Erstwhile editor Sara Porterfield takes over our monthly links round up for November with a collection of articles focused on the Syrian refugee crisis and the American response to the rash of ISIS-led terror attacks over the past few weeks.
In the wake of the coordinated attacks in Paris on the evening of 13 November, American news reporting and analysis has been paying an unusual amount of attention to the past. Coverage has offered chilling historical precedents for the American reaction to the Syrian refugee crisis and proposals for an identification system for Muslims within the United States, with many likening the reaction to these events to Nazi Germany and Japanese internment. Here are a few of those articles.
Donald Trump’s Politics of Fear, by Peter Beinart, The Atlantic
In this short article, Beinart argues that Trump’s supporters do not represent a new breed of conservatives, but are tied to a long history on the American political scene. Like “Jacksonians” (Walter Russell Mead’s term) past–think Joseph McCarthy–Trump and his supporters believe the real threat to the U.S. does not come from outside our borders, but is instead lurking within the country. Hence Trump’s proposal to require Muslims to carry special ID, which prompted comparisons to Nazi Germany and sparked a brilliant response by Muslim Americans. Beinart’s article reminds us to consider the historical precedents–at home and abroad–of these politics of fear.
Two American Answers to the Refugee Question, by Jeffrey Toobin, The New Yorker
Toobin’s article looks at two precedents to America’s reaction to the Syrian refugee crisis in the wake of the Paris attacks: first, the turning away of Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany, who, unable to find safe harbor in the Americas, were forced to return to Europe where many perished in the Holocaust, and second, Japanese internment during the Second World War. Toobin points out that while we may think of ourselves as a country who generously opens our arms to those in need, history shows us that, time and again, this has not been the case.
While many (okay, all) observers have been unfavorably comparing today’s distrust of Muslims in America with the distrust that led to Japanese internment during World War II, Mayor David Bowers of Roanoke, Virginia, used internment to argue for a similar kind of sequestration for Muslim Americans. A second article by Vox details how similar the racism and paranoia surrounding Muslims in America today is to that which paved the way for Japanese internment. Mayor Bower has apologized, but not before prompting a response from the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.
And finally, an oldie but a goodie: The Onion, in a 2011 article, said what we all still need to hear: Historians Politely Remind Nation to Check What’s Happened in Past Before Making Any Big Decisions.