COLUMN: ‘Fear itself’: A tale of two speeches

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You can count on two things happening whenever America faces danger. First, Republicans will demand action to keep the republic and its citizens safe, and second, Democrats will accuse the Republicans of fear-mongering.

In the current political climate, that fight has taken place over the issue of Syrian refugees, and the Obama administration’s plan to resettle thousands of the mostly Muslim refugees in America. ISIS has promised to infiltrate the refugees with terrorists, leading Republican governors to declare their unwillingness to allow the refugee program in their states.

In response, the mantra heard round the land the past two weeks by Democratic talking heads is “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

Well, not so quick.

First of all, it is important to recognize that when President Franklin Roosevelt used that phrase in his first inaugural address, he was seeking to reassure the American public that the economic duress they faced in the Great Depression was a problem they could overcome. He was most certainly not saying that people who talked about the severity of the depression were laughable fools or dangerous demagogues. Indeed, Roosevelt himself catalogued the country’s challenges and laid out a comprehensive plan to confront them.

“This is preeminently the time to speak the truth, the whole truth, frankly and boldly. Nor need we shrink from honestly facing conditions in our country today,” Roosevelt said, then going on to make his famous pronouncement.

But get this. When he said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” he then described that worrisome fear as “nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”

I postulate that the fear that Americans feel about Syrian refugees is not “nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror,” but rather its opposite. In fact, it is the entirely rational, entirely justified, easily named terror brought about by being the repeated victim of Islamic radical jihad that has made Americans resist President Obama’s insistence that we have a national obligation to welcome Syrian refugees to our homeland.

Democrats contend that people who are afraid of terrorists posing as Syrian refugees (or even of Syrian refugees deciding to become terrorists later) are a greater danger to the country that the Syrian refugee policy itself.

This was summarized by President Obama in a press conference in Manila when he chided Republicans as crass opportunists and cowards.

“Apparently, they’re scared of widows and orphans coming into the United States of America as part of our tradition of compassion. First, they were worried about the press being too tough on them during debates. Now they’re worried about 3-year-old orphans. That doesn’t sound very tough to me. They’ve been playing on fear in order to try to score political points or to advance their campaigns. And it’s irresponsible. And it’s contrary to who we are. And it needs to stop, because the world is watching.”

We don’t have time to properly chastise the president for turning a public policy dispute into a political ambush while he was representing our country overseas, so let’s just drill down into this fear factor and consider how reprehensible it is for the president and others to belittle their fellow citizens for their desire to keep Americans safe.

First, a few facts:

n At least two of the Muslims involved in the Paris terror attacks were posing as Syrian refugees, and several others had visited Syria, where ISIS controls a large swath of the countryside.

n The vast majority of the Syrian “migrants” arriving in Europe and who will appeal to the UN for refugee status are neither widows nor orphans, but rather able-bodied men between the ages of 18 and 30, the same demographic that is associated with suicide bombings and attacks throughout the Muslim world and Europe.

n Five Syrians were apprehended earlier this month in Honduras with fake Greek passports, and other Syrians have been trying to cross the border from Mexico into the U.S. No doubt they have heard that once you are across the border, you stand a pretty good chance of being invited to stay by either a judge, Congress, or a lawless president operating outside the bounds of the Constitution.

Of course, the bottom line is that the United States accepts more refugees than any other country in the world. We do not lack compassion, nor are we afraid of true refugees who seek to start over as part of our American community, but the old adage holds true: “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.”

We have been fooled so many times by Muslim immigrants and refugees who turned out to harbor deadly intentions that we can never live down our shame. The screams of the dead should haunt us for all time.

Let’s start with the 1993 truck bomb by Ramzi Yousef and other Muslims at the World Trade Center, which killed six people and had the potential to destroy both towers eight years before they were actually destroyed in the Sept. 11 attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people. Did we have more to fear from “fear itself” or from a policy that blindly underestimated the threat to the homeland of those who hate us?

Remember the attack by Nidal Hasan, an American-born Muslim who killed 13 people at Fort Hood. The case of Hasan should repudiate the claims of those who think Americans do not have to fear Muslims who were born in this country. Birthright citizenship is not the same as assimilation, nor does it automatically assure loyalty. Our fear of Hasan should have been magnified, not diminished, before the attack because of his behavior, not his religion.

Let’s conclude with the Tsarnaev brothers, who set off two improvised explosive devices in the crowd at the 2013 Boston Marathon, killing three people and injuring 264 more, some severely. Those two brothers had been admitted to the United States with “derivative asylum status” after their father had received asylum as a refugee from Chechnya. Being shown kindness by the American people does not ensure that kindness will be shown in return.

Do we really need to dispute the danger that Muslim immigrants and their families pose to the citizens of the United States? Is there any reason why Americans should be berated by their own president because they are fearful of their safety when Muslims are imported from a dangerous war zone like Syria and plopped down in the middle of American cities, towns and villages with virtually no oversight?

Here is the speech that Democrats should have been proudly quoting in the years following Sept. 11, and which they should take to heart today:

“No matter how long it may take us to overcome this premeditated invasion, the American people in their righteous might will win through to absolute victory... I assert that we will not only defend ourselves to the uttermost, but will make very certain that this form of treachery shall never endanger us again. Hostilities exist. There is no blinking at the fact that our people, our territory and our interests are in grave danger. With confidence in our armed forces — with the unbounding determination of our people — we will gain the inevitable triumph — so help us God.”

That is from another speech by President Franklin Roosevelt — the one where he coined the phrase “a date which will live in infamy” to describe Dec. 7, 1941, and to commemorate the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor.

When he said that Americans and the American way of life were in “grave danger,” no one accused him of fear-mongering. No one scolded him for forgetting that the only thing we have to fear is “fear itself.” We were united as a nation and as a people to protect ourselves from a vicious enemy. If we are going to learn a lesson from Franklin Roosevelt, let’s learn that one.


Frank Miele is managing editor of the Daily Inter Lake. If you don’t like his opinion, stop by the office and he will gladly refund your two cents. E-mail responses may be sent to edit@dailyinterlake.com


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