Just two weeks ago, City Weekly readers voted Utah Gov. Gary Herbert the Worst Utahn in our annual Best of Utah issue. I now wonder, if the voting took place today, whether he'd again win that distinction. In the past 14 days, he's posited a locally heretical compromise (as if he has any leverage, but still) on federal and state land issues. That's new.
But Herbert also did the unthinkable. While 26 of his fellow Republican governors (plus Democrat Gov. Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire, which belongs in Canada) took the position that they would not accept Syrian refugees in their states, Herbert announced that Utah would not follow that shadowy din, and Syrian families are welcome here. That categorically eliminates him from being Worst Utahn. Too late, of course, but it was a worthy gesture on Herbert's part.
Syrians have fled their own country by the hundreds of thousands this past year. Until the events in Paris this past week, Syrians had generally been regarded across Europe as being more worthy of sympathy than other Middle Eastern refugees, especially after images of Syrian children drowning in the Aegean Sea made even the Germans feel guilty. In the days following the Paris attacks, it was revealed that the bombing plot was likely hatched in Syria and that at least one of the dead attackers—or at least his passport, valid or counterfeit—had passed through a refugee checkpoint on Greek island of Leros. That was that. Syrian refugees are now considered to be terrorist threats.
If citizens of the United States are very good at something, it's that we always fall hard for manufactured enemies. Our leaders and political pundits know this. They are jingoists: "persons who brag about a country's preparedness to fight ... blustering, bellicose, or blatant 'patriots.'" Thus, the posturing, patriotic governors in 27 states say they will not accept Syrian refugees. And people cheer. And they will cheer until something blows up. And by the looks of things, something might. And if it does, chances are very slim it will be at the hands of a Syrian—refugee or otherwise.
Let's see: The United States has committed to accepting 80,000 refugees from the Middle East. Of that number, only 10,000 will come from Syria. A blip. Yet Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas, whose state is home to 2 million undocumented residents, says, "no federal official can guarantee that Syrian refugees will not be part of any terrorist activity." Yes, the irony is lost on Abbott that his fellow Republican Donald Trump wants to build a wall along the Texas border to guarantee we keep out criminal or dangerous Mexicans. Abbott suddenly worries about legal Syrians? A couple thousand new residents of the Lone Star State will not hide the crap covering Abbott's boots.
Or how about Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal? He's come out loudest and strongest against Syrian refugees, but get real: He was just a pop-off presidential prospect. Jindal, a Catholic, was raised Hindu. Wanna bet that if a person of the Hindu faith ever commits a similar crime, that Jindal would be so outspoken? Actually, you don't have to wait, for there are many recorded acts of Hindu violence against Christians in India, where Jindal's parents were born. Wouldn't you know it? Both Christians and Hindus view India's Muslim population as a larger threat to each.
But why go there? Try this 2005 sentiment instead: "Thousands of refugees were dispersed to other states, some as far away as Utah. As the refugee population disperses, it is possible that individuals with criminal records will be sent to other states—and some may resume their criminal activities." Yet, despite that sentiment and fear we were warned of, Utah warmly took in citizens left homeless from Hurricane Katrina that struck hardest in New Orleans, La., USA. How about a thank you, Bobby, you sniveling weasel?
Utah did that for Bobby's state because it was the right thing to do. Yeah, yeah, they were fellow citizens unlike those Syrians. But be honest and remember how much anti-black racial rhetoric was spread post-Katrina. Playing off of fear is always a dangerous game. While others played the race card, Utah stood up. I'd rather be a Utahn than a Louisianian.
Or a Floridian. Ted Cruz, son of a Cuban immigrant father, knows better, but ambition makes fools of us all. He foolishly claims Syrian Christians are less risk to us than Syrian Muslims. Remember the boat people of Mariel Harbor in 1980, anyone? Of the 125,000 Cuban refugees who finally reached Florida, weren't a large number of them considered to be criminals and mentally ill? American "patriots" were cruel to those Cubans. Yet, we took them in, not even asking if they were Communists. Is America worse off ? Cuba now accounts for 3 percent of all new U.S immigrants. We take the good with the bad. Bad: Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio. Good: Cuban Sandwiches and Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez.
Has Gov. Doug Ducey of Arizona forgotten that his state gave birth to the Oklahoma Bomber, the Catholic Timothy McVeigh? And will Gov. Sam Brownback of Kansas please take ownership of McVeigh's born-again Christian bombing partner, Terry Nichols? Alabama gave us the Olympic Park Bomber, Eric Rudolph. Thanks, Gov. Robert Bentley. I'm more happy than ever that the Ute football team smacked your 'Bama hicks in 2009.
In our Best of Utah issue, we named the Topaz Museum as Utah's Best Historical Art Exhibit. You really should visit. And when you do, be reminded that we've been through this before, we've survived and become stronger, and that hate and suspicion are our real enemies. And, be reminded that Gary Herbert did a very good thing this week. For now, he is not our Worst Utahn.
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