Missouri Republicans whip refugees
by Patrick Dobson
Missouri Republican legislators set out this week to find ways to mistreat Syrian refugees. On the heels of Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback’s executive order that prevents any agency that receives state funding from resettling Syrian refugees, Republicans in Missouri are fighting mad about their governor’s non-stance on the Syrian refugee question.
It’s posturing on the part of those Republican legislators. Despite conspiracy theorists’ ideas that Muslims are here to undermine American values and establish Sharia law, most Muslims in the United States work, go to school, and live full lives without the need to force their beliefs on other people.
I had a long conversation with Islamic Society of Great Kansas City Service Manager Mustafa Hussein. The society doesn’t have the means to help resettle refugees. Jewish Vocational Services and the Don Bosco Center take up most of the work of finding housing and work for refugee immigrants. But when a refugee is settled and runs into trouble, individual members of the society take great pains to help.
Hussein goes out of his way to creating dialogues about Islam as a religion and Muslims as Americans. He speaks to church and social groups. Everyone, he says, is invited to come to the Islamic Society and see what Islam has to offer. (See the Islamic Society’s website at http://isgkc.org/.)
“There are 10 million Muslims in America from all walks of life,” Hussein said. “Most of us are highly educated. We married here, have kids born and raised here. I am thankful to live in Kansas City where people are very open minded.”
Hussein said that he and the Islamic Society made a “great effort after 911 to establish dialogue between Muslims and non-Muslims. A lot positive came out of it. We are neighbors. Our kids go to school with everyone else. Many people know Muslims, know what they stand for, what they practice.”
“There are people who are hateful just because,” he continued. “It’s very rare that I come across these people. You don’t have to accept what I believe, but you have to respect me as a person. Americans are open-minded people. They will accept anything and everything. After 33 years, I find Americans gentle, helpful, conscientious. There are people who hate everyone. But we (Muslims) are in a good place and are in good shape in this country. I dismiss these (negative) things that come my way.”
Gov. Jay Nixon has gone on record stating that refugee resettlement belongs to the federal, not the state government. It’s not that Nixon has stood with mayors Sly James of Kansas City and Francis Slay of St. Louis. Those politicians have joined with other mayors of major U.S. cities in calling for Congress to let the refugees settle in those cities after the normal federal government processes concerning refugees.
Recently, James and Slay endorsed “An Open Letter to Congress from the Nation’s Mayors,” from the United States Conference of Mayors that affirmed support “for the U.S. refugee resettlement system and to recognize the importance of continuing to welcome refugees to our country and to our cities.” The letter stated: “In recent days some have suggested that Congress should halt the entry of refugees, particularly Syrian refugees, to this nation. We urge you to resist this call and take no action that will prevent Syrian refugees from entering the United States after they have completed the screening process.” (http://usmayors.org/RefugeeLetter/OpenLettertoCongressfromMayors.pdf)
Nixon has not taken such positive action or chose a side in the refugee question. He’s just decided to stay out of the fight. It’s true that refugee and immigrant issues fall under federal control. Since we enjoy the freedom of movement in America, any refugee that settles in one state would be free to move to another. There are no religious or immigrant tests on where anyone in the U.S. can move, with the exceptions of felons on probation and parole. States can’t change the Constitution to suit themselves and their politicians immediate political posturing.
But strict federal processes regarding refugees and Nixon’s middle-of-the-road stance aren’t enough for Republicans in the Missouri Legislature who oppose anything sane regarding religion and choice. The fanatics in Jefferson City want to make sure that Missouri follows the path of Kansas and 30 other states whose Republican governors have taken a xenophobic — even Islamaphobic — stance against those refugees from a conflict that, in a strong sense, the United States is largely responsible for.
This week (Nov. 30) members of the House Budget and Senate Appropriations committees examined refugee resettlement and services programs that the federal government funds but whose monies pass through the state. According to Vanessa Crawford Aragon, executive director of Missouri Immigrant and Refugee Advocates based in Jefferson City, “It remains to be seen what their intentions are. The hearings seemed to be a lot of political point making. Certain members believe that refugees from Syria more likely to be terrorists and dangers to public safety based on lack of knowledge or misunderstanding or intentional misunderstanding.”
Americans have welcomed people from Islamic countries in the past. While many immigrants from Bosnia, Somalia and Iraq weren’t Muslim, most were. We didn’t see the outcry against Islam as a religion at the time. But the attack in Paris has been intentionally misconstrued to be perpetrated by Syrians. Politicians in Missouri, all of them Republicans, have taken the Paris attack and are now using it for political ends.
Just a few months ago, when a lone boy washed up on the shores of Turkey after a rough ocean ride from Syria, we saw a great public outcry to take in more refugees. Just a few months later, Republican governors have taken strong stances against refugees coming to their states. It’s clear in the Missouri hearings that Republican politicians are making political hay from a tragic situation. They are beating up on the very community we should be helping.
While no party in Republicans in the Missouri Legislature have not yet made any policy statements against taking refugees, the legislators make a point that they are questioning the process by which the federal government takes in and settles refugees. By having concerns, they say, they are not being xenophobic or expressing prejudice but instead are protecting their communities.
This is plainly disingenuous. They are more interested in playing on people’s fears for political gains than they are afraid for their communities. The Paris attack has given anti-Muslim prejudice an opening that the Missouri legislators are clearly exploiting. “I think prejudice against Muslims and Islam is manifesting itself in this situation with Syria,” Aragon said. “This is pretty clear.”
While Republicans have done much of the posturing on the Syrian refugee issue, Democrats have gotten in on the action. House Democrats released a plan last week that said they would increase funding for local law enforcement but they would have the state patrol undertake aspects of refugee screening. This is clearly outside the realm of state power but it plays well to those moved by the recent rise in xenophobic and Islamaphobic feeling on the part of Missouri politicians.
As ISIS strikes out across the Middle Eastern deserts, the radical group imposes a brand of justice and religion it calls Islamic. I have read the Koran. I teach a Western Civilization class in which students must read the Koran. I have nowhere found the kinds of “Islam” that ISIS projects on its subjects. The Koran doesn’t call on Muslims to terrorize, maim and kill. Terrorism does not sit at the heart of Islam.
The Koran, like the Bible, calls on its adherents to be righteous and just, to live lives without sin. Terrorists don’t have religion. They are terrorists. To lump refugees coming from a largely Muslim country into the same category as terrorists who call themselves Muslim isn’t just misguided, it’s plainly wrong.
Patrick Dobson can be contacted at email@example.com.