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Press Release - Fear: The Path to the Dark Side

September 24, 2015

Friends,

Today I'd like to talk to you about Islamophobia and the grave dangers of fear informed policies. It's been on my mind recently, and I have a little bit to say. I hope you'll bear with me.

Recently, you may have noticed that two presidential candidates, Ben Carson and Donald Trump, have taken heat over this issue. Dr. Ben Carson stated that he could not endorse a Muslim for president because Islam was incompatible with the Constitution and the values of this nation. He has since tried to qualify his stance, saying he'd be fine with a Muslim who had renounced Islam and Islamic law, betraying his poor understanding of the religion and insulting Muslims around the world.

For perhaps the first time, Donald Trump's shame stems from what he didn't say instead of what he did. During a campaign rally, Mr. Trump failed to correct a supporter who asserted both that President Obama was a Muslim, and that Muslims had training camps in the US preparing youth to destroy America. That supporter then asked, "When can we get rid" of all the Muslims. Mr. Trump declined to correct the man and instead stamped his statement with validation, saying lots of people had that concern and that he would look into it.

The problem with these statements isn't just that they're wrong, ill-informed, and validating of prejudice, it's that they're indicative of something far more dangerous and deep-seated: fear. Fear shuts down communication and listening. It divides people. And it directly threatens the future of our world. Truly, the thing to fear is fear itself.

Islamaphobia is at its greatest height since 9/11. You may have heard of the recent case of Ahmed, a 14 year old student, who built a clock and brought it to school to show his teacher. When the clock beeped in class, another teacher mistook the clock for a bomb and Ahmed was put in cuffs and arrested. But the school was not evacuated, the bomb squad was not called. The clock wasn't mistaken for a bomb, the Muslim boy was mistaken for a terrorist. We cannot forget the culture of fear that swept our nation after 9/11, and of the serious repercussions, both national and international, of that backlash. Recently, the Honorable U.S. Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) introduced legislation recognizing and honoring the many victims of post 9/11 fear who were discriminated against, abused, and murdered.

This fear manifests itself not just in anecdotes like Ahmed's, but in real policy discussions happening right now. The refugee crisis in Europe, a most serious situation of a scale unheard of since WWII, now tests the founding principles of the EU and the international order. This massive humanitarian crisis demands nothing less than intensive international collaboration. But despite the relative generosity of some countries like Germany, a solution is stalled because many countries fear the possibility of refugees bringing crime and radicalism. Instead of helping the people who have been most victimized, abused, and exploited, conservative voices are making them into the other, the enemy, the threat, even vermin.

Let's examine the elements of that fear of crime and radicalization. Crime is an easy one. Multiple studies have shown that the correlation between rising crime and illegal immigrants is pure myth. It is also an obvious mistake to equate high crime rates with race or ethnicity, when the real explanation lies in the inequity of the socio-economic order. Regarding radicalization, while scholars have not nailed down an exact predictive model for violent radicalization, the factors identified should not surprise us. President Kennedy famously said, "Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make armed revolution inevitable." A combination of economic exploitation, political repression, and violent subjugation produces a volatile cocktail. Anecdotal data reveals that those who feel targeted and wronged by society, left out of prosperity, and powerless to change their circumstances are the ones who find purpose in the seductive dogma of violent radicalization.

Whose fault is this? Certainly individuals must own their actions, but those responsible for the structural factors, the incentivizing conditions and the provocations, must also reflect on their role. Let's look at an abridged history of the Middle East: 1) Britain and France carved up the territories of the defeated Ottoman Empire to claim themselves in a secret treaty in 1916 known as Sykes-Picot, drawing arbitrary borders that divided entire nations of people, like the Kurds, and forced others, like Iraqi Sunnis and Shiites, to live together under one unrepresentative political entity. 2) Years of colonial subjugation by western powers culminated in bloody struggles for independence. 3) Many newly independent countries found themselves lead by corrupt, secular strongmen dictators supported by the West for economic reasons as well as to serve as proxies in the power struggle of the Cold War. 4) Direct military intervention spearheaded by the United States after 9/11 casted the region into further disorder, coupled with a new global paradigm of discrimination and insecurity.

In sum, European imperial subjugation transformed into brutal dictatorships supported by those same western powers for the purposes of economic and political exploitation. And then you have the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, drones flying everywhere, Muslims persecuted everywhere, and an overall paradigm of hostility: us vs. them. It's clear that Western antagonism, whether motivated by imperial greed or xenophobic fear, enabled, if not directly produced, many of the factors behind violent radicalization directed towards the West. The key is that more of it will inevitably produce the same.

Not only do we have to fight Islamaphobia because it is wrong and stands against the best principals of these United States, but also because such fear leads to aggression which manifests itself in policies that end up making the United States less safe. Not to mention poorer and less legitimate.

Violent radicalism can never work, and will only make more suffering. But that is the exact lesson we need to learn ourselves. I am indeed frightened terribly by the rise of the Islamic State. They horrify the entire world. We must act. But in our Age of Information, we cannot solve our problems with airstrikes or a McCarthy Inquisition. We must solve our problems by providing solutions that address the root causes. That means diplomacy, that means economic development, that means global cooperation. Fear and intolerance cannot accomplish such things, only inhibit them. Politicians who depend on scaring voters endanger our nation.

Republicans would be wise to heed the words of the great Jedi Master Yoda: "Fear is the path to the Dark Side. Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, and hate leads to suffering."

There are too many people scared. We must be courageous.

Put your name down here to show you agree and that you stand for courage. Please share this message with coworkers, friends, and family. We all have a stake in this, and discussion is so important.

Lincoln Chafee, Press Release - Fear: The Path to the Dark Side Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/312742

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