Smile Politely

What year is it?

What year is it?

Surfing my Facebook feed since the Paris attacks on Friday, I’m not quite sure.

It’s a rare moment when international politics can touch Champaign-Urbana (and the entire state of Illinois) in such a high-profile way as it is right now. In recent memory, Air Force One getting stuck in the mud at Willard Airport comes to mind as another instance, albeit a bit more light-hearted.

On Monday, Illinois’ Governor Bruce Rauner declared that our state will not be accepting refugees who seek to flee the violence caused by ISIS in Syria, joining an all-star cast of governors including union-bustin’ maverick Scott Walker of Wisconsin and everyone’s favorite anti-gay legislating leader, Mike Pence of Indiana.

Some of my Facebook friends gave comments like “First and only good decision he has made since he has been in office!” and “Thank you, Governor, for having our safety as a priority. It’s more than I can say for some of our nation’s leaders!”

Outside of the fact that pretty much all of Rauner’s decisions have sucked up to this point, these comments are as closed-minded and xenophobic as they come. Here’s a thought: what if all Italian-American immigrants, like my own, weren’t allowed to come to America due to mafia stereotypes? Preposterous, right? What if Jewish immigrants weren’t allowed to flee here during the Holocaust? Oh wait, that already happened — in 1939. This may be hard for some to believe, but it’s actually 76 years after 1939 right now. Did we not learn anything about how history treats the closed-minded? Here’s a hint: not well.

This is a new level, even for Rauner, who has previously contained the targets of his terrible ideas to state employees and university students, something C-U just happens to have a lot of. Now, however, he’s extending some poor judgement across the Atlantic, all the way to Syria. By saying “no” to refugees who want to escape from ISIS, Rauner is essentially closing Illinois’ doors to anyone in need, even the thousands of refugees who have caused no harm to anyone, and are just seeking a safe haven and an ISIS-free life, just as we are.

This, my friends, is called “ruining it for everybody,” and hasn’t held any logical validity in any type of argument beyond the 4th grade playground where we weren’t allowed to play dodgeball anymore because some kid broke another kid’s arm once.

Even the right wing denies this logic every time there’s a massive gun crime and someone calls for the abolishment of the 2nd Amendment. If it’s so offensive to them to talk about banning guns after countless mass shooting events, why is it all of a sudden commonplace to ban all immigrants based on the notion that one of them might be a bad apple? The two narratives are incongruent. It doesn’t make sense.

What scared, sheltered people have we become that we fear anything from outside our central Illinois bubble? Especially in Champaign-Urbana, which thrives off of its connection to the outside world and outside cultures. Without the railroads and the interstates connecting us to bigger and more cosmopolitan places, Champaign would lack much of the population and culture it currently possesses. Without sharing ideas from other places around the world, the University of Illinois would be a shell of a university and C-U would feel the effects. We should take pride in the fact that we have one of the eight mosques south of I-80 in Illinois, not fear our own citizens because of what they practice or where they came from.

As citizens of C-U, we are, by default, tapped into the broader umbrella of humanity. In a country that prides itself on open doors and opportunity for all, it makes no sense that Governor Rauner would seek to shut the doors on those who need help the most — but this is the guy who cut off funding for Lincoln’s Challenge Academy, so I guess I can see it.

In any aspect of life, reaching a peaceful solution does not come from becoming insular and isolated. Instead of shutting off ourselves from the world, Illinois and Champaign-Urbana should be open and welcoming, thus proving that we can live up to our reputation as a cultural melting pot. The vast majority of us, whether forciably or by choice, were immigrants to this country at one point. We are no different than the current Syrians, we just came over at different times. We are in no place to deny entry to those who need a safe place to live and abide by the law.

Sure, we can have increased security screenings for these refugees. Make it the most rigorious it can be, if that’s what’s necessary. But, as Americans and as Illinoisans, to shut down the intake of refugees from Syria as a whole is rash at best and irresponsible at worst.

The good news is that it’s not the 19th century anymore, nor is it 1939. It’s Two Thousand-and-fucking-Fifteen, and as human beings, we should, and can, collectively be past hysteria induced by rampant xenophobia. In a globalized society, there is no excuse for it. Those that take issue with this, however, are invited to march down to north campus and try to get a professor to help them build a time machine, because that seems like the only thing that could help them.

(Photo of Governor Rauner by WSIU)

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