Old faces and fresh dishonor

25 Nov
November 25, 2015

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Save for the image of a six-year-old Hungarian girl which I do not possess — these are the photographs of 10 of the 11 members of my family who did not escape from Europe in the critical prewar years, when the path for refugees fleeing fascism narrowed, then disappeared. Fear of these people — their otherness, their politics, their faith — was sufficient to close borders and deny safe passage to America and elsewhere. The first six photos are an extended family on my mother’s side lost at Auschwitz, the last four a branch of my father’s clan slain in the woods outside the city of Slonim, in what is now Belarus.

The facelessness of the hundreds of thousands fleeing our time’s great cruelty is in some basic way part of their undoing. In their anonymity, the Syrian refugees running from Assad or the Islamic State appear in our political discourse as mere numbers, abstract and enormous. Save for the occasional photograph of a child’s body on a beach or some video footage of an exhausted woman in a rail station, these lost souls exist for us as an amorphous collective. To our minds, they are a vast multitude of disordered humanity, victims and victimizers, terrorists and those terrorized. Sorting them will be exhausting and imprecise and burdensome. There will be costs. And risks.

And yet every time I begin to listen to someone explain to me the social or political problem of opening our country to this breaking wave of humanity, every time some sonofabitch summons fear or prejudice or uncertainty, I am steadied and restored by my own familial history. Yes, populations are vast, uncontrollable, threatening. Their swell and weight are great enough in our frightened minds to overwhelm systems, or resources. But people are people. Our precious singularity, when at last acknowledged, makes the cowardice of our worst politicians and the fear of those who respond to their rhetoric that much more craven and shameful.

For me, I just have to turn the page of the family photo album and stare at these faces. The people of my blood, the lost branches of my tree — Esther and Solomon, Fanci and Gitel, Leo and little Batia and the others — ordinary mothers and fathers and children who an entire world failed to see as completely and irreplacably human. They, too, were a feared and unwanted wave of chaos and risk, confusion and otherness. And they were butchered on the short end of someone else’s geopolitical equation.

Knowing that much, I can’t look at these lost faces and then succumb to the worst imaginings of a Trump or a Cruz or a Carson. It would be an affront to the memory of my tribal dead, and to the fortunate journey, too, of all of those in my mother’s and father’s family who got out, who got here, or to Palestine, or Australia.

This, now, is the same moment, with the same stakes. Soon and forever, many more families will have nothing left but names and photographs over which to grieve, just as the names and images of others — today’s Tafts and Coughlins and Lindberghs — will be stained and dishonored by what they say or do in this time. These are men and women who wish to claim the mantle of moral leadership, yet would trade innocent lives for any and all chance for an abject and equivocal safety, or worse, for some immediate political gain. Tether yourself to their ugliest fears and you, too, can embrace the shame that this moment offers.

Or be more.

But know for certain that the history that is happening today — right now — will judge us all.

54 replies
  1. Amy Goodwin says:

    Somehow I missed this post. I understand. The current silence.

    Reply
  2. Greg Casey says:

    David,

    Thank you for writing this.

    There are precious few in our political discourse focusing on the basic humanity which we all share with the victims of the Syrian civil war (and other regional strife). It makes it so much easier to tolerate the barbaric when you think of the victims as something less than human, be it the horrific rhetoric of the Nazis or the slightly less barbaric language lumping all Muslims into a singular, monolithic “other”.

    Of the things I fear, the greatest is a majority of people in this country will cease to recognize the humanity of their fellow citizens of the world.

    Greg

    Reply
  3. Lakshman says:

    This poem by Tagore is what we should all aspire to be, in my humble opinion.
    “Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high
    Where knowledge is free
    Where the world has not been broken up into fragments
    By narrow domestic walls
    Where words come out from the depth of truth
    Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection
    Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way
    Into the dreary desert sand of dead habit
    Where the mind is led forward by thee
    Into ever-widening thought and action
    Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake “

    Reply
  4. david wilson says:

    Hey David Simon

    You and I are landsman! My grandparents came from Slonim in the early part of the 20th century too. While they never spoke about their experience growing up there, I was able to piece together some of the history. They were forced to emigrate because of government policies that today can only be called “ethnic cleansing.” The remnant of my family was either displaced and later emigrated to Israel or they were killed.

    Reply
  5. Migelito says:

    When did people become so cold and so hard-hearted? Seriously, here in the UK we spend so much time glorifying the ‘golden generation’ of WWII for their conviction and their compassion – but do we honour them now, when the crisis of our times is before us? No, our hearts have turned to stone.

    i know I’m generalising, but man it is BLEAK to listen to your fellow man on this issue right now.

    Reply
  6. susie says:

    When I was 10 years old I learned about the holocaust from my best friend’s father who had survived 3 different camps. He entered Bergen Belsen at the age of eight. He had a number crudely tattooed on his right forearm. I would sit next to him at shabbat and listen to his stories and wonder at how this could have happened in the world only 20 years before I was born.

    I went home and asked my parents how the United States could let that happen? How could they do nothing to stop it?

    My dad told me that not only did they not stop it, but the government knew about it and chose not to get involved until we were attacked by the Japanese. He told me the USA actually turned away Jews who were fleeing the horror. We turned away the ship they arrived on and sent it back to Europe. He told me about isolationism, the neutrality acts, and about the high level of anti-semitism that was the reality in the United States. I was 10 but I still understood how shameful this was and how it was against everything I was being taught to believe about my country.

    I have had so many conversations with people who claim that you cannot compare Syrian refugees with Jewish refugees in the 30s because the Jewish religion does not condone violence against non-believers.

    So these refugees are different.

    Except to my mind they’re not. They are mothers and fathers and children with no home and no safe place and to shut our door to them is shameful.

    Reply
  7. garry lee says:

    Anyone(in The West) who claims to be in the moral universe needs to ask themselves one question:do you accept that the U.S(along with the UK/France)have caused(notwithstanding the medieval savages now controlling much of the country)much of the utter horror that is now Syria?If you accept the answer to this elementary moral question is yes then the debate is null and void.We have a moral duty to help the innocent human beings fleeing that horror.But,alas,we don’t.Not only do we not help them,we blame them.In my country(UK)the poisonous fucking rag that is The Daily Mail actually equated Syrian refugees to RATS.The only country that comes out of this with any credit is Germany who,whisper it quietly,seem to see actual human fucking beings!

    Reply
    • Dubai says:

      How is the “West” responsible for the actions of Assad? Do you think everyone in the Middle East incapable of acting of their volition? Or do you see all Muslims as only capable of acting and re-acting to U.S. foreign policy?

      Reply
  8. Linda says:

    In 2006, Syria suffered a drought. Food prices rose. Then the civil war. Just like the so-called “Arab spring”.

    Brazil is in drought.

    Africa is in drought.

    War is occurring because people can’t feed their children. And there are simply too many of us humans on the planet.

    Mass migrations are occurring and will continue to occur because of over population and climate change.

    This is just the beginning.

    Welcome to the future. And welcome to humanity.

    Reply
  9. Drew says:

    It’s never as easy as the open boarders advocates make it seem. Period. If there were no drawbacks why would we stop at 10k, or 20k? Why not 100k, or a million, or 5 million? Because there are millions of people displaced from Syria and Iraq right now.

    Heck even Canada which elected a guy who makes Obama look like a tea partier is backing away from all his promises about refuges. Now only woman, children, and some proven gay men can get refuge status. Is Canada now just a racist fascist islamophobic wonderland?

    Not sure what side is correct. Usually the tea party is on the wrong side of all of these arguments so that is telling. But screaming at the middle class operations clerk and marketing rep that they are racist because they don’t think like you is a great way to lose an argument.

    Reply
  10. Jim Ratino says:

    Fear is a good thing; it is the essence of our common sense, it is our last measure of sanity before we go too far. It should not be used to shame us or be perverted in to a phobia by those that would have us ignore it.

    To believe “this, now, is the same moment, with the same stakes…” where we must immediately accept refugees or be guilty of a holocaust by “tether yourself to their ugliest fears” of a men that would “trade innocent lives for…immediate political gain” is indeed the ugliest of all fear mongering.

    I have a strong irritation for those that would use fear as a means to shame or bully us to act hastily or without consideration of opposing views. This is a controlling, domineering, weak, desperate, and disgusting behavior that the left has perfected. It can be seen regularly at college’s that refuse conservative opposition and between the cleaver lines of the liberal media blame-game narrative.

    Nothing can be learned in a vacuum or an echo chamber that is thrust forward by fear of guilt and shame. The best way to test what you believe is to have it challenged and then have to defend it. Using fear and guilt to undermine an opposing view, does more to discredit than advance ones own perspective.

    If there are arguments to be made that Syrian refugee’s can be saved that does not jeopardize our economic or national security than let us hear them. If the vetting process is too weak and can be improved let us hear how. If Syrian refugees should only be nationalized as our last option, then let us hear why. But, let these arguments be made without undermining them with fear or the weight of the holocaust.

    Reply
    • David Simon says:

      There were rationalists who minimized the risk to the Jews of Europe in 1938, saying that the stakes were not what they were. That it wasn’t our business. That the risks were problematic. Your comments are an echo of such.

      There is a reason that tens of thousands are already dead and hundreds of thousands are on the move. It is not because the stakes for these human beings is moderate or exaggerated.

      You might want to go back to the speeches of Mr. Taft arguing caution or the assurances of Mr. Lindbergh that we were being manipulated into impulsive and wrong-headed action by un-American elements. Voices that argued, as you argue now — with the world in disarray and the leading nations of the world call upon to respond — that we have time to consider this, that all possible caution has no cost worth our worry or concern. Incredibly, now, in this moment, you sugges that we need hone a vetting process that is already far more stringent than anything else to which we subject ordinary immigrants and visa applicants — so much so that a terrorist would have to be braindead to attempt to enter this country as a refugee rather than through ordinary channels already available. Taft and Lindbergh and other isolations were later shamed for their isolationist stance, and for being late to anti-fascism. Rightly so.

      Would that such voices feared the very real and present cost to so very many others even a tenth as much as they conjure an imagined cost to themselves. Curtis Mayfield had your number: “There ain’t no place for the hopeless sinner, who would hurt all mankind just to save his own.”

      Reply
      • First LT says:

        Again, isn’t the real crime our refusal to stop the goddamn genocide in the first place? Isn’t the analogy only useful if we admit we should have stopped fascism with Franco and Moussolini and Hitler much much earlier and thus obviate this ancillary refugee issue?

        I see your argument as the morally weak one. To wit: ” Hey don’t get involved in wars in the middle east that could end mass murder, gender Apartheid and Islamo-fascism for millions but instead let that shit rage on but take in the refugees that manage to escape the whirlwind”.

        If that’s ethical to you then I feel safe saying your moral compass points directly to hell (along the Good Intentions HiWay).

        Reply
        • Goran Duk says:

          First LT, I’m a little confused. It’s already too late. The time to have “stopped fascism” has already passed by us. To continue the WW2 analogy, Hitler and Mussolini and Franco are already on the scene. ISIS exists. The Middle East is in absolute crisis, and it’s only getting worse.

          This is why we never should have invaded Iraq. Many people who had even the slightest idea what they were talking about predicted this before we invaded, that we were gonna kick a hornet’s nest and that it would create a deadly vacuum that would be filled by religious extremism. I think even the Onion of all places wrote an opinion piece in 2003 that exactly predicted the rise of ISIS.

          And the American political groups most against the Iraq war in 2002-2003 were liberal groups. I can almost guarantee you that Simon was not advocating for the war, so if your comments are directed at him, again… I’m confused.

          There is no longer an easy answer or a simple solution. Even in 2006 or 2007, if we had made an effort to remove the Sykes-Picot lines and divide Iraq into multiple parts ruled by different powers, we could have perhaps helped to create some semblance of stabilization. It’s too late for that now, too.

          We helped to start this mess, so it IS up to us to not turn a blind eye. Forget even basic morality or sense of human decency, we are already involved and the worse the problem gets the worse it gets for the entire world, including us. It’s in our best interest to not ignore this. However, there is no easy answer. People will die. It will take years before things look any better. This is the cost of massive mistakes like the Iraq invasion, and previous blunders in the 80s and going back as far as WW1 and the Lawrence of Arabia days.

          And the idea of bombing ISIS back to the stone age is utterly absurd. It’s like pouring water on a grease fire. We’ve already bombed that country to pieces, which is part of the reason there is so much anger over there that is so easily manipulated. ISIS is an effect, not a cause. Imagine if your family was killed in a bomb dropped by a country halfway across the world. You’d be pretty angry, wouldn’t you? And imagine you were only ten years old, and as you got older, you couldn’t find work, or any sort of life that offered stability. So you’re jobless, and angry. Just look at what that’s done to people in the USA. Now multiply that by 100. This is just basic human psychology.

          The way to defeat ISIS is the same way to beat the mob – go after the money. As long as the Middle East is destabilized, it’ll be a breeding ground for extremism (and the entire world is getting more and more extreme). Dark days are ahead, no matter what we do. But there can be a light at the end of the tunnel, if we handle these problems with a long term strategy that involves more than just bombing things and killing people.

          If we turn to nativism and xenophobia, the problem will only get worse. First step, go after the money that funds ISIS. Only after ISIS is destroyed can the real work begin.

          Reply
  11. gimmyCliff says:

    America is a land of the mixed and that seems to have worked fine for everyone but the natives. As far as vetting those refugees wanting entry, the army can’t vet their inductees so I’m not sure how that would work. I also don’t understand why people would cling to a religion which represents so much carnage in the world. But I’m not a religious person, I tend to get my community experiences through music events and the like. I think someone should slip LSD into the water of the worst of these terrorists to overcome all of the brainwashing their brains have been subjected to. I also think the people who make the weapons should bear some responsibility. The sad thing is I have no answers just many questions.
    I’m sad for your losses but glad that your immediate family made it to this country, as I appreciate your contribution to American literature. See! you never know.

    Reply
  12. Dubya says:

    Well done, sir. And thanks for sharing.

    Regarding “stability.” I believe it very much is the duty of our democratic and rich states of the “West” to do all we can to DE-stabilize totalitarian regimes and to kill the fascists of ISIS, etc. In the last 20 years I’ve yet to hear even one good or honourable argument from the Left or the isolationist Right, as to why the Saddams and Assads and (have we all already forgotten him?) the Milosevics’ should be allowed for to do their hideous work upon their populations and their neighbours’ populations as well. I’ve heard a lot of whataboutery. A lot of selfish “not in my name” rhetoric. Tons of “no blood for oil” sloganeering. But not one good argument which states a reasonable or workable alternative to “destabilizing” these regimes. The best I’ve heard is to allow as many refugees into as many peaceful countries as possible but to “stay out of the fray” militarily. I’m in full agreement with you on refugees but it doesn’t really amount to even a half-measure.

    President Obama’s non-policy on Assad and half-assed efforts toward ISIS has failed the people of Kurdistan, Iraq and Syria. And now France and Lebanon as well. I’m not a hater of your President by any means but I’m completely baffled by his priorities regarding…well, everywhere outside your borders.. And I for one won’t be surprised if his foreign policy will be viewed by many, both inside and especially outside the U.S., in the future as being at least as disastrous as any president before him including both Bush’s. I say “in the future” because most people, I think, don’t want to lend any credibility to the irrational haters at the moment.

    I think it’s worth noting when looking at both Iraq and Syria now, that doing nothing can be just as horrible as war.

