Monday, November 16, 2015

Huddled masses

If my Facebook timeline is any indication, there is an incipient mass hysteria that President Obama is about to import thousands of terrorists into Hometown USA.

Several Republican governors have announced that they will not allow Syrian refugees to be admitted into their states.  (Sorry, but that's not a choice that governors get to make, so these pronouncements are just ineffectual drum-beating.)

There's a popular analogy going around, in response to the perfectly reasonable and factual assertion that these refugees are the victims of our enemies, not our enemies: "Would you eat grapes knowing that one might be poisoned?"

We can't accept Syrian refugees, they say, because some of them might be terrorists.

Look, I get that people are worried and fearful.  They see images from Paris last Friday night and imagine it happening to them or their loved ones.  Somehow, because Westerners were the victims there, it strikes closer to home than when the same thing (or worse) happens to, say, innocent but brown victims in Africa or southwest Asia.

There are about 2 billion Muslims in the world.  The number of them who sympathize with ISIL is less than 1%.  It's less than 0.1%.  In fact, it's probably on the order of 0.001%, or one in 100,000.  Refusing refugees because some of them might be sympathetic to ISIL is like rounding up Christians because some of them might be sympathetic to the handful of Christians who commit violence against abortion providers here in the U.S.

And the "grapes" analogy?  First of all, people aren't grapes.  They're people, with lives and hopes and dreams and potential and the desire to be free and safe.

But even if you accept the analogy, we make that choice every day.  Would you buy grapes knowing that one might be poisoned?  Yes, of course.  If you buy grapes, you make that choice every time you buy grapes, because food-borne illness is always a possibility.  Maybe it's not grapes.  Maybe it's ice cream or peanut butter.  Do you buy ice cream or peanut butter, or anything else, knowing that it might be poison? Yes, you do.  So that's not a reason to refuse refugees.

This morning, Jeb! Bush was on my TV, talking about how we should only accept Christians from Syria, as though there aren't many more innocent Muslim victims of these butchers. 

I am profoundly disgusted by the people who use one breath to call this a Christian nation and use the next to say that we should refuse these people asylum because some of them might be our enemies.  You can't claim that this is a Christian nation--in fact, you can't claim to be a Christian--and ignore what Jesus said about this very situation:

“But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you.

“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
 (Luke 6:27-36.)

Of course, my favorite statement of our commitment to accept the refugees and the many more who came before them comes from a rather different source, inscribed at the base of our most recognizable monument:
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
"Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"
 --Emma Lazarus, "The New Colossus"

Mother of Exiles, indeed.  Just who did you think she was referring to, when she talked about the "wretched refuse"?  Well-to-do Europeans?

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