My name is Nancy Abbott Young. My father was Sam Abbott, Mayor of Takoma Park, who among many other things, fought to establish Takoma Park as a Sanctuary City providing refuge & asylum for refugees fleeing Central America and South Africa at the height of civil violence, war, political instability, and military repression.
The sense and substance of that remarkable Ordinance, now over 30 years old, remains as meaningful today as it did then. It is a democratic work-in-progress, one that, much like the Nuclear Free Zone Ordinance, connects the local to the global. I am particularly moved by one of the “Whereas” clauses added in 2007:
‘WHEREAS, Takoma Park believes that there is no inherent conflict between national security and the preservation of liberty and that government can protect public safety without impairing civil rights and liberties.”
In the spirit of the Sanctuary City resolutions, I encourage the Mayor & Council to pass tonight’s “Resolution Welcoming Syrian Refugees.”
Though many Governors and members of the U.S. House of Representatives have, for mostly partisan reasons, voted to oppose Syrian resettlement, the Federal government has set impeccable vetting standards.
Local government has a major and unchallengeable role to play in this epic drama. Takoma Park has an opportunity to stand with the U.S. Conference of Mayors, led by Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake , to join 62 other mayors from 28 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico in support of Syrian resettlement under the US Refugee program.
Gov. Hogan has stated, “As governor of Maryland, the safety and security of Marylanders remains my first priority. Following the terrorist attacks on Paris … I am now requesting that federal authorities cease any additional settlements of refugees from Syria in Maryland until the US government can provide appropriate assurances that refugees from Syria pose no threat to public safety.”
As an American of Syrian descent, I found the Governor’s conflation of “terrorist” and “Syrian refugee” to be utterly repulsive and horrifying.
I would like to remind the Governor of Maryland two important facts about his own state:
First, as a Catholic, he should recall that Maryland created the Religious Toleration Act in 1649 to create a haven for persecuted Catholics, which later helped set the stage for religious freedom for the entire United States.
Second, not so long ago, this country experienced its own Civil War. Over 620,000 men, women, and children died in that war on our own soil, with over a million additional casualties. In Maryland alone, 23,000 died in 2 days in the Battle of Antietam. The reckless promotion of sectarian divides, the blues & the greys, the reds & the blues, the North & the South – can quickly ignite and destroy an otherwise industrious and peace-loving people. If we throw aside our Constitution and the ideals which it incorporates, then peace and prosperity can all too quickly turn to violence and desperation.
Finally, with Gov. Hogan’s conflation of “terrorists” with “refugees” and in this case, with Syrian refugees in particular, there is the odious emergence of “the Other”. This is the most disturbing part of the Governor’s remarks, as well as his stubborn failure to reconsider them despite the appeal of a broad coalition of Marylanders who reminded him that “we can welcome refugees while ensuring our own security.” Even President Hollande, still shaken, could say, “Our duty to humanity in regards to refugees goes hand in hand with the duty to protect the French people.”
If Gov. Hogan and his political colleagues truly want to fight terrorism, they need to call for a cease-fire and a complete arms embargo in Syria; and they need to follow the blood money to its sources. This is much more challenging and difficult than targeting an already victimized population as the unwanted “Other.” Syrian refugees are trying to escape terrorism; they have seen their families destroyed; their homes and communities wiped to smithereens. Their children are being damaged for generations to come.
Syria’s treasures – Phoenician, Greek, Roman, Palmyrene, Byzantine, Crusader, Islamic, Ottoman – belong to us all as world treasures. This is the birthplace of 3 great religions – Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. It is common knowledge that the underlying problems in Syria were kindled by the neighboring war in Iraq, which everyone who picks up a newspaper now knows was built on a web of lies and deception. Before then, Syria, despite its many and very serious internal problems, was the most secular, and religiously and ethnically diverse nation in the Middle East. Tragically, Syria has imploded for the last 5 years, and become a magnet for a half-dozen proxy wars that will apparently fight their own battles to the last Syrian. All this is happening in the Cradle of Civilization. Our Cradle of Civilization.
In closing, as Sam’s daughter, as a proud American of Syrian descent, as a Marylander, as someone born and bred in Takoma Park, I salute this Resolution and the spirit of humanity, inclusion, and fighting justice which informs it.
[Note: Though she now lives in Silver Spring, Nancy Abbott Young is a 40-year resident of Takoma Park and board member of Historic Takoma. Her father and former Takoma Park Mayor Sam Abbott was posthumously inducted into the Montgomery County Human Rights Hall of Fame.]