Vinoth Ramachandra

Selective Amnesia

Posted on: February 4, 2017

In an interview in 1994, the eminent French philosopher Paul Ricoeur observed:

“The history of America is a strange history: émigrés came to territory which was already inhabited by people- the Indians- and exterminated many of them, pushed others onto reservations; but at the same time, these first immigrants brought along other émigrés by force who were their slaves. It is a singular history that has no equivalent in Europe. This is why I always return to the idea of incomparable histories, and consequently to the specificity of ethnic and political problematics.” (from Critique and Conviction: Conversations with Francois Azouvi and Marc de Launay)

Of course European nations have their own shameful histories of exterminations; but apart from the Holocaust, they were mostly committed outside Europe. With an irony that hasn’t gone unnoticed, US President Donald Trump signed his executive order on January 27, Holocaust Memorial Day.

What has also not gone unnoticed is the irrational, immoral and potentially dangerous insinuation that America’s terrorists come from 7 Muslim-majority states and are not home-grown. I call it irrational because, for a start, not a single refugee or immigrant from one of the named countries has ever committed an act of terrorism in the US (most of the 9/11 perpetrators came from Saudi Arabia, which remains a staunch US military ally and is not in the list of designated countries); and, moreover, the threat of terrorism is so exaggerated in the public mind – the probability of an American being killed in a terrorist attack by refugees has been calculated as less than that of one’s clothes spontaneously igniting!

I call it immoral because it scapegoats people who have either suffered from acts of terrorism themselves or risked their lives to combat terrorists (including many Iraqis who must feel utterly betrayed by the US government). In any case, existing laws and the 1951 refugee convention – to which the US is a signatory- ensure that anybody who could seriously be considered to have committed a war crime or even a serious non-political crime would not qualify for refugee status. (Notwithstanding this, the irony is that many of the most brutal criminals, including gang leaders in the various Mafias, Triads, Yardies, etc from all over the world are all legitimate US citizens and known to the police in every major American city).

I call it dangerous because it will only alienate friendly Muslims and nudge them towards the radical Islamists who hate the West. One extremism feeds off the other. It has also undermined the efforts of all those men and women who have been struggling to promote respect for human rights all over the world, not least in China, Myanmar, the Central African Republic and other states where Muslims are persecuted minorities.

A further irony is that, since the US has a long history of receiving refugees and asylum seekers and resettling them (and is always among the top receiving countries in the industrialised world), Trump’s executive order tramples upon the “American values” that were trumpeted (sic) by his campaign supporters.

The ignorance on which the executive order is founded is also displayed in the charge that all refugees must in future respect the laws and values of the USA. Surely Trump’s lawyers should have pointed him to Article 2 of the 1951 Convention: “Every refugee has duties to the country in which he finds himself, which require in particular that he conform to its laws and regulations as well as to measures taken for the maintenance of public order.”

Millions of immigrants from the Indian subcontinent live in the US, Canada, Europe and Australia. Once settled, many of them become bellicose opponents of further immigration. They are often more xenophobic than “whites”. Are there any South Asians in the US joining Black Lives Matter marches or Tamils from Sri Lanka who went as refugees to the UK or Australia publicly arguing today on behalf of refugees from Syria or Yemen?

During the Brexit campaign I heard Indian and Sri Lankan professionals in the UK contemptuously dismissing Poles and Rumanians as “economic migrants”. What were they, I wonder, twenty or thirty years ago? And why do we not use that term to describe the tens of thousands of Europeans who go to the US or Australia every year in search of more lucrative employment or a more comfortable retirement?

Selective memory loss afflicts us all. But it is particularly tragic when professing Christians are no different. Which is why the biblical command to “love the alien among you” is always prefixed by the reminder “because you were aliens in Egypt and I loved you.” Nothing damages the credibility of the Gospel more than the failure of Christians to practise it.

