The Psychology of Fear: Syrian Refugees in the UK and U.S.


sr 1The thirty-second president of the United States boldly addressed a nation of distressed citizens in his inauguration address in 1933, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself, nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat in advance.” Roosevelt’s words could not ring truer now as the UK and the U.S. face the threat of Isis and must welcome global neighbors fleeing war-torn countries. Through discovering what is the psychology of fear, this will explore the screening process for refugees in the U.S. and the UK and seek to understand the reasoning behind Islamophobia, xenophobia, and nativism with solutions to overcome those fears.

It wasn’t a particularly uncommon argument between my friend and me two weeks ago; rather it was quite common that we disagreed on decisions of the U.S. government. Except this fight felt unjustly wrong as my friend tried to defend Texas’ Governor Greg Abbott’s decision to not let Syrian refugees into the Texas under suspicion that “terrorists might use the refugees as cover to sneak across borders” (Gov. Greg Abbott). While this has the potential to be true, the U.S. vetting process is one of the intensive vetting processes in the world, and there are added layers of security when checking Syrians, beginning with referrals from the U.N.’s refugee agency registration, then the U.S. consultation screening assessing economic and social factors of each individual refugee which can take anywhere from twelve to twenty-four months.

In the case for Syrian refugees, the U.S. takes extra precaution by involving the State Department, the FBI’s Terrorist Screening Center, the Department of Defense and the Department of Homeland Security, interviewing applicants, using biometric information and checking and rechecking historical information on the applicants. According to Time, just over 50% of applicants pass the screening process and it takes anywhere from eighteen to twenty-four months to be processed and approved and, about half of those accepted are children and 25% are adults over age sixty (Altman). With this security one would believe that the U.S. is prepared to allow 10,000 refugees into the U.S. without severe repercussions.

Compared to U.S., Britain is taking twice as many refugees as the U.S. but, the process takes longer. Prime Minister David Cameron said in his September 7th speech that the UK would take in 20,000 Syrian refugees but that process would be spread out over five years. After background checks enacted by the U.N. and the British government, the Vulnerable Persons Relocation Scheme, enacted in 2014, will expand to include 20,000 more immigrants from refugee camps in Syria, Turkey and Jordan. Although both the U.S. and the UK are doing their part, one could say, in an effort to help relocate disadvantaged and vulnerable refugees, many critics from both sides of the spectrum are calling for more or less action from their governments.

In the U.S., there is an overwhelming call across Republican governors to claim that they will not let Syrian refugees into their states: Texas Governor Greg Abbott tweeted: “Texas will not accept any Syrian refugees & I demand the U.S. act similarly. Security comes first” (Gov. Greg Abbott), and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie told Hugh Hewitt “The fact is that we need appropriate vetting and I don’t think orphans under five are being, you know, should be admitted into the United States at this point” (Krieg). According to Bloomberg Politics Poll, 53% of Americans think that the best approach for the U.S. to take with refugees fleeing the civil war in Syria is to not accept any refugees in and only 28% agree with President Obama’s plan to resettle 10,000 refugees without religious screening and 11% want to resettle only Christian refugees. The fact is that many Americans are afraid of allowing Syrian refugees into their country while there has been some British criticism to allow the refugees into the UK. In fact, Britain has been criticized for not doing more to allow refugees in. Compared with Germany, France and other EU countries, the UK is right above the U.S. in the amount of Syrian refugees being let in. Many political leaders from the Labour Party commend Cameron on his decision to welcome 20,000 refugees but believe they could take in up to 4,000 by the end of 2015.

Statistics aside, the fact is that an overwhelmingly amount of Americans do not want refugees coming into the U.S. despite the support shown in many E.U. countries. In my opinion, which agrees with the majority U.S. Democrats, is to let the refugees in and it is baffling to me that the majority U.S. is not welcoming refugees, when in fact we have let in over 750,000 refugees since the 9/11 attacks in 2001. If xenophobia and nativism fears were sparked then and we continued to let refugees in, then what is the problem with letting them in now? If our security is the best in the world, if we are taking excruciating measures to ensure the safety of Americans now more than ever before, if we are limiting our intake of refugees than that of competitive countries like the United Kingdom, then why is there such a strong fear of refugees?

