Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright Speaks Out

By now, I’m sure you’ve heard about the executive order on immigration and refugees that the President signed on Friday. It bans Syrian refugees from entering our country, suspends the entire refugee program for 120 days, cuts in half the number of refugees we can admit, and halts all travel from certain Muslim-majority countries.

I felt I had no choice but to speak out against it in the strongest possible terms.

This is a cruel measure that represents a stark departure from America’s core values. We have a proud tradition of sheltering those fleeing violence and persecution, and have always been the world leader in refugee resettlement. As a refugee myself who fled the communist takeover of Czechoslovakia, I personally benefited from this country’s generosity and its tradition of openness. This order would end that tradition, and discriminate against those fleeing a brutal civil war in Syria.

There is no data to support the idea that refugees pose a threat. This policy is based on fear, not facts. The refugee vetting process is robust and thorough. It already consists of over 20 steps, ensuring that refugees are vetted more intensively than any other category of traveler.

The process typically takes 18-24 months, and is conducted while they are still overseas. I am concerned that this order’s attempts at “extreme vetting” will effectively halt our ability to accept anyone at all. When the administration makes wild claims about Syrian refugees pouring over our borders, they are relying on alternative facts — or as I like to call it, fiction.

The truth is that America can simultaneously protect the security of our borders and our citizens and maintain our country’s long tradition of welcoming those who have nowhere else to turn. These goals are not mutually exclusive. Indeed, they are the obligation of a country built by immigrants.

Refugees should not be viewed as a burden or as potential terrorists. They have already made great contributions to our national life. Syrian refugees are learning English, getting good jobs, buying homes, and starting businesses. In other words, they are doing what other generations of refugees — including my own — did. And I have no doubt that, if given the opportunity, they will become an essential part of our American fabric.

By targeting Muslim-majority countries for immigration bans and by expressing a clear preference for refugees who are religious minorities, there’s no question this order is biased against Muslims. And when one faith is targeted, it puts us all at risk.

I will never forget sailing into New York Harbor for the first time and seeing the Statue of Liberty when I came here as a child. It proclaims “give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” There is no fine print on the Statue of Liberty, and today she is weeping.

This executive order does not reflect American values. If you agree, make your voice heard now.


Madeleine Albright
Former Secretary of State

The Trump Effect, and How It Spreads

DEC. 10, 2015

Go ahead, deplore Donald Trump. Despise his message. Reject his appeals to exclusion and hatred. But do not make the mistake of treating him as a solitary phenomenon, a singular celebrity narcissist who has somehow, all alone, brought his party and its politics to the brink of fascism.
He is the leading Republican candidate for president. He has been for months. The things he says are outrageous, by design, but they were not spawned, nor have they flourished, in isolation.
The Republican rivals rushing to distance themselves from his latest inflammatory proposal — a faith-based wall around the country — have been peddling their own nativist policies for months or years. They have been harshening their campaign speeches and immigration proposals in response to the Trump effect. Ted Cruz and Jeb Bush want to allow only Christian refugees from Syria to enter the country, and Mr. Cruz has introduced legislation to allow states to opt out of refugee resettlement.

And party officials around the country, attuned to the power of fear, have developed homegrown versions of the Trump approach. In 31 states, governors — most but not all Republicans — have formed an axis of ignorance, declaring their borders closed to refugees fleeing the Islamic State in Syria. In Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott has sued the federal government and a nonprofit relief agency to keep refugees out. Indiana’s refusal forced one family to seek refuge in Connecticut. Georgia is seeking to deny displaced Syrians federal benefits, like food stamps, and keep their children out of school.

Civil rights organizations — the American Civil Liberties Union, the National Immigration Law Center and the Southern Poverty Law Center — are defending the displaced against blatant discrimination. That it is even necessary to protect the victims of Islamic extremism from being victimized again, in the United States, is a national disgrace.

This is the force that Mr. Trump feeds on and that propels him. It is bigger than he is, and toxic. Not a vote has been cast in the 2016 presidential race. But serious damage is already being done to the country, to its reputation overseas, by a man who is seen as speaking for America and twisting its message of tolerance and welcome, and by the candidates who trail him and are competing for his voters.

Mr. Trump has not deported anyone, nor locked up or otherwise brutalized any Muslims, immigrants or others. The danger next year, of course, is giving him the power to do so. And the danger right now is allowing him to legitimize the hatred that he so skillfully exploits, and to revive the old American tendency, in frightening times, toward vicious treatment of the weak and outsiders.