21 Responses to "Selective Amnesia"

Thank you Vinoth, I appreciate your writings and your witness. I will reflect on your challenging words. But please know that there are many faithful Christians here in American who would disagree with you. If you are able, please take some time to reflect on the viewpoints found in the following website, I would love to hear your reflections on their positions:

David Kim:

Thanks for your kind words.

The EBI website you referred me to only talks about “illegal immigration”, something I never mentioned in my post.

Trump’s directive is against people who either have legally obtained right of entry to the US or who are legally seeking it.

Having said that, let me invite supporters of EBI to ponder questions such as: Were the Puritan settlers “legal immigrants”?; Where would US agriculture, the hotel and restaurant industries be today without undocumented workers? (There is a lot of hypocrisy here, not least from “faithful Christians” who benefit, directly or indirectly, from the labour of undocumented workers).

I struggle to understand how one can be a claim to be a “faithful Christian” and be content with living in ignorance. Surely faithfulness requires a desire for truth?

The EBI website reflects four common areas of ignorance prevalent in the “conservative evangelical” American subculture:

(1) Ignorance of US history. (e.g. being taught myths about “a Christian nation”, “Christian Heritage”; ignoring the role of slavery, plunder and foreign imperialism in creating American prosperity)

(2) Ignorance of international affairs. (e.g. the way US foreign policy, corporate practices and personal lifestyles create the wars, conflicts and environmental disasters that have led to mass migrations in several parts of the world)

(3) Ignorance of Islam and Islamic history. (e.g. far more Muslims than Christians have suffered at the hands of Islamist regimes and terrorists)

(4) Ignorance of the Global Church.

Given that US “evangelicals” form a tiny part of the global Church, and yet (given their money and media power) what they say and do often affects other Christians, shouldn’t they be inviting non-American Christians to share with them their view of American society and politics? If they only read authors or listen to preachers who are part of their own subculture, they will never break out of their cultural blind-spots.

Thanks again for your good comment.


Thank you Vinoth for taking the time to respond.

I am not a formal participant or supporter of EBI,* rather I am an individual (immigrant) Christian, a former pastor, trying to be faithful to the gospel in my context. As a Korean-American, I am married to a Nicaraguan who works as a legal advocate for undocumented women who have suffered domestic violence.

Thank you for your challenging perspective and questions. I will seek to respond to them in a spirit of sincerely working through them.

American history is full anguishing tragedies involving immigration and I couldn’t agree more with the spirit of Ricoeur’s observation. Indeed, American history IS a history of “ethnic problematics.” This is inescapable even in our situation now.

I confess that the four areas of ignorance that you outline are true of American Christians, including myself. So I cherish and need this opportunity for dialog.**

In regards to our own history and international affairs, I do believe it is possible to observe and preserve the aspects our history/affairs that was influenced by our faith (English settlers, Puritans, Great Awakening, threads of Christian worldview in our founding fathers) while accepting and repenting for the negative parts of our history/affairs.

Even after studying history at a liberal college, I was surprised by how much America’s ugly imperialism reared its head in Nicaragua. Being married to my wife has been eye opening. So my question would be: how do we allow this past to inform our present and future course. Bear in mind, there are many who are calling for historical reparation, that is our context. It seems a lot of the anger directed towards Obama is bc of a perceived de facto reparation program that has drained our treasury.

In regards to ignorance of Islam, here’s a quote from Trump at the National Prayer Breakfast that brought me some encouragement:

“We have seen peace-loving Muslims brutalized, victimized, murdered and oppressed by ISIS killers.”

Also, I hope you would find some encouragement from this reflection from a conservative Christian communicator:

I actually find myself more hopeful that under a Trump administration, despite his clumsy/inflammatory communications, the average Muslim will be distinguished from Islamists. I had less hope with Obama, bc of his political correctness and cultural relativism. There is also an obvious alliance between the Left and Islamists that are working to obscure the differences and poison the dialog. One thing I have noticed since the election, moderate Muslims are starting to align themselves with Trump and are more vocal and confident. I know this might be hard for you to believe, as it was for me.

