Dear Governor Deal

Or, a Southern lady has a word.

Dear Governor Deal,

I am a deeply proud native and voter in the state of Georgia. I belong to the white, well-off, Christian population you count among your constituency, and I am ashamed beyond belief by your most recent executive order barring Syrian refugees from Georgia. Your actions are not representative of our views and wishes, and they defy common sense as well as American values.

Let us consider the people involved in this situation.

First, there are the Syrian refugees. You point out that there are gaps in the process for “screening those from war torn areas,” and of course you are correct. It is because their homes and lives are war-torn that these people cannot be vetted as we might wish. Their clothes and their documents are literally torn by terror in the same way that their homes are demolished, their governments and police records disintegrated, and their lives ripped to shreds by violence. No one hates and fears terrorism more than Syrian refugees. No one hopes to live as a simple, productive citizen, to maintain order and normalcy, more than a Syrian refugee. Surely Lady Liberty calls to Syria when she proclaims,
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp,” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me;
I raise my lamp beside the golden door.”

Some of these people have already made their way to Georgia, and your treatment of them is particularly disturbing. Since they have already endured a vetting process, demanding that their backgrounds be “confirmed” displays an attitude dangerously similar to that of the Americans who interned Japanese-American residents during World War II. Fear of others based solely on their nationality is the definition of xenophobia.

Next there are the terrorist groups and individuals who wish to do harm to innocent civilians – including, conceivably, Georgians. These people are full of anger and hatred, and their movements thrive on the hatred and fear of others. Continuing to stir up suspicion and anxiety towards Syrians allows them to accomplish their goals: making us feel constantly unsafe, and convincing more of their countrymen that we hate them. We do not hate them, Mr. Deal. We will not be bullied into hatred or fear of anyone.

Because these people are so hell-bent on doing harm, refugee visas have very little to do with their ability to carry out their plans. They are not foiled, as if they might say to one another, “We will not be allowed to take up residence in Georgia; let’s get a beer instead.” If terrorists care to attack Georgians, their nimble organizations will find ways to do so. They have American recruits in their ranks, means of traveling between countries and states, false documents, conventional weaponry and evil imaginations. It is reasonable to increase security around transportation hubs and entertainment venues. It is unreasonable to exclude desperate people from our great state based on their country of origin. Multiple acts of terrorism have been committed this year in our country by white men with guns, and no such panic has gripped our people.

hkscc2wAs we wrestle with these decisions, the main group of people under consideration here is the citizens of Georgia. Twenty-something tornado seasons have taught me that Georgians are not a people given to panic. We are a courageous, resilient, and occasionally even belligerent lot, and we will not be cowed by the tactics of extremists. We choose to follow the example of our own Dr. King by driving out hatred with love. We do not choose the hollow and pretended “empathy” referred to in your letter to President Obama. “Empathy” is a transliteration of the Greek word for compassion; both words literally mean suffering with. If taking risks and sharing the blessings of our rapidly growing economy (or as you prefer to say, our “valuable limited resources”) constitutes suffering, these are things we are willing to do for the sake of mitigating the horrendous pain of our fellow human beings. Courage means doing the hard thing, and we are prepared to meet that challenge.

The Georgia I know is a place of abundance. We have found room for more and more as our population has boomed in recent decades. We are proud that we have an abundance of human and natural resources to share. Do you wish to imply that, under your administration, it is a place of scarcity?

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Amicalola State Park

The Georgia I know is a place of faith. It is 79% Christian, and the Christian faith tells us undeniably to welcome the stranger. Our faith – our God – absolutely requires that we act with generosity and love towards friends, foreigners, and enemies alike. We will not live like those who have no hope nor like those who believe God deals only in afterlives. We choose love for others and trust in God; we choose them tangibly, and we choose them now. We welcome the hurting and make space for their healing, terrorists be damned.

The Georgia I know, Governor Deal, is absolutely misrepresented by your actions today. We are famous throughout the world for our hospitality, and you panic-driven knee-jerk reaction to others’ tragedies is an insult to my home and my Mama’s pecan pie. This is a matter for hard thought, prayer, and democratic debate, not for bull-headed executive orders and absurd harassment of our Syrian neighbors trying to reclaim a single normal day while they still live. The Southern way is to greet guests as precious gifts, not as liabilities. The people of your state demand that we be allowed to lead this country in offering a place of rest to refugees, rather than cowering in our corner and succumbing to suspicion and hatred as our enemies hope we will do.

The final character, Mr. Deal, is you. Some sweet old church ladies taught me that what goes around, comes around. Georgia stands for warmth, hospitality, civil rights, and plain old faith. What do you stand for? From here it seems you act out of reactionary panic or political opportunism. Be bigger than your actions today.

With all my kudzu-covered heart,
Lyndsey Graves
Cumming, Georgia

 

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