The internment of Japanese-Americans in World War II, as some Republicans have either forgotten or never understood, was a dark episode in American history. It is remembered today with regret, as something the nation struggled with, learned from, and moved beyond. But there are millions of Muslims who have good reason to fear that the darkness is falling again.

The time to renounce Mr. Trump’s views was the day he entered the race, calling Mexico an exporter of criminals and rapists. He played to the politics of nativism and fear that was evident last year, when a wave of Central American mothers and children, fleeing gang-and-drug warfare to the Texas border, presented themselves upon the mercy of the United States, and were met with derision and hysteria.

The racism behind the agenda of the right wing on immigrants and foreigners has long been plain as day. Mr. Trump makes it even plainer. After his remarks on Muslims, how many of Mr. Trump’s rivals have said they would reject his candidacy if he won the nomination? As of Wednesday, none.

A version of this editorial appears in print on December 10, 2015, on page A38 of the New York edition with the headline: The Trump Effect, and How It Spreads.


Op-ed: Why Syria Matters for LGBT People

Syrian refugees in Istanbul.

If you still don’t know or care about what’s going on in Syria, here’s why you should.      

BY Victoria A. Brownworth

      September 13 2013 4:00 AM ET                                        



Syria has an undeniably terrible history on gay and women’s rights. Although Syria is not specifically a theocracy, Islamist law prevails. It is among the most repressive nations in the world with regard to women and gays. It is illegal to be gay or lesbian in Syria, so many gay men and lesbians are imprisoned for being queer. Laws prohibit organization of any kind of LGBT rights movement. Laws stipulate that homosexuality is a crime, even when between consenting adults. Syrian law also gives the Syrian Secret Service broad discretionary powers to detain and harass anyone deemed to be a threat to public order, morals, or national security. Since the current conflict began, such detentions have become a commonplace, and with them, rapes.

But the problems for LGBT people are not new. In 2005 the deputy minister of religious endowments publicly stated HIV and AIDS were divine punishment for people who engaged in fornication and homosexuality.

The Health Ministry stated that only 400 Syrians were infected with HIV. In addition, the ministry stated the government offers such persons “up-to-date medicines to combat this disease freely.” Yet nongovernmental organizations estimate there are significantly more people with HIV or AIDS in the nation than the Health Ministry is reporting.

And then there is the cataclysmic use of rape as a tool in the conflict, which has gotten next to no attention in the international media. Yet the reports from the United Nations, the International Rescue Committee, and Human Rights Watch have been succinct: rape is being used as a tool by both government forces and rebel forces to control and manipulate women and boys in the conflict. The U.N. refugee agency notes that many of the refugees are fleeing the stigma attached to rape in Syria. Human Rights Watch reports, “Syrian government forces have used sexual violence to torture women, men and boys detained during the current conflict. Witnesses and victims also told Human Rights Watch that soldiers and pro-government armed militias have sexually abused women and girls as young as 12 during home raids and military sweeps of residential areas.”

The Human Rights Watch report included testimony that women are being sent to various locations to be raped by commanding officers. Yet there was no mention of any of this in Obama’s speech. It was solely about the gassing.

The case for intervention in Syria has been made by human rights groups for two years, with women and gays at the focus. According to human rights organizations like the U.N. refugee agency, IRC, and HRW, extreme human rights violations have been going on in Syria for the past two years of the conflict. Why have we not intervened already? Why has there been no international outcry over those abuses which have been perpetrated most extensively against women, girls, and young boys?

If it’s this bad under Bashar al-Assad’s regime, which purports to be freely elected, under extremist religious law implemented by the rebels, would gay men and lesbians be put to death, as is the case in neighboring Iran? Sharia law does call for such punishment for homosexuals.

It’s not an irrational concern. Honor killings are already common in Syria and have been implemented against LGBT people as well as women. The Syrian Women Observatory reports that about 300 women are killed each year by male relatives defending the family’s honor by murdering women thought to have had sex before marriage, been adulterous, or been lesbians.

History Repeats Itself?

Before September 11, 2001, I wrote about the Taliban in Afghanistan and its ban on girls going to school and women working. It was a humanitarian crisis: Widows, single women, and women with no male family members to support them were literally starving to death. Girls were at risk of being child brides with no education, as Afghanistan had the youngest marriage age in the world. As it is — and was then — Afghanistan has the highest illiteracy rate for women in the world.

I had pleaded for humanitarian intervention with the Taliban to save women’s lives. But women and girls were expendable; nothing was done.

Then came September 11, and we saw what the Taliban and its followers were capable of.

