Months ago, when we chose to focus on the topic of immigration for this month’s issue of Faith in Action newsletter, we had no idea then that we would find ourselves in one of the most rabidly anti-immigrant moments in recent U.S. history.
The Syrian migration — which has been driving millions of refugees from the nation’s internal conflict since 2011 — caught the attention of the world when the body of 2-year-old, Aylan Kurdi washed up on the shores of a Turkish beach in early September. Soon reporters and humanitarians joined the stream of refugees and broadcast their stories to the world. Germany opened its arms wide and other European countries faced the largest migration of peoples through Europe since World War II.
Meanwhile the U.S. has been embroiled in one of the most outrageously anti-immigrant election cycles in recent history. It is hard to forget the images of Honduran children seeking asylum in the U.S. Rather than open arms, they found refusals to fund solutions to the crisis. Instead, they were jailed and most were sent back to danger. One year ago the U.S. State Department took action to stem the tide anti-immigrant fervor by opening up more avenues for the children to seek U.S. asylum before they leave Honduras.
In the days since, the world watched as Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) resigned and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) accepted his mantle. On Nov. 3, as the baton passed, Ryan vowed that he would not bring immigration reform to a vote until President Obama left office.
This was the backdrop on Nov. 13 when ISIL extremists carried out several coordinated attacks in Paris and a nearby suburb. More than 129 people died by gunfire and suicide bomb attacks. But still France declared its continued commitment to accept 30,000 refugees, many of whom were fleeing ISIL’s despotic reign over their homeland.
Then, on Dec. 2, Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik, husband and wife, targeted the place of Farook’s employment, San Bernardino County Department of Public Health. The attackers were shot dead on the scene, but they succeeded in their mission: They have managed to terrorize a nation. But they didn’t do it alone. They did it with the aid of politicians who have stoked the fires of fear and traded in terrifying scenarios to puff themselves up and gin up votes.
In the wake of the San Bernardino rampage, the ghost of World War II reared its head again. Donald Trump called for a ban on all Muslims entering the United States, including citizens. But what is scarier is that Trump’s followers are cheering.
Not since the World War II have United States politicians exercised such an extreme level of xenophobia, nationalism, and unapologetic bent toward fascism. Trump is calling Americans to break faith with our own constitution, which guarantees the protection of all faith traditions within our borders. This is not only un-American: It is ungodly. All humanity, regardless of religious affiliation, is made in the image of God. As such every human being is worthy of respect, dignity, and equal protection of the law. To scapegoat Muslim people is to scapegoat the image of God on earth.
There is a real threat, but it does not come from Islam. It comes from a relatively small band of misguided extremists who are leveraging our fear in order to destroy us — from within.
These are dark days, indeed. But Christmas is coming! And Jesus is the light of the world (John 1:5). He understands the plight of the foreigner who seeks refuge just as he understands the one tempted to raise the sword. According to the Jewish historian, Josephus, four years before Jesus’ birth, 2,000 men and boys were crucified in one day and 500 per day after that for attempting Roman insurrection. But Jesus shined light into darkness. He said “Blessed are the peacemakers,” and “Turn the other cheek,” and “Put down your sword! Those who live by the sword, die by the sword.” And Jesus, the immigrant, said, “When I was an immigrant you welcomed me.” This is the light!
Many are dumbfounded by the devolution of our public discourse of late. We sit staring at newsfeeds that evidence of the decay of our collective conscience. But this is the season of light! Now is the time to shine our light!
One way we can shine our light this Christmas is to reject the spirit of fear and to counter it with love for our Muslim neighbors on the trek to safety throughout Europe and here at home. Write a note of appreciation to a Muslim friend or write a blog or Facebook post in support of your Muslim neighbors. Or even better, around the Christmas dinner table stand up for your Muslim neighbor and share with your family what is leading you to choose the light.
Let’s take every opportunity this Christmas to counter darkness with light through active love.