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Iowans Voice Fear, Support Of Syrian Refugees

There's a fierce political debate underway about how the U.S. should respond to refugees fleeing terror.

Kat Cummings said it would be unfair to single out Muslims."We don't have that for any other religion," she said. "I mean, we could start doing that for everyone — who's to say when that stops?"
Sarah McCammon / NPR
Kat Cummings said it would be unfair to single out Muslims."We don't have that for any other religion," she said. "I mean, we could start doing that for everyone — who's to say when that stops?"

Presidential candidates have weighed in, with many Republicans calling for keeping refugees from Syria, or other countries with an ISIS presence, out of the U.S.

So far, it's a hypothetical debate for Iowans — no Syrian refugees have arrived in the state yet. But they are concerned — some over a Paris-style attack coming to the U.S., and others over proposals they've heard that could single out Muslims. Iowa voters weighed in on the issue over breakfast Friday at Gateway Market on the edge of downtown Des Moines.

Ryan Squier and Kat Cummings said they're troubled by what they're hearing from presidential candidates like Donald Trump, who told a reporter he wouldn't rule out creating a database to track Muslims in the United States.

"Are we going back to World War II and the Holocaust? Labeling Jews, stars, arm bands?" Squier asked.

Trump has since tried to walk that back the database idea, claiming a reporter raised the question, not him.

Squier and Cummings are both young — in their 20s and 30s — and work in the financial industry.

Cummings said it would be "ridiculous" to single out Muslims. "We don't have that for any other religion. I mean, we could start doing that for everyone — who's to say when that stops?"

At a table just a few steps away, Thomas Maurer, 44, weighed in as he finished an omelette — he said tracking Muslims makes sense.

Maurer is 44 and works in sales. He says tracking Muslims makes sense.

"We're not talking about eliminating anybody," he said. "We're not talking about a cleansing. We're not creating a scapegoat. All we're doing is saying what has happened in the past 25 years has been perpetrated 100 percent of the time against Americans and other European entities, by the populations coming from Muslim-dense countries."

Maurer, who works in sales, called the Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh a "one-off" — and he said bringing more refugees into the U.S. from heavily-Muslim countries is a bad idea.

"They need to stay in Syria," he said. "They're destroying Europe in their infiltration with their religion ideology."

Back at the first table, Cummings said the refugees fleeing war and terrorism and shouldn't be punished for their faith.

"I think this mindset that we think we have the right to just deny a person, you know, a safe place based on their religion and the fact that they have some crazy people in their religion," she said "is ridiculous."

Squier said careful vetting is important — but he calls helping refugees the "humane" thing to do.

He said too many politicians are playing on fear to get attention "but that's not what we should be doing. We should be promoting how to negotiate, come to terms — what's best for the greater good, and maybe not what's best for us as individuals."

Over at Maurer's table, his coworker 43-year-old Kelly Watson, had mixed feelings. He likes what he's hearing from Republicans who've taken a hard line on terrorism but said "I don't think that there should be any sort of religious ID, that doesn't sound right."

Watson sees Syrian refugees as the victims of ISIS. "I do feel bad for these refugees in Syria," he said. "I think they're caught in a terrible conflict with ISIS. I believe that the rest of the Middle East should take them in."

But he's concerned about a Paris-style attack happening here and thinks the U.S. should tighten up its screening procedures.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Sarah McCammon worked for Iowa Public Radio as Morning Edition Host from January 2010 until December 2013.
Sarah McCammon
Sarah McCammon is a National Correspondent covering the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast for NPR. Her work focuses on political, social and cultural divides in America, including abortion and reproductive rights, and the intersections of politics and religion. She's also a frequent guest host for NPR news magazines, podcasts and special coverage.
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