But had the U.S. and the West intervened on behalf of women and girls long before the attacks, would that catastrophic event have happened?

My question about Syria echoes that. Why Syria, and why now? “Chemical weapons! Gassing of children!” is the response from President Obama. But the conflict in Syria has been going on for two years, during which time 2 million refugees have fled the country and an estimated 100,000 people have been killed. The U.N. reports a pandemic of rape as a tool in the fighting, just as it has been used in Congo and Darfur.

For years now the conflicts in Darfur and Congo have been ongoing, and there have been 3 million rape victims between those countries. But there has been no talk of American intervention in either the Bush or Obama administrations. So why Syria? Are gassed children more deserving of intervention than children who have been shot in the chest or, in the case of Darfur and Congo, macheted to death? And what about the treatment of LGBT people in those places during those conflicts?

Syria And The Shadow of September 11

President Obama urged Americans to watch this video of the gassing attack in case we were unconvinced of the brutality of it.

It’s the president’s contention that the U.S. must act in response to Syria’s contravention of international law. What the president didn’t say in his speech, is that there is no international law that says the U.S. can attack another country that has not attacked us without that being a declaration of war. Nor did he say what we all know — that not one of our allies is poised to support such an attack and that our staunchest ally, the U.K., voted against a resolution supporting such intervention two weeks ago.

In a New York Times op-ed Thursday, Vladimir Putin described the Syrian conflict of the past two years as anything but democratic, warning that extremists among the rebels will force a major conflagration in the Middle East. This is no Arab Spring, but rather an effort by groups as far right as the Taliban to turn Syria into an even more repressive nation than it is currently.

This week it was confirmed that our own government has been arming those same rebels for weeks. Rebels who are, not just in Putin’s estimation, but by our own government’s, Islamist extremists, a percentage among them al Qaeda, as Secretary of State Kerry acknowledged last week. Reuters reported last week that Jacques Beres, cofounder of the NGO Doctors Without Borders, has worked as a doctor in embattled cities of Syria on multiple visits. He told Reuters that the opposition fighters are made up largely of foreign jihadists.

It would take a heartless monster to ignore the horror of the gassing in Syria. The video footage is gut-churning. No one could find that kind of action conscionable.

That said, it was our ally, the U.K., which sold the chemical weapons to Syria, as the Daily Record previously revealed. And we must remember the history of U.S. involvement in Afghanistan, where we armed rebels in the 1980s against the Russians. Those rebels would later become the Taliban fighters we have fought for a decade in Afghanistan after the 2001 attack.

The U.S. does not belong in Syria any more than it did in Iraq. There can be no question that the gassing of civilians was a grievous and horrifying crime. But it is far from the only crime perpetrated against Syrian civilians throughout this conflict. We have not, for example, intervened to help stanch the epidemic of rape. Or even mention that it exists, despite the well-documented use of rape — often gang rape — as a tool by soldiers on both sides of the conflict, rapes which then force the victims into exile.

What’s Next For LGBT Syrians? So for LGBT people who are unsure where they stand on Syria, these are the questions for which you need answers: What will be done to protect gay and lesbian people in Syria if the Obama administration decides to attack? When will the administration speak to the epidemic of rape being perpetrated by both the Assad forces and the rebels? What can be done to find an equitable resolution to this ghastly situation that does not involve making it worse and thus making it harder for women and gays, as well as other civilians?
LGBT Syrians are at grave risk, as are Syrian women. What we must realize is that LGBT people have significant concerns with regard to Syria and, for LGBT Syrians’ sake and ours, we cannot afford to be silent.
VICTORIA A. BROWNWORTH is an award-winning journalist, editor and writer. She has won the NLGJA and the Society of Professional Journalists awards, as well as the Lambda Literary Award and has been nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. Her work has appeared in the The New York Times, Baltimore Sun, Philadelphia Inquirer,  Nation, and Village Voice, among others. She is a regular contributor to The Advocate and SheWired and is a contributing editor at Curve and Lambda Literary. Her most recent book, From Where We Sit: Black Writers Write Black Youth, is the winner of the Moonbeam Award for Cultural/Historical Fiction 2012. Her novella Ordinary Mayhem won Honorable Mention in Best Horror 2012. Follow her @VABVOX.

Congress, be careful what you wish for

Sat Aug 31, 2013 5:27 PM EDT

President Obama talks on the phone in the Oval Office with House Speaker Boehner earlier today.  White House photo.

The funny thing about a dog that chases a car? Sometimes it catches the car and has no idea what to do next.

