Mainstream Media Joins GOP In Abandoning Syrian Refugees

It is the media’s job to question what they hear - for all of us.
syrian mother

There are so many tragic aspects to last week’s terror attacks in Lebanon and France. 172 people are dead. 670 are recovering from wounds of varying severity, and following the laws of chaos theory and the butterfly effect, ripples of suffering have spread across the globe. The years-long refugee crisis in Syria and other war-torn nations, a product as well as a cause of devastatingly harmful international policy, shows no signs of abating. People are hurt. They are afraid.

Though there have been pockets of beauty and unity in the aftermath of the most recent assaults on human decency, if you’ve taken even a passive interest in social media chatter, you’ve noticed that all is not well among us. It’s reasonable to look for something, anything on which to blame the unfathomable. It lends a feeling of control – however illusory. But unfortunately, a disproportionate number of Americans are choosing to scapegoat the very people bearing the brunt of radical, jihadist carnage – Muslims.

The results of a new survey from the Public Religion Research Institute show that 56 percent of adults agree that the values of Islam are at odds with America’s values and way of life. This number would be unfortunate enough, except that when drilled down by demographic, the situation is even bleaker. 73 percent of white evangelical Protestants agreed with this statement, as did 63 percent of mainstream Protestants, 61 percent of Catholics, 41 percent of unaffiliated people and 37 percent practicing a non-Christian faith. Though the PRRI offers but one data source, the trend is very clear: Islamophobia is on the rise and its span of intolerance encompasses a large minority to majority of non-Muslim groups. All you need to do to experience the hatred in action is log onto Facebook and scroll through the newsfeed.

Or for that matter, listen to almost any Republican presidential candidate on the subject. The GOP of 2015 loves nothing more than a xenophobic pile-on that endears them to the party’s dogmatic base while offering a chance to avoid actual policy proposals. Witness “moderate” Jeb Bush tell CNN’s Jake Tapper “There are a lot of Christians in Syria that have no place now…And I think we should have—we should focus our efforts as it relates to the Christians that are being slaughtered.” Though Christians comprise only 2.4 percent of terrified, displaced people running from their homes, compared with the 97 plus percent of peaceful, law-abiding Muslims doing the same, Bush and his challengers for the nomination have no shame trafficking in decisively disproven stereotypes.

Closing our doors to refugees of the Islamic faith doesn’t make the country safer as the leading right would have us believe. It just makes us heartless assholes. As Jonathan Merritt of the Religion News Service wrote this week:

“Many Christians oppose accepting Syrian refugees because they fear many will be terrorists. The State Department, however, reports that only 2 percent of Syrian refugees who’ve been admitted to the United States are ‘military-aged men with no families.’ Of the Syrian refugees being referred by the U.N. for settlement, more than half are children under the age of 18. A large proportion are women or elderly men. What this means is that the vast majority of refugees who have been and are being considered by the United States do not fit what someone might consider a suspicious demographic profile.”

Could this be any clearer? Yet for some reason, mainstream journalism has decided that baseless Islamophobia that strands some of the world’s most imperiled human beings is a valid sociopolitical approach. Mass market media darling, faux scholar and potential zombie Dr. Ben Carson is allowed to take the unquestioned position of the sober, concerned adult in the room on the subject. This week he released a statement, which read in part:

“It would require a suspension of our intellect to think that ISIS will not work to infiltrate terrorists into the United States disguised as refugees or migrants…I fully understand that many of these refugees are themselves fleeing terror, which is why America and its allies can and should help them to re-settle somewhere else in the region…But in light of the horrific attacks in Paris and the unambiguous threats from ISIS to bring the same bloodshed to our shores, President Obama’s plan simply must not move forward. The safety of the American people should be the number one priority.”

I am not even going to try to parse the nonsense that flows through Carson’s hateful rhetoric. It’s disproven by facts – a group of inconvenient truths members of the doctor’s party run farther from each election cycle. My issue is with mainstream media outlets. Are you not required to do more than just nod your heads and record words when potential leaders of our democracy engage in treasonous dialogue? Because you know what’s really a threat to America’s safety? Bigotry pumped throughout the Internet, the television and print for all the world to see. Reinforcing the notion in the minds of fringe groups that would destroy us that they are merely returning hate with hate.

It is the media’s job to question what they hear – for all of us. I refer again to the results of the PRRI. The collective delinquency in interrupting overt, inflammatory discrimination against Muslim Americans, as well as those abroad who want nothing more than to come across our peaceful shores and rebuild communities, is not fair and balanced. It’s not impartial. It is the threat itself.


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Becky Sarwate is the current President of the Illinois Woman’s Press Association, founded in 1885, as well as Recording Secretary for the National Federation of Press Women. She is a national award-winning journalist, blogger, newsletter editor and theater critic. Becky lives in Chicago with her partner Bob and their menagerie of pets. Keep up with her at
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