FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

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.

April 23, 2018
Patrick Cockburn
In Middle East Wars It Pays to be Skeptical
Thomas Knapp
Just When You Thought “Russiagate” Couldn’t Get Any Sillier …
Gregory Barrett
The Moral Mask
Robert Hunziker
Chemical Madness!
David Swanson
Senator Tim Kaine’s Brief Run-In With the Law
Dave Lindorff
Starbucks Has a Racism Problem
Uri Avnery
The Great Day
Nyla Ali Khan
Girls Reduced to Being Repositories of Communal and Religious Identities in Kashmir
Ted Rall
Stop Letting Trump Distract You From Your Wants and Needs
Steve Klinger
The Cautionary Tale of Donald J. Trump
Kevin Zeese - Margaret Flowers
Conflict Over the Future of the Planet
Cesar Chelala
Gideon Levy: A Voice of Sanity from Israel
Weekend Edition
April 20, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Ruling Class Operatives Say the Darndest Things: On Devils Known and Not
Conn Hallinan
The Great Game Comes to Syria
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Mother of War
Andrew Levine
“How Come?” Questions
Doug Noble
A Tale of Two Atrocities: Douma and Gaza
Kenneth Surin
The Blight of Ukania
Howard Lisnoff
How James Comey Became the Strange New Hero of the Liberals
William Blum
Anti-Empire Report: Unseen Persons
Lawrence Davidson
Missiles Over Damascus
Patrick Cockburn
The Plight of the Yazidi of Afrin
Pete Dolack
Fooled Again? Trump Trade Policy Elevates Corporate Power
Stan Cox
For Climate Mobilization, Look to 1960s Vietnam Before Turning to 1940s America
William Hawes
Global Weirding
Dan Glazebrook
World War is Still in the Cards
Nick Pemberton
In Defense of Cardi B: Beyond Bourgeois PC Culture
Ishmael Reed
Hollywood’s Last Days?
Peter Certo
There Was Nothing Humanitarian About Our Strikes on Syria
Dean Baker
China’s “Currency Devaluation Game”
Ann Garrison
Why Don’t We All Vote to Commit International Crimes?
LEJ Rachell
The Baddest Black Power Artist You Never Heard Of
Lawrence Ware
All Hell Broke Out in Oklahoma
Franklin Lamb
Tehran’s Syria: Lebanon Colonization Project is Collapsing
Donny Swanson
Janus v. AFSCME: What’s It All About?
Will Podmore
Brexit and the Windrush Britons
Brian Saady
Boehner’s Marijuana Lobbying is Symptomatic of Special-Interest Problem
Julian Vigo
Google’s Delisting and Censorship of Information
Patrick Walker
Political Dynamite: Poor People’s Campaign and the Movement for a People’s Party
Fred Gardner
Medical Board to MDs: Emphasize Dangers of Marijuana
Rob Seimetz
We Must Stand In Solidarity With Eric Reid
Missy Comley Beattie
Remembering Barbara Bush
Wim Laven
Teaching Peace in a Time of Hate
Thomas Knapp
Freedom is Winning in the Encryption Arms Race
Mir Alikhan
There Won’t be Peace in Afghanistan Until There’s Peace in Kashmir
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail