By Tiffany Puett
Last Friday night, several armed terrorists coordinated attacks around the city of Paris that left 129 people dead. The terrorist group ISIS, or Daesh, has claimed responsibility. The day before the Paris attacks, suicide bombers with ISIS affiliation killed 43 people and wounded 239 more in Beirut. The attacks have set many people reeling in the face of such senseless violence and extremism.
In Texas, these events have incited deep political anxieties and fed the politics of exclusion. Texas Governor Greg Abbott said on Monday that Texas would not accept any more Syrian refugees in the wake of these events. In a letter to President Obama, Abbott said, “Given the tragic attack in Paris and the threats we have already seen… Texas cannot participate in any program that will result in Syrian refugees – any one of whom could be connected to terrorism – being resettled in Texas.” He went on to say, “Neither you nor any federal official can guarantee that Syrian refugees will not be part of any terroristic activity. As such, opening our door to them irresponsibly exposes our fellow Americans to unacceptable peril.” He’s since gone on to direct the Texas Health and Human Services Commission and the Texas Department of Public Safety to comply with his decision to deny Syrian refugees resettlement services in Texas.
Texas Senator Ted Cruz took this exclusionary rhetoric one step further by claiming that only Muslim refugees should be excluded, while Christian refugees could be admitted. Cruz plans to introduce legislation that would bar Muslim Syrians from entering the US. He’s argued that they should be resettled in Muslim majority countries, while Christians could find a place here. Cruz said, “There is no meaningful risk of Christians committing acts of terror. If there were a group of radical Christians pledging to murder anyone who had a different religious view than they, we would have a different national security situation.”
These incendiary moves lack proven evidence for their claims of protecting Texans from danger. Most Syrian refugees are victims of ISIS/Daesh, not sympathizers. And so far, all the identified assailants of the Paris attacks have been found to be European nationals. There is no evidence that any Syrian refugees have been involved. Despite Abbott and Cruz’s claims of risk, evidence shows that refugees across the board are not a security threat to this country. The US has resettled 784,000 refugees since Sept. 11, 2001. And in all that time, only three, none of whom were Syrian, have been found involved in terrorist activity– planning something outside the US.
While there might not be evidence to show that Syrians and refugees pose a danger to this country, there is support to show that many Texans fear terrorism and the threat of a foreign ‘other.’ A recent University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll, conducted prior to the Paris attacks, shows that out of all possible threats, many Texans rank illegal immigration and the foreign terrorist groups such as ISIS and Al-Qaeda at the top. These attitudes tend to fall along partisan lines and they don’t represent a majority of Texans. But the rhetoric of Abbott and Cruz indulges a pre-existing anxiety among some Texans and stokes their inclination for insularity and exclusion. Simply put, it’s fear mongering.
The real danger here is this rhetoric of exclusion. The policies for which Abbott and Cruz are advocating pose a threat to constitutional liberties. Abbott’s directive discriminates based on religion and nationality. It simultaneously attempts to infringe on the religious liberty of individuals and organizations working to resettle refugees out of religious convictions that they are called to welcome the stranger and serve the oppressed. And Cruz’s call to only admit Christian refugees surely violates the establishment clause of the First Amendment.
What’s more, this rhetoric has consequences for current US residents, citizens and recent immigrants. Cruz blatantly argues that Muslims are dangerous and only Christians can be trusted to enter the US. This erroneously suggests that the US belongs to Christians and all others may only enter upon the discretion of the Christian majority. For Muslim Americans, this language sets them as marginal and not legitimate Americans. This doesn’t just cause psychological harm. This rhetoric of exclusion also puts Muslim Americans in danger as it fuels Islamophobia, bigotry and hate crimes. On the same day that Abbott and Cruz made these discriminatory statements, a mosque in Pflugerville, TX was vandalized.
This isn’t who Texans are. The politics of exclusion diminishes the diversity that’s at the heart of Texas. We are a diverse state with a large evangelical Christian population, as well as a sizable Muslim one. And they are all Texans. And they deserve more spacious politics.