(Opinion) — There is so much political and religious hypocrisy in the United States right now, we are all in danger of drowning in it.

The tragedy that struck Paris last week should be a call for people throughout the world to unite and help the victims of terrorists — 4 million Syrian refugees who desperately need help to survive after they’ve been tortured and driven from their homeland.

But instead of compassion they are being met with hatred and fear by many Americans who have succumbed to the ravings of some right-wing political cowards who pretend to be Christians, but whose words and deeds are precisely the opposite of how Jesus Christ told us we should live and treat others.

So much for the national philosophy of opening our doors to “your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” which has transformed and saved so many lives. The Statue of Liberty’s sincere welcome to people who want to start new lives in America — as millions of immigrants have — has been replaced by a cold-hearted segment of our society that doesn’t give a damn about anyone but themselves.

More than 30 state governors have decried President Barack Obama’s plan to take in at least 10,000 Syrian refugees next year. Though he was a late arrival to the controversy, Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead (R) shamefully joined the others who are using fear-mongering tactics and their own self-righteousness to deny hope to desperate people at our doorstep.

You weren’t speaking for me or thousands of other Wyoming citizens, Gov. Mead, when you told the President that Wyoming requires “the certainty that the terrorists from Syria or any part of the world will not be allowed into our country.”

Governor, such certainty doesn’t exist anywhere in the world — not from foreign terrorists who might attack us, and certainly not from domestic terrorists like Timothy McVeigh, a former U.S. soldier who 20 years ago bombed the Oklahoma City federal building, killing 168 people and injuring another 680.

What Mead and the other governors, as well as the right-wing media, fail to understand is that by tapping into the nation’s fear of becoming ISIS’s next target, they are playing right into the hands of the terrorists. ISIS’s goal is to make us so afraid for our safety that we abandon our principles. The number of terrorists will grow exponentially if we give people throughout the Middle East more reasons to hate us. They won’t have to do any recruiting, because by showing America’s contempt for all Muslims we will inspire the next generation that wants to see us destroyed. We will never win a war against ISIS if they have a steady stream of recruits to replace their fallen fighters.

Mead opened his letter to Obama by noting our nation was made strong by immigration, and since World War II we have had a refugee program “that has provided sanctuary from war-torn parts of the world.” He failed to mention that one of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s biggest mistakes was listening to xenophobic politicians who advised him to not allow a ship filled with Jewish refugees to land in the U.S., forcing their return to Europe. More than a quarter of these refugees were killed when Germany conquered Western Europe.

The governor says he can’t trust our federal refugee program to keep terrorists from pretending to be refugees so they can infiltrate our communities and cause mass casualties.

Those who say the United States can’t possibly properly check out refugees and ensure our safety have latched on to the report that one of the Paris attackers passed himself off as a refugee to enter France. So if a single refugee can actually be a terrorist, their argument goes, we must treat everyone who wants to enter our borders as a potential terrorist, and not as the victims they actually are.

They conveniently fail to mention that the organizers of the attacks were French and Belgian citizens — homegrown terrorists, just like McVeigh, who aren’t easily spotted. In reality, all the U.S. and other nations can do now is put in place the best security systems they can design to stop all types of terrorism, and be vigilant.

While critics whine that America isn’t doing enough to make sure any refugees accepted have been properly vetted, here’s the real story: During the course of a four-year civil war, the U.S. has accepted fewer than 2,000 Syrian refugees. The screening process is unquestionably thorough, and each prospective admission can take up to 18 months.

The Syrian refugee controversy is the inevitable extension of the xenophobia proudly exhibited by Tea Party favorite Donald Trump, who is inexplicably the leading candidate for the Republican nomination for president. Early in his campaign he made headlines by calling Mexicans who illegally enter the U.S. thieves and rapists. His answer to the immigration problem is to make Mexico pay to build a massive wall across our southern border, and his insanely unworkable plan to deport 12 million illegal immigrants.

Trump’s response to the plan to bring Syrian refugees to the U.S. is typical of the unabashed fear-mongering that has been the hallmark of his campaign. He wants to close all mosques in the country and spy on all Muslims. He’s lied and said Obama wants to let in 250,000 refugees next year, 25 times higher than the actual figure of 10,000.

But Trump is far from being the only GOP presidential candidate who has made nutty pronouncements since the Paris attacks. Stunningly, Jeb Bush says we should only accept Syrian refugees who are Christians. Meanwhile, Chris Christie says he would not even admit orphans from the war who are under age five.

