Will we be true?
Letter to the Editor | Friday, November 20, 2015
“We don’t have to just react. We can think.” Yes, Ben Carson, I agree. The presidential candidate stated this as he explained his argument for keeping Syrian refugees out. Despite our admitted potential to think, in the past few days, 31 governors have reacted to the Paris attacks by declaring their state’s refusal to take on any Syrian refugees.
This, despite the fact that all of the confirmed attackers were European nationals. There is one man, found near a fake Syrian passport, who possibly used refugee status to enter Europe. Even if this was the case, a singular case is not rational justification to deny 10,000 people — mostly women and children — refuge in the United States. Our vetting process is different, longer and significantly more thorough, as those seeking to enter the U.S. have to pass the UN vetting process in addition to our own procedures. There are difficulties and complications, but the conclusion that refugees suddenly pose a drastic threat to our safety is a rash overreaction.
Nor is it a thoughtful or wise strategy. The so-called Islamic State intentionally seeks to isolate Muslims from the West. The group constantly speaks of a “clash of civilizations,” constructing a narrative of absolute difference and incompatibility. And many Americans buy that logic and reinforce it with action, as the mass refusal to take Syrian refugees proves. But if we were to take Ben Carson’s wise advice and think, we would realize that Islam is not incompatible with our values. Many majority-Muslim countries like Jordan and Turkey — while with flaws like every country — exemplify a humanitarian and tolerant culture. There are also more than 2.6 million Muslim Americans living as peaceful contributors to society. Seven hundred fifty thousand Iraqi refugees have resettled in the US since 9/11. None have been convicted of violent terrorist actions.
By refusing logic and empathy, we are giving IS exactly what they want. We prove that there is a “clash of civilizations.” We show countless displaced Muslims the West has no love for them, there is no place for them among us. We isolate our Muslim brothers and sisters, our fellow citizens, by demonstrating our hatred and ignorance of their religion. We preach diversity, inclusion, openness and tolerance while refusing to allow “the other” to live with us. We talk of an American dream and our incredible immigrant heritage; yet we qualify both to include only Christians or those who fit our definition of Western. We talk of universal human rights while unabashedly placing the comfort of Christians and Americans over the right of Syrian refugees to live in safety and peace. We talk of our strength and leadership while allowing an unproved exception (the one terrorist who may have been a refugee) to scare our supposedly cherished values into obsolescence.
The propaganda of the so-called Islamic State disparages refugees who venture to infidel lands. The mass exodus of Muslims from Syria threatens the IS claim to be a safe haven for Muslims, invalidating the group’s central claim. But when we close our doors (Europe is not acting much differently from us), those who would otherwise have risked the journey to safety in the West will be left with no good options. Most will have to survive in a war-torn region. They will likely come to see IS’ anti-Western rhetoric as true. Forced to choose between death or submission to the “caliphate,” many will choose submission. Our pitiful cowardice will only justify that choice.
So we must ask: Where are our values now? How can we let ourselves succumb to irrational, sweeping fear? How can we refuse safety to so many when we ourselves are descendants of refugees? Are we so naïve to believe that Islam is incompatible with our way of life? Shall our empathy extend only to those who look like us, who share our religion?
I cannot merely be idealistic. Safety is imperative, and we should ensure our vetting process is thorough. Fear is normal and valid. But it should not control us. We should not give the enemy what it wants. More importantly, we should not abandon out of cowardice who and what we are. I hope we can stand up as a nation, rise beyond our fear, refuse to abandon our fundamental values and open our minds, hearts and arms to people seeking a life free from terror. Will we hold fast to our shared convictions? Will we be true?