    So yes, the least we can do is is allow as many people fleeing the terror of intentional civilian bombing, torture and murder by Assad and Putin and Iran and ISIS to come to our lands of peace and plenty. I myself feel a small amount of pride for the way my countrymen/women here in Canada are welcoming the 25,000 poor souls from Syria. And even more so for giving preference to homosexuals; who are always in danger even in Muslim countries that are relatively peaceful. But I think it needs to be noted and repeated, that this is penance for doing so little for so long to help the people fleeing such horrors. And once we’ve helped even a half-million or so(counting Europe, etc.). What then? What will we do about the other 4 million folks in the camps? What will we do to help whatever democratic comrades might be left in the middle east?

    Reply
  13. Lakshman says:

    I completely agree with you. Especially since we helped create, or rather were the principal player in helping create the mess there in the past few decades, so we must bear responsibility. Even otherwise America has been a beacon for freedom and liberty..you know the whole “give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free” thing.
    But what do you say to those that ask (legitimately?) why some of the more prosperous countries in the region, the Saudis, UAE, Turkey even haven’t taken any? I could be wrong but at last count wasn’t it zero? I think it was Maher that asked on his show and I’m paraphrasing that “The solution to the problem cant be emptying the people out of the Middle East can it?”

    Reply
    • Dubya says:

      How is it, Lakshman, that you’ve come to believe that your country was “the principal player in helping create the mess” in Syria. The Syrian revolt started as a homegrown, democratic, protest movement, taken up by moderate Muslims, socialists, unionists, anarchists, etc. The U.S. did nothing to instigate it. Nor have have they stepped in any meaningful way since Syria’s “leader,” Assad, began murdering and torturing the protesters. That was the time to move and provide diplomatic and any other help but your president decided instead that helping democratic Syrians would anger Assad’s masters in Iran and thus hurt Obama’s chances of making his “historic” nuclear deal with Iran. A cynical and very Kissinger-esque bit of realpolitik.

      Now, four years later, we have four million displaced, hungry, shell-shocked, Syrian refugees, a quarter-million dead civilians and rising, and an all but dead democratic movement in Syria. Not to mention the involvement of imperial Russia and Iran who’ve done nothing to fight ISIS but instead have been bombing hospitals, ambulances and cities on behalf of the war criminal, Assad.

      So, I guess blame America for the mess in Syria, if you must, but I’d put the blame on Obama for his cynical inaction, as opposed to past presidents for their actions.

      Reply
  14. david wilson says:

    Since the Syrian refugee crisis has become a campaign issue I went back to Jewish primary sources to find out what were the ethical principles of dealing with the “stranger.” Some Jews have told me or written here that they want to be compassionate but they are too afraid of terrorists slipping through. Or that they don’t trust the President or the US government to vet these people properly–mostly women with young children and the elderly. There are 613 mitzvot (religious imperatives) that one must follow. In my family we didn’t even come close to following all of them or we didn’t even know about them explicitly. In other words we couldn’t list them but following tradition and custom we acted them out. To answer the question “why do you do it?” the response was “I don’t know. We just do.” Helping refugees in the 50s in my family and in our neighborhood was something that we “just did.”
    The resonance to how Jewish refugees from the Nazis in the 1930’s is very strong to me when viewing the current Syrian refugees. I experience such cognitive dissonance when I hear those right wing memes repeated that the situation today is different than the 1930s. The only thing that has changed is the target–in the 30s the Jews were not considered to be human; now it is the Syrians.

    Reply
  15. Nameless Smokehound says:

    Myself, far from a participant in any organized religion (because, you know, I went to Catholic school for 12 years), yet I consistently find such relevant and beautiful language coming directly from the Bible…

    “The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as one of your citizens; you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”

    The Bible, a text which every “Christian” I know places above all else, yet every single “Christian” I personally know is completely against allowing the Syrian refugees in. Like clockwork.

    I really do try to relay the absolute fact that you can use the Bible to justify good, and you can use the Bible to justify bad.

    You can use the Quran to justify good, and you can use the Quran to justify bad.

    But when’s the last time we agreed even on the facts?

    Reply
  16. Jean Ratelle says:

    The refugee Jews of the ’30s had done nothing or very little at worst to create the hatred and bias against them. The group – not just refugees but all Jews were hated out of ignorance. They were not feared. They were hated. They also were not associated via their religion, nationality, or more importantly beliefs, with any larger group that was feared.

    That is the distinction between the Jewish refugees of the ’30s and the Syrian refugees, that was not made. There is a rational reason to fear this group, that was not present with the /30s Jews. If even 1 of the total group that lands promulgates the larger group’s (radical Islam) beliefs – Jihad – then the fears that were held, will turn out to be well founded. No such fears were present with the ’30s Jews.

    If the screening process can assure us that those fears can be logically dispelled, then of course our doors must be open to all immigrants as they almost always have been. If those fears can not be dispelled, then the purportedly irrational fear and and assumed paranoid behavior it inspires, is not quite so paranoid after all.

    Reply
    • David Simon says:

      You need some curve on your stick, Mr. Ratelle, because this is historically inaccurate.

      The Jews of the 30s and 40s were explicitly feared for their politics, connection to communism and socialism, potential for upending Western governance. Read the speeches of Robert Taft or listen to the broadcasts of Father Coughlin. Immigration quotas for Jews, particularly those from Germany and Eastern Europe were kept low during the run-up to Holoccaust for fears of the destabilizing politics of Jewish refugees and their connections to the radical left. Those fears were stoked to keep Americans opposed to raising the quotas.

