What Makes America Great

U.S. Internment Camp for Japanese-Americans.

U.S. Internment Camp for Japanese-Americans.

Seventy-five years ago, on February 19, 1942, President Roosevelt authorized the deportation and incarceration of Japanese-Americans with Executive Order 9066. This power was used to declare that all people of Japanese ancestry were excluded from the entire West Coast, including all of California and much of Oregon, Washington and Arizona. Nearly 130,000 mainland Japanese Americans were forcibly relocated from their West Coast homes during the spring of 1942. No civilians were found to be agents of espionage.

There has been a spike in hate speech since the November elections, which has liberated people to say in public what was not acceptable before the campaign.

The administration’s executive orders of January 27 banned entry by all refugees for 120 days, immigrants from seven Muslim nations — Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen — for 90 days, and all Syrians indefinitely. This ban has exposed a chasm in views on the role of the United States as a global leader. We’re witnessing the battle for the soul of the United States.

The Cato Institute reports that no refugees from the targeted countries have killed any Americans on American soil since the 1970’s. See here for the full report from September and here for an updated article in January.

The 19 terrorists of the coordinated attacks on September 11, 2001, were men affiliated with al-Qaeda. Fifteen of the 19 were citizens of Saudi Arabia, and the others were from the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, and Lebanon.  None of these countries are on the banned list. None of the 9/11 terrorists had refugee status. They arrived legally on short-term visas for flight training.

What is very troubling is the rising level of fear of foreigners, but especially of Muslims. In unsettling times, it’s instinctive to “circle the wagons” to protect our own. Why don’t people recognize their irrational fear as history repeating itself? With the social instabilities of 1930’s Germany, the tactics employed by the Nazis targeted Jews and others — homosexuals, people with physical and mental disabilities, Communists, Socialists, and Romanies (otherwise unfavorably known as Gypsies). There is never any need for factual evidence when dealing with demagogues; they just harness our fears — a phenomenon described by David Frum in his article How to Build An Autocracy.

The denigration and demonization of an entire group of people can easily lead to hate crimes, discriminatory laws, and extermination. We have seen this before in Nazi Germany, Rwanda, and Bosnia.

Yes, the spike in terrorist acts is terrifying. But there have been several horrific massacres by non-Muslims in recent years (the attack in a Quebec mosque in January, the attack at a Charleston church in June 2015, and the attack at an elementary school in Sandy Hook, Connecticut in December 2012). What are legislators doing to curb hate crimes committed by white nationalists who fear losing their place in a country with rising multiculturalism?

The demand for “extreme vetting” is a veil for exclusion of Muslims. The current policy of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security for screening refugees is already tough and time-consuming. The screening consists of an eighteen-step process. Syrian applicants must undergo two additional steps. Cases with “national security indicators” are given to Homeland Security’s fraud detection unit. This already existing extreme vetting process can take up to two years.

My rabbi’s recent Shabbat drasha (lesson) was on how seemingly bad situations are actually for our good. I told the rabbi that I’ve gained in my understanding of civil protest, but this country is still floundering.  He said he is confident that this country has enough checks and balances (between executive, legislative, and judicial branches) to keep our country safe.  I pray he is right.

We ask God to bless America.  Why should God do so?  It is not because we are rich or powerful, but because we offer hope to the “huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”

The author also wrote the February 5th article about the Jewish response to the president’s travel ban in The Philadelphia Jewish Voice.


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