Thursday, November 19, 2015

What distinguishes us from terrorists?

Clearly, opening our nation up to resettlement of refugees from Syria (and elsewhere) exposes us to the risk of allowing a few terrorists to infiltrate the US by masquerading as refugees.  And if one were to be a victim of an attack by one of those terrorists, I can only imagine the rage that someone might feel about the situation.  But let's just think a bit deeper about what's going on.  The refugees are fleeing the war and persecution by radical muslims - most of them have experienced directly the terror of living in fear of the radical theocrats.  They only seek to escape the horror of these brutal theocratic regimes in their own nations.

What actually would be accomplished by turning these refugees away?  Is it currently impossible for terrorists to gain entry into the US by any means other than hiding among refugees?  Will any effort to offer help to these needy people be outweighed by the possibility that some of them are actually terrorist infiltrators?  It seems obvious to me that turning our back on the refugees likely will cause some of the refugees to become supporters of the terrorists, if only as a means of self-defense.  Closing our borders will not prevent terrorists from gaining entry - some are already here and more will arrive even without this heartless rejection of people in desperate need.  It seems pretty evident to me that declining to accept refugees carries with the loss of any claim to being morally superior to terrorists (who also have utterly no concern for the suffering of the innocent).  We become no better than the terrorists by not caring about what agonies will be inflicted upon the innocent among the refugees.

It seems to me that the fundamental problem is that refusing the pleas of the refugees indicates an utter lack of empathy - the ability to put oneself in the situation of another person, and to understand thereby what they must be experiencing.  Empathy is the path to resolving differences and recognizing how you might feel in someone else's position.  If you feel religiously inclined, empathy and the compassion it creates is one of the messages in the new testament - the parable of the Good Samaritan comes to mind quickly.  We can be so consumed with tribalistic fear of people from other cultures that our xenophobia dominates our compassion, which is precisely the opposite of the message attributed to jesus christ.  That message is simply one of empathy and the recognition that we are all the same underneath all the tribalistic superficialities.

I have no wish to see more terrorists enter the US.  I would not want to see more Americans become terrorist victims.  I can understand the concerns, but what I'm trying to suggest is that turning our backs on people seeking our assistance is not the way to address the threat of terrorism.  In fact, it actually is a recruiting tool for islamic jihadists, who want to spread the notion that the West is waging war, not on terror, but on islam.  It really isn't in our best interest to shut the door on the refugees.  Further, history tells us that many people coming to America from foreign soil become the most fervent of American patriots.  If we refuse aid to the refugees, or discriminate against them if they are allowed in, we're only giving aid and comfort to the terrorists.  Our own self-interest should be considered here, and a xenophobic reaction to the refugees is contrary to that self-interest.  Shutting them out will not solve the challenge of terrorists on American soil.

Some have said that compassion is a weakness that will be exploited by the jihadists, who will be laughing at our weakness even as they kill us.  But is this putative weakness not the same "weakness" of jesus himself, as claimed in the new testament?  Is this "weakness" not one of our greatest strengths, as a nation?  What does the inscription on the Statue of Liberty say?
Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses, yearning to breath free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore,
Send these, the homeless, tempest tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.
Surely these refugees are "tempest tost"!  Do we truly want to wash our hands of that message?  The message we should be sending is that secular America occupies the moral high ground, and is distinguishably the moral superior to the terrorists.  We should be putting our American (and christian) ideals into real-world practice, not honoring them with lip service even as we dishonor them with our lack of empathy for the suffering of others.  Ultimately, that's a better strategy for fighting terrorism than xenophobic tribalism and bombs.

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