      And I disagree that the potential for terrorism by a single refugee, or even some small portion of the thousands that require rescue is sufficient to allow this country — which did so much to destabilize the Middle East over the last decade — to avoid its humanitarian obligations. That’s a selfishness and dishonor that beggars description. It should shame us to even suggest such a premise.

      Reply
      • Jean Ratelle says:

        Feared for their politics” That’s kind of a little different, wait I mean incredibly frigging different, than being feared for blowing up a stadium. Not to mention they were being feared for something either a democratic nation could vote for or against, or being feared by a totalitarian structure who we would want to be brought down.

        So what is the number when its OK to let that fear be considered rational and so not let a larger group in if not 1? When is it not “some small portion”? 3? 30? 300? 3,000? That we caused the destabilization is surely true, and is also irrelevant to this issue. Even if we are 100% to blame, which we are not, would we then be compelled to compound the damage to this country by letting in any person displaced?

        Reply
        • David Simon says:

          Not really.

          You’ve lost the historical thread of just how frightened this country was of the great Red Menace in the 1930s, when International Communism seemed poised amid the Depression to destabilize the West. Read some about the deep American opposition to increasing quotas for Jews especially, despite what was happening in Germany. Look at the poll numbers. Read the speeches. The idea of Jewish refugees carried a dangerous political virus — like terror — is lost to you now in retrospect. It was elemental to keeping most Americans from supporting immigration, or for that matter, selling arms to the Republicans in Spain. We feared the left much, much more than we cared about the rise of fascism in Europe.

          You’re imagining the world in hindsight, but not actually reading any of the contemporary arguments.

          Fear is rational. Terrorism is meant to frighten people and make them act in the interests of the terrorists and against their own better judgment. Fear is, in that sense, inevitable. Acting on that fear — in this case by barring the door against the people who are running from Assad and the Islamic State both — is irrational. As well as immoral.

          Reply
          • Jonathan says:

            I don’t think it’s irrational. The terrorists specialize in blending into the population, killing people out of nowhere, and then blending back and they have had a lot of practice doing it. So, not letting in people from that area of the world is pretty rational.

            But, it’s also rational, I think, to say that you have to take risks to win against these people in the long run. Taking in large numbers of syrian refugees would be a big risk with a big reward. The risk is pretty obvious. The reward is that taking in immigrants and sticking to your values in tough times basically always pays off in ways you don’t anticipate.

            I would kind of side with letting them in because it’s likely people from ISIS are here already and, as has been demonstrated by history over and over, sticking to your values is basically always the way to go. Oh, and, by letting them in, you gain what could be pretty valuable intelligence sources. I’m think most of those people are a few hops away from somebody involved with ISIS so I think that they (or their relatives or friends in syria) could give us a lot of info we don’t already know.

            … But I can see why other people don’t want to let them in. If there is another attack and it turns out to be committed by someone who came in with the refugees, I’m not sure what would happen but it definitely wouldn’t be good for anybody.

            Reply
          • Kim says:

            “Fear is rational. Terrorism is meant to frighten people and make them act in the interests of the terrorists and against their own better judgment. Fear is, in that sense, inevitable. Acting on that fear — in this case by barring the door against the people who are running from Assad and the Islamic State both — is irrational. As well as immoral.”

            Amen, David. And thank you. Again.

            Reply
      • First LT says:

        I love how you assert that Saddam’s regime was tantamount to “stability”. Lol. Our role in the coup in 53 and our support of Saddam in the 80s is what destabilized the region; our dispatching of the maniac we created (finally!) in 03/04 was merely doing our job vis-a-via the UN charter.

        Look, we have an obligation to stop crimes. We signed the charter. And this means we have a moral obligation to stop these dictators and psychopaths from killing people in numbers so large as should be shocking to even the most insular American. Why is it ok that Saddam murdered 100s of thousands with chemical weapons; why are the Kurds not worth our loyalty? Why are the Syrians murdered by Assad in the 100s of thousands not worth our concern or angst?

        The US FOR DECADES supported right wing fascists in the middle east and Latin America; we support Islamic right wingers now in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan! Why isn’t this “destabilizing”?!

        Why is it only “destabilizing” when we FOR ONCE support pluralism and democracy by dispatching a right wing psychopath like Saddam and allow Iraqis to choose their own govt? The Kurds are still very happy with our decision to invade but nobody ever talks about them. And despite Iraq’s problems it was nowhere near as bad as it was under Saddam in 08/09. And this was true for the safety and liberty of the Iraqis and for us. And if we had kept a residual peace keeping force there it wouldn’t even be debatable currently; but we left and now it’s a fuck-show I admit. But that isn’t because we unseated the “stabilizing” Saddam; it’s because we left and let the forces of reaction and the Parties of God run rough shod over the pluralism and democracy we helped provide space for by removing Saddam.

        In my opinion you take the exact wrong lessons from the same data I look at… but who knows maybe I’m wrong (but when you and I disagree nobody gets threatened or killed. Notice that?)

