When I was a teenager and studied the Holocaust, especially the Nuremberg Trials, I realized Hitler didn't act alone. His power was in convincing others to be good soldiers and carry out his plan. However, I also learned that these weren't fundamentally evil or sociopathic people. They were swept by National pride, swayed by overwhelming anti-Semitism, and "just following orders", or so they claimed. Still, I could never understand what kind of person followed such orders? Were they weak of will? Mentally unstable? How could so many people be that flawed or so easily impressed by a demagogue of such obvious evil intent?
When I got to college, I realized an even greater and disappointing truth. Hitler and his Nazi henchmen couldn't carry out this mass extermination if they had major resistance. Instead, they were aided and abetted by a general populace (also consumed with anti-Semitism) and world at large who chose to look the other way for many years, and protect their own, and not get involved (until their hands were forced and it affected them). People probably said things like, "Why should we share our meager resources with them?" or "Yes, it's terrible, but shouldn't we help our own, first?" or “Leave their problems over there.” And I'm sure many secretly thought, "Better them, then us."
People were afraid, and rightfully so. War and genocide are terrifying things. It takes tremendous strength of character and lack of fear to stand up to such a foe. It also takes a certain grace to open your home or country to persecuted strangers, and risk your own life in doing so. Under these difficult circumstances, what is morally right may not be what is right for the safety of you and your own family. That is a true crisis, which requires a personal and moral choice all of us have to come to terms with on our own.
In light of the current plight of millions of Syrian Refugees, I personally have a hard time sleeping at night, feeling comfy in my bed and my freedom, knowing that innocent people are fleeing from a genocidal war. And sadly, when those desperate people reach out a hand for help from our country, their hands are slapped away. "No way!" scared Americans scream, egged on by conservative pundits and political leaders spewing hate and fear. The worst of them convince you that these refugees, even children, will come to this country to kill you. The others simply shrug, "Not our problem!" In the end, what this debate reveals is there is still a deep-seated bigotry against immigrants and refugees and 'others' alive and well in America. Only today's bigots don't hide behind white hoods and capes. They freely spew their venom to any and all that will listen, encouraging others to express their outrage as well. And then they cheer each other for their "courage." As if it takes courage to rail against others and blame them for all that is wrong with the world.
Donald Trump has become the ringleader of this current hate-mongering. He goes on TV spreading lies, sounding more and more like Hitler every day, as he supports a federal registry for all Muslims in America. We are seeing how easy it is to get swept away in national paranoia, especially when our own governors and political leaders, the men and women sworn to lead us, are the ones spreading the fear, this time around wrapped in an Islamaphobic package instead of anti-Semitism.
It was Hermann Goering, leading member of the Nazi Party, who said: "Naturally the common people don't want war neither in Russia, nor in England, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the peacemakers for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country."
I'd like to think if I were alive in the 1930s, I would have immediately recognized Hitler and his Nazi Party for who they were and I would have acted accordingly. I would have used my voice, as I am now, to point out how dangerous it is to listen to a delusional narcissistic man who gets his power from dividing us and pitting us against each other or asserting that 'some' people deserve safety and security, and the rest are a threat to the 'proper' race. Donald Trump might not be outright asking for ethnic cleansing, but so far we've learned he thinks Mexicans are rapists, black protestors deserve to be beaten, Muslims are all potential terrorists, and Syrian Refugees are disposable. He is not a man who screams 'good', 'inclusive' or 'righteous' to me. And unfortunately, he appeals to a fundamentalist Christian contingency that strongly believes Christians are becoming marginalized in America, and they want to reclaim it as their own.
This is the point where I state that I will never understand why religion is at the core of every great conflict and the source of so much hate. If religion truly promotes spiritual and moral righteousness, then hate and fear have no place. To me it's very simple. We are all the same -- WE ARE ALL HUMAN. And we were put on this earth to love.
Still history seems intent on repeating itself. We say 'never again' and yet here comes Trump leading rallies, spewing hate against others, and already the good people are championing him as a 'speaker of truth.' Meanwhile, the Syrian Refugees get kicked to the curb, casualties of the political posturing of multiple candidates trying to woo voters with their extremist views.
There are those who say the Syrians are 'not our problem.' But in truth they are. Not only because taking care of others is the right thing to do, but because helping stabilize a war-torn region helps the global community which in turn ultimately helps us at home. So, yes, Syrian Refugees are our problem. We may think we can keep terrorism and evil from reaching our shores by keeping out certain people, but the truth is that if we leave the evil that is ISIS unchecked, and allow humans to suffer and die needlessly across the world, that evil will only grow in power and eventually spread, like the insidious cancer it is. Evil despots always start with the easiest and weakest targets, but once their power grows, guess who's next?
We can and should blame evil for terrorism and genocide. Hitler. Hussein. Bin Laden. These despicable men are at the root of all this needless death and destruction. However, one evil man cannot reign terror on his own. He has help, not just from his devoted converts or acolytes, but also from the people who fail to act in the face of such evil. When we give into the fear, we are giving the terrorists permission to continue their assault on us, perhaps not physically, but psychically and spiritually.
The Dalai Lama says, “If we emphasize more on nonviolence and harmony, we can herald a new beginning. Unless we make serious attempts to achieve peace, we will continue to see a replay of the mayhem humanity experienced in the 20th century.”
I know in the face of recent terrorist attacks in Paris, many people are afraid. But me? I am more troubled than scared. I see a rising tide of zenophobia, Islamaphobia, and cold-hearted bigotry being expressed from all walks of life, and not just from evil demagogues. See, truly evil people are few and far between, and so they don't actually frighten me. How can one man hurt millions? He can’t, not if we stay united. What frightens me is when so-called ‘good people’ fail to feel compassion for others or turn on one another, or willfully throw others to the wolves in order to protect their own skins.
Evil thrives when we, the good, the righteous, and the brave, turn our backs on the weak and persecuted. Sure we may be protecting ourselves in the short run, but ultimately it's a terrible long-term strategy if our goal is global peace and harmony.
Yes, we need to fight ISIS head on. I am not saying a show of force is not needed. But what is also needed is for us to be united against ISIS and not turn on each other or sacrifice millions of others for our own security. We have the ability to offer aid, shelter, and safety to those who seek it. Is there a risk involved in doing so? Of course. Nobody said this was an easy choice. But if we are at war against terrorism, as so many insist, then risk and casualties are part of the equation. In this war, we have the opportunity to save countless lives too! And at least for me, that is a reward that outweighs the risks involved, especially when that risk is so low (refugees seeking asylum in this country are rigorously vetted).
Humanity thrives when we work together. This “every man, woman, and child for himself” philosophy only diminishes all of us, and ultimately makes us complicit in heinous crimes brought against humanity by men of inconceivable evil.
No, we are not terrorists. We are not evil people. We don’t blow up people while they work, drink coffee, or watch bands perform. We are all just trying our best to be good, law-abiding, hardworking people making our ways through life. But do truly good people sit back and watch others suffer and die?
For me? No. Not when we can help.
And not if we have a choice.