The Enemy Among Us

1939 DebateBigotry is alive and well, not only in this nation but right here in our community. I shudder when I read comments from so called community leaders who are posting and calling for the exclusion of Muslims fleeing tyranny, war and death in Syria. The irony is that they want to allow other religious immigrants status when in this country but not to Muslims. That kind of view is contrary to what this nation stands for.

However, this is not the first time that bigots have shown their true colors when there is a crisis and innocent men, women and children are being slaughtered or about to be slaughtered because of their ethnicity, race or religion.

In a statement before a joint Congressional Congressional Committee Congressman Eliot Engel referred to a poll in which the question was, “What’s your attitude towards allowing political refugees to come into the US?” 67.4 percent agreed with the response, “With conditions as they are, we should try to keep them out.” That is more than two thirds saying to try to keep them out.

Sound familiar? Of course it does.

Maybe those are the sentiments of some of you reading this column. Congressman Engel goes on to say, “That poll was conducted in the summer of 1938. And the question in its entirety was, ‘What’s your attitude towards allowing German, Austrian, and other political refugees to come into the US?’ – European Jews. More than two thirds of Americans thought we should just close the gates just four months before Kristallnacht.”

In past columns I have referred to those immigrants on the St. Louis, mostly European Jews fleeing Germany in fear for their lives. This country, Cuba and Canada turned them away. Six hundred twenty passengers ended up back on the continent. Over 254 of them died in the Holocaust. On board the St. Louis, they had passed close enough to Miami to see the city’s lights.

Congressman Engel went on to say, “Syrians are fleeing their homes because life in Syria for the last four years has meant not knowing when Assad will drop the next barrel bombs or release poison gas. It has meant watching community after community fall under the merciless and medieval rule of ISIS. Often with just the clothes on their backs, men, women, and children are struggling to escape, not because they agree with terrorists, but because terrorists have destroyed their lives and staying behind could very well ensure their deaths. Let’s remember: these people are the victims of ISIS. They’re fleeing from ISIS. They are not ISIS. So will we now slam the door in their faces?”

Will we force on them the same fate the Jews faced when they were turned away in 1938? I hope not.

Congressman Engel answered that if we need to ensure that procedures are followed along with enhancing them. However, he warned that the people of this nation should not abandon values out of fear.

Please view the Congressman’s statements from today as he addressed a joint hearing of the House Homeland Security and Foreign Affairs Committees.

Those of you who have read my columns on immigration see the similarity I share with Eliot Engel. We disagree on some issues from time to time but not when it comes to core social issues and the fighting for the basic tenets of this nation. Not when it comes to the founding principles of this nation.

Let us always recall the words written by Emma Lazarus and inscribed on The Statue of Liberty: Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.

The enemy among us is those who profess to be leaders and who claim to be the “real” Americans but want to discriminate against others based on their religion, race, national origin, sexual orientation, etc. Many sit on our community boards, civic associations and other groups with influence. They represent a small but vocal percentage but they are there. As Pogo said, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

Although that quote refers to the protection of our environment it also applies to protecting the basic ideals of our nation.If we abandon the basics of what this nation stands for the terrorists have won. I suggest that each of us look into our faith, our ethics, our love for the ideals this nation stands for, and welcome those immigrants fleeing probable death in Syria.

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