Over the last several days, members of Congress have spoken out with a variety of opinions about U.S. policy towards Syria, but lawmakers were in broad agreement about one thing: they wanted President Obama to engage Congress on the use of military force. Few expected the White House to take the requests too seriously.

Why not? Because over the last several decades, presidents in both parties have increasingly consolidated authority over national security matters, tilting practically all power over the use of force towards the Oval Office and away from the legislative branch. Whereas the Constitution and the War Powers Act intended to serve as checks on presidential authority on military intervention abroad, there’s been a gradual (ahem) drift away from these institutional norms.

That is, until this afternoon, when President Obama stunned everyone, announcing his decision to seek “authorization” from a co-equal branch of government.

It’s one of those terrific examples of good politics and good policy. On the former, the American public clearly endorses the idea of Congress giving its approval before military strikes begin. On the latter, at the risk of putting too fine a point on this, Obama’s move away from unilateralism reflects how our constitutional, democratic system of government is supposed to work.

Arguably the most amazing response to the news came from Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), the chair of the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Counterintelligence & Terrorism, and a member of the House Intelligence Committee:

“President Obama is abdicating his responsibility as commander-in-chief and undermining the authority of future presidents. The President does not need Congress to authorize a strike on Syria.”

This is one of those remarkable moments when a prominent member of Congress urges the White House to circumvent Congress, even after many of his colleagues spent the week making the exact opposite argument.

The next question, of course, is simple: now that Obama is putting Congress on the spot, what’s likely to happen next? Now that the dog has caught the car it was chasing, what exactly does it intend to do?

Lawmakers, in theory, could cut short their month-long break, return to work, and consider their constitutional obligations immediately. That almost certainly won’t happen, at least not the lower chamber — as my colleague Will Femia reported earlier, House Republican leaders have said they’re prepared to “consider a measure the week of September 9th.” There are reports Senate Democratic leaders may act sooner, but no formal announcement has been made.

The dirty little secret is that much of Congress was content to have no say in this matter. When a letter circulated demanding the president seek lawmakers’ authorization, most of the House and Senate didn’t sign it — some were willing to let Obama do whatever he chose to do, some didn’t want the burden of responsibility. Members spent the week complaining about the president not taking Congress’ role seriously enough, confident that their rhetoric was just talk.

It spoke to a larger problem: for far too many lawmakers, it’s so much easier to criticize than govern. In recent years, members of Congress have too often decided they’re little more than powerful pundits, shouting from the sidelines rather than getting in the game.

It’s one of the angles to today’s news that’s so fascinating — Obama isn’t just challenging Congress to play a constructive role in a national security matter, the president is also telling lawmakers to act like adults for a change. They’re federal lawmakers in the planet’s most powerful government, and maybe now would be a good time to act like grown-ups who are mindful of their duties.

In his first inaugural address, Obama said, “[I]n the words of Scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things.” For the last four-and-a-half years, much of Congress ignored this call. Today, members received a striking reminder.

Yes, Congress is a hapless embarrassment. It can’t pass a budget; it can’t pass a farm bill; and it can barely manage to keep the government’s lights on. But institutional responsibilities don’t fade away just because radicalized GOP lawmakers are struggling through a post-policy phase.

There is a real possibility that Congress will simply decline to give the president the authorization he seeks. I suspect Obama will get the votes he needs, but note that Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), two senators who never saw a country they weren’t tempted to bomb, issued a statement this afternoon that read:

“We believe President Obama is correct that the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons requires a military response by the United States and our friends and allies. Since the President is now seeking Congressional support for this action, the Congress must act as soon as possible.

“However, we cannot in good conscience support isolated military strikes in Syria that are not part of an overall strategy that can change the momentum on the battlefield, achieve the President’s stated goal of Assad’s removal from power, and bring an end to this conflict, which is a growing threat to our national security interests. Anything short of this would be an inadequate response to the crimes against humanity that Assad and his forces are committing. And it would send the wrong signal to America’s friends and allies, the Syrian opposition, the Assad regime, Iran, and the world — all of whom are watching closely what actions America will take.”

In other words, McCain and Graham realize Obama is eyeing narrow, limited military intervention, and they’re outraged — they want a broader conflict with a massive U.S. role. They may well vote against a measure on Syria because it doesn’t go far enough in their eyes.

And that’s certainly their right. Others will oppose strikes for progressive reasons. Others still endorse the White House strategy.

The point is, the people’s elected representatives will have a debate, which is exactly what it should do. It won’t be pretty, but it’s how the United States is supposed to operate. Congress has clear responsibilities — whether lawmakers want them or not — and it’s time they exercise them.