It is the idea of America that will make it great

Garnett Genuis, Member of Parliament for Sherwood Park-Fort Saskatchewan, Alberta, Conservative Party of Canada

Speech in House of Commons during Emergency Debate on U.S. Decision Regarding Travel Ban, January 31, 2017

In my Ottawa office I have a large portrait of Clemens August Graf von Galen, Catholic Bishop of Münster in Germany from 1933 until 1946. My grandmother lived in Münster during that period and, as a Jewish child, she attributed her survival to the courageous witness of von Galen, whose anti-Nazi sermons created a climate of resistance against the Nazis, a climate in which a child considered undesirable could find refuge.

However, what was striking about von Galen was his steadfast refusal to be a partisan of any side. When the allied military government took over Münster, allied staff were eager to meet with this anti-Nazi bishop whose fame had by then spread throughout the world. However, they quickly became frustrated by the fact that von Galen vigorously denounced what he perceived to be unjust actions of the allied military governments. He strongly opposed the idea of collective German guilt and the forceable removal of German speakers from other countries in eastern Europe. After visiting Rome to be named a cardinal, von Galen visited prisoner of war camps holding Germans in southern Italy and offered to bring messages back to the family members of these prisoners.

Von Galen never would have denied the far greater injustice of Nazi rule, but he understood a moral responsibility to speak out against injustices in all places and in all of its forms. His fight against injustice was not a partisan fight. He protested the injustices of his own people and of other peoples. He would have strongly rejected false moral equivalency, but he also rejected the idea that being on the right side of history was sufficient to justify any abuse. He believed in calling out injustice in every case.

Today, we have a similar obligation, and that is to clearly and forcefully call out injustice. A frank recognition of the injustice represented by the recent executive order in the United States is not to deny the existence of other injustices and the need to say more about them.

Indeed, the Muslim community in Burma faces ethnic cleansing. Muslims in China, along with Christians, Buddhists, Falun Gong practitioners, and others face persecution far more brutal than anything imagined by the Trump administration. Suppression of religious freedom in Russia and in Russian occupied Ukraine is now being ignored as both Canada and the U.S. rush toward closer relations with Russia.

The government has yet to act on the ongoing genocide against Yazidis and Assyrian Christians. Christians, Baha’is, and other minorities, including Muslim minorities facing systematic persecution throughout the Middle East and beyond. In fact, in most of the seven countries identified in this executive order, converting from Islam to a different faith is not only illegal but carries a death sentence. Jews are not able to travel to many Middle Eastern countries. Saudi Arabia does not even permit the practice of faiths other than Islam.

The world is seething with injustice and there is rich hypocrisy in the condemnation of this executive order by those who endorse or remain silent about so many other and certainly greater injustices. But the recognition of the existence of worse injustices in no way should derogate from the necessary insistence that the injustice of this executive order ought to be remedied.

Why is this order unjust? This executive order arbitrarily prohibits all people from certain countries from entering the United States, even those already granted status, regardless of their values, their motivations, their religion, or even whether they are a security threat. It is therefore not strictly speaking a Muslim ban as President Trump had initially proposed, but it does sadly prohibit people of all religious traditions from the countries in question, including many persecuted Muslims and other persecuted minorities.

Although the President has a prudential obligation to defend American security, this order is blatantly imprudent in that it arbitrarily discriminates on the basis of national origin, while turning a blind eye to any serious factor indicative of security concerns. This order is unjust precisely because it fails to discriminate between those who may be a security threat on the one hand and those who simply come from certain nationalities on the other. It bars escaping minorities from the countries named and it does not bar the entry of anyone from other countries such as Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt, and Qatar, which happen to have been the source of all of the 9/11 hijackers.

This order discriminates on the basis of national origin, while applying no additional security filters to immigrants from other countries. It therefore discriminates without advancing any discernible objectives.

Let us be clear. I do not know if I speak for all members of the House in this sense, but I do not believe in open borders. I believe nations have a right, generally speaking, to defend their borders, to determine their immigration levels, and to screen those whom they may eventually admit. We would not be having this discussion if the American administration had instead sought to enhance vetting procedures which are universally applied.

