American.  We let a few very scary events caused by a small group of extremists twist our opinions in a way that has allowed our society to target, stereotype, and condemn not only people from the Middle East but people of an entire religion.  The Middle East had roughly 371 million people in 2010.  And we let the actions of 19 men from Al-Qaeda (which was estimated to have roughly a few thousand extended members) dictate American opinion of an entire region and religion of people.  They won.  We let them scare us enough that we cast doubt on the entire 371 million people in the Middle East.  And now, with the rise of ISIS (which the UN estimates has roughly 15,000 members) our fear has been completely reinvigorated.  Does that make any since?  15,000 people make us fear the entire 371 million?  That’s completely ridiculous!  That means that only .004% of people in the Middle East are terrorists.  In comparison, there are roughly 50,000 White Supremists (which is America’s largest Domestic Terrorist category) in the United States, which has a population of 318 million.  That means that .016% of Americans are White Supremists.  That’s 4 times the density of Domestic Terrorists already in the United States as there are Terrorists in the entire Middle East. 

Certainly, we need vetting to make sure that we don’t inadvertently allow a known terrorist to enter the United States.  The U.S. already has the most extreme vetting process of every other county.  Our vetting process requires two years of inquiry and research before allowing a Middle Easterner from specific “hot zone” countries immigrate.   I am all for making vetting intense and thorough.  What I am NOT ok with is the broad categorization and stereotyping of Muslims or Middle Easterners.  I am also not ok with political propaganda that suggests that we should be fearful or hesitant about people of the Islamic faith or immigrants from the Middle East.

Terrorism is the use of violence and intimidation in the pursuit of political aims.  I’m just going to let that sink in for a moment.  Intimidation and violence in the pursuit of political aims.  Intimidation is intentional behavior that would cause an ordinary person fear.  So, using intentional behavior that causes people fear to achieve political gain.  Unfortunately, I think we’ve seen quite a bit of terrorism lately, and it isn’t from Muslims or Middle Easterners.  The kind of terrorism we have seen is deeply rooted in our politics.  So rooted that we don’t even recognize the subtlety of it.  And so subtle that too many have been intimidated into believing it without questioning its validity. 

How does this relate to parenting? Our opinions and our actions towards other people directly impact our children's actions and opinions of those people.  By refusing to believe that a group of people should be feared based on political rhetoric and intimidation by political figures we can teach our children by example.  We can teach them by showing them in our everyday lives.  Here are a few ways you can teach your children NOT to be Xenophobic:

1.  When you see a person from another country show an interest in them.  If the opportunity arises, ask them where they are from and welcome them to America.  This is their America too.

2. Show respect and friendliness to people who are of a different ethnicity than your family.  I find this always easy to do in the grocery store check out line.  We all have to shop for food and a friendly smile and "hello" go a long way.

3. Encourage your children to widen their social circle to include a variety of people.  When your children are young this is easy, you choose who they have play dates with and which parents you engage with at their daycare/preschool.  But it's a little more tricky with other children and teens.  We have chosen to do this by going to a school that is ethnically and racially diverse.  

4. Expose your children to multicultural events. One of the funnest things to do every summer where we live is to visit the many cultural fairs.  Immersion into different cultures is critical in helping children feel at ease with differences. 

5. Talk to your children about differences and how they make each of us special.  Make sure to not put an emphasis on one type of difference being more special than another.  

6. Look at books.  Yes, this sounds kind of silly, but looking at books that show a variety of peoples, places, and traditions is essential to normalizing differences.  We always try to read about various cultures and traditions especially around holidays.  

I refuse to be intimidated into being fearful.  I refuse to stand aside while my friends are targeted because of their religion or their ethnicity.  I choose to stand with my Middle Eastern and Muslim friends because THEY ARE NOT TERRORISTS and it’s ridiculous to associate them with terrorists based solely on their religion or their ethnicity.  Please share your RESPECTFUL comments and opinions below. 

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