The Politics of Purity

By Bill Mefford

While those who care about immigrants and refugees deal with the fallout of the Muslim Ban 2.0 over the next week and a half until it goes into effect on March 16 (or hopefully is stopped in the courts), the second attempt by the trump administration to ban Muslim refugees once again gets sold to the American public under the very thin veil of “keeping the country safe.” But to really understand what this is about let’s meet donald trump’s racist all-star team of anti-immigrant strategic counsel.

First, let’s meet Kris Kobach. Kobach is the Secretary of State for the state of Kansas, where, he has repeatedly tried to severely restrict voting rights of minorities in the state, blaming the illegal voting practices of undocumented immigrants, but without offering much proof. Kobach is famous for his authorship of the anti-immigrant bill in Arizona and which was later adopted by Alabama and South Carolina. The end result of these bills was to drive away businesses from the state, turn state economies sour, and terrorize immigrant communities. The last part was the primary aim of Kobach. Kobach is currently listed as “counsel” for the anti-immigrant group, Immigration Reform Law Institute, which is the legal affiliate for the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), which was started by John Tanton, a believer in eugenics who wanted to end all immigration to the United States because of his white nationalist views.

Next we have Stephen Miller. Stephen Miller was born the same year I graduated from high school, but he has made up for his youth with hateful vigor. In high school in California he demanded that his fellow Latino/a students speak only English and at Duke University he called a Latino student organization “radical” and accused them of spouting “racial superiority.” Apparently Miller bruises easily. While at Duke Miller worked closely with present alt-right super star Richard Spencer on anti-immigrant projects. Miller went on to become the protégé of Michelle Bachmann and Jeff Sessions, both of whom are notable for being, well, kind of racist. Miller achieved recent fame for asserting that the powers of the presidency “will not be questioned,” and for saying that he had proof of voter fraud in New Hampshire where apparently thousands of illegal voters were bused in. Of course, he refused to reveal the definitive “proof” during the interview.

Lastly, we meet the star of the all-stars, Steve Bannon. Fortunately, the media have already begun the shine a light on Bannon, revealing that during his leadership at Breitbart News he ushered into legitimacy the racist alt-right, who now see they have one of their own in the White House. Bannon has said all kinds of nasty things about women, LGBTQ people, immigrants and Latino/as. Bannon has repeatedly aired his disgust with the Republican Party in past years because they haven’t effectively used their power the way he thinks they could have. I guess he sees the Muslim Ban as his best chance to fulfill his wishes.

These three (and there are many more behind them, we can be sure) are three of the main architects behind the original Muslim Ban and now the Muslim Ban 2.0. Their goal is not to make America safe or great again. Their goal can be summed up by what Miroslav Volf calls the “politics of purity.” In cases where there have been great violence directed against people based on their race or ethnicity – what came to be called ethnic cleansing in the 1990s when Volf was writing – the drive behind those violent occurrences has been to “go back to the pristine purity of our linguistic, religious or cultural past, shake away the dirt of otherness…plurality and heterogeneity must give way to homogeneity and unity. One people, one culture, one language, one book, one goal.” (Volf, Exclusion, 74)

The politics of purity often resounds popular themes in political campaigns when the call is sounded to “take our country back” or “make America great again” as it once was in times gone by when “those people” weren’t around to create the social distress we blame them for now. We will do all we can to lay the blame for any and all social ills on “those people,” which in this case are immigrants and refugees and Muslims. But let’s be clear what this is about. Hidden beneath these resounding political themes are the lurking sins of ethnic hatred and the desire for renewed exclusive supremacy of the white culture. This is the politics of purity, older than Scripture itself, but always present with us. And Volf goes on to point out in his book that the “politics of purity” leads to the “practice of exclusion,” as seen in renewed emphasis on deportations and the announced Muslim Ban.

donald trump’s racist all-star team has devised the immigration and refugee policies solely because they are racist. This has absolutely nothing to do with terrorism just as the Iraq War had nothing to do with 9/11. They hate Muslims and they hate people of color and they do not want to allow any more of them into the country. This is what making American great again is entirely about. We are absolutely fooling ourselves if we believe any differently. This is who they are. This is what they are doing.

The bigger question is, who are we and what will we do? Will we shake our heads and mutter something about how unjust these policies are, but do nothing because it does not directly impact our immediate families or communities? trump and his racist all-star team are totally banking on this hope. BUT, if we choose to not be silent, if we choose solidarity and incarnation among families and entire communities who are being threatened by state-sponsored terror, and then we use every means at our disposal, including providing sanctuary and civil disobedience, to bring the machinery of state-sponsored terror to its knees, then we will manifest the timeless truth that love and truth prevails over hate and fear. May it be so.

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