Fear can do amazing things to people and it is overtaking the minds of many Americans and some British citizens. With this issue there are three major fears exaggerated in American and British citizens psychology: Islamophobia, xenophobia, and nativism. Now, fear can be used as a good thing, it’s human and normal, and in a response to terrorism, can be helpful. But, fear of an idea is spreading much more rapidly than people believe it is, that idea, that religion, is Islam. People are becoming more and more afraid of Islam and Muslims and this fear is helping to feed into radical extremist Islamic group Isis, increasing their authority and power over Syria and the surrounding countries. Comments like that of republican candidates’ Ben Carson comparing refugees to rabid dogs (Ben Carson) or Donald Trump’s abrasive statement, “If I win they’re going back” (Donald Trump) help feed into this fear and mistrust of refugees, many of whom are Muslim. Islamophobia is very basically, the hatred and prejudice against Islam and Islamic people, but in my opinion, extends beyond Muslims to include Arabic, Middle Eastern, and Indian peoples whose ethnic origin interconnect with Islam. In both the UK and the U.S., Islamophobia contributes to the oppression of Muslims by misinterpreting the Koran, giving way to negative stereotypes claiming Islam is “anti-women, cruel, and intolerant” (Achmad).

Living in London has given me the opportunity to meet people from all over the world, understand the differences that create community, and enjoy the welcoming environment that constructs London’s multi-cultural atmosphere. But, despite it being one of the most diverse cities in the world, it has one of the highest rates of anti-Muslim hate crimes in the UK (Allegretti). Remona Aly says it best in The Guardian, “There is a strong sense… that difference is seen not as positive diversity, but as negatively alien: so alien that the basic humanity of others is not even acknowledged.” This fear stems from the psychological response of feeling threatened, creating the ‘us’ versus ‘them’ boundaries to be used on a person-to-person basis (Resnick). The recent events of one Isis member posing as a Syrian refugee in France who contributed to the Paris massacre would naturally magnify that boundary line so; logically people’s fears are heightened. Among other examples, the world is now feeling the same way that Syrians have been feeling and living with for the past fifteen plus years since Assad became president of Syria. From my own personal experience in London I can recount times I’ve seen others treating women wearing hijabs or niqabs differently, giving them double takes and even staring at them fervently. The best possible solution to Islamophobia in democratic societies such as the U.S. and Britain is education. If my generation had grown up reading the Koran and understood from a young age the empowerment and peacefulness of Islam we would not exhibit Islamophobic behaviors today. There needs to be a comprehensive curriculum surrounding Islam beginning in elementary school giving children the chance to attend mosques and museums to look at traditional and modern views on Islam. By starting discussions on social media like the trending video I’m Muslim, But I’m Not… (I’m Muslim) by Buzzfeed that has over 1 million views or Is London Islamophobic? (IS LONDON) discovering peoples word associations with the world Muslim, we can help rid the negative connotations surrounding Islam.

Another common fear of ‘the other’ is xenophobia, which involves an ingroup (the U.S. and Britain separately) fearing the outgroup’s (Syrian refugees) motives, and potential to devalue and deconstruct the ingroup’s societal norms. But instead of fearing the other’s identity, the ingroup focuses on the possibility of losing their own identity. Xenophobia is commonly used to refer to foreigners and immigrants in the context of discrimination and prejudice. The U.S. and UK were keen on helping migrants gain admission into the country, especially the UK, until the Paris massacre shook us up and reclaimed the best of our fears. With the news of a Syrian Muslim working with Isis being able to cross from Greece to France without suspicion raised our concerns, further increasing the potential to display xenophobic attitudes. But, it was the collective patriotism of U.S. representatives that exploited nationalistic attitudes. In a study conducted by New York University researchers tested and measured threats to an ingroup’s social identity finding that when an ingroup feels threatened by an outgroup’s potential to be closer to them (moving into their country) the ingroup’s value is undermined, and that the concept of social identity form from traditional cultural values. The psychological protective mechanisms are only triggered when the ‘enemy’ has the potential to ‘invade’ for lack of a better word, the ingroup’s territory (Xiao). Surprisingly, their research concluded that in order to “mediate the effects of identity threat” we should keep the outgroup closer by changing our physical representation of the world. In an attempt to change our physical representation of the world, we, as a global community, need to be voicing our grievances over this discrimination and empowering minorities to speak out against prejudice they experience. The media easily picks up on stories but, the media needs to use it’s influence to change the discussion on xenophobia. One of these voices is the first Muslim U.S. Congress member Keith Ellison in his Democracy Now! Interview, “They (Republican lawmakers) operate under a philosophical underpinning that the West is at war with Islam and Islam is at war with the West in a defensive posture.” Ellison goes on to say that Republicans are using their own fears to defend their position on refugee asylum but what they are not realizing is their stance will have dire consequences in future economic relations with the EU and the Middle East.

