The attacks on Paris have brought a frightening enemy and a massive migrant crisis into the forefront of American concerns. Now that these horrific events, which have been going on for quite some time in less familiar and less iconic territories, have hit so close to home for us, paranoia is setting in again.
State leaders, including Idaho’s own Gov. Butch Otter, have called for a reconsideration or downright refusal of Syrian migrants. These migrants, those who actually do make it safely past their borders, are desperately trying to escape the same horrors we fear. A story has been emerging that is so terrible and sickeningly familiar — a rising autocratic nation hell-bent on world domination and setting out on a path of blood, torture, enslavement and mass murder to do so.
Last February, the events unfolding in Syria prompted Newsweek to ask, “Is it time to revoke Godwin’s law?” Mike Godwin, a lawyer and author, made this rule when he astutely pointed out that most political online debates inevitably invoke a comparison to fascism, and that it is done so often that anyone who makes a Nazi comparison automatically loses the debate. But Godwin says neither he nor anyone else is in charge of this “law” and anyone can break it. The article goes on to quote Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, as he reluctantly admits, “I haven’t seen anything like ISIS since World War II.”
When the Nazi party rose to power in 1933, it set off a mass exodus of Jewish immigrants. Whereas countries as small as Puerto Rico took in hundreds of thousands of refugees, America’s strict immigration policy limited its intake to more prominent refugees — artists, scholars and scientists like Nobel prize winner Albert Einstein. Even when more and more news of the horrors happening in Europe reached American ears, we chose not to get involved. Nearly 300,000 European refugees showed up at our front door hoping to obtain one of the 27,000 visas available. We denied entry to an entire ship containing 900 Jewish refugees, canceling their transit visas and turning them around to sail back to the same horror they were so desperately fleeing. When stories of mass murder and death camps reached the West, the U.S. ramped up immigration policy restrictions even more. When we liberated the concentration camps in 1945, seeing the mass destruction firsthand and hearing stories that only nightmares are made of, we realized our grave error. “Never again,” we said.
Now America — and yes, Boise — is faced with a similar decision: Accept an unknown risk of allowing Syrian migrants into the country and into our state, or coldly turn them away to certain peril. We cannot close our borders if we believe the rhetoric we tell ourselves about the character of this country. We cannot turn away these people, these families, who will face their children’s and their own certain and gruesome deaths upon return to Syria. At some point, we have to stand up to evil, because we will do far more harm by standing down. Did we learn nothing from history? Or are we just refusing to apply the lesson?
Erin McClure is a married mother of two young children working as a freelance writer in Boise.