Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Right-Wing Pennsylvanians Urge Gov. Wolf Not to Admit Syrian Refugees

Long-simmering hostility toward Muslims and Middle Eastern people is coming to a head in the U.S. In the wake of ISIS atrocities in the Levant and a terrorist shooting in San Bernardino, some Americans are lumping law-abiding Muslims together with Islamic extremists. Recent high profile hate crimes against Muslims remind us that ugly rhetoric leads to ugly actions.

Rhetoric about banning Syrian refugees or privileging Christian refugees over Muslim ones should give us all pause. Right-wing opponents of refugee resettlement claim that Syrian refugees are insufficiently vetted for Islamic terrorist ties, despite the fact that the U.S. refugee vetting process is quite rigorous. For some Americans, fear of Islamic extremism has mutated into fear of all Muslims, even those who desperately need help.

Soon, I will blog about how Jerry Falwell Jr. encouraged Liberty University students to get weapons permits so that "we can end those Muslims before they get that far". I will also blog about Donald Trump's call for "a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States", as well as the Religious Right's reaction to his rhetoric. For now, I'd like share details about anti-refugee xenophobia in my corner of the world, Pennsylvania.

In November, as other governors opposed resettlement of Syrian refugees in their states, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf affirmed that his state would still accept vetted Syrian refugees, according to WGAL. Several Pennsylvania House Republicans sent Gov. Wolf a letter urging him to reconsider, according to the Allentown Morning Call. Rep. Lou Barletta sent the governor a separate letter imploring him reconsider as well. Wolf replied with a letter stating that "Pennsylvania will not seek to disrupt efforts to resettle refugees from humanitarian crises throughout the world, including Syria." He reminded his critics that "states do not have the authority to refuse to accept refugees that are admitted by the federal government."

A voice from Pennsylvania's Religious Right chimed in, speaking of Syrian refugees and Islamic extremists in the same breath. Gary G. Dull, vice president and executive director of the Pennsylvania Pastors Network, weighed in on the controversy in a December 1st letter to Gov. Wolf. Dull urged the governor to exercise caution in allowing Syrian refugees into Pennsylvania, lest terrorists enter the state and wreak havok.
"...any potential ISIS member who would be embedded into the ranks of the refugees possibly has the proper training to slip under the radar and therefore enter into Pennsylvania with the intent to harm our citizens. If that would happen, Sir, the blood of those who would be harmed or killed would be on your hands."
Dull argued that a "true" Muslim's loyalties would be to Sharia law, not the Constitution, and that "genuine" Islamic doctrine commands Muslims to kill non-Muslims.
"As a pastor I have great compassion for the poor and needy of war torn countries.  I believe the United States of America and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has a great heritage of providing for those who have suffered from tyrannical governments of the world down through the years.  I hold to the fact that immigration is not a bad thing and that many who want to come here to find true liberty and opportunity should be welcomed.  But in these days of radical Islamic terrorist activity we all know that not every immigrant or refugee would come to America with a pure motive of searching for a new life, liberty and opportunity.  There are those who hate our nation and are bent on bringing us harm and destruction.  Genuine Muslim doctrine clearly teaches from the pages of the Koran that those of us who are infidels (non-Muslims) should be killed.  A true Muslim supports Sharia Law that in no way agrees with the Constitutions of the United States or Pennsylvania. Consequently great wisdom and understanding must be used in who are allowed to enter our boarders." 

Some citizens were also unhappy with the governor's decision. A Change*org petition asking Gov. Wolf to deny admission to Syrian refugees has gathered over 71,000 signatures. The petition reminds the governor that Pennsylvania is in the middle of a budget impasse, which prevents the state from funding many services. However, the petition also insists that terrorists can enter Pennsylvania alongside refugees. (Hat tip to Lancaster Online.)
"We can take into consideration world events, and suggest that this may not be a sound idea to bring in "refugees" in the midst of a serious situation affecting our world. The potential that one "terrorist" could in fact enter our country under the disguise of a refugee is obviously of concern. The process used to "vet" these refugees seems quite lacking in true ability to screen all who come through our borders thoroughly and in a timely manner. The state, as well as federal agencies all have stated that the process of clearing all who may come would take up to two years. This will cause more concerns among the people of this state as the influx of refugees has already begun. They are being dispersed across the state and set free with little monitoring applied to their lives. The rapid movement to bring them in is concerning, and the inept processes to clear them is equally as concerning."

