“All Lives Matter” may be the most disingenuous phrase to fall out of the mouths of politicians, pundits, and media critics in recent times.
At face value, it’s a beautiful, if not obvious (and therefore unnecessary) statement. It conjures an image of inclusion and harmony. But the truth behind the sentiment is far more insidious than the crowds of right-wing semantic magicians want you to realize.
As a retort to the Black Lives Matter movement, the phrase is a political catch-all designed for privileged majority groups to lessen the perceived threat of minority groups’ dissatisfaction with remaining at the bottom of the societal food chain. It serves as a smokescreen for politicians to hide behind while further marginalizing, for instance, the very existence of black people in America. It does so under a false notion of inclusivity.
Unsurprisingly, many of the same politicians riding the “All Lives Matter” wave are often the same people who now, in response to last week’s terrorist attacks in Paris, seek to block Syrian refugees from settling in the United States. It appears that the definition of “All” in “All Lives Matter” is subject to interpretation and convenience.
Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, a Republican nominee for president, has criticized the Black Lives Matter movement, saying, “I think they should change their name maybe—if they were All Lives Matter, or Innocent Lives Matter. Commandeering the microphone, and bullying people, and pushing people out of the way, I think really isn’t a way to get their message across… they need to go somewhere else, and they need to rent their own microphone.”
Paul’s views are a bright illustration of the common view of the majority’s discomfort with the necessarily disruptive tactics that are often employed by protesters.
However, it appears that Sen. Paul’s desire to protect “innocent lives” does not include Syrians fleeing wars, as he has introduced a bill intended to suspend new visa issuances to refugees from Syria and up to 30 more countries deemed by him to be high-risk.
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz—who characterized Black Lives Matter not as a call for justice, but a war on police, and “the fruit of the divisiveness and vilification of law enforcement that we’ve seen throughout the Obama administration”—has taken Paul’s rhetoric of caution at the border a step farther, suggesting that Christians seeking refugee status in America should be subject to less-strict security protocols than their Muslim compatriots.
Cruz (the son of a Cuban political refugee father who delivered the opening prayer at an All Lives Matter rally in Alabama) either can’t see, or more likely chooses to ignore, his own divisiveness as he chooses to vilify Syrian Muslims and punish them for attempting to run away from the threat of death in their homeland. To Cruz, black cries to end abuse and murder at the hands of police are problematic, but the notion that Syrians should be tested to prove their Christianity before being allowed into the country makes perfect sense.
Former Arkansas governor Mike “Wake up and smell the falafel” Huckabee has said that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. would be “appalled” by Black Lives Matter, and has completely missed – or willfully chosen to manipulate – the organization’s objectives, saying, “When I hear people scream, ‘black lives matter,’ I think, ‘Of course they do.’ But all lives matter. It’s not that any life matters more than another,” which is odd proclamation to make when none of Black Lives Matter’s guiding principles come close to proposing any idea of black supremacy.
However, Huckabee’s demands for change in American immigration policy following the tragic events of Paris make it painfully clear that he sees the lives of Syrians—and all Muslims—as mattering very little. Huckabee and the 26 governors who want to illegally refuse Syrians the opportunity to settle in their states have made very damning, and flatly un-American designations about what people they believe deserve to be protected by the United States.
Huckabee and his cohorts are joined by other major political figures like Ben Carson and Jeb Bush, who have both proposed exclusionary, anti-Muslim immigration reform, while simultaneously insisting that “all lives matter.”
The problem with these proposed changes to border policy is that not only does it single out a specific group of people in a way that isn’t just unconstitutional and immoral, but also has no logical basis. There is no evidence to support the idea that the United States’ current border policy puts the country’s security in any undue peril.
More importantly, these politicians, and like-minded people throughout the country, have chosen to forsake the victims of what may be the world’s most devastating ongoing humanitarian crisis. They are opting to turn their backs on the people who would most benefit from everything that America purports itself to be. Though politicians like Huckabee and Bush will publicly claim that their reluctance to accept Syrian refugees is a matter of national security, their pattern of actions as it relates to the value of non-white lives shows that they place a very different value on the existence of people different than themselves.
Even more perplexing are people like Carson and Cruz who have failed to consider their own personal histories and experiences and turn it into basic compassion for others. The Syrian refugees these folks are so eager to reject are just the latest in a long history of America’s ugly pastime of using the vulnerable as political tools. Lives don’t seem to matter nearly as much when they’re Middle Eastern, Muslim, and fleeing the horrors of war and famine. Sadly, we’ve seen this game one too many times.