Scarlet Sevits: Fear & stigma of refugees “distort the very ideals this nation was founded on”


The fact that we associate the area of the Middle East with terrorism is a fundamentally incorrect generalization.  This generalization has grown into a dangerous stigma that puts blinders on our view of the world, and it’s time we acknowledge and fight it.

Imagine a person from the Middle East.  It’s more than likely that the image you conjure in your mind includes two very essential links: Muslim and terrorism.  We tend to associate the general area of the Middle East with the religion of Islam, and Islam has become linked to terrorism.  This stigma surrounding Middle Eastern countries has come to play a dangerous role in how we consider immigration reform in the United States.  Because we associate entire nations with the threat of terrorism, entire nations are barred from entry into the U.S.  

Some context might help.  The immigration ban in this country has gone through three iterations.  The first barred entry for citizens from Iraq, Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen.  The second iteration excluded Iraq from the list of nations.  The most recent version includes Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Yemen, Chad, North Korea, and Venezuela.  Six of these nations have Muslim-heavy populations, an attribute of the immigration law that has not changed throughout the iterations, and from which most of the constitutional problems with the law arise.  In the latest ban, criteria given for why the specific countries were chosen was boiled down to the fact that these nations did not comply with the United States’ security requirements.  This reason was not included in the first to versions of the ban, which clearly says to me that this criteria was added to improve the legality of an otherwise illegal and unconstitutional ban.

Immigration has been a foundational aspect of the United States since its inception.  My own grandparents emigrated to the U.S. from Hungary in 1956 as they fled Soviet oppression.  Imagine if my grandparents had been lumped together with some of the radical rebels that were fighting in the Hungarian Revolution at the time.  Imagine if they had been deemed “dangerous” based on the actions of a few of their kinsman.  I would not be alive if not for the opening arms of the United States, and yet, so many others are being denied this chance at life right now by our country.  Danger isn’t even a part of the question any more, because danger has been equated with race and religion.

This denial stems from a stigma that clouds our perception of the Middle East.  In the United States, we have a strong bias towards Western ideals and culture, and anything that is different we tend to label as dangerous.  This applies to the religion of Islam and its relation to terrorism.  This stigma is slowly destroying one of the most important ideals the U.S. has ever promoted.

Immigration is an integral part of the way this country operates.  Immigrants and refugees affect the American economy.  The United States’ acceptance of immigrants and refugees preserves stability within areas of the world straining under the influx of refugees.  Taking in immigrants also affects this country’s reputation as a democratic nation and champion of human rights, making it possible to forge important alliances.  

Most importantly, the acceptance of immigrants is a human duty.  It is absurdly selfish and narrow minded to believe that under the guise of protection we can shut parts of the world out.  That is denial of serious crises that are occurring in Muslim majority countries, and we have no right to judge which nations’ lives we value over others.

However, foreign terrorism is real.  It is undeniably real, and it is a threat.  It is important to consider, however, that internal homicides and terrorism conducted by our fellow Americans is much more common.  According to an article in the Los Angeles Times, “about 43% of homicides are committed by acquaintances or relatives of the victim,” and the “chance of being killed by someone other than a foreign-born terrorist is 253 times more than by a foreign-born terrorist.”  For some reason, foreign threats create more fear than American threats.  Perhaps we block out these threats because they hit too close to home, and it is easier to apply our fear to a country, culture, or religion that is foreign to us.  If it is foreign, we don’t necessarily understand it, and if we don’t understand it, it must be dangerous.

Restricting immigration may also worsen the effect of terrorism.  If we bar people from Muslim majority nations, we send the message that we are waging war on Muslims, and we confirm the ideas already being spread by terrorist groups.  We cannot become the monster that they say we are.

Immigration restrictions based off of a stigma that leans dangerously close to a stereotype is not a good enough reason to shut people out of this country.  Fear has come to distort the very ideals this nation was founded on, and that must end, but fear only ends where understanding begins.  Take your blinders off and look around you.  Not all Muslims are terrorists.  Not all immigrants are a threat or a burden.  Not everything different is dangerous.  


Scarlet Sevits

BGSU student

Bowling Green