In the wake of the terror attacks in Beirut and Paris last week has come a wave of politicians and others calling for refugees from the Middle East not to be settled in Europe and the U.S. As typically happens, the strength of emotions voiced in this protest -- directed, in this country, against President Obama and his administration -- is matched by an equally emotional response: people who object to admitting refugees are stupid (one Facebook commenter kept calling everyone who disagreed with admitting refugees "a**hat"), not very Christian (so says Mark Shea), cowardly (so said the great uniter, President Obama); well, you get the idea.
Well, it's not an obvious call.
So said, of all people, far-left Mother Jones: Liberals Should Knock Off the Mockery Over Calls to Limit Syrian Refugees.
In the Mother Jones article cited above, you'll see reference to screening of refugees, which "is already pretty tight." If so, this is good to know. So says Mr. Shea, in one of his less bombastic moments. He provides these links about that screening, which I pass along to you. (Full disclosure: I comment periodically on Mr. Shea's blog, but not under my own name.) Let us note, for example, that the proposal is to admit 10,000 refugees from Syria; and if the NPR report cited above is correct, "half of those who have been admitted are children and about a quarter of them are adults over 60. Officials say 2 percent are single males of combat age."
Ah, but this comes from the Obama Administration. Do we have reason to be skeptical? Yes, I think we do. The Obama Administration has tied itself into pretzels trying to be politically correct about all this, with only grudging acknowledgement of the suffering of Christians in the Middle East, avoiding any reference to the obvious fact of so much of this terror being rooted in an extreme expression of Islam -- not to mention this administration's choice to be a hand-wringing, impotent observer during the tragedy of the Syrian Civil War.
A cartoon I saw recently aptly illustrates the President's strange approach to all this:
So, do Americans have reason to be distrustful of President Obama, given his record? Sorry to say, but yes, I think we do.
And yet, with all that, I think there is no question that we -- we who are Catholics, we who are Christians, we Americans who want to be true to our national values -- ought to accept refugees.
No, this isn't like the decision to turn away Jews fleeing Europe in the World War II years. The analogy is false every which way. To refer back to the Mother Jones article, above: the reason people are voicing alarm is rooted precisely in the problem of would-be terrorists entering in the same wave. I defy anyone to show where there was any serious concern, in the '30s and '40s, that there were terrorists or saboteurs among the Jewish refugees. If President Obama -- instead of aggravating the situation with his taunting -- were to announce that 100% of the refugees we accept will be Christians, or non-Muslim minorities, or else only women, elderly and children, I predict the opposition would evaporate.
It's also outrageous to indict the American character, which is what the President's "progressive" allies do reflexively. No nation on earth is more open to refugees, to immigrants, and to diverse cultures. And it is precisely because of this openness that there is a real vulnerability.
By the way, one of the points being made against resettling refugees here is that they have found refuge elsewhere. And that's true. However, let's note that three countries in particular are harboring vast numbers of refugees: Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon. I listed them in order of their stability, because this is a major concern. There is a very good argument to be made that alleviating the destabilization of these countries -- on the frontline of the area where ISIS is operating -- is most definitely in our national interest, as well as a manifest humanitarian interest. If you do a little searching online, you'll discover that millions of refugees are living in these areas. Perhaps these three countries can handle it; but if not, is that really hard to believe?
It also occurs to me that helping Turkey with its refugee problem may well be a price to be paid for them to acquiesce in the U.S. helping the Kurds fight ISIS. As it stands, the Kurds seem to be our most reliable allies on the ground, shooting back at the ISIS. It seems obvious to me that the best course of action for the U.S. is to partner with the Kurds; but Iraq, Iran and Turkey all have reason to oppose any such move, because it threatens the creation of an independent Kurdistan, or something short of it. While the U.S. can reasonably get away with ignoring Iranian and Iraqi objections, ignoring Turkish complaints is not so easy.
Now, I have no idea is this is, indeed, what the administration is doing, it's just possible; I saw recently that we are doing more to help the Kurds. If so, good for the President. But the question remains, how are we keeping the Turks happy? Accepting refugees may be part of it.
I am not ignoring the danger of would-be jihadis entering along with these refugees. I have three thoughts about that.
First, if indeed, only 2 percent of the refugees we are accepting are males of military age, then it wouldn't be so hard, would it, either to refuse that 2 percent?
Second, the reality is that our borders are fairly porous -- and not only because of insufficient immigration policies, especially regarding our southern border. We have problems with unaccounted immigrants, not to mention home-grown jihadis, because ours is an open society. Aside from the many millions who come here illegally, our nation admits millions of people legally -- and a good number of them stay longer than they should. This is very hard for a free society to prevent.
My sense is this -- and I say this without bombast or chest-thumping moral superiority -- that refusing to help these refugees isn't going to make much difference, if any, regarding the real threat of jihadis entering our nation. If, indeed, the refugees are carefully screened, my guess is the bomb-throwers will seek other ways in.
Further, being compassionate toward these refugees doesn't mean we have to give them the run of the place. We're admitting them so they can be fed, housed and live in a decent fashion. There's nothing uncompassionate about this being temporary -- i.e., until such time as they can return home safely. That is to say, admitting refugees isn't the same as granting them permanent residence or citizenship.
Finally, as Christians, obeying the Lord's commands are not conditional on risk. Following Jesus means risking ridicule and opposition, giving up everything for him, and finally embracing the cross. At some point, we have to place some trust in God that when we do what honors him, he will respond generously.
Please let me know what you think.