        I wonder if John Kerry still thinks it’s fucking “justified” to kill people for offending someone’s religious sensibilities?! How come you didn’t go ape shit over THAT OUTRAGEOUS comment Kerry made? My gawd what a perfectly emblematic demonstration of the modern liberal view that if someone offends some minority it’s JUSTIFIABLE TO KILL THAT PERSON! Given your stated aim of wanting debate on the issues while eschewing any ad hominem abuses I wonder why you haven’t made more of a stink about the widespread Islamic approval (see: opinion polls vis-a-vis the use of violence to “defend Islam”) and the collective liberal shoulder shrug over the ultimate use of the ad hominem: killing a man? Maybe you can think about it…

        Reply
        • Markef says:

          It’s plain delusional for you to think that you can take an army that represents a set of values that, globally, are best viewed with ambivalence, and use it to assert your moral authority in a place where you are not perceived to have any.

          Even done with the best intentions (and it wasn’t -look how unexpectedly useful and neverending ‘the war on terror’ has become for crushing domestic viewpoints that stray too far from the official narrative) you cannot seriously expect to solve anything.

          Reply
          • First LT says:

            The 82nd airborne solved the problem of Saddam being in charge. Just like the 10th mountain division solved the problem of German troops in the Apennines.

            Some problems need armies to solve them. Saddam was one. Hitler was another. I think Assad qualifies. We signed an oath to stop genocide. And I won’t be lectured by pacifists and isolationists and the congenitally fatuous that Saddam was “stabilizing” and his wholesale murder was acceptable because going to war is somehow worse. And I think a Kurdish life is worth as much as an Americans to be honest and we saved many many Kurds with the US Military despite your effete objections.

            I’ll gladly put my ethics up against yours. QED.

            Reply
    • Andrew L. says:

      The idea that a single terrorist among the refugees would validate keeping them all out is ridiculous. There will never guarantees of that magnitude for anything. Hell, we can’t even guarantee that natural-born American citizens won’t be terrorists.

      Reply
    • Migelito says:

      ‘There is a rational reason to fear this group’

      Your fears are irrational and echo amny others who have found themselves on the wrong side of history.

      Reply
      • Jean Ratelle says:

        i did not say the fears justified not admitting refugees. only that the fears were rational. With the refugee jews the fears were not rational.

        Reply
        • David Simon says:

          They are not rational now. These are the people running from ISIS and Assad.

          They are just fears.

          It is just that you think you know your own Jewish clan and you don’t know the Otherness of these people. It is xenophobia. And it is convenient and wrong. The best you can say is that fear is understandable as fear. But rational, no.

          Reply
          • Jean Ratelle says:

            Understandable is better than rational. The best however, is more understandable (than the fear of the refugee Jews). As those Jews at worst were subversive and even by their accusers were seeking to overthrow the government via LEGAL and easier to track means (i.e. drum up support to vote for Communists not capitalists).

            These new fears are fear of murdering via ILLEGAL and much more difficult to audit means.

            Reply
        • Migelito says:

          Yes, you keep saying that your fears are rational but I don’t see the evidence. All i see is fear of the Other.

          Reply
          • Jean Ratelle says:

            Migelito, if you knew to a certainty that there was going to be a terrorist action in the U.S. in 3 months. Would you not be more likely to consider the perpetrator to be of radical Islam thinking? Not certain mind you, just more likely. I don’t see how your answer can not be “Yes.” If I then ask you is that radical Islamist more lilkely to be one of the Syrian refugees or any other random American, does not your answer again have to be, “Yes.”?

            Understand I am still not saying whether I would admit them or not. But the fear is rational, as given the above analysis, which is indisputable, there is a greater likelihood, if only by a small percentage, that there will be a terrorist action if the refugees are admitted, than if they are not. A small percentage likelihood of a negative event = rational fear of that event, and thus of that agent likely to cause that fear to be realized.

            Reply
            • David Simon says:

              Behold, profiling by race.

              Reply
              • Jean Ratelle says:

                Of course profiling. I do not subscribe to it to eliminate the protections of the Constitution. Which is to say, it can not, and should not, be used to limit the rights of one person even. But to ask us not to accept profiling when discussing what measures up to our rational fears? Ridiculous. We all profile constantly when dealing with our fears. Especially the rational ones. We are scared of big dogs more than little ones. It may not be perfectly accurate to profile so, as little dogs can bite also, but we are more scared of big dogs than little dogs. And, to try to use the word “profiling”, knowing it will raise fears of Constitutionality, as opposed to how it was being suggested here, is reverse fear mongering, and thus fear mongering in the most misleading way. Shame on you.

                Reply
                • Migelito says:

                  Following your logic (I hesistate to use the word) would lead us to a very dark place.

                  No doubt in time you’ll be backing internment camps sponsored by Trump Organization LLC.

                  Put your fears in a noose, you shame yourself.

                  Reply
                  • Jean Ratelle says:

                    That reply was disingenuous. I specifically said I do not support profiling by a government, as it specifically contravenes Constitutional protections that are AND OUGHT TO BE guaranteed. I said nothing like what you have intimated. But you liked the way it read so you went with it. I said the fears were more valid than the fears of Jewish refugees, based on human being’s innate and logical ability to profile. That’s all I said. I’m done with this.

