Once upon a time, not so long ago, Americans were troubled to see sectarian strife and terrorism in another land. Thousands of illegal immigrants from that nation came here, many to our region, and some feared that they would bring their violence to our shores. Centuries of supposedly-religious conflict led one side to assassinate soldiers and police officers of a key ally and the other side to slaughter civilians in public places. The media usually portrayed this as a war between our ally and religious fanatics, but there were extremists on both sides.
My congressman, to his credit, once prosecuted members of his own community for running guns to the combatants, even though he was one of the nation’s most outspoken supporters of their organization and raised money for the families of jailed terrorists: he was sympathetic to the cause of this aggrieved minority, but sometimes disagreed with their tactics. When the hard men from his side were unwilling to match the violence unleashed by the other tribe, he urged the President to grant a visa so a terrorist leader could enter the United States and meet him. As a result, peace finally came to a troubled land, support for terrorism waned, and innocent lives were saved.
The land in question was Northern Ireland, not Iraq or Syria. Both Protestant and Catholic terrorists in Ulster received material support from Christians here–or people who call themselves Christians. The media focused on atrocities committed by the Irish Republican Army, but there also were Protestant terrorists. Indeed, one thing that drove the IRA to the peace table was their unwillingness to kill as indiscriminately as Protestant paramilitaries did. But imagine how politicians would have reacted if President Clinton barred the Irish from entering the U.S.
Sadly, Congressman Peter King has not brought to our current debates over immigration anything he learned from the vital role he played in bringing Sinn Fein and the Irish Republic Army to negotiations. This is a pity because he could teach us something about transforming partisans into peacemakers. He could help us understand why young men turn to violence: humiliation and injustice caused by my ancestors, the Brits, drove the Irish to armed rebellion.
I like my congressman and have found him to be a voice of reason about reforming our broken immigration laws, but I am baffled by the things he says about our Muslim neighbors: he once told me that he knew the vast majority of Muslim Americans are law-abiding patriots but also believed that 90% of American mosques are controlled by radical Islamists. If he meant that Saudi Arabian oil money gives Wahabi extremists an influence in Islam far beyond their numbers, he might be right. But he has publicly supported President Trump’s executive order that bars an Iraqi general working with U. S. troops from visiting his family in Florida and an Iraqi Catholic bishop who assisted ISIS victims from accepting an invitation from a Republican congressman in New Jersey, while admitting Saudis. Guess which nation the 9/11 hijackers came from?
Most of the seven countries targeted by this executive order have indeed contributed foot soldiers to the so-called Islamic State and its affiliates, but so have many other nations. There may be room for improvement in how we screen refugees and other travelers. The Obama administration did a great deal to better scrutinize applicants and better coordinate information from myriad government agencies, but perhaps some additional steps that would make sense. Peter King has tried to keep those on no-fly lists from buying guns, for example, but most members of his own party have opposed this sort of sensible legislation.
Perhaps we need “extreme vetting” of proposed executive orders. These new immigration rules were announced with little if any input from Congress, the Dept. of Homeland Security, the Defense Department, or the Justice Department, and they stigmatize Muslims, make it harder to protect those who work with the U. S. government, and bar already-screened travelers from entering the U.S., all of which make it easier for ISIS to find new recruits. The President’s executive order will not make us safer, and neither will my congressman’s support for it.
Thomas W. Goodhue is a retired United Methodist clergyman who is completing a book on how to be a good neighbor in a multi-faith world.