In our discussions about human rights and about immigration, we must reject false choices. We do not have to choose between calling out injustice in the Muslim world and calling out injustice in the west. We can and must do both. We do not have to choose between open borders naïveté on the one hand and unjust ineffective policies on the other. We can instead seek to more robustly and directly go after the sources of radicalization while welcoming as many peace-seeking victims of that terror as possible.

Clemens von Galen was a Christian motivated by his faith to seek justice for all, not just for members of his own community. Americans and American conservatives in particular highlight the Christian identity of their nation. Let us therefore underscore that Christianity is not a tribe; it is a creed.

From one of the most seminal texts in the Christian tradition I will read the following:

     Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
     Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’


     The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

And of course the passage continues.

This is not a call to naïveté. It does not negate the injunction of Christ to be as wise as serpents and innocent as doves. However, this executive order is neither. It is as wise as a goldfish and appears as innocent as a crocodile. It combines an odd naïveté with every appearance of malevolence. Pushing more frustrated Muslims into the arms of radicals while denying any hope to those desperate to escape will make America less safe, not more.

Christianity is a creed, not a tribe. Similarly, America is a creed, not a tribe. Its creed is its constitution.

As a Canadian, I do believe that Canada is the best country in the world, but I am not embarrassed to speak of the exceptional nature of its republic, indisputably one of the greatest national forces for freedom in human history. It is the idea of America that makes America great. It is the idea of America that will make America great again. That idea, not all that dissimilar from our founding idea, is of a multi-ethnic, religiously diverse society founded on shared values, the values of freedom, democracy, human rights, equality of opportunity, and the rule of law.

Why are we having this emergency debate in this place about an American government policy, when there are admittedly greater injustices in other parts of the world? I believe it is because we all acknowledge the exceptional importance of the United States remaining true to its founding creed and values.

Who among the major powers has the will and the capacity to be a force for justice in a world of rampant injustice? It is not China, not Russia, but only the U.S. in collaboration with a community of nations dedicated to standing for and testifying to our shared values.

The president said in his inaugural address, “We do not seek to impose our way of life on anyone, but rather to let it shine as an example. We will shine for everyone to follow”. That sounds as if it would be a very good idea.

Christianity is a creed, not a tribe. America is a creed, not a tribe. Conservatism is a creed, not a tribe.

Conservatives believe in facing the hard-nosed realities of the world with seriousness and without naïveté. Conservatives believe in sacrifice. Conservatives believe in universal human dignity and in equal opportunity. Conservatives believe in the rule of law in keeping with a constitutional framework that limits executive power. Conservatives believe in reasoned compassion and in ordered liberty. Conservatives believe that families, communities, and individuals should be able to act in accordance with their natural competencies without the interference of the state. Conservatives believe in religious freedom and in the limits of state power. Conservatives believe in the importance of national security.

Because it is unjust in its imprudence and arbitrariness, because it denies equality of opportunity and universal human dignity, because it is likely unconstitutional, because it lacks compassion and invites disorder, because it is an overreach of state power to bar people who already have status from going into the United States, and because it will make America less safe, this executive order is not conservative.

While we implore our American brothers and sisters on this critical question of justice, let us also rededicate ourselves to building a better society here in Canada, one founded on justice, on reasoned compassion, on ordered liberty, and on the pursuit of greater unity in the midst of proud diversity.

In my remaining time I would like to read a quote from Ronald Reagan’s farewell address. He said:

    The past few days when I’ve been at that window upstairs, I’ve thought a bit of the “shining city upon a hill.” The phrase comes from John Winthrop, who wrote it to describe the America he imagined. What he imagined was important because he was an early Pilgrim, an early freedom man. He journeyed here on what today we’d call a little wooden boat; and like the other Pilgrims, he was looking for a home that would be free.
  I’ve spoken of the shining city all my political life, but I don’t know if I ever quite communicated what I saw when I said it. But in my mind it was a tall, proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, windswept, God-blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace; a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity. And if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here. That’s how I saw it, and see it still.