Finally, I am in full agreement, we are very ignorant of what God is doing around the globe, and lack awareness that American Christianity is provincial, though it’s positioning is still influential.

Apologies for writing so much, I am eager for your continued perspective.


*And in fact, EBI deliberately insists on being ad hoc, it seems they have no desire to be a formal organization. They came together only as a response to an alliance of mainly progressive Christians and the Democratic Party, known as the Evangelical Immigration Table. Many of the EBI spokespeople started out with EIT but withdrew when they learned that EIT had funding connections with Soros.

I could be wrong, but EBI is one of few entities that strikes a (rare) position outside of progressive and conservative streams of American Christianity. It may seem conservative at first glance, but I assure you it is not. Kelly Monroe Kullberg (Veritas Forum) and Eric Metaxas (Amazing Grace, Dietrich Bonhoeffer) are two of the better known initiators of EBI.

For me, the EBI website helped me slow down and reflect deeper about immigration as a whole, legal vs illegal, non-displaced vs refugee. Their central concern seems to be, how to fulfill an obvious obligation Christians have toward the migrant, but in a way that is responsible.

**My sincere hope is that you can somehow connect with some of the EBI core participants, such as an Eric Metaxas. He has a radio show and your participation would be welcomed. Please check out his remarks at a National Prayer Breakfast”

Vinoth, I hope I am not overwhelming you. When you have a chance, please check out the link below. The link will provide some additional context and an added layer for understanding how thoughtful American Christians are processing the immigration/refugee question. I would appreciate your perspective on this and how it might affect your recommendations for American Christians on the immigration/refugee question.

David, you are not overwhelming me at all. I am very familiar with this polemic (and, again, the Stream is addressing much wider issues than immigration). I also know personally some of the people you mention. I have tried to engage with them privately in the past but found the shutters abruptly slammed down. The issues are again the 4 I mentioned in my earlier reply to your comment. It seems that no other perspective on politics and history can be entertained.

Why is it that a civil dialogue among “evangelicals”, let alone between “evangelicals” and other Christians in the US (say, the ones vilified in the Stream letter)seems impossible? What has happened to Christian charity?

Your four issues, Vinoth, are right on target. It´s because of these blindspots that it´s nearly impossible to dialogue with American conservative evangelicals about the issues you have identified.

I was once there myself, so I want to show compassion, but I think it´s of utmost importance for Americans of all stars and stripes to listen to other opinions about their own history.

Vinoth, I am surprised and disappointed about the response you received. I shouldn’t be too disappointed though, bc I am not above guilt.

Please forgive us evangelicals, we reflexively adopt an apologetic attitude from fighting so many culture wars. And as I tried to allude earlier, your message, while obviously coming from the gospel and a much needed global perspective, seems to echo the attacks from the Left.

I think your message is esp critical bc of the new power and identification with that power that many evangelicals now enjoy.

Currently I see evangelicals funneling towards nationalism or the progressive agenda.

I find Eugene Peterson’s observation to be so true, that absent the vigorous life and presence of Christ, the church resorts to theology, organizational activity and humanitarianism as substitutes.

Looking forward to your continued exhortations.

Hi Ramachandra,

(Someone pointed me to your blog.) There is one thing that troubles me about your blog, and this kind of blog. That is, that it is all about the ignorance of Americans. See especially your first response to David Kim.
I just don’t think life is so simple. Can we just write off so many American Christians, in arguably the most educated country in the world? It seems to me, there are things to be understood that too many academics and the media are missing.

@Jim Harries:

Do you have concrete examples of what many academics and the media are missing?

The most educated country in the world?? Have you seen the latest science and math scores coming out of American schools???

Jim, I understood Vinoth to be addressing the ignorance caused by blindspots, not necessarily the lack of education. All of us have blindspots, the proverbial fish often loses perspective about the water it swims in. It’s easy to forgive.

