Like so many of you, I’m sure, I’ve been dismayed, though not really surprised, at the vitriol aimed at Syrian refugees and Muslims in general, following the shootings in Paris and San Bernardino. Much of it is voiced in the form of inflammatory but silly memes, but now, even some of our presidential candidates are chiming in. Reactionary religious and ethnic hatred are at least as old as human history, and so are political capitalizations on them.
These memes and the anti-Islamic proposals they promote, such as calls for the U.S. to stop taking in Syrian refugees, to ban all Muslims from entering the country, or to force all Muslims to register with the government, as far as I can tell, are mostly coming from some on the conservative end of the political spectrum. However, the backlash against all this reactionary hate-mongering is coming from both liberals and conservatives, and their arguments are bolstered by the best in our political system and its founding documents, focused, if not always perfectly, on the protection and expansion of human rights.
Besides the basic problem of the xenophobic, anti-human-rights nature of the anti-refugee and anti-Muslim rhetoric, there’s something about the whole thing that’s been bothering me, something that I hadn’t really seen addressed in so many words. I jotted down this thought in the notes for this piece, and I hadn’t had the chance to finish it until tonight.
Then, today, just a few hours before I planned to write this, I heard a re-broadcast of a news story that appears to confirm my suspicions. A recent poll from Harvard revealed that the majority of millennials, age 18-29, say we should send more troops to fight ISIS and say they wouldn’t even consider enlisting.
This was my thought before I heard that story: for all the rhetoric calling for an increase in the war effort against Islamist violent extremism, and all the preaching about supporting our troops, it seemed to me that many of the same people who want to send more military abroad to fight to protect people’s freedoms want little or nothing to do with the effort themselves. They want others, namely our soldiers, to take all the risks, shoulder all the burdens, and do all the work of defending and promoting American values, but don’t want to participate even in a relatively small way by helping out the people who are most victimized by Islamic radicalism, who vote with their feet by fleeing from violent Islamist groups to ethnically diverse, religiously free nations.
It looks as if this poll reveals that this ‘you go do it, brave soldiers in uniform, but leave us out of it!’ attitude is likely true for at least for one significant slice of the population.
What happened to the idea that if we, the people, decide to go to war, it’s we, the people, who should fight it? Makes me feel nostalgic, in the way that you can feel nostalgic for a time you’ve never experienced yourself and are not sure ever really existed, for the ‘greatest generation’ of World War II and earlier wars. Wasn’t it the case back then that most ordinary citizens felt duty-bound to participate in the war effort that their nation was fighting, even if in some small way at home? Didn’t they involve themselves, if necessary, in the work, the sacrifice, and the danger of doing the right thing, even if doing so meant some risk to themselves? It’s not even that they have to worry about conscription anymore! Isn’t the mission of promoting the American values of multiculturalism and religious freedom, protecting the innocents that flee for sanctuary to our shores and in our neighborhoods, worth our support and participation, even if we do face the risk that a few terrorists might sneak in among the innocents?
It seems that decades of complacent materialism and the all-volunteer military, among other things, have eroded some of that true civic pride and moral courage it takes to show the world that Americans are willing to do the right thing, no matter what.
Sources and inspiration:
Gabriel, Trip. ‘Donald Trump Says He’d ‘Absolutely’ Require Muslims to Register’. New York Times website, Politics: First Draft. Nov 20th, 2015. http://www.nytimes.com/politics/first-draft/20…
Khalid, Asma. ‘Millennials Want To Send Troops To Fight ISIS, But Don’t Want To Serve’. NPR.com. Dec 11, 2015. http://www.npr.org/2015/12/10/459111960/millennials-want-to-send-tro…
Walsh, Deirdre, Jeremy Diamond, and Ted Barrett. ‘Priebus, Ryan and McConnell rip Trump anti-Muslim proposal’. CNN.com. Dec 8, 2015. http://www.cnn.com/2015/12/08/politics/paul-ryan-tru…