Disgruntled Pennsylvanians did not stop with petitions. On December 6th, approximately sixty protesters demonstrated outside of Gov. Wolf's Mount Wolf home, according to Pennlive. In photos posted by Pennlive, one protester's sign depicted Gov. Wolf in ISIS garb, while another sign featured a Numbers USA logo. Another sign captured in this WGAL video lists cities in which Islamic extremist terrorist attacks took place, next to the word "MUSLIM".

The event's Facebook page, entitled "No More Refugees!" features a photo of gun-toting Islamic extremists. "We will not accept these refugees," it reads. "These people could be terrorist and we should not take the risk of welcoming them into this beautiful state of Pennsylvania." (More here.)

Another protest is already in the works. Pennsylvania Oath Keepers is inviting supporters to attend a rally at the Harrisburg capitol building on December 14th. The Concerned Pennsylvanians for Constitutional Liberty Rally will address "the un-vetted, undocumented Middle-Eastern refugees coming to our State and Nation and the safety and economic impact to our Communities," according to its Facebook page. I expect more of the same rhetoric.

The fear and hatred exhibited by some of my fellow Pennsylvanians disappoints me. The dire situation of Syrian refugees triggers no compassion in them. The existence of millions of law-abiding Muslims in the U.S. doesn't cause them to question their assumptions. Xenophobia will not keep Pennsylvania safer, but it will help anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant bigotry reach a fevered pitch.


  1. Dull argued that a "true" Muslim's loyalties would be to Sharia law, not the Constitution, and that "genuine" Islamic doctrine commands Muslims to kill non-Muslims.

    Of course, in a strict sense this is true -- but the same could be said of "true" Christians who take the Bible literally, as people like Kevin Swanson exemplify.

    A lot of these reactions to refugees are fueled by lack of information, which is rectifiable. If ISIL were trying to infiltrate terrorists into the US, the refugee program is the last route they'd choose. Almost any other way of sneaking dangerous people into the country would be easier and faster.

    The media need to go into action here and start educating people about Muslim citizens leading ordinary lives, serving in the military, etc. I'm convinced much of the gain in acceptance of gays over the last 20 years happened because so many "came out" and now many people know that they know one or two gays and that they are basically just like anyone else. It's much easier to demonize a group when most people don't know any of "them" personally. Unfortunately Muslims aren't so evenly distributed through the population.

    And the foolishness of hysteria can be exposed by showing what it would look like applied more broadly. This is a start.

    But based on the profundity of the ignorance I see on the right-wing internet, it's going to be a big job.

    1. Infidel -- Oh, it will be a massive job, but the alternative is to allow this hate to fester, which we can't afford.

      "A lot of these reactions to refugees are fueled by lack of information, which is rectifiable. If ISIL were trying to infiltrate terrorists into the US, the refugee program is the last route they'd choose."

      This makes sense, but the anti-refugee protesters aren't known for respecting facts. For example, they continue to spout talking points about "unvetted" Syrian refugees coming into the U.S., despite the fact that information on our refugee vetting process is easy to find. Repetition of the facts might get through to some of them, but it won't be easy.

  2. I don't know if these people are capable of learning or changing. Trying to reason with them will be difficult at best, especially since the refugees have a different culture and may be a little darker than the protesters.

    1. Jono -- They're difficult to reason with because they take great comfort in their misconceptions. Questioning those misconceptions would force them to give up that comfort and reconfigure their picture of the world. Still, we must try.


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