U.S. can't beat terrorism abroad by being intolerant at home

After the attacks in Paris, France, Richard Cohen of The Washington Post wrote that intolerance is our common enemy and the root of terrorism around the world. But intolerance is not limited to any nation or religion. Since the attacks in Paris, a lot of intolerance has been observed right here in America.

One week before the terrorist attacks, American politicians running for President of the United States were stating that only Christians should be president. Since the attacks, many state governors raced to see who could be first to declare that Syrian refugees, mostly women and children, were not welcomed in their states. Of course, refugees and immigrants were not welcomed in many of these states even before the attacks.


Americans are quick to generalize and American politicians are quick to jump on the bandwagon and stir fear and panic. In times of crisis, it appears that we are not always the land of the brave. While French President François Hollande announced that despite their tragedy he remains committed to accepting 30,000 refugees over the next two years, the U.S. can't seem to find the heart to take in 10,000 refugees. Hollande stated that France has a duty to ensure "humanity for refugees and protection of the French people." Indeed, it seems that in France, on the front lines of terrorism, they are capable of doing both. Germany is and will be accepting 750,000 refugees from Syria, while America has accepted around 1,800 thus far. We should be embarrassed.

Our nation's response to refugees from Syria is, however, consistent with our history. Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times reminds us of "the shameful way we responded as Jews were fleeing Nazi Germany in the 1930s. In the shadow of one world war, on the eve of another, Americans feared that European Jews might be left-wing security threats. That year, the United States turned away a ship, the St. Louis, with Jewish refugee children; the St. Louis returned to Europe, where some of its passengers were murdered by the Nazis." It is estimated that tens of thousands of Jews denied entry into America during that time were killed by Hitler.

In light of this history, the Holocaust Memorial Museum board recently stated that, "Acutely aware of the consequences to Jews who were unable to flee Nazism … we should not turn our backs on the thousands of legitimate refugees."

Cohen reminds us of what we did to 100,000 Japanese-Americans during the war, placing them in camps simply because they were Japanese-Americans and not European Americans. Forty years later, it was President Ronald Reagan who apologized for what American politicians did to Japanese-Americans during the war after a congressional report called the camps a product of "racial prejudice, war hysteria and a failure of political leadership."

Today, history appears to be repeating itself when we have serious politicians like Gov. Jeb Bush, Sen. Ted Cruz (the son of a refugee), and Gov. Chris Christie wanting to limit incoming refugees to Christians. No Muslims, please. And according to Christie, not even orphaned children under the age of 5 should be allowed in America. So much for the GOP's claim of being pro-life. These positions are un-American, anti-Christian and cowardice. Also, there is nothing Christ-like in turning our backs to Syrian refugees, 50 percent of whom are under the age of 17 and 25 percent of whom are over the age of 60.

How quickly Americans forget the lessons of intolerance screaming at us from the battle fields of World War II. Did millions of soldiers fighting Hitler's intolerance die in vain as they watch from their graves as we turn our backs on Syrian refugees, non-Christians, and others deemed, by some warped criteria, as unworthy?

The U.S. is significantly responsible for the mess in Iraq and Syria following our reckless invasion of Iraq. The least we can do is help the refugees from those areas who are fleeing terrorism and the horrors of war.

The anti-refugee politicians like to play on our fears and stir panic in order to boast their political aspirations. These politicians are not voices of hope for America, they do not reflect American values, and they offer nothing to improve the world in which we all live. Their voices are the voices of intolerance that play into the hands of ISIS intolerance. These politicians will not protect us; they bring us nothing but fear and more war.

Cohen is correct: Intolerance is the root of terrorism in the world and it must be defeated. But we will never defeat terrorism on the other side of the world unless we are willing and able to acknowledge and defeat the voices of intolerance here at home.

Tom Zirpoli writes from Westminster. His column appears Wednesday. Email him at