Horatio

Horatio
[Photo by Jacquelyn Griffin)

Thursday, November 19, 2015

The Cost of Fear

Back in the day when we had aspirations--1883, to be precise--a lady named Emma Lazarus wrote a poem titled "The New Colossus" that you might have seen somewhere:
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"
Well, those were the days.

Look, I get that there are legitimate security concerns that accompany the acceptance of refugees from a horrific civil war caused, in part, by the destabilization of the Middle East that has inexorably spread since we invaded Iraq and let loose long pent-up rivalries and hatreds, despite the efforts of two otherwise diametrically opposed administrations to tamp them back down. We should have a serious, measured discussion about what we can and should do, But let's face facts, folks: the heat and posturing of this debate isn't coming from legitimate security concerns.

It's coming from fear, in the wake of the horrific attacks on Paris last Friday.

Fear of the other, fear of being hurt again, as we were 14 years ago.

I get that last one. Believe me, I do. Two of my closest friends were out and about that day, and I came back to my old neighborhood to see a gigantic hole where a large part of it had once been. I still find reminders--most recently, a cardboard bookmark from the Borders bookshop that had been shattered and shuttered by the fall of the towers fell on my lap as I reread a novel I didn't even remember I had bought there. I'm sure that there are lots of little land mines like that in my library, and that I'll run across them over the years.

So, I get the fear bit. But we have often gone down this road. As long ago as 1927, Louis D. Brandeis had to remind us in the wake of the first Red Scare that "Men feared witches and burnt women." It was fear--fear of security lost at Pearl Harbor, and of the Other--that led to the internment of Japanese-Americans en masse.

We never learn, do we?

We'd better try, though. Because if we're not the new Colossus, we're on our way to becoming Ozymandias.

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