Religious-Nationalism, the Global Refugee Crises, and the Problem of Islamophobia (@theTable: Intersecting Islamophobia)
Recent calls made by the GOP Presidential candidates to accept Christian Syrian refugees in the United States and India’s decision under the Modi government to grant non-Muslim refugees extended stay are deeply problematic. Such pronouncements not only depict the ways in which Muslim refugees are represented as violent, aggressive, and a threat to national security, but also exposes the way in which the national identity of a country is intimately connected to its religious identity. The acceptance of non-Muslim refugees consents to a religious-nationalism that calls for the discrimination against Muslim refugees. Analyzing the global refugee crises, I will examine the ways in which the rhetoric of religious-nationalism is used to construct the identity of both the United States and India.
The question of national security is front and center to the issue of the refugee crises. In India, Bangladeshi refugees are separated according to their religion. Muslim refugees, described by the US and India as terrorists and infiltrators, become threats to national well-being. The issue with having national security tied up in patriotic love is not only that it accommodates anti-Muslim sentiments, but it also justifies the ways in which this xenophobic rhetoric is inserted into the national discourse.
The already displaced subjectivity of Muslim refugees is depicted as threatening and violent. While the rhetoric against the settlement of Muslim refugees is based in a fear of young minds being radicalized, conversations such as these never focus on those young minds that choose to not be radicalized.
Proponents for the resettlement of non-Muslim refugees argue for their acceptance on the basis that these groups experience more suffering than their Muslim counterparts. Along the same lines, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said, “We have a responsibility toward Hindus who are harassed and suffer in other countries. Where will they go? India is the only place for them. Our government cannot continue to harass them. We will have to accommodate them here.”
When Islam is pitted against religions such as Christianity and Hinduism, it becomes the religion of the other that is depicted as savage and violent, constructing a hierarchy that accepts one religion, that of the nation, while rejecting the other. The national identity of the United States, deeply wrapped in Judeo-Christian values, allows for deliberate ways to distance itself from Islam stereotyped as a violent and murderous religion. This illustrates a deep comfort one feels with Christianity as a religion that is identifiable with the national Self and therefore familiar, non-violent, and civilized, while Islam as the unknowing, strange, and foreign religion is depicted as the religion of the other.
At the same time, Christianity becomes such an important part of this argument, such that even personal relationships are put to a religious test. GOP Presidential candidate Ted Cruz has argued that if his own Cuban refugee father had belonged to a violent, theocratic, and radical religion like Islam, then even he would need to go through a religious test in order to be let in to this country. A similar sentiment is expressed by President of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad Praveen Togadia in India who argues for the turning away of Muslim refugees from India. Christian and Hindu refugees identified with an asylum nation’s religious identity are seen through a more positive light, while Muslim refugees depicted as violent, terrorists, and infiltrators become unworthy of compassion and kindness.
In addition, male Muslim refugees are seen as a threat to not only the nations providing asylum to the refugees, but more importantly to these nations’ women. Chris Smith argues that a majority of the Syrian refugees entering Western countries are men, more specifically, Muslim men. In contrast, the UNHCR reports that out of the 2.9 million Syrian refugees, “[w]omen and children make up three-quarters of the refugee population.” Regardless of the statistics, Muslim men in particular are seen as a threat to women. Recently, news about German women being sexually molested on New Year’s Eve by Muslim men in “rape mobs” took the US media by storm. There is no doubt that sexual molestation and rape is a horrific thing and must be condemned on all accounts. However, the protection of European women from Muslim refugees helps justify the argument against the acceptance of these refugees in Western countries. Moreover, the protection of female Muslim refugees and their sexual exploitation is not condemned or dealt with in the same way. For example, Syrian women are victimized and sexually assaulted, sometimes by other male refugees, but also by security officials that are suppose to be helping them. In other words, when the sexual assault of European women is linked to the identity and dignity of a nation, it becomes a sexual assault on the nation. On the other hand, when the sexual assault is upon displaced and homeless refugee women, it is an attack on bodies that are nationless and stateless, therefore open to sexual exploitation by all men, European and non-European alike.
In conclusion, it cannot be overstated that the subjectivity of all refugees Muslims as well as non-Muslims must be seen through a humane and compassionate lens. The idea of picking and choosing refugees based on their religious identity under the pretext of national security needs to be exposed, critically examined, and rejected as a racist and a xenophobic practice.
For a country that boasts of being built upon Judeo-Christian values, the United States conveniently forgets that the two commandments that form the bedrock of Christianity is to love God and to love your neighbor. We need to love our neighbors not because they reflect back religious values that are familiar and safe, but because they are human beings caught in a conflict for no fault of their own and in need of compassion and love. Thus, rather than loving our “neighbors” based on their similarities to us, maybe it is time we learn to love our “neighbors” in spite of these impulses.
Next: Michelle Voss Roberts, “Interfaith Dialogue and the Need for Resemblance” (Part 3)