Facing the Enemy Within
An enemy ideology is tunneling within U.S. society, intending to take over and establish its state and social supremacy. Most of the time it moves mainly undercover, but will seize any opportune moment to leap from the shadows and proclaim its aims openly. It is deeply hostile to democratic values, religious (and irreligious) freedom, women’s rights, and racial equality. It’s not something new in our country, but it’s capable of shifting forms and appearances as circumstances permit.
The enemy is bigotry and white supremacy. Following the carnage of the “Islamic State” attack in Paris, its target of opportunity is Muslim refugees, immigrants, and mosques. When presidential candidates and governors call for slamming the borders shut or admitting “Christians only,” forcing Muslims to “register” or closing “suspicious mosques,” it’s too easy for decent people to dismiss the likes of Ben Carson, Donald Trump, Chris Christie, Jeb Bush, and Mike Pence as crackpots, clowns, and demagogic panderers. Yes, they are all of those things--but what’s more important about the ravings of these politicians is what they reveal about an ugly streak of racism, Islamophobia, and outright hysteria that’s ripe to be exploited, and the way they incite and help to organize violent reaction.
Donald Trump has only encouraged the open and increasingly violent racism of his supporters. Image copyright Reuters.
On the surface, there are reasons for optimism, as bigotry has lost ground on many fronts, most recently over the fight for marriage equality. But nationalist and white supremacist sentiment are going strong, even gaining strength and taking the offensive. Racist reaction has surfaced powerfully in response to the powerful organizing of Black Lives Matter and of Black students at University of Missouri and elsewhere, and now in the cynical and vicious campaign to block refugees from Syria and Iraq from entering the United States, and it’s important to look at the underlying reasons.
The most obvious reason is fear--fear that’s partly whipped up by reactionary politicians, but which is also deeply embedded in mass psychology, particularly though not exclusively of white U.S. society. There are no rational grounds for the belief that Syrian families fleeing the slaughter in their country will bring “Islamic State” terrorists into the U.S. homeland, any more than for Trump’s raving about Mexican ”rapists, criminals, and drug dealers” coming across the border. In fact, the desperate refugee emergency demands that the United States should be expediting, not slowing down, the process for refugees to find safety here. It should not take 18-24 months to verify the status of a family living in a refugee camp after surviving the barrel bombs of the Syrian regime or the mass killings and rapes of the ISIS death cult.1
The fear that the United States will be “overrun” by people who are not “white” or Christian is an old and ugly story. But it intersects today with fears that are not irrational, indeed that reflect reality--people’s fears over their own jobs and their children’s future. Neoliberal capitalism--that is, capitalism with social safety nets, employment, education, and public services slashed to ribbons--creates massive and pervasive insecurity in people’s lives. When an ever-growing number feel control of their own lives slipping away, their well-founded fears can be twisted and manipulated into hatred of convenient scapegoats. The militarization of the state and of police further fuels this sense of a society under attack (and further contributes to the very real attacks on communities of color).
That’s how millions of ordinary folks can become fearful of “illegal immigrants,” Muslim refugees, same-sex couples, or trans people. In the United States and in Europe, at the extreme end it causes a handful of white kids to become neo-Nazi skinheads. The lack of hope for a viable future pushes other young people into drug gangs. And for that matter, it’s essentially the same hopelessness that turns some alienated Muslim kids toward fundamentalism and violence. These forms of extremism are increasingly becoming mainstream, and as long as the Democrats and European parties (formerly) of social democracy continue to embrace neoliberalism and austerity--and as long as the far left is too marginal to generate a visible pole of attraction or articulate a viable alternative--this trend will likely continue.
Right here, right now, we have to speak up and act in defense of Muslim, Black, and other targeted communities wherever they are threatened, and in defense of bringing refugees to the United States quickly, without lengthy bureaucratic delays or blockades thrown up by reactionary racist politicians. At the same time, we need to look deeply at the catastrophic failures of a neoliberal capitalist regime to provide for basic human needs, and struggle for the different world that’s possible without paranoia, without racism and without the catastrophic wars that produce millions of desperate refugees in the first place. Without security for all, there is security for none.
- Refugees have to go through a United Nations registration and refugee referral procedure; then an interview with the State Department and three levels of background check followed by fingerprint screening; then a case review at U.S. immigration headquarters; then an extensive in-person interview with Homeland Security; then a health screening and “cultural orientation” class in order to be matched with an American resettlement agency; and then another multi-agency security check before leaving for the United States, not to mention a final security check upon arrival!