FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Bridges, Not Walls, Foster Peace and Security as Refugees Arrive

The mass shooting in Orlando this week reignited the battle over immigration of Muslims, despite the fact that the perpetrator was born in the United States. As refugees flee war-torn countries seeking safety, some politicians in the West have warned these newcomers to stay out. The presumptive Republican presidential nominee said in response to the Orlando shooting that, if elected, he would ban immigrants from areas of the world in which terrorism toward the United States or its allies have occurred.  Leaders like this believe that allowing immigrants to enter and coexist with citizens might lead to vulnerability if any has harmful intentions. Peace and security, however, are easier to achieve by building bridges than by erecting walls.  Excluding foreigners leads to more insecurity, not less.

Calls for the exclusion of refugees ignore basic principles of human dignity while undermining the goal of keeping citizens safe.  Extremists have used video clips of U.S. politicians’ xenophobic rhetoric as a recruiting tool, trying to convince Muslims that the United States will never welcome them, and that violence is the only way to deal with Westerners.

According to the Migration Policy Institute, of more than 784,000 refugees admitted to the United States since September 11, 2001, only three have been arrested and charged with terrorism-related crimes. All are in jail, and none were shown to be involved in a credible threat to the U.S. homeland. In Europe, the Paris and Brussels terrorist attacks were largely carried out by nationals, not foreigners, indicating that addressing injustices and promoting positive relations among groups already in the country may be more important than excluding groups from entering. Refugees are not all angels, but foreigners generally commit fewer violent crimes than native citizens, and the proper response is good law enforcement and intelligence, not blanket exclusion.  The current refugee resettlement program already includes year-long security vetting measures that use extensive country-of-origin information to verify the details of refugees’ stories.

Security is not a zero-sum game: my feeling safe does not require you to feel less secure.   Rather, security is stronger when it rests on a foundation of peaceful coexistence and justice.  This dynamic depends on mutual trust, and on seeing others as humans who are equally deserving of life and dignity.  When we see people from other countries as individuals rather than as faceless members of a ‘wave’ or ‘invasion’ of migrants, we are less likely to assume that they are threatening.  In the words of Brookings’ William McCants, “If our enemies succeed by eroding our empathy for one another, we will succeed by reinforcing and expanding it.”

In a recent survey that graduate student Christopher Monteiro and I conducted at the University of Massachusetts Boston, we found that Americans who interacted daily with migrants had greater trust and more positive attitudes toward migrants in general, and less desire to prevent them from entering the country than those who interacted with foreigners less frequently.  This finding is consistent with a wealth of previous research showing that strong, personal, equal-status relationships promote peaceful coexistence and reduce xenophobia.

Personal stories in the media can also reduce dehumanization and increase feelings of solidarity.  The heartbreaking photo of three-year-old Aylan Kurdi, a Syrian child found lifeless on a Turkish beach, galvanized sympathy in the West.  This one poignant image changed the narrative about Syrians by reminding the world of our shared humanity. Such surges of sympathy and understanding are often temporary, however. They cannot replace sensible structural reforms nor meaningful relationships fostering coexistence, which still offer more sustainable protections against prejudice.

When people feel threatened, our tendency is to hunker down in fear, assume the source of danger lies among those who are different from us, and try to exclude those people from our communities.  Instead of making anyone safer, though, this reaction pushes people who are already victims back into a dangerous situation, reinforces the divisive rhetoric of those who benefit from hatred, and increases the risk that violence will escalate.  This ultimately causes greater harm and instability.  As we search for policy solutions to the current migration and refugee influx, we would all be better served building bridges rather than walls.

More articles by:

Jeff Pugh is Assistant Professor and Director of Graduate Conflict Resolution Programs in the McCormack Graduate School of Policy & Global Studies at the University of Massachusetts- Boston and writes for PeaceVoice.

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

May 27, 2019
John Grant
Congress is Being Punked: Will They Find Their Backbone?
Robert Fisk
The Evidence We Were Never Meant to See About the Douma Gas Attack
Basav Sen
The Terrifying Global Implications of Modi’s Re-Election
Peter Certo
Pardoning War Criminals is a Terrible Way to Honor Veterans
Howard Lisnoff
When War Crimes are Pardoned
Joe Emersberger
Guillaume Long on Ecuadorian President Moreno’s betrayal of Assange and the Citizens Revolution
Binoy Kampmark
Monsanto, Scientific Deception and Cancer
Elizabeth Keyes
Demonstrating for Assange in NYC or Life on Pluto
Mike Ferner
Another Empire’s Boot Stomps on Ireland
Lizzett Talavera
Toward a Culture of Animal Protection in Cuba
Ed Sanders
Monsanto is Evil: a Glyph
Elliot Sperber
The Snow Leopards of Central Park 
Weekend Edition
May 24, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Rob Urie
Iran, Venezuela and the Throes of Empire
Melvin Goodman
The Dangerous Demise of Disarmament
Jeffrey St. Clair
“The Army Ain’t No Place for a Black Man:” How the Wolf Got Caged
Richard Moser
War is War on Mother Earth
Andrew Levine
The (Small-d) Democrat’s Dilemma
Russell Mokhiber
The Boeing Way: Blaming Dead Pilots
Rev. William Alberts
Gaslighters of God
Phyllis Bennis
The Amputation Crisis in Gaza: a US-Funded Atrocity
David Rosen
21st Century Conglomerate Trusts 
Jonathan Latham
As a GMO Stunt, Professor Tasted a Pesticide and Gave It to Students
Binoy Kampmark
The Espionage Act and Julian Assange
Kathy Deacon
Liberals Fall Into Line: a Recurring Phenomenon
Jill Richardson
The Disparity Behind Anti-Abortion Laws
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Chelsea Manning is Showing Us What Real Resistance Looks Like
Zhivko Illeieff
Russiagate and the Dry Rot in American Journalism
Norman Solomon
Will Biden’s Dog Whistles for Racism Catch Up with Him?
Yanis Varoufakis
The Left Refuses to Get Its Act Together in the Face of Neofascism
Lawrence Davidson
Senator Schumer’s Divine Mission
Thomas Knapp
War Crimes Pardons: A Terrible Memorial Day Idea
Renee Parsons
Dump Bolton before He Starts the Next War
Yves Engler
Canada’s Meddling in Venezuela
Katie Singer
Controlling 5G: A Course in Obstacles
Evaggelos Vallianatos
The Beauty of Trees
Jesse Jackson
Extremist Laws, Like Alabama’s, Will Hit Poor Women the Hardest
Andrew Bacevich
The “Forever Wars” Enshrined
Ron Jacobs
Another One Moves On: Roz Payne, Presente!
Christopher Brauchli
The Offal Office
Daniel Falcone
Where the ‘Democratic Left’ Goes to Die: Staten Island NYC and the Forgotten Primaries   
Julia Paley
Life After Deportation
Sarah Anderson
America Needs a Long-Term Care Program for Seniors
Seiji Yamada – John Witeck
Stop U.S. Funding for Human Rights Abuses in the Philippines
Shane Doyle, A.J. Not Afraid and Adrian Bird, Jr.
The Crazy Mountains Deserve Preservation
Charlie Nash
Will Generation Z Introduce a Wizard Renaissance?
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail