Just a little while ago I was writing away in my campus office and a policeman tells me we are evacuating. This is a strange message to get in the land of Anne of Green Gables, this getaway Island of old family farms and long stretches of sandy beaches. Even here at the UPEI campus, the bright sun is filtered through tall maples and elms scattered through a large, green quad with cobblestone pathways darting between red brick and white sandstone buildings. It took a moment for me to register what was happening, and another moment to take it seriously.
As it turns out, it was serious. All schools Prince Edward Island were evacuated this morning. This includes our college campuses, the provincial university, and all the primary and secondary schools, public or private. There was a threat that came to RCMP by fax that said bombs would detonate in several Island schools. While I’m sure almost no one thought this to be a real threat, the evacuation order was given out of caution.
Largely untouched by the frequent violence that cities in the Southern hemisphere have experienced by the hands of terrorists, our university students seemed most amused. There was a very confused group of international parents on a campus tour, and staff were caustically mocking administration, but it was a pretty smooth process. The big problem was traffic, so that a five minute drive in Charlottetown was bound to take an hour today at lunchtime.
It was relatively easy for me. My afternoon class was cancelled and I have a sick boy at home. My wife is a kindergarten teacher and her school was evacuated to a local church, so I couldn’t do anything there. I basically biked home to rub it in to Nicolas that he chose one of the worst days of school to miss! He didn’t believe me at first, but we watched the press conference (below) and he is back on the couch reading.
As I wandered across campus on my way home, chatting with friends and students as I fled the evacuation zone, I turned to Twitter for an update on what was going on. This was what someone tweeted in response to the announcement the school was closed.
Now, this is before the press release and before we have details on what happened, so granted the tweeter didn’t know yet exactly where to put the blame. The tweeter is also American, and both antisemetic and anti-Islamic, so we perhaps have to give some space for error there. I’m not exaggerating. Just an hour ago he tweeted this:
- Bomb threat
- = Terrorist threat
- = Immigrant threat
- Therefore, problem in the University policy
UPEI’s policy is like most universities in the West: we will take as many students as we can from around the world as long as it supports our larger educational goals. About 3 in 5 UPEI students are local, 1 in 5 from other parts of Canada, and 1 in 5 from 80+ countries, though most of them are from the U.S., China, and Nigeria. The policy may be a bad one, though I don’t think so. I love the campus diversity and educational challenges it brings. Included in this mix of about 1000 “foreigners” are a handful of refugees settling in PEI permanently and a few students from refugee camps around the world. We would have more Syrian refugees on campus, but they can’t access their papers in Syria and have a tough time accepting offers.
It is okay to critique UPEI’s policy of internationalization. But on Twitter, the leap from “bomb threat” to “Islamic Terrorism” was immediate, and is fuelled by the question of immigration. In this case, the logical flaw might come in at either step 2 or 3. A bomb threat may not be terrorism (as we define it as an ideological threat to non-military populations), and that terrorism may not be either done by “aliens”–the word our expert tweeter prefers–or by a particular group like Islam. Though we have stopped terrorist attacks in Canada, we are not a nation touched by Islamic terrorism like the U.S. has been. Most of the police killing in Canada, for example, has been eco-terrorism, redneck standoffs, non-idiological Balkanization of youth, gang violence, drugs, or mental illness. Canada’s violence lies in the human heart in ingrained prejudices, not in religio-political terrorism. Canada scooped up tens of thousands of Vietnamese refugees in the late 70s and early 80s with little paperwork and almost no screening, and it has been a largely wonderful result.
But I get it. Things are heating up. PEI is on CNN now and trending on Twitter. From the anti-immigrant perspective, it’s not really time to stop and think about logical steps or become informed about the culture you are criticizing. There is a message to get out, a message of fear, and if they miss this opportunity then Hillary Clinton might become President, and then who knows what will happen? That may sound far-fetched, but if you look through our expert tweeter’s activity, that’s the logic. He even claims to be “bigoted for the common good.”
And you should.
In fact, I would encourage intelligent Republicans to speak clearly today and over the next few weeks, because the global message of the Trump campaign is not one of intelligence. Because right now, it is tweets like the one on the right that is communicating most clearly about the logical steps behind Trump’s policy regarding immigration.
This is not some sideshow expert like our antisemetic tweeter. This is Donald Trump, Jr., someone within the Trump campaign, someone that Republicans have been comfortable with putting on stage to speak for the expansive vision of the American conservative movement.
Now, I disagree with Trump’s approach to immigration and community development. So do many American conservatives. I remember walking through Wheaton, Illinois–a model town of American conservativism–and seeing the signs on lawns welcoming refugees. Students and churchgoers of all nationalities poured in and out of the campus buildings and city churches. Card-carrying Republicans spoke to me of their own community efforts to sponsor and support refugees and immigrant families. In fact, many of the evangelicals I met were international families, their own backyard BBQs offering a statement of what it means to live in today’s world.
So I know that Donald Trump doesn’t speak for everyone. Many Americans feel caught, torn between moral choices, and in fear of the risk it involves. Still, there are moments where we need the moral courage to speak the truth. I am not speaking specifically of immigration policy. Americans can develop whatever policy they want, as far as I’m concerned. America, like Canada, is a nation of immigrants, and we go through cycles of crisis about our own identity and what it means to be in the world. This is one of those American crises right now, and it is heightened by terrorist acts like the recent scares in New York and New Jersey.
I can speak of immigration policy. I work in the government department responsible for settling refugees. While the U.S. struggled to bring 10,000 people from the camps in Europe and Asia, Canada–a nation 1/9th your size–brought in 25,000. They are right now in our markets, our mosques, our churches, and our schools. While we can only take so many refugees, we take as many immigrants as can pass Canada’s security clearance and either find a job or create one. Our province and region is invested in growth, and part of that growth comes in hospitality to the world.
My son is safe at home. My wife is safe at work–she snuck back in to get her classroom ready for the little ones to return tomorrow. My campus will pass the day without violence. Yet, even if there was violence. Or even if the person who made the bomb threat really was a terrorist and really was from another country like Syria, Iraq, the Netherlands, or the United States, it does not make a different.
I will never give in to fear that is based on Twitter logic.
I will never develop policy with bigots who masquerade as Twitter experts.
I will not connect random dots between violence downtown and the brown neighbour next door.
I will not equate a global religion with a fragmented political movement.
I will not abide with a politics that twists the truth to feed fear.