Claims of xenophobia have been overstated

Three Yale students are arrested for various charges stemming from the burning of an American flag, and somehow Daniel Weisfield uses this event as the perfect opportunity to bash America’s foreign policy, judicial system, and supposedly rampant xenophobia (“Arson trial shouldn’t involve outside issues,” 4/4). The News, in a similar fashion, screams of rampant xenophobia, but fails to provide a single example (“Xenophobia rears its head in flag case,” 4/5). Am I the only one missing the connection here? Both Weisfield and the News deftly avoid facts and evidence in their analyses of this situation and instead focus on the culpability of the United States, not these three students.

Weisfield spends an entire sentence saying that the students should be held accountable for their actions, and then launches into a diatribe over the many ways in which America is to blame if the students are not treated fairly. These arguments range from the unsubstantiated to the absurd. Weisfield argues that the Bush administration “has spent the past six years convincing us to be scared of foreigners,” but provides no support for this attack other than to point to the administration’s utilization of military tribunals, rather than civilian courts, to try enemy combatants. Fair and rational people can disagree on the use of military tribunals in this instance, but to link the government’s stance toward detained enemy combatants with the treatment of legal immigrants in this country is dishonest and deplorable. Weisfield concludes his argument by stating that he is unsure that anyone “named Akbar or Farhad can get a fair trial in an American court.” Again, Weisfield follows this sweeping and dishonest condemnation of America with zero evidence as to where he stumbled upon this paranoid belief.

Weisfield’s reaction to this incident is disturbing, but it unfortunately represents a growing trend in the political sphere of blaming America first for anything that goes wrong around the world. When the Iranians capture British sailors and marines, bloggers on Daily Kos, instead of condemning the actions, invent ways Bush might be responsible for the incident and insinuate that the entire affair was staged to justify military action against Iran. The same people who blame America for initiating the Iraq war without broader U.N. support turn around and blame America for not intervening in Darfur when no U.N. support exists for that effort either. In this case, three students, two of them foreign nationals, are arrested in an incident involving the burning of an American flag, and instead of reserving judgment and waiting for the facts to emerge, Weisfield goes into alarmist mode and falsely projects the idea that minorities cannot receive a fair trial in America anymore, presumably because of the big, bad Bush administration. The News spent plenty of print criticizing conservatives who are outraged by this event, and rightfully so in the cases in which people have distorted the facts of the case for political ends, but did not provide a single example of the supposed xenophobia being propagated by conservative pundits.

It is imperative that these students be treated according to the law, just as any other students would be. Equitable treatment, however, cuts both ways. The foreign students’ nationalities should not be held against them, but neither should Yale withhold any disciplinary action because, as the News reports, such actions might affect their immigration status.

Ultimately, this case is not a political issue unless the students are treated differently because of their foreign nationalities. It is harmful to public discourse and politically dishonest to use this event as an opportunity to spew one’s own ideological beliefs. Weisfield used the nationality of the students to criticize the Bush administration and the American judicial system, and according to the News, unnamed conservatives have used this event to incite anger toward all foreigners. Both reactions are as despicable as the crime in question. America has laws to deal with the alleged actions of the students, so the only cause for outrage will be if those laws are not enforced.

Gregory DuBoff is a junior in Saybrook College.

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