                    Reply
            • Tia Nadiezja says:

              Actually, Jean, I’d guess, knowing only that an act of terror is going to happen (not its exact nature or scale), that the perpetrator will be a white man, most likely self-identified Christian, and the target will be an abortion clinic (like the Colorado attack) or doctor (Tiller), or a government office (the Texas plane attack; Oklahoma City). It might, instead, be a liberal political rally that is hit (the attack on the BLM rally) or an LGBT individual murdered in a gruesome, public way directly intended to cause fear.

              Because things like that are far, far more common than Islam-inspired terrorism in the United States.

              Reply
  17. Steve Humphreys says:

    Labeling something hyperbole can itself be hyperbolic if the occasion provides a suitable context for the former. Was the Gettysburg Address hyperbolic? Regarding what Sam Harris has opined, in his last blog on the subject he stated that while some liberals are unwilling to addressing the theistic elephant in the room associated with radical Islam, his primary concern is that their failure to do so will leave fertile ground for right-wing demagogy to gain a foothold. Sam is, after all, a liberal himself. I’m curious to hear his views on whether Syrian refugee children are a sufficient threat that they should be left to wash up on some foreign shore or its equivalent.

    Reply
    • katie says:

      And it’s pretty gruesome to think about waiting around to learn whether Simon’s comparison is hyperbolic, no?

      Reply
    • First LT says:

      I made it pretty clear I’m a liberal too. And I made it even more clear that I’m for letting the refugees in; and more importantly I’m for dispatching the psychopathic regimes that make them refugees in the first place.

      And for whoever said that Saddam was “secular” all I can do is shake my head. What’s next? You gonna claim Saddam was “a bad guy but…”? The level of ignorance to both the irrational and deeply Islamic nature of Saddam’s regime and our moral and legal obligation to attenuate it is numbing. Do people even read books anymore or is it all Fox News and MSNBC all day now?

      Do yourself a favor and read Christopher Hitchens’ book, The Long Short War. You need not agree with its conclusion but you ought to at least learn what you clearly don’t fucking know.

      I’m an atheist so all religions are fatuous in my opinion. But some are relatively anodyne and some are virulent. And if saying this makes me a bigot then I’m bigoted. Just like some political ideologies are benign (e.g., liberal democrat; Euro-socialist; et.al.) and some are dangerous (e.g., Stalinist; Fascist; National Socialist; et.al.). Why? Because some ideologies allow for debate and some ideologies kill anyone who disagrees with them. Well, some religions have a similar line of demarcation. And just like in the dark ages it was Christians demanding fealty or the sword, now it’s Islam. I’d have fought Christian zealots back then but since now the most stupid and hateful Christians merely hold horrid signs up at funerals and give me dirty looks when I mention my lack of faith I can move on to more pressing matters. To wit: Islamists and their conservative backers want me and you and our entire Enlightenment tradition DEAD and are armed to the teeth and actually killing people for drawing cartoons and drinking booze. There’s a big fucking difference between the REALITY of the two religions despite the innate stupidity and insanity of Christian doctrine. It’s time to push Islam into modernity (meaning they can’t kill people for offending them; they can bitch and moan like the rest of us do but they can’t murder us over our lack of respect for their stupid and evil religion) and the fact that only right wing shit heads are aware of this threat and good liberals are not is pissing me (a left winger/Liberal) and Sam Harris (a liberal) off. I refuse to cede the ground of defending Liberal Democracy and Enlightenment values to right wing Republicans. We Liberals need to stand up for Liberal values.

      And I refuse to let John Kaisich go around calling our Enlightenment values “Judeo-Christian values”. Our country is founded on secular Enlightenment values not Judeo-Christian bullshit. QED. But the threat of Christian findamentalism is like the threat of heartburn; annoying but benign. The threat of Islamic conservatives is tantamount to the threat of cancer: deadly. We need to prioritize our medical treatment options.

      Reply
      • Tia Nadiezja says:

        Saddam WAS a secular leader, at least as much so as most recent Presidents of the United States. Yes, he was a Muslim, and yes, he referenced Islam frequently, but he wasn’t running a Muslim theocracy or even an explicitly Muslim state. There’s two theocracies in the world (Iran and the Vatican); Iraq has never been one.

        And… here’s the kicker. Things in Iraq were better – for pretty much everybody – when Saddam was in power. That’s not to say they were good – Mr. Hussein was a terrible person who did terrible things on a terrible scale and I have neither pity nor sympathy for him on his death. But “stable” is different from “good,” and “unstable” tends to be far, far worse than “autocratic.” The Islamic State is far, far worse than Hussein ever was, and it’s not the only band of really, really bad folks stomping about Iraq that a stable – even if evil – government would have kept in check.

        Reply
  18. Lon Rains says:

    I’m not sure who is worse, the vile politicians who believe the hateful garbage they spew, the ones who don’t believe it, but are more than happy to court the votes of the ignorant fools who do believe it, or the ones who know better, but keep silent for fear of losing votes. I have reached that age where my cynicism about most politicians runs very, very deep. My cynicism about the voting public runs nearly as deep.

    I am often tempted to withhold my vote from all of them, but I know that collectively, as voters, we bear responsibility for the stupidity of modern day politics because largely through our very low participation in the primary elections, we have created this climate where politicians in both U.S. political parties pander to the fringe out of fear of losing an election. So, every November I force myself to choose my leaders from among the ranks of the least objectionable.

