Happy Thanksgiving to all of you who live in the U.S. (definitely including those holding one of the alphabet soup of visa types).
I’ve been meaning to write here my thoughts on the recent actions by some state governors and the U.S. House to keep out (or, greatly slow down the entry of) the Syrian refugees. President Obama bitterly lashed out against the governors’ and congresspeople’s actions, saying that such policies would represent the loss of precious American values. Thanksgiving Day would seem to be an appropriate time for me to comment.
I must state ahead of time that I side with our president on this issue. We should take the refugees, and yes, this is a deeply ingrained part of our national culture. But it’s not that simple.
As with any controversial issue, what frustrates me most is lack of clear thinking, usually on both sides. The refugee issue is no exception. There is a lot of weak thinking in this debate.
The November 21 edition of The Economist, for instance, has an inset box, labeled Providing Context, in which it compares the results of current opinion polls on the Syrian refugees with a 1939 poll in which most respondents opposed accepting Jewish refugees from Germany. This isn’t “context” at all; there weren’t Jews committing terrorist acts, while now there are Arabs and Muslims of various nationalities who are doing so — a very small number, to be sure, but certainly enough to make the two polls far from comparable.
Other commenters have reasurred us that all those involved in the recent Paris bombings were European citizens, not Syrian refugees. That’s like saying that the Tsarnaev brothers, perpetrators of the Boston Marathon bombings, didn’t come from Syria. Terrorist organizations have found fertile recruiting among Arabs and Muslims all over the world.
The best argument in favor of taking the Syrian refugees, in addition to the point about this being a key part of our culture, is the obvious one: Only a tiny, tiny percentage of immigrants from Arab or Muslim areas become Abdelhamid Abaaouds or Tamerlan Tsarnaevs. We shouldn’t give up our ideals to keep out the many in order to exclude the tiny number of horrific exceptions.
That is my point of view. About a half mile from my home, there is “church row,” with one mainstream Episcopalian church, two Chinese Christian churches (one Hong Kong, one Taiwan), and, starting about a year ago, a Muslim mosque (which replaced the Korean Christian church). I welcome the mosque, and am pleased that they chose my city for its location. There are of course numerous other religious establishments in my city of 67,000, but this is the first one I’ve seen for Islam.
I could continue my theme in the last paragraph at length, but let me turn now to the other side: President Obama, The Economist and so on are refusing to face the larger question — what happens if and when there are more and more Tsarnaev/Abbaoud incidents? There must be a point at which the balance between ideals and security shifts toward the latter. Obama’s absolutist convictions, while certainly sincere, are naive (or perhaps deliberately oversimplified).
Perhaps there are interventions, such as providing job training for disaffected youth, that may reduce the danger of people in such communities finding the terrorist philosophy so attractive. So, there might be middle grounds, but these are just hypothetical for now.
I was rather irritated to see the pundits in the mainstream media expressing shock at the fact that a number of House Democrats voted to stop the Syrian refugees. Do these journalists really think that that vote was irrational, even bigoted?
Similarly, after 9/11, California Senator Dianne Feinstein — a Democrat — stated publicly that “Middle Eastern-looking” people be given extra scrutiny at airports. When I mentioned that a couple of years later to one of my fellow liberals, he refused to believe it. I had to send him the link to the San Francisco Chronicle article in which Feinstein had been quoted before he would believe that Feinstein would say such a thing.
Let’s keep our ideals, but not resort to slogans and sloppy thinking. The world has changed, due not only to technology but also immigration policies, such as the almost borderless situation within Europe. Policies need to be set based on, yes, ideals, but also realistic appraisal of the issues.
My 2 cents’ worth.