OPINION: Debunking ‘Who Are the Refugees’

By Arturo Brooks |Staff Writer|

At the “Who Are the Refugees” forum held last week, non-factual messages were presented, hidden under the emotional overtone. 

CSUSB’s Center for Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies hosted this forum to educate on the crisis and hardships that refugees face. However, I don’t think this intention was accomplished.

I personally attended this forum to see what would be presented to my fellow peers. Facts were discussed, as well as some controversial topics that peaked my interest.

The information forced me to ask myself if it was factual or if this was a “sympathy forum,” and I began to question the panelists’ credibility. The recorded opinions are in order of events that occurred on Feb. 21.

The first speaker, Nahla Kayali, discussed research and statistics gathered from her own organization. One that stood out to me was, “how many refugees we have accepted last year and this year already.” I performed my own research and noticed a few errors.

The first mistake presented at the event was the number of refugees that the U.S. accepted in 2016. I looked at multiple statistics and realized that the numbers were not adding up, according to the statements given by Nahla Kayali.

According to Pew Research, The U.S. State Department’s Refugees Processing Center’s statistics show that the U.S. accepted 84,955 for the 2016 fiscal year.

Kayali stated we had accepted 110,000 to meet 2016’s goal, when in fact, the 110,000 goal was set for 2017, by former President Obama.

While she is correct that the U.S. took in approximately 110,000 in a year, the numbers are not the same in terms of a Fiscal year (October, 1 to September, 30 each year).

This evidence, made me look further into another believed fallacy: The U.S. has accepted 50,000 refuges this year alone, out of the 70,000 allocations allotted for this fiscal year (14:36-14:57 in the video recording of the event).

According to the Department of State Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration, the U.S. has only accepted 32,475 refugees this fiscal year.

This data even shows which states they have immigrated to.

Kayali stated, “[the U.S.] would only receive 10,000 for the rest of the year, which in my eyes I don’t see as factual when their numbers don’t add up with our government statistics.”

Kayali was correct about 2016 being the largest year for refugees, if we were to compare it to the twenty-first century as a whole (14:58-15:15).

Hussam Ayloush, a very controversial speaker, caught my interest.

To view Ayloush’s speaking portion, it can be viewed at 32:44-54:18.

He spoke of a metaphor that compared Islamophobia to, and generalized it to be, racism; a far-reaching analogy. While I understand the connection between racism and Islamophobia, this argument overlooks some people’s genuine concern for national security and immediately labels them as ‘racist’.

Instead of educating the audience on who the refugees “are,” he fabricated a comical and un-factual tale of events, using Fox News as a target. He presented no factual or credible sources. My question for Ayloush is: what supporting evidence do you have? Does it happen to be from Now This? Or The Huffington Post, sources well-known for consisting of dominantly left-leaning views?

The constant bagging and insulting of legal Americans was not comical; it was biased and one sided, playing on American emotions.

Rhetorical techniques were used to appeal to people of color, illustrating an “us versus them” narrative between those against illegal immigration/accepting refugees and people of color/Muslims/refugees/etc.

This neglects individual’s legitimate concerns of illegal immigration and involvement in international conflicts; concerns outside of simply ‘racism’.  

He spoke of how White Americans enslaved Africans and how they were treated, which I found fascinating.

In our courses here at CSUSB, we have been educated about our history. In those courses, I learned that White Americans did not initiate the slave trade; Arab Nations and African Nations started the slave trade within their own communities, buying and selling their neighbors to the European nations.

He was selective when providing information regarding the enslavement of Africans, forcing the U.S. to appear guilty and entirely responsible for the conception of slavery.

Ayloush picked World War II (WWII) and the use of Japanese internment camps as a slanderous example to prove his point. He neglected to explain the reasoning behind the scare that caused the U.S. to take this course of action (i.e. Japanese spies in the U.S. and Pearl Harbor, Dec. 7, 1941) according to History.com.

He also mentioned the antisemitism directly related to WWII’s influx of Jewish refugees of European Nations. While the U.S. did not accept all Jewish refugees, some made it within our borders.

Similarly to the actions taken during WWII with the Japanese, the U.S. took action to ensure the protection of national security in light of current events and fears of that time. These historical facts contradict the biased opinion of Ayloush and how Americans are antisemitic; we did in fact accept Jewish refugees, though not all, due to strict screenings implemented to counteract the fear of infiltrating spies, according to the Smithsonian

To argue that Americans are not informed enough about international affairs, he stated that “Americans do not travel.” First of all, I found this argument to be flawed; it’s a generalization on Americans knowledge of foreign affairs and multiple cultures based on whether or not they travel.

Secondly, contrary to his statements, the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs states that there are 18,676,547 passports and passport cards issued to American citizens in 2016, showing the incline of American’s traveling abroad compared to previous years.

Additionally, the years with a decline in passports and passport cards are around periods and eras of depression, wars, terrorist attacks, and times of hostile affairs with foreign countries.

Ayloush falsely claimed that the most “terrified” people in the world are Syrian refugees, arguing in absolutes.

Sixty to 65 percent of Americans views on Islam are unfavorable, but my question to Ayloush is how do Muslims in those fleeing countries view us Americans?

As Ayloush spoke ill of Guantanamo Bay, the U.S. prison located in Cuba. His false and sympathetic accusations included: that many people died under U.S. care, that people were held against their will, without trials and “did not have terrorist ties.”

However, only nine people have died in “Gitmo. More than 500 federal court convictions on terrorism related charges since 9/11 (ACLU and Human Rights First).

Additionally, one day after the event, a known “Gitmo” detainee that was released in 2004 returned to Iraq as an ISIS suicide bomber, according to CBS

Ayloush also stated, “White people are the biggest domestic terrorists,” not revealing his source. 

I ask, what about worldwide terrorism? The majority of foreign terrorist are affiliated with Muslim terrorist organizations.

Ramla Sahid, the last speaker on the forum, spoke about the unfairness of the job industry for refugees.

Her presentation can be viewed at 56:57-1:13:57.

However, we ourselves, have trouble looking for jobs too. When she discussed about how Muslims with master’s degrees drive taxis instead of utilizing their degree, she neglects to mention the millions of Americans in general who are jobless, or the thousands of jobless individuals that hold a degree as well.

A degree does not immediately equal employment in America, where unemployment after higher education is a struggle for both legal citizens and refugees

Should we take their word into consideration when the facts presented are wrong, without credible sources, and groups of individuals are being generalized?

Students also voiced their concerns about the event:

Natalie*, a student, stated the reason for her attendance was because her World of Islam class brought them down to see it.

“It was an eye-opener but I was kind of cautious to believe everything that I heard because there are different sides to every story,” said Natalie. 

Andrew*, a student, wasn’t aware that his World of Islam class would be attending this event and was confused about what their purpose was.

“They jumped into it with sympathy facts,” said Andrew.

“Some of the facts are fallacies of emotional appeal they try to attack on emotional things, not attaching the facts on how people in America are affected monetarily, they lost their arguments by not showing simple facts,” continued Andrew. 

Additionally, Andrew also felt that the presentation was one-sided and biased.

According to Andrew, no charts or graph from factual sources were presented.

While I acknowledge the event’s intention and purpose of trying to inform people about current events and what is going on with the Muslim refugee crisis, I felt that the narrative was bashing Americans to prove a point to show sympathy.

* = Names were altered to protect the individuals’ identity.

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