Over the weekend, Republicans practically fell over themselves in declaring that the horrific terrorist attacks in Paris Friday night were an attack on Western values. “They hate us because young girls here go to school. They hate us because women drive. They hate us because we have freedom of speech, because we have diversity in our religious beliefs. They hate us because we’re a tolerant society,” said Senator Marco Rubio of Florida.
It took just 24 hours for Rubio and the Republican Party to throw those prized values out the window in the name of fear and political expediency.
For several months now, prominent Republicans have been railing against the Obama administration’s program to bring up to 10,000 Syrian refugees into the United States. In the wake of Paris, they used it as an excuse to do more than complain. One after another, Republican governors in Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Illinois, Michigan, and Massachusetts declared their intention to restrict refugees from resettling in their states.
The presidential candidates also got into the act. Ben Carson demanded that Congress block the resettlement program. Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee went a step further and said that if new Speaker of the House Paul Ryan is unsuccessful in ending the “importation” of Syrian refugees, he must resign. Jeb Bush and Ted Cruz actually suggested that the United States should give preference to Christians over Muslims. Donald Trump said the idea of allowing refugees with “big problems” is “just insane.” And Rubio said that, even if 999 of 1,000 refugees are “just poor people fleeing oppression and violence,” the presence of just one ISIS fighter is too great of a risk.
Let’s put aside the fact that governors can’t block a lawful refugee from their state. Let’s not dwell on the fact that only a handful of refugees have been settled in the United States, largely because the screening process for Syrian refugees is incredibly cumbersome and can take up two years to complete. Let’s ignore the fact that, since 9/11, three quarters of a million refugees have been settled in the United States and not one of them has committed a terrorist act. What better example could there be of the GOP’s hypocrisy on fighting terrorism? So much for resilience in the face of evil.
The same people who portray the fight with jihadist terrorism as an existential clash of civilizations are more than willing to discard, as inconvenient, that which makes us better than the terrorists. Rubio is wrong to say that Islamic State terrorists hate our values. Actually they hate our policies and, in particular, the fact that we keep dropping bombs on them (and it should be noted that Friday’s atrocity is a good reminder that the policy of waging war against ISIS is correct). But if you’re going to make these fallacious arguments, is a modicum of consistency too much to ask? You don’t get to beat your chest talking about American values and then refuse to accept those refugees escaping the terrorists that we correctly call barbarians. It is, as President Obama correctly pointed out, “not American,” and a fundamental betrayal of the values that we, as a nation, allegedly hold so dear.
But calling for more bombs to be dropped in foreign lands is easy. Explaining to fearful, even skeptical, Americans that opening our doors to fleeing refugees is the right thing to do is more difficult. Not surprisingly, the Republican Party has chosen the path of political expediency.
Michael A. Cohen’s column appears regularly in the Globe. Follow him on Twitter @speechboy71.