Finally, the final and most illogical fear of Americans and the British is nativism; usually a political notion but, psychological as well, that certain cultural traits are native to one’s country and is used to discriminate immigrants from migrating to that country. Nativism is displayed all over the U.S. and UK from small comments like Jimmy Kimmel asking Emily Blunt if she feels like one of us now that she recently became a U.S. citizen to massive political parties devoted to the opposition of immigration like UKIP. The U.S. and the UK have been highly advocating nativism over the past century, the U.S. with their ‘Gentleman’s Agreement’ resulting in the Chinese Exclusion Act and then again in the 90’s and continuing into the 2000’s dealing with illegal immigration of Mexicans. The U.K. is infamously known for the 1980’s riots and formation of the British National Party, threatening and eventually killing British Muslims and African-Americans due to racist and nativist fears. These fears are being sparked once again, encouraging U.S. and British citizens to exploit patriotic values of inclusion and pride. Being patriotic creates community but when it excludes immigration, it does more harm than good (Goodman).

The best solution to this hysteria is not to create more fear but to open up discussion over media platforms, educate others about what Islam is and who Muslims are, to not only sympathize with the plight of Syrian refugees but, empathize with them by stepping into their shoes, understanding the prejudice they feel, the hatred they receive for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. They devote themselves to a religion, as many Americans and British do, that has brought them peace and love, but now, is being misunderstood and discriminated against, resulting in hate, mistrust, and devastation. Fear has a history of raping culture from diversity and trust and encourages behaviors associated with Islamophobia, xenophobia and nativism and needs to end in order for humanity to thrive, giving rise to love and respect.


Works Cited

Achmad. “Islamophobia and Overcoming Stereotypes.” Voices of Youth. Unicef, 2013. Web. 01 Dec. 2015.

Allegretti, Aubrey. “Cameron’s Crackdown On Islamophobia Comes A Little Too Late.” The Huffington Post UK. AOL (UK) Limited, 13 Oct. 2015. Web. 01 Dec. 2015.

Altman, Alex. “This Is How the Syrian Refugee Screening Process Works.” Time. Time, 17 Nov. 2015. Web. 01 Dec. 2015.

“Ben Carson: Screen Syrian Refugees like They’re Rabid Dogs – Video.” The Guardian. The Guardian, 20 Nov. 2015. Web. 1 Dec. 2015.

“Donald Trump on Syrian Refugees: ‘If I Win They’re Going Back'” Business Insider. Ed. Lamar Salter. Business Insider UK, 1 Oct. 2015. Web. 01 Dec. 2015.

Goodman, Amy. “”Nativist Hysteria” Against Syrian Refugees Echoes U.S. Rejection of Jewish Refugees in 1930s.” Democracy Now! Democracy Now!, 24 Nov. 2015. Web. 01 Dec. 2015.

“Gov. Greg Abbott Says Texas Will Not Accept Any Syrian Refugees.” ABC13 Houston. ABC Inc, 16 Nov. 2015. Web. 01 Dec. 2015.

I’m Muslim, But I’m Not… Dir. Buzzfeed. YouTube. YouTube, 15 Sept. 2015. Web. 01 Dec. 2015.

IS LONDON ISLAMOPHOBIC? (SHOCKING ENDING!). Dir. Khaled Siddique. YouTube. YouTube, 10 Sept. 2015. Web. 01 Dec. 2015.

Krauthhammer, Charles. “Charles Krauthammer: In the Face of Obama’s Failed Middle East Policy, GOP Candidates Slide into Xenophobia.” The Kansas City Star. Kansas City Star, 30 Nov. 2015. Web. 01 Dec. 2015.

Krieg, Gregory. “Christie on Refugees: Not Even 5-year-old Orphans –” CNN. Cable News Network, 17 Nov. 2015. Web. 01 Dec. 2015.

Resnick, Brian. “The Science behind Why People Fear Refugees.” Vox. Vox Media, 18 Nov. 2015. Web. 01 Dec. 2015.

Xiao, Jenny Y., and Jay J. Van Bavel. “Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.” See   Your Friends Close and Your Enemies Closer: Social Identity and Identity Threat Shape Representation of Physical Distance 24.10 (2006): 969-70. New York University, 17 Apr. 2012. Web. 1 Dec. 2015.


Racism: Not Addressed on College Campuses

What happened Sunday March 8th and followed throughout the week over the Racist OU videos marks another act of racism and prejudice in America, following major events like Trayvon Martin’s death and the fatal Michael Brown shooting. Such events have sparked nationwide protests and movements such as The Million Hoodie March and Black Lives Matter.

