George R.R. Martin took to his LiveJournal page twice in the past week to weigh in on the debate raging around Syrian refugees — and his opinion on the affair won’t surprise any fans of “Game of Thrones” or his A Song of Ice and Fire books.
Martin first quoted Emma Lazarus’ poem “The New Colossus,” which is emblazoned on the base of the Statue of Liberty, to argue that America should offer asylum to more refugees from the Syrian Civil War. Martin famously grew up in Bayonne, New Jersey, and has spoken often about the experience of gazing at New York City across the harbor while growing up, so the Statue of Liberty probably has special significance for him.
“For me, Lady Liberty and the words on her base represent the best of what this nation of immigrants is all about,” Martin wrote.
“One has to wonder if all the governors (including our own governor here in New Mexico, I am ashamed to say) and congressmen voting to keep out the Syrian refugees have ever visited the Statue, or read the words on her base,” he continued. “If so, they surely failed to understand them.”
Martin also specifically called out Donald Trump, who has been one of the most outspoken opponents of taking in refugees over the past month, saying that he and the 31 governors who agree with him “have it wrong, wrong, wrong.”
“The Syrian refugees are as much victims of ISIS as the dead in France,” he wrote.
Martin’s second, much briefer post on the topic was an endorsement of John Oliver’s segment on refugees from Sunday’s “Last Week Tonight.”
To the extent that the refugee debate is a partisan issue, Martin’s position here is consistent with his broader political allegiances. He’s given about $16,000 to Democratic candidates over the past three election cycles, and hosted a fundraiser for Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) at the Santa Fe cinema he owns in October 2014.
But Martin’s feelings on this issue clearly go deeper than that; he’s been exploring similar ideas in his fiction for years. (Spoilers ahead!)
One of the major debates Jon Snow faces in A Dance With Dragons — and on Season 5 of HBO’s hit show — is whether to allow the Wildlings into Westeros. As Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch, he favors letting them through and allowing them to settle in The Gift, a sparsely populated region directly south of the Wall that’s owned by the Night’s Watch. But many of his Night’s Watch brothers strongly disagree, arguing that the Wildlings are too dangerous and unpredictable to live in the Seven Kingdoms.
Because there’s a big border fence involved, this plot line — which goes badly for Snow — has sometimes been related to the debate around Mexican immigrants. But the refugee crisis is actually a closer parallel.
The Wildlings’ desire to move south, unlike Mexican immigrants’ desire to move north, isn’t really motivated by economics. They want to escape the White Walkers, just as Syrian refugees want to escape ISIS. And the objections of Ser Alliser Thorne and his cronies are, likewise, more about security concerns than about economics. Almost no one lives in The Gift, which is pretty barren to begin with.
To be sure, the two situations are different in plenty of ways. The Seven Kingdoms never purports to be welcoming to immigrants, for example.
Still, Jon Snow’s most persuasive argument in favor of granting amnesty to the Wildlings could also be helpful in the real world. He argues that letting the Wildlings go south of the Wall could actually make the people of Westeros safer by reducing the number of people available for the White Walkers to turn into ice zombies Wights. By the same token, letting more Syrian refugees emigrate to the United States could prevent some of them from being tempted to aid ISIS.
The point that Trump and Ser Thorne are missing, but that Martin and Snow express so eloquently, is that the refugees aren’t the real enemies. The real enemies are the merciless forces that the refugees are fleeing.
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