In my experience, Vinoth’s observations are spot-on, I taught history at a conservative Christian private school. But I also quickly note that many there were open to expanded perspectives. At best, all of our personal experiences and understandings are incomplete and require the testimony of the entire Body of Christ to fill in the gaps. This applies to all members of the geographic, political, and/or spiritual spectrum. As Matthew noted earlier, this makes listening to outside perspective critical.

I know that being married to my wife, who is from Nicaragua, really opened my eyes areas of ignorance, many of them the very ones that Vinoth brought up. And of course, in our marriage, it goes both ways–I was able to help her understand and appreciate conservative (American) Christian perspectives. I should also note that the process is not easy and we are still working at it.

For me, the core issue is not the observations that Vinoth shares, I don’t find them that debatable. How do we translate the more complete knowledge in those four areas into wise policy. That is what I’m wrestling with and I continue to look forward to his much needed perspective.

@David K Kim:

What exactly do you mean when you ask:

“How do we translate the more complete knowledge in those four areas into wise policy”

So let’s say we learn in the four areas of ignorance that Vinoth exposes. What difference should it make for policy? What would be the appropriate action for issues such as immigration.

In general, and this forum gives me opportunity to express it, I have found the brick-walling of the media and academia of Trump policies to be perhaps unhelpful. If a massive body of, Spirit guided we trust but of course not infallible, Christians make a major statement by electing Trump, that’s something to be taken note of.
I interpret that according to my own concerns. I have lived in an African village for almost 30 years. That gives me a certain perspective on the West … it has resulted in my sometimes having a less-than-high opinion of Western academia and media, that has been heightened by the Tramp sagas.
My comment, comment number 10, still seems, according to my computer, be awaiting moderation. Perhaps because it includes some urls. I would appreciate if it could be ‘allowed’ please.
My thesis is, that the discontent in the rank and file has arisen because the categories being assumed in debate using English are too far off target. Especially, the understanding that Islam is a ‘religion’ for example. So then, there is a mass of folks in the US rising up and saying ‘you clever scholars aren’t as clever as you think’, something which we need to take very seriously … if only because from Jan. 20 2017 the world IS a different place.

Thanks Jim. Could you try sending your post again and maybe describe the links with some key words and/or title, we can do a google search.

I spent a month in Nigeria a few years ago visiting and supporting two missionaries serving in the bush near Jos. The brewing tensions between Muslims and Christians were very real, but the missionaries started making inroads with the Fulani herdsman. Like Jesus and the Samaritan woman, they placed themselves strategically in a valley and dug wells, leading to daily encounters.

Where in Africa did you serve?

Hi David, Here’s what I had in that post, repeated:

“… url that simply says America isn’t number 1, but it doesn’t do too badly on global education rankings.
Just look at the work of this scholar for an example of what’s being missed: Timothy Fitzgerald on academia edu

I am in Western Kenya.

Jim … in 2016 the U.S. did not rank in the top 10 globally in science, reading, and math. Not so good for a nation that put a man on the moon.

Jim, I apologize for the delay in your comment being posted. I had no idea -till today- that it was pending my approval.

However, I have no idea where you are going with this comment. What has educational attainment got to do with my post about Trump’s executive order? Where would Germany and Japan have been in educational rankings in the early twentieth century and right up to the Second World War? And your statements about the distortions of the Western media (which I endorse- you can see my earlier posts) don’t seem to square with your assumption about a “massive body of Spirit-guided” evangelicals supporting Trump. Who or what are your reliable sources for such an assertion? And, even if it were true, all it recalls to me is the horror of Karl Barth on discovering that a majority of the German pastors and theology professors supported the Kaiser’s war policy in 1914- and which took Barth in a different theological direction. The same would be true for the German church in the 1930s or the Afrikaner church in South Africa- and I can give you countless more examples from all continents.

