Thank you, David Bowers

There’s something about the internet that brings out a side of people where they completely lack self-examination and decide to bandy about the lack of self-examination very publicly. I do my best not to assume that one person is a representative of the whole or a small group being representative of a whole. The entire debate – or meltdown – that has occurred on Facebook regarding Roanoke mayor David Bowers’ comments regarding not taking in Syrian refugees and creating a positive equivalency to the internment of Japanese citizens in the United States during the Second World War is a case in point.

Let me be clear, I have very strong opinions on a lot of things. But I am always willing to hear other points of view out when they are supported by evidence and not mere suppositions and when those points of view consider facts that might challenge them. Unfortunately, we tend to self-select our friends and Facebook becomes an echo chamber for our own points of view. To wit, I had the stupidity to engage someone whose mind was set on refugees, Muslims, and Islam generally. And the conversation, in its simplest form, went as follows:

Person: (to another person) War is not pretty. So you think X is the same as Y? I can’t waste my time with you.
Me: Yes, use war to justify stripping away rights. Let me know how that goes when war is used to justify taking away guns.
Me: Moreover, the internment of Japanese-American *citizens* – these were and are people who held American *citizenship* – was patently unconstitutional and the federal government at least had the dignity to admit it was wrong 30 years later.

4th Amendment: The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

These people weren’t even given a right to jury trial, they were summarily rounded up, directly in violation of the 6th Amendment: In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence.

Their “crime” was of not being like “us”.
Person: they admitted they were wrong. Ok can’t argue with that.
Person: Good point I’m against taking away gun rights from citizens. We got here because of refugees not citizens. These terrorist hide among citizens some were citizens. I can see how a government may say such a thing as an internment camp is reasonable. Not to say every Muslim must go but have a place for a questionable situation.
Me: My question, and this is a serious question that I would like an actual response to, is how many Japanese-American citizens (or even refugees, for that matter) actually carried out terrorist attacks during the 1941-1945 period? Same question for all citizens or refugees who came from a nationality of the Axis powers.
Person: I cannot answer your question. Is this another way of saying, not all people from a nationality of the Axis power are bad? Would you say, the peaceful majority were irrelevant, when so many innocent people died?…/
Me: Ok, what about when a Christian does ill – or a group of Christians does ill – does that make all Christians irrelevant? That argument is a fallacy.
Person: What Christians are you talking about? Are you talking about the Crusaders that were fighting the Jihad?
Me: Terry Nichols, Timothy McVeigh, Eric Robert Rudolph, “The Army of God”, The Lord’s Resistance Army/Joseph Kony (if you’re looking for a non-American example).
Me: Christian Terrorism
Person: I consider them criminals. Some criminals claim to be Christians.
Me: Okay, well the vast majority of Muslims regularly denounce these people and consider them criminals and not Muslims. What makes them different from you? You can’t have this both ways and be honest about it.
Person: the KKK are a terrorist hate group. They should be taken down. According to some recent news some of our politicians might be members of the KKK. If true Shame on them, shame on us for allowing it.
Me: The KKK isn’t the only one listed in that article. Go beyond the cross burning.
Person: What makes them different from me is Jesus, I follow Jesus.
Me: They say they follow Jesus, too. Which of you is right?
Me: Just so it’s clear that I’m not on an anti-Christian rant, let me share an image from Wikipedia (where I encourage everyone to check these articles out.)

Ryan LaFountain's photo.

Person: if they follow Jesus then we are Christians
Person: regarding the Wiki list every thing is relative.
Person: Thanks, I do enjoy a good debate. But I have to get off this computer.
Me: That comment about the Wiki list makes literally no sense. How is fact, something that can be demonstrably proven, relative?
Person: made sense to me.
Me: My honest and earnest hope here is that you don’t actually believe anything you just typed out and you just spent an hour trolling me. If so, well-played.

(Copied verbatim except for the opening line, which didn’t have appropriate leading context.)

I’m not saying that my point of view is correct, but the proper response to being challenged in a point of view is to consider objective fact. The link this person provided was a biased book that had a specific point of view that it sought to support. Moreover, this person only retrenched in their belief that whatever they believed was right and only what they believed was right, no matter what evidence was presented to encourage that person to think outside of that person’s comfort zone.

And that’s the problem, most people are not willing to step outside of their comfort zone. Most people see their front porch and what lay beyond the horizon is a terrifying place. I’ve lived in several places not Roanoke in my time and have visited places across this country and across the ocean, I’ve looked beyond the front porch. Sure, there are scary individuals and groups who claim to speak for a larger group. But the vast majority of people, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Pagan, atheist, Christian, Jewish… most of us are good people. And this person’s – and the mayor’s – willingness to dismiss an entire group in dire need is inhumane. This is not the Roanoke that prides itself on having 105 different ethnicities within its confines. This is a knee-jerk reaction to the absolute horror that happened in Paris last week.

And that is not the right response. Our system is already difficult for refugees to navigate and they already have to go through an intense vetting process. We have not had a terrorist attack committed against the United States within the United States by non-nationals since 2001. Further closing our doors makes us worse people. We are better than that – I know we are. What happened to the call of Emma Lazarus, that we are a nation with open arms, ready to take in the huddled masses, yearning to breathe free? Where is that America?

The fact is that nativism has always had root in America. However, its voice has never been as amplified before. I don’t believe that cowing in fear before a threat, real or imagined, is the American way. That is not us. Cowing before a group because of a perceived threat gives power to those who actually threaten us. Terrorists exist. I’m never going to deny that. They exist within and without our borders. But closing our doors?

That’s not America. And that’s not Roanoke.


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