    The hatred currently being spewed against Syrian – and all other non-white, non-Chritian refugees, also displays a complete disregard for historical fact. The vast majority of Immigrants to the U.S., understand the freedoms embodied in the Bill of Rights far better than American citizens, who largely either take them for granted or truly do not understand them. Ask someone who has lived under a brutally repressive regime their entire lives, why they love it here and you will get a passionate answer about what that opportunity has meant to their families. It far outweighs the prejudice and stupidity they must endure when they get here,

    There are more studies than you can count that show how the immigrant experience in America almost always plays out in the same positive way.

    It is ironic, that the wars we chose to fight in the Middle East have destroyed the most secular societies there, leading to the very rise of the fake fundamentalist thugs they now must flee.

    The best thing we could do is let more people into the country who know totalitarianism when they see it.

    Reply
  19. Katie says:

    As much as I dislike armchair psychology, I have to use it here. It seems like all of the tough talk and the big words about ideology are just a way to try to distance ourselves from the reality of our common humanity, what Simon here so eloquently calls “Our precious singularity.”

    For awhile, I watched the republican campaign freakshow with amusement. No more. It’s terrifying what some of them stand for, and what they embolden in their followers. I don’t think you can be hyperbolic about it right now.

    Thanks for sharing your personal stories and photos, Mr. Simon. The personal keeps us tethered to the ground, and to each other, lest we go floating off into the destructive dehumanizing rhetoric of us vs. them, which seems to reach its logical end in violence.

    Reply
  20. Father Luke says:

    Plastic Jesus nailed it, September 3rd 2015:

    https://www.facebook.com/plasticjesusart/posts/1052783011399052

    “Fucking Syrian children washing up dead on our beaches. Who do they think they are coming over here filling up our graveyards.”

    Reply
  21. First LT says:

    It’s not that you’re wrong so much as you’re hyperbolic. And frankly, in the 30s our refusal to intervene against the aggression of Franco and Mussolini and Hitler is what actually led to the Holocaust and thus our refusal to accept Jewish refugees was kinda ancillary to our larger transgression.

    And 2 years ago congress and Obama eschewed our moral and legal responsibility to stop Bashar Assad in his war crimes and thus NOW we have this goddamn refugee crisis that everyone thinks is so vexing.

    We signed the UN charter. We had a legal responsibility to stop Saddam. We did that. Because the war was conducted by a frat boy shithead we fucked it all up; but it was the moral and legal obligation at the time. And Syria was and is no different. We don’t have the option of letting this shit go on and still claim to be some moral beacon. But all you good liberals (small “l”) think war is the worst possible thing in the world. So we let these psychopaths murder people wholesale while we argue over whether or not we should allow 10,000 Syrians in.

    By the way Canada isn’t accepting single men now. That’s a reasonable compromise in my opinion. Single men can FIGHT FOR THEIR FUCKING COUNTRY. Or is that too cold hearted too?

    And lastly, Jews have no faction that has declared war on atheists, Christians and Hindus and Muslims have in fact just such a international force and if you read opinion polls there’s a large amount of Muslims who support jihad/murder in the case of cartoonists who make the mistake of making fun of Islam. So, it isn’t exactly the perfect analogy between Jews in 1930’s and Muslims now. I suggest you read Sam Harris on this: he has tons of data to demonstrate just how right wing and conservative many many Muslims are. Even the ones who won’t kill for Islam have expressed support for those who do. Think of these conservative Muslims like our right wing evangelicals who think Tim McVeigh was a good boy. Ok? We’re at fucking war with an ideology no less evil and stupid than Stalinism or Fascism; Islam is an ideology not a race. And as an ideology it is both wrong (ontologically) and dangerous precisely because its central tenets and most of its adherents don’t allow for DISAGREEMENT. Let that sink in. There’s no dialectic in Islam. There’s no debate. There’s no pluralism or “I’m ok you’re ok”. They want us dead or converted.

    Jews had no such ideology nor infrastructure then or now. Not all ideologies are equal. Some are fascistic and totalitarian and violent. Some are not. This shit matters in the real world. So, let the refugees in but how about we do our duty and wipe these retrograde Islamo-fascists off the map in Syria et.al. and get tough with their slightly less radical supporters with some no-bullshit directives that we won’t tolerate any right wing Islamic shit in this country and that when they move here they follow our Liberal Democratic traditions or they can go back to the goddamn desert and pretend it’s the 7th century all they like. Deal? Deal.

    Reply
    • Chuck says:

      But we’re not at “war” are we. Not those of us back in the States planning Thanksgiving (some marketing genius wants to re-brand it “Thanksgetting”) dinner and more concerned about they’re going to get for Christmas than the are the fate of these wretched people.

      If there is a “war” we’d have to make sacrifices – and that’s just unAmerican. How – for instance – do we plan on paying for this “war”? Certainly not with increased taxes, since that would counter the GOP dogma. And who’s going to fight it? Certainly not the scions of the upper one-percenters. No, any war we fight must be painless and without risk. Just like bringing the tired, poor, huddled masses yearning to breathe free from the Levant entails some risk. Consequently doing the right thing and saving the helpless refugees is unacceptable in today’s nation of pussies that is modern America.

      We, as a nation, always do the “smart” thing but are now incapable of doing the right thing. It’s a goddam tragedy what has happened to a once great nation.

      Reply

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