Ted Cruz, though, deserves an award as the biggest hypocrite in a very crowded field. A year ago, the Texas senator said the U.S. should welcome Syrian refugees and we can bring them in safely. The son of a Cuban refugee, Cruz has often bragged on the campaign trail that “America, quite simply, saved my father. America gave him a chance.”

Cruz played on voters’ feelings of patriotism and pride in that pronouncement. But sensing that the political tide has dramatically shifted, now he says he will introduce a bill to ban all Syrian refugees from entering the U.S.

It’s not surprising Americans have been stirred into a frenzy about the potential dangers of accepting Syrian refugees, given the seemingly endless amount of distortions and outright lies right-wing broadcasters gleefully spewed this week.

Rush Limbaugh: “This country has never, ever just opened the doors to anyone on the basis of humanity or compassion and said come on in, never. Another first brought to us by Obama.”

Limbaugh overlooked some American history. As a Media Matters reader responded to his claim, “Except for a half million Europeans after WWII, about a million Cubans, several hundred thousand Vietnamese and about 2 million others since 1975.”

Bo Dietl, Fox News contributor: “We broke so many, so many plots by eavesdropping on these radical mosques. We’ve got to do it again. And let’s stop worrying about people’s rights.”

The head of a New York City Police Department’s Muslim surveillance unit admitted despite six years of spying on Muslims’ activities, all of their work “didn’t generate a single lead” about a potential terrorist attack.

Gov. Mead hasn’t completely joined the crazy conversation about refugees many of his fellow GOP governors (and one Democrat) have, but when he asked Obama to halt the refugee program he demonstrated he doesn’t understand the difference between terrorists and the victims of terrorists. He gave in to the side that pretends it’s not picking on Muslims and treating them all as Islamic extremists; they’re just concerned about national safety. Right.

Fortunately, thanks to the Refugee Act of 1980, governors have no authority to keep Syrian refugees out of their states because that power is solely in the hands of the president. If governors like Mead had it, there’s no telling who would be prevented from ever living here or who might be kicked out after they’ve established new lives free from their terrorist tormentors.

Watch out for the officials who want to send these victims — mostly women and children — back to their war-torn nation after their struggle to successfully get away. Many have died on their journey to what they thought would be safety, only to have some of our leaders greet survivors by calling them terrorists and vowing to shut them out.

For Christians who want to exclude the refugees — and there are a lot of them — ask them how they can possibly square their actions with the beliefs they profess to honor in this Bible passage:

Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me. — Matthew 25:37-40.

— Columns are the signed perspective of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of WyoFile’s staff, board of directors or its supporters. WyoFile welcomes guest columns and op-ed pieces from all points of view. If you’d like to write a guest column for WyoFile, please contact WyoFile editor-in-chief Dustin Bleizeffer at dustin@wyofile.com.

 

Gov. Matt Mead’s letter to President Obama regarding refugees:

 

Kerry Drake

Veteran Wyoming journalist Kerry Drake has covered Wyoming for more than four decades, previously as a reporter and editor for the Wyoming Tribune-Eagle and Casper Star-Tribune. He lives in Cheyenne and...

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  1. All of this pretending that Syrian war refugees are the same as the horrid Da’esh and the dictator Assad who they are fleeing, brings fond memories of my childhood. We used to love sitting around a campfire and listening to horror stories of ghosts and murderers stalking around us in the dark woods. We would squeal with fear and delight and cling to each other shaking and laughing and half afraid of any sound or sudden movement. Scary fun, a staple of childhood in many cultures.

    I hope when we go to the polls next year we will vote for candidates who stand tall, compassionate and strong if any can be found, rather than those acting like silly children listening to stories around a campfire.

    Linda Anderson
    Chugwater, Wyoming

  2. Ack! That letter from the governor made me cringe. He sounds like a Chatty Cathy doll simply repeating whatever right-wing talking points he heard from Rush Limbaugh that day. Mike Enzi, John Barrasso and Cynthia Lummis are no better.

    Is that what passes for leadership these days?

    Theresa Miller
    Gillette, Wyoming

  3. Well done, Kerry. I also don’t understand how Trump is leading in the polls. This is an election cycle is the weirdest craziest that seems so incredible that people actually support this fear mongering. I also don’t understand the Christian right allowing this to happen. They can switch from supporting a county clerk for her interpretation of the Bible, yet completely forgets the complete story of refugees and Jesus.

    Lee Ann Stephenson