Although Trayvon Martin’s death and the Michael Brown shooting deal with police and racism, the OU fraternity videos bring national attention to college campuses and racism.

Here at Baylor, I surround myself with others who would never participate in that type of behavior, or so I thought. After posting an article from USA Today on my Facebook page about the video, the unruly Facebook comments debate started.


This first comment claims that the problems arise from people’s ‘feewings’ or feelings getting hurt. The second comment with brief lewd language suggests that one cannot dismiss the fraternity’s actions to just being drunk.



From the comments above, it is clearly understandable that there are students who do not seem to grasp the power that words, spoken or not spoken, can generate. In Jon Stewart’s The Brotherhood of the Traveling Chants, he explores (in his usual comical manner) some of the points brought up in the comments above. The most prominent example of the power of words comes from American history where great speeches were made that sparked millions to fight for their own rights. Books, movies, the media, you name it, all use spoken and unspoken dialogue to promote their own ideas and beliefs.

If students are still thinking this way today in 2015, more than 50 years after the 1964 Civil Rights Act was enacted in the U.S., then there are obvious problems with college student’s education.

Although that is a whole different debate in itself, there needs to be a call to action for college campuses to educate students on the power and influence of racism on campus.

Why do the students in the above comments believe that acting in a racist manner is ‘ok’? Why do some students believe that condoning this type of behavior or dismissing their actions due to being drunk is ‘ok’? How can students deny that the actions on that bus are not racist? If students believe this behavior is ‘ok’, then how can we come to respect one another as equals?

When I came to Baylor during Welcome Week, there were two major topics that we had lectures on: 1) Academic Integrity and the Honor Code and 2) sexual assault prevention and resources. While both topics are important, campuses need to address consequential actions if racism occurs on campus.

Baylor actually has a history of racism on campus. On Nov. 4th 2008, the night Obama was elected president, a noose was hung from a tree on Baylor’s campus.

The Baylor Lariat said, “At 9 a.m. Tuesday, a rope was discovered tied like a noose hanging from a tree outside of Morrison Hall, prompting the Baylor NAACP and Baylor’s Association of Black Students to hold a joint meeting to discuss racially charged events on Election Day. The groups feel the acts were indicative of a racist culture at Baylor.”

Students were also found burning pictures and signs of Obama on and off campus.

As the Waco-Tribune Herald reported, “Baylor students have criticized the school for simply reacting to racially motivated incidents and not encouraging racial tolerance from the first day students step on campus by holding seminars and discussions for freshmen during welcome week.”

In 1998 and in 2012, two Baylor sororities came under fire for wearing offensive Mexican apparel. In 1998, the Pi Beta Phi sorority wore shirts for an annual run they hosted depicting Mexicans running across the border while other sisters dressed up as Mexican gangsters or ‘Taco Cabana’ workers, according to The Baylor Lariat.

In 2012, Baylor student Hannah Ray posted photos on Facebook and Instagram of her and her sorority sisters wearing ponchos, sombreros and mustaches with brown face paint to resemble dirt and hanging signs that said, “GREEN CARD.” These photos sparked national attention from major news sources such as CNN, USA Today and Latino Rebels.

Lori Fogleman, Director of Media Communications at Baylor said in a statement, “Without hesitation, Baylor is an academic community that does not and would not tolerate racism on our campus. If there is an offensive act on our campus and it’s brought to our attention, we have established numerous processes for people to report anonymously issues of any kind. So if brought to our attention, then those alleged incidents are thoroughly investigated by the university.”

Although little information is found as to whether or not Baylor filed an investigation, the persistent offensive and disrespectful racist behavior some students exhibit across all college campuses needs to stop.

Campuses across America need to enact official consequences when racist behavior is displayed from their students.

Viewpoint: Independents have clear view of party lines

There seems to be a general dislike of independent voters who vote party lines, based on ideas that those who vote party lines are uninformed, follow the crowd or are lazy.

Perhaps that reasoning is based on more than just their party labels, however.

Independent voters are generally not associated with a party of their own, though “independent voters” is slowly growing into its own party.

However, these voters, also known as swing voters, can change the outcome of an election. We see it as opening up the traditional democratic process of either-or elections and affiliations, and putting a new ideological perspective on parties’ policies.

According to the Washington Post, since 1992, true independents make up only about 7 to 10 percent of the electorate, but about 40 percent of voters associate themselves with the independent party. In response to this, I say independents are allowed to change and agree with a party if that is their viewpoint at the time of the election.

If so, let them associate themselves with that party at the time, because they will most likely change their opinions in the future.

Every human does, within and outside of politics. I like using stories to explain myself and the way I think.

