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Monday, December 28, 2015

December 28, 2015: AmericanStudying 2015: Syrian Refugees

[In my annual end-of-year series, I’ll AmericanStudy some big stories from the year about which I didn’t get to write in this space. I’d love to hear your thoughts on these and any other 2015 stories!]
Three ways to make the case for resettling Syrian refugees in the United States.
1)      The Past, Part One: As I wrote in this piece for Talking Points Memo, Muslim American communities—and specifically communities of Muslim American refugees—are as old as America itself, quite literally. Any conversation about 21st century such communities that proceeds without that historical awareness is starting with a very significant gap—and while the past isn’t necessarily an argument for particular policies or positions in the present, such a gap inevitably distorts and weakens those present ideas.
2)      The Past, Part Deux: Those Muslim American histories aren’t the only ones relevant to this contemporary issue, however. Many historians and public scholars linked arguments for refusing to accept Syrian refugees to one specific and shameful historical moment: when the U.S. turned away Jewish refugees from the Holocaust. Imagining how our present actions might look to a future generation can be a difficult or uncertain thing to do—but when we have such a strong parallel past to which to look, and such a clear sense of how wrong we were then, it’d be crazy not to try to learn from it.
3)      The People: Yet it shouldn’t take such salient pasts to convince us to do the right thing by this contemporary refugee community. And I’m convinced that it wouldn’t if all Americans had the chance to work with the students and families in Albemarle County’s Bright Stars program. My Mom (whose birthday it is today!) worked with that program for years, and because the county is home to a sizeable refugee resettlement community, many of the kids and families with whom she worked were refugees. They were, without exception, precisely as human as the rest of us—and, having experienced far worse than what 99.9% of us will ever experience, deserve our empathy and compassion as much as any fellow human can. Welcoming these refugees would represent the best of our past, reject the worst, and make us better in the present and future.
Next 2015 story tomorrow,
PS. What do you think? Other 2015 stories you’d AmericanStudy?

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