You may have seen an article recently being shared around the internet entitled “No, Muslim Refugees Are Not Jewish WWII Refugees. Here are 5 Reasons Why.” The article outlines in bullet-points what supposedly separates the two immigrant populations, aside from more than half a century. The first point is telling enough: “There was no threat of Jewish terrorists infiltrating the United States.”
While this is technically true, it is also very misleading. There was certainly no perceivable threat of physical violence from the Jewish refugees of the Holocaust, but there was absolutely a paranoia that permeated American public opinion in regards to the new Jewish immigrants. Over 900 Jewish refugees were turned away as their ship, the MS St. Louis, was docked in Havana because of a fear that they would bring communist sympathies to the United States. This was viewed as a legitimate security concern at the time, but it was inevitably shaped by anti-immigration political rhetoric, only natural during the worst economic downturn in American history.
The Washington Post re-published the results of a poll conducted by Fortune magazine in July 1938. The purpose of the survey, was to assess the American public’s level of acceptance to admitting mostly-Jewish refugees fleeing Europe. Two-thirds of polled Americans felt that “we should try to keep them out” and fewer than 5 percent of respondents thought that the United States should raise quotas, or encourage European refugees to resettle in America.
General Wesley Clark and Virginia Mayor David Bowers, two Democrats, both recently hinted at the possibility of Japanese-style internment camps, in response to the perceived threat of receiving Syrian refugees. We’ve seen where this whirlwind of xenophobia can end, and now the flames of bigotry are being stoked by politicians on the left and right. This is why we must resist the urge to generalize and stereotype entire groups based on the acts of an extremist minority.
Shortly after the attack on the Charlie Hebdo staff, ISIS confessed in their own magazine that they wished to “eliminate the gray zone.” Their goal is to diminish the conflict into a monochrome picture of a holy war between Islam and the West. If we succumb to the fatal error of framing the conflict as a “clash of civilizations,” we have already allowed the enemy an important semantic victory. We must stand arm-in-arm with moderates of all faiths and precisely identify the real danger, violent Jihadist extremism, if we are to prevail without forsaking our nation’s principles.
Perry Fein is a contributing writer to Jlife magazine.