Newspaper article The Tuscaloosa News

IDEAS & ISSUES: Syrian Refugees Strike Fear, Similar to German Jews

Newspaper article The Tuscaloosa News

IDEAS & ISSUES: Syrian Refugees Strike Fear, Similar to German Jews

Article excerpt

In the wake of the terrorist attacks in Paris, an increasing number of American politicians, including half of the nation's governors, have demanded the United States refuse admittance to Syrian refugees. Earlier this month, Gov. Robert Bentley joined the chorus when he ordered state officials to prevent the resettlement of Syrian refugees in Alabama.

Since the civil war began in Syria in 2011, more than 200,000 Syrians have been killed, 10 million have been displaced by the conflict and more than 4 million have fled the country to avoid persecution, torture or death. Most reside in Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon. Hundreds of thousands have made their way to Europe. The United States has already accepted approximately 2,200 Syrians, half of whom are children. President Barack Obama wants to accept 10,000 more refugees by 2016, all of whom will undergo extensive background and security checks that will take between 18 and 24 months.

The tragic plight of these refugees seems to make little difference. According to a recent Bloomberg poll, 53 percent of Americans want to halt all immigration of Syrians to the United States. The U.S. historically has been welcoming to refugees, but our resistance to admitting Syrian refugees out of fears of increased terrorism, xenophobia and bigotry is eerily similar to when we turned our back on German Jews seeking refuge from Nazi persecution.

Between 1933 and 1941, more than 91,000 Jewish refugees from Germany and Austria came to the U.S., far below what the immigration quotas from those nations allowed. Anti-|Semitism in the U.S. government kept the yearly quotas from being filled. While politicians and the public expressed sympathy for the persecuted Jews, few Americans were willing to accept more refugees, their attitude driven also by fear, xenophobia and bigotry. Even after the events of Kristallnacht in November 1938, in which thousands of German Jewish businesses were destroyed, synagogues torched and Jews beaten, arrested and murdered, the National Opinion Research Center found that 94 percent of Americans disapproved of the Nazi treatment of the Jews, but 72 percent opposed allowing a large number of Jews into the country.

Fear and anti-Semitic bigotry influenced our policy toward Jewish refugees. In early 1939, both Congress and President Roosevelt refused to support a bill allowing in 20,000 German Jewish children. Not long after, the world watched as the St. Louis, a German ocean liner, was callously refused entry into Cuba and the United States. …

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