Sunday, September 3, 2017

No Fear, No Apologies

Over the last several years I have read and heard many comments from people railing against refugees, immigrants, and foreigners both in Germany and in the U.S.. Whenever something bad happens - there's shooting, a stabbing, a nutball drives a truck into a crowd of people, something got stolen out of someone's back yard, school kids report having seen a dark-skinned man with a gun near a commenters throw accusations at refugees and foreigners as if crime is always committed by minorities.

If you're not a first-time reader you know that I teach integration courses to foreigners in Germany, and many of my students and former students are refugees. Former students have become friends, and I care about every one of them.

I also taught German and English in a private Catholic high school in Wisconsin for 14 and 16 years respectively. You can read about one of my former Wisconsin students here, though I don't recommend it. The title should suffice, and my former student is the perpetrator in that hideous and gruesome crime, which is described in agonizing detail in the article. He is now serving two life sentences plus 98 years in prison.

St. Mary's Springs High School (2009)
photo credit: M
Pilot: another former student of mine

I remember him. He was a really nice and funny kid. He had lots of friends and a great sense of humor. He came from a good Catholic family. He got good grades and spoke decent German. He was one of 17 students I brought to Germany the summer after my first year teaching at that school, and while I had trouble with some of those students, "Andreas" was well-behaved, cooperative, and had a positive attitude even when many of the others were complaining. I lost track of him after he graduated, but according to the article he studied at Marquette University and then went into the military and law school. He was a military lawyer.

Extreme (and even not so extreme) right-wingers seem to want us all to be afraid of refugees, foreigners, and immigrants. They blame refugees for anything bad, and when someone with dark skin commits a crime in Germany, they jump to the conclusion that he must be a refugee. Then they blame Merkel for ruining Germany (Germany is far from ruined, I assure you) and for her "Dumpfbackenaktion" (idiot decision) from 2015 in opening the borders to people fleeing from their war-torn homes. They say Islam is not a peaceful religion and they say all Muslims hate us (us = white Westerners, I guess). They get incensed when authorities declare too soon for their taste that a crime was not terrorist-related, but it is perfectly acceptable to declare immediately and before there's any reliable evidence that it was terrorism. They don't want facts; they want confirmation of their beliefs - that Arabs, Muslims, refugees, and immigrants are dangerous and just waiting for an opportunity to destroy our lives and our way of life. (I'm not sure why I write "our lives" - I'm an immigrant, too.)

When I can read a story like the one about my former student nearly every day - some heinous crime committed by a father, a mother, a husband, a wife, a son, a daughter, an American, a German, etc. - why should I specifically fear refugees, Muslims, or Arabs? I truly do not know the answer to this question. It's people we should probably fear. It's not a religion, it's not a skin color, and it's not a presence or lack of facial hair. How many Christians commit awful crimes every day? If all Muslims hate us and want us dead (yes, this is a common comment on online Fox News articles in the U.S.), then why am I still alive? I've spent a lot of time with Muslims chatting about the German language, the weather, and their plans for the future. 

I once had an acquaintance tell me my impression and opinion of Muslims and refugees was not worth much because it was only "based on a sample of twelve" (my first class of students, who thoroughly impressed me with their dedication to learning German). I am quite certain this person has never met or spoken with a single refugee, but his fear-filled conclusion was more valid than mine in his mind because I only personally knew twelve.

Some of my friends and former students...

It seems for many that a religion is to blame if it's a religion they disapprove of. When a Christian (like my former student) commits a crime it's got nothing to do with religion and the criminal does not represent all Christians. If a Muslim commits a crime, it's because Islam is a religion of hatred. I don't buy that. There are twisted people practicing every religion out there, and no religion at all. It's the people who are the problem, not their religion and not the country in which they were born.

The man who sexually abused me when I was nine or ten was a pasty white American working at the tennis club I was at that day. Why should I fear refugees more than pasty white men? My former student in the story above was a Midwestern Catholic. Why should I fear Muslims more than Catholics?

A few days ago in Immenstadt a 24-year-old guy on a motorcycle who was driving too fast decided to also try a wheelie - lost control and slammed into a mother and her two teenage children, killing them all. They were walking down the sidewalk on their way to heaven knows where. Why should I fear terrorists?

And then there's Charlottesville. Several hundred individuals banned together to march with (confederate and) Nazi flags, salutes, symbols, and chants to champion white supremacy. From what I read, there were even more counter-protesters, and of course the scene got ugly. As if throwing rocks and punches at each other weren't bad enough, a 20-year-old boy from Ohio drove his car into the crowd of counter-protesters, killing one woman and seriously injuring at least 17 others. 

And I should fear refugees?

I wish I could have this conversation with someone, but I do not know if I know any reasonable right-wingers who would be willing to explain their viewpoint without attacking me, dismissing my point-of-view, and/or calling me a "bleeding-heart liberal," a "Gutmensch," an "f-ing liberal" or a "libtard."  < Their use of that last word speaks volumes to me about what kind of people they are.

I choose not to be consumed with fear (except while driving on the Autobahn - then I am terrified). I choose not to feel disdain toward others because they are different from me in some way. I choose not to speak against and make assumptions about people who practice a religion I don't practice. 

And I am not going to apologize for that.


  1. Great post! I completely agree. My father was a refugee many decades ago and so I also choose not to be afraid of refugees. What a stupid thing to do. Like you said, there are bad white christian people too, there are bad people of all colour, culture, countries and religion, let's be honest.

    1. To each her/his own, but what puzzles me is why those people want you and me to be afraid of foreigners and refugees. If they want to live in fear, they're free to do so. I will nurse my fear of driving and flying, and they can fear human beings fleeing from terror and war. I guess fear is often irrational.