I grew up in a very conservative household where if I disagreed with the authoritative views, arguments would follow, and the only news source available to watch in the living room at night was Fox News.

Now, while I believe that conservative views helped shape my moral values and convictions and have contributed positively to my character, I have come to understand that my views are truly different from the conformative conservative because there are some liberal viewpoints I support.

Yet I am neither a Democrat nor Republican. I believe independent voters are more than what people label us as.

For me, and I believe a good percentage of independents would agree, our world is constantly changing, so nothing is written concretely. People change political parties all the time. And one of the reasons they continue to do so is because, like me, these people are still learning. When I say learning, I mean absolutely anything, from learning patterns of behavior in politics to a philosophy about what is true versus what is just.

If you put yourself in a position to only see one perspective in life, you are not allowing yourself to learn and grow.

Human morals, convictions and values do change. In order for me to uphold any set word I give people, I want to be able to present my views in a way that shows others that I am open to listening and respecting their views rather than proceeding with my own agenda and projecting disregard for their claims. Experience leads humans to better understand the world around them, and this can be applied to politics, too.

Once I understand how a specific policy affects others, how a certain party’s view shapes an idea, or how a leader goes about matters in his or her position, I am better able to understand the politics that surround those situations. By being an independent, I am able to look critically at all viewpoints that are presented and form my own opinions based on the evidence provided and my own personal experiences.

Independents can be undecided voters, but our ideological views leads us to better understand the politics behind the politics and make informed decisions based on those findings.

It means taking our view of the world around us and applying those views to what we as independents may potentially believe in politics.

As said by Reason Magazine Editor-in-Chief Matt Welch, “It’s not necessarily who you register with, but how do you feel (on those issues).”

Kate McGuire is a freshman journalism major from Waterloo, Iowa. She is a staff writer for the Lariat.

Me in the column fighting the opposing column - May the force be with you
Me in the column fighting the opposing column – May the force be with you

Rich, white and Baptist doesn’t describe all

Last week, my rhetoric professor asked our class to define the typical Baylor student. Most students responded with answers that included words like “rich,” “white” and “Baptist.”

While I believe most could agree to these definitions of the typical Baylor student, I kept thinking that I, a regular freshman girl, didn’t even fit that stereotype made out of three simple words.

The class started to disagree on these terms while I stayed surprisingly content in not answering the question.

Instead, I pondered why these words were used to define us. I mean, my classmates didn’t even fit the description, and this was a group of about 15 Baylor Interdisciplinary Core freshmen.

Around me, there were rich students I knew because most of us are friends, students whose parents had great jobs and could easily supply the full tuition of their child for the next four years.

But then I also knew the other students who held jobs throughout their high school years, whose parent or parents had multiple jobs, and who received more than just a few scholarships.

There were many racial differences between us as well.

Hispanic, African-American, Caucasian and Asian friends were all around me in that tiny classroom.

And Baptist? In that class, I have friends who are Lutheran, Catholic, Non-denominational, Presbyterian … The list goes on and on.

I myself do not fit in the rich category by any means, as my single mother works multiple jobs in support of my higher education. I am white in the sense that I am from European descent, but my Irish heritage can be seen in my fiery temper and bold attitude.

Lastly, I am not Baptist, but a Lutheran from a Methodist church home who is attending a Baptist church currently.

I can understand the Baylor stereotype due to traditional Baylor students fitting these descriptions. If you fit the description, then good, because that means you have been part of making the name for Baylor. However, I believe Baylor students should be defined as something more than what others see on the outside.

I am not advocating for the stereotype to be demolished. But I would like to call for students to rethink the stereotype. If all Baylor students are known for is being rich, white and Baptist, then should that not strike a desire in students to redefine what people see us for on the outside?

I do not want others to look at me as rich. Instead, I want them to see the richness of my spirit in Christ, the wealth of love in my actions, the abundance of hope, support and happiness I can provide.

I do not want others to look at me and see a white girl. I want to reflect the racial differences found in all students. We are a variety of hues found in Baylor’s green and gold.

I do not want others to look at me and assume I’m Christian, specifically Baptist. I want to reflect a respect for all religions, an acceptance of differences, a love for Christ and a purpose to spread his message.

These qualities are found in most students, but are not pursued.

It’s time the Baylor student definition be redefined. The only way this can happen is if we all associate qualities of Baylor pride with our actions.

Here, we can be defined by the ‘content of our character,’ just like in Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, instead of the skin we boldly wear today.

So, Baylor students, what will you be defined by?


Originally posted and published in The Baylor Lariat