President Barack Obama took to the podium Monday at the G20 Summit in Antalya, Turkey, and delivered a scathing rebuke of Republican presidential candidates Jeb Bush and Ted Cruz following statements the two men had made concerning the admittance of Syrian refugees into the United States. The comments had been made in the wake of the Paris terrorist attacks that had occurred on November 13. Both candidates had said publicly that the focus should be to allow Christians primarily or exclusively to enter the country. But President Obama publicly reminded them of America’s values as a nation and a land of immigrants.
The Boston Globe reported November 16 that during his extensive press conference at the G20 Summit, President Obama was asked how peaceful Muslims, like those in Turkey, could gain distance from the atrocities committed in the name of Islam like the Paris terrorist attacks or those perpetrated by ISIS. The president noted that non-Muslims should not stereotype and generalize, but that Muslims also had an obligation to not speak out against radical Islam and those the perpetuate its often destructive ideology.
But then he segued into the opposition against Islam manifested in suggested discriminatory practices with regard to Syrian refugees seeking shelter within America’s borders. “When I hear folks say that we should just admit the Christians but not the Muslims. When I hear political leaders suggesting that there would be a religious test a person who’s fleeing from a war-torn country is admitted, when some of those folks themselves come from families who benefited from protection when they were fleeing political persecution, that’s shameful,” Obama said to reporters. “That’s not American, that’s not who we are.”
Those words were undoubtedly for Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, whose parents fled Cuba’s Castro regime and sought refuge in the United States. Cruz had told reporters, according to The New Yorker, in South Carolina that only Christians among the Syrian refugees should be allowed entrance into the US., saying that that there “no meaningful risk of Christians committing acts of terror.”
The president went on to speak about how, during Pope Francis’ visit to the United States, he had not called out for compassion toward Catholics or Christians exclusively. “When Pope Francis came to visit the United States, and gave a speech before Congress,” he recalled, “he didn’t just speak about Christians who were being persecuted. He didn’t call on Catholic parishes just to admit to those who were of the same religious faith. He said, protect people who are vulnerable.”
Those words were directed at former Florida governor and converted Catholic Jeb Bush, who went on several news talk shows Sunday and Monday and floated the idea of a religious test to allow only Christians among the Syrian refugees into the US. He said on NBC’s “Meet The Press” that American “focus ought to be on the Christians who have no place in Syria anymore.”
But President Obama wasn’t finished. He said that the United States should not “feed that dark impulse” to deny refugees safe haven due to their religion. To further shame the two Republicans, he invoked former president and Jeb Bush’s brother, George W. Bush, on the way he had dealt with the wave of Islamophobia that washed of the US followed the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
“I had a lot of disagreements with George W. Bush on policy, but I was very proud after 9/11 when he was adamant and clear about the fact that this is not a war on Islam. And the notion that some of those who have taken on leadership in his party would ignore all of that, that’s not who we are. On this, they should follow his example. It was the right one. It was the right impulse. It’s our better impulse. And whether you are European or American, the values that we are defending — the values that we’re fighting against ISIL for are precisely that we don’t discriminate against people because of their faith. We don’t kill people because they’re different than us. That’s what separates us from them. And we don’t feed that kind of notion that somehow Christians and Muslims are at war.”
Obama said that in defeating the terrorism promoted by ISIS, fostering an attitude that dismisses the idea of a Christian-Muslim war. He concluded that “… it is good to remember that the United States does not have a religious test, and we are a nation of many peoples of different faiths, which means that we show compassion to everybody. Those are the universal values we stand for. And that’s what my administration intends to stand for.”