Statement in Support of Syrian Refugees and in Opposition to Islamophobia
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We, the undersigned returned United States Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCVs), urge United States lawmakers, governors, and other public figures to approach the ongoing Syrian refugee crisis with the spirit of peace and understanding that the Peace Corps was established to promote. We urge the American people to do the same.
President John F. Kennedy created the Peace Corps in 1961 in order to involve Americans more actively in promoting peace, development, and freedom around the world. Among the goals of the Peace Corps is the aim to improve Americans’ understanding of people from other countries. To date, approximately 220,000 Americans have served overseas in the name of peace.
As Peace Corps Volunteers, many of us served in predominantly Muslim countries. Peace Corps programs, particularly in the Middle East and North Africa, have often been among very few, large-scale, non-military American involvements in predominantly Muslim countries. We therefore offer a unique perspective, as many Americans do not have the opportunity to visit and learn about countries such as Morocco, Mali, Tunisia, Jordan, Senegal, Albania, Indonesia, or their neighbors.
We have drafted this letter to contribute to voices in the public discourse promoting values of peace and tolerance in a difficult time globally. We consider it our duty to help clarify misunderstandings among Americans about Muslim populations. Many of us do this on a daily basis in our interpersonal interactions, but recent events have made clear that we must speak out as a group.
We are alarmed by the recent surge in Islamophobic rhetoric by American public figures. Proposals by presidential candidate Donald Trump that Muslims be barred from the United States or forced to register with the state and carry identification cards are repugnant to the United States Constitution and international law. Other presidential candidates’ proposals that refugees undergo religion tests are similarly repugnant. Hate speech such as this has no place in the public discourse in America and must be condemned by other public figures and average citizens.
The hospitality and kindness we experienced as Americans living in the Middle East, West and North Africa, Eastern Europe, and Asia was consistent and profound. We shared homes, meals, sorrows, and joys with our Muslim host families, friends, and counterparts. We worked together on development projects. Some of us fell in love and married people from our host countries. With most of us in western clothing, with mixed language skills and diverse faiths, we were welcomed with tolerance and generosity. We would like for our home country to demonstrate the same magnanimousness and openness that we experienced abroad.
For the United States to remain a beacon of freedom and tolerance around the world, it must adopt a reasoned and compassionate approach to the Syrian refugee crisis. Syrians are fleeing war and chaos. Penalizing them based on the actions of a small minority of outliers is unreasonable and cruel, and will have dire consequences. Generalizations, misinformation, slurs, and fear-mongering will only foment more chaos and pain. For this situation and in general, Islamophobic rhetoric and policy proposals must stop.
We also believe that welcoming Syrian refugees into our country is in the best interest of the United States. First, it will improve our reputation internationally. Relationships based on hospitality are essential to mitigating mutual fear and hatred, as we have seen firsthand living in regions that often have strained relations with the United States. Second, in light of immigrants’ and refugees’ strong tradition of industriousness and entrepreneurialism in the United States, we believe a more open policy would benefit the American economy.
Americans who are fearful of social groups with whom they have not interacted can use local returned Peace Corps Volunteers as a resource. RPCVs have an unquantifiable well of stories of hospitality, generosity, friendship, and love from all over the world.
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