Common Sense & Syrian Refugees

Let’s all take a deep breath and look rationally at this whole thing. I know, gallons of pixels have been spilled (aside: can we update this metaphor?) and you probably think that enough has been written on this subject. And you may be right. On the other hand, although I’m not an expert, I lived in Muslim nations for 9 years and I’ve worked with Iraqi refugees for 5. That’s 14 times 365 of day in and day out life lived across culture and religion, which qualifies me to have an opinion at least as much as the people shouting things on Facebook.

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  1. The risk is minuscule. Yes, yes, I know. One of the Paris bombers allegedly came into the country posing as a refugee. But the others were already there legally. Some American citizens have also joined Daesh (or ISIS). If they want to bomb us, they have much easier ways in than to pose as refugees. We’re geographically more protected than Europe and as a result, all of the refugees we admit have been thoroughly vetted. Trust me on this. I know how long and thorough the process is, and I’ve been frustrated by it. One man came ahead of his family, leaving a pregnant wife and 2 children to join him later. The baby was born, and it took the family two entire years to get that infant refugee status and join the dad. Two years to vet a newborn. It can take up to 5 years for adults.
  2. The risk is misjudged. I can’t count how many times I’ve seen someone on FB explaining earnestly how Syrians want to overrun our culture, make us all submit to Shariah law, etc etc. They don’t. What they want: for their kids to get an education, to be able to work and provide for their families, to live in peace and safety, hope.
  3. We are already at risk. Life is risk. Can we please be honest with ourselves for a minute? We are all at far greater risk of being shot by a white man with lots of guns and mental issues than we are by a darker-skinned man who shouts “Allah u Akbar!”
    The family I mentioned above sent the husband on ahead to make sure it was safe for them. They were afraid to come to America. They understood that we are a violent people, where many people carry guns and people shoot other people just for entering their property, not to mention school shootings, movie theater shootings, mall shootings, church shootings, synagogue shootings, and mosque shootings. Many families are afraid to raise their daughters in such a promiscuous society.  And then they come, and they relax. They meet Americans, realize life isn’t like TV, and settle into getting kids in school, getting to know their neighbors, learning to live in a totally different culture and language.
    But can we just look at ourselves from the outside for a minute and see how uninviting and scary our own beloved culture might look?
  4. The best way to minimize risk is to welcome and engage refugees. Leaving families to rot in refugee camp limbo, to raise their kids without education or hope for a better tomorrow, while we continue to show the world via our sleek media that we all have gorgeous houses, shiny hair, white teeth and new cars, is pretty much a recipe for future terrorism. But letting them in and keeping them marginalized won’t do it either. Here’s a radical idea: what if we welcomed them, helped them adapt, engaged them with friendship, and loved them? Don’t you think this is also the best way to fight radicalization of young men? Let’s show them love, introduce them to Jesus, be kind to those who are different from us, serve them without strings attached. This is also the right thing to do, but I’m not even bringing WWJD into this. This one is purely pragmatic.
  5. Jesus commands us to love our enemies. Oh yeah, I went there. I have saved the best for last. If we claim to follow him, then we can’t hide behind arguments of “oh sure I will love them if they live next to me but I don’t have to love them now and my government sure doesn’t have to!” (a very rough paraphrase of many comments I’ve read) “Love your enemies and pray for those who misuse you,” he commanded us. The idea that we would put our own imaginary safety (for no one in this life is truly safe–there are always airborne viruses and earthquakes) above the needs of hurting people is nowhere even allowed in Scripture. As for the government, they are simply wrong-headed about this, because as I’ve already pointed out, we incur more risk by not letting them in.

This is one of those beautiful times when doing the right thing is also the most pragmatic, I believe. I welcome your respectful and thoughtful comments.