When Republicans aren’t putting American and democratic ideals to shame by spewing racist xenophobic rhetoric and proposing to ban all Muslim immigration, they busy themselves using dead Syrian refugee children to score political points in their demagogic drive to bomb the Middle East and create, of course, more dead refugee children. Then, there’s Germany, which is handling literally every aspect of the refugee crisis infinitely better than the United States, and is thereby setting an example of human decency that puts our backwards response to shame.
Germany will take in an impressive one million refugees this year, including more than 130,000 asylum-seekers from Syria as well as other refugees from the country and elsewhere in the Middle East, Asia, and Africa. In contrast, the United States, which has a population about four times that of Germany and prides itself on being the welcoming gateway for the world tired, poor, huddled masses, took in a grand total of 70,000 refugees in the 2015 fiscal year, including a mere 1,800 from Syria.
Republicans have so greatly succeeded in manipulating fear and hatred to turn Americans against showing any human decency to war-worn refugees that our pro-immigration president wants to take in only 10,000 Syrians next year and presidential candidate Martin O’Malley’s plan to accept 65,000 Syrians was seen as radical. Even these numbers – which have little chance of becoming reality – represent a mere drop in the bucket compared to the willingness of Germany and other progressive European nations like Sweden to live up to the ideals of Western democracy and provide a better life for those who seek it.
The Germans have been especially accepting of families fleeing the chaos of Syria and elsewhere with children, and 325,000 school-aged children have entered the country as refugees this year. Indeed, in the coming school year almost 200,000 refugee children will enter German schools, and the German education authority has set up 8,264 “special classes” to help them catch up their peers, with plans to add as many as 20,000 more of these classes. The program, which has the added benefit of creating thousands of new teaching jobs, stands in stark contrast to the services provided to the few refugees that the United States does accept, which are often minimal.
Moreover, the German government, in addition to its far-reaching social safety net, provides needy refugees with monthly stipends of up to a few hundred dollars for basic expenses. The United States, in contrast, is willing to share only a one-time $1,000 stipend to its newly-resettled refugees. As Republicans rant and rave about immigrants “stealing” American jobs, Germany, whose EU economy is in a much more precarious position than America’s, is more than happy to take in infinitely more refugees and realizes that they are in fact an economic boon as the nation’s native-born population ages and new sources of labor and tax revenue for social services are needed. The United States is facing a similar situation today, as the Social Security crisis makes painfully clear, and it is tragic that such a big factor preventing its resolution is conservative xenophobia.
The fact that Angela Merkel and her center-right Christian Democratic Union have been so welcoming of refugees and have done so much to support them – all while continuing to top the polls by wide margins – is proof that conservatism isn’t inherently xenophobic. Instead, it is the toxic brand of demagoguery spewed by the likes of Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, with their privileged upbringings and hateful mix of racism and narcissism, that is turning the American public against showing human decency to the desperate masses of humanity fleeing the murderous chaos of places like Syria and Iraq. Indeed, as Republicans use the Paris attacks to support their own racist agendas, countries much closer to the threat, including France itself, continue to welcome the masses of refugees seeking a better life rather than bow to the fear that ISIS seeks to spread.
Islamophobic post-truth Republicans love to shame the Muslim world for not taking in enough Syrian refugees (despite the fact that the Muslim world has in fact taken in the vast majority of the Syrian refugees) and yet simultaneously move to stop refugees seeking solace in the United States. They champion the United States as a melting pot and a beacon of freedom yet balk at the opportunity to continue its role as such because they’re so ignorant as to be afraid of others on account of their religion or the color of their skin.
They spout disgusting invocations to indiscriminately bomb Syrian and Iraqi cities or even target civilians, with apparently no understanding that this will of course only create more refugees and breed more hatred. They and their savior complexes defend the occupation of Iraq as the bringing of freedom to an oppressed people apparently incapable of doing anything about it themselves, and then prefer to ignore that it was this very invasion and that was the ultimate source of ISIS and many of the current refugees.
The perverse combination of constant support for war and a total lack of understanding or care for the innocent people that their neo-imperial schemes affect is shockingly cruel. As Germany’s response to the refugee crisis shows, however, such inhumanity doesn’t have to be the political norm, and all we as Americans have to do is demand that our leaders show some common empathy, decency, and respect for human life.
Opinion columnist and former editor-in-chief of Occupy Democrats. He graduated from Bennington College with a Bachelor's degree in history and political science. He now focuses on advancing the cause of social justice and equality in America.