Hi Ramachandra and co.,
My comments on educational attainment arise as a response to your repeated accusations of ‘ignorance’. Now, I am not denying that there are kinds of ignorance all around, but in terms of conventional education, I am not sure that Republican voters are that poorly informed.
The USA educational system is heavily slanted to so-called progressives, as you will probably know. ( Yancey, George, 2012, ‘Recalibrating Academic Bias.’ 267-278 in: Academic Questions: a publication of the national association of scholars 25(2). ) This, to me, explains a lot of the attacks on Trump made by academia, and the media that is informed by the same academia.
My reaction to Trump’s actions against so-called Muslims is that it emerges from a popular perception of things that ‘secular’ academia has been trying to conceal from people. You mention Karl Barth, Kaiser, the Afrikaner church, and so on. I don’t see the direct relevance of those examples to what is here under discussion.
Asad, I think you will know, is a renowned commentator on Islam. He tells us that Muslims are allowed to think what they like, but must not say anything that counters Muhammed’s assumed agenda (I could give you the reference). This, among other things, means that our Muslim brothers and sisters are in a terrible terrible prison; they are bound for life to always tow their party line, on pain of death itself, as well as shame, estrangement from family etc. etc., no matter their deep heart’s desire. This is an ENORMOUS human rights violation, that seems to pass under the noses of global bodies, but that the likes of Trump is drawing our attention to. This ‘human right’s violation’ is of course concealed on the basis of a misleading assumption that Islam is a ‘religion’. Even publicly (e.g. Egyptians, I understand), some of Trumps greatest supporters are Islamic. In private, the whole of Saudi may be wishing that he succeeds in saving a Continent from Islamic domination. Every single person in Saudi Arabia may wish to become a Christian, but not one would dare admit it. Someone has to speak on their behalf.
(I say (above) ‘so-called’ Muslims, because the category of Islam was drawn up under Christian tutelage. It doesn’t really ‘exist’ without that. (See for example: Masuzawa, Tomoko, 2005, The Invention of World Religions: how European universalism was preserved in the language of pluralism. London: University of Chicago Press.))

Your concern for those suffering under Muslim repression is very touching. So why don’t you help Trump supporters see that his halving of the refugee quota makes it much harder for people to escape the repression? (I have a friend who fits your description of those who have suffered- his application to the US through the UNHCR has now been set back several years, and he is utterly devastated). And that if Trump’s ban on refugees from 7 nations is meant to “open up” their governments, it is thoroughly muddle-headed, for it only further strengthens the hands of extremists in these nations? And if the aim is indeed to help the persecuted, why are military and business allies of the US exempt (e.g the repressive Gulf states, Malaysia)?

These are examples of the “ignorance” I mentioned.

To do your questions full justice would require a few months of careful research … so I can only respond to broad-stroke basis as I don’t have those months available … Some principles:
1. God is head of kings (and Presidents), so has some intent through what humanly seems muddled.
2. It can be helpful to respond to what is, rather than crave for what was.
3. You mention ‘ignorances’ above. Is that thought not a particular sub-set of ignorances out of a much wider global total-set? Which ignorances take priority for elimination?
– you seem to ignore concerns like for brain-drain?
– another, could be called ‘distraction’. Perhaps that’s a megga ‘crime’ of the USA? It’s like – it’s hard for a boy to concentrate on his school classes when a girl is sitting next to him seducing him. This is a LARGE point, in my view; I see offering green cards as a way of discouraging people from investing in their own issues where they might ‘solve’ them and having them concentrate instead on escaping their people’s problems by running to the West.
– this could be looked on under a neo-colonian framework. As a parent, once one’s child is of a certain age and makes a move to be independent, especially if married to someone else, one must be ready to withdraw one’s maternal-type protections. Taking US as a ‘sister’ to UK, and constantly seducing nationals from ex-colonies to come to mum, isn’t always helpful. The massive efforts at penetrating every nook and cranny all over with American media, internet, Hollywood and all, presumably is a sin of capitalism.
In other words … the USA is not the saviour, Jesus is.
The above aren’t meant to be sharp or blunt points, but just expressed succinctly.

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February 2017
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