“We were wrong.”
That’s how former Deputy Secretary of State William Burns summarized one of the most notorious episodes in the history of American refugee policy. In 1939, the MS Saint Louis carried 937 Jewish refugees towards our shores. President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s administration denied the ship access to the U.S. and forced it to return to Europe. A third of the passengers died at Auschwitz and other concentration camps.
I prefer my revolutions to be simple: A corrupt dictator/tyrant, an oppressed population, inspired reformers who risk their lives, calls for democracy, waves of marchers in the streets, background music from Les Misérables. The stories from Tunis and Cairo were epochal. The Arab spring was in full bloom as calls for participatory government could be heard from every corner of the Middle East.
Then there was Syria. The Assad government has been infamous in its intolerance to dissent. It is a military regime whose 30-year leadership under Hafez al-Assad (1930-2000) established it as one of the most severe in the region. In 2,000, after the death of Hafez, the world was intrigued to see his second son -- Bashar al-Assad -- ascend the throne. Bashar was an ophthalmologist who had studied in London, but because of his older brother's death in a car accident in 1994, he was called to follow his father. Bashar speaks English and French fluently and has been as critical of the U.S. as he has been of Israel.
With all the angst about the economy, the deficit, and a looming government shut-down, I'm still concerned that we're treating symptoms rather than diagnosing the underlying disease.
I know something about this. I spent a week in the hospital last year having loads of tests done -- blood work, heart scans, stress tests, and sonograms. I was discharged without a diagnosis, merely with hopes that by treating the symptoms, whatever was wrong would go away. It didn't. It turned out my real problem was a tick-born disease, and once it was diagnosed, a ten-dollar prescription of antibiotics cured me. Without that ten-dollar prescription to treat the real problem, I could have experienced life-long disability.
Certain moments in our nation's history have consistently opened the door for the least civil voices to enact evil through civil policy: think the institution of race-based U.S. slavery, the Indian removals, Jim Crow laws, legalized segregation, the federal protection of lynching mobs, and, don't forget, the Japanese internment camps, among others.