November 18, 2015 by Alex Johannigman
The news of the acts of terrorism in Paris last week has shaken the world, casting fear into the hearts of many and making us wonder “Will we be next?”
Fear is a powerful motivator. We become more cautious. We begin to suspect those around us. We worry about what may happen to our families and friends if evil is allowed to take hold near our homes.
It’s also a powerful tool. Political leaders here in the US and elsewhere have used to it to support their proposals to cease allowing refugees into their states and countries. The whole motivation of acts of terrorism is to strike fear and panic into the hearts of their enemies, and it seems like the terrorists in Paris last week have certainly succeeded in their goal.
But the political opportunism of fear is the temptation of lesser leaders. “Be not afraid” is the counsel of great ones. Leaders like Pope John Paul II. Leaders like Jesus of Nazareth, who also had a lot of things to say about welcoming the stranger, even going so far as to say that we should treat a foreigner seeking help as we would treat the Son of God himself when he stated “Truly I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of my brethren you did it to me.” (Matt 25:40) His followers, following the tradition of a group of refugees fleeing from slavery in the land of Egypt, hold to the teachings of a book that states over and over and over that we have a moral obligation to be hospitable and to welcome the foreigner in our midst.
This is why I am so bothered to see so many people who share my faith in Jesus Christ say that this is simply an optional teaching. It seems like we may be on our way to repeating history, a very dark part of our history when we turned away boats of German Jewish refugees so they could return to continental Europe to be slaughtered, and a time when we put Japanese-Americans in camps and confiscated their possessions out of fear for what they may do.
But some of those who hold this belief are friends that I have a good amount of respect for, so I’m going to look at some of the arguments that I’ve seen for why we should turn Syrian refugees away from our borders.
- We should be helping the many homeless and jobless people of the US, especially veterans, before stretching ourselves too thin and using valuable resources to help refugees. Yes, we absolutely should help the jobless, the homeless, the veterans. But why does that mean we should limit our acts of mercy to those groups? The problem of homelessness is not going away any time soon, so it’s ridiculous to focus exclusively on that until it is solved. It would be like saying you have no time to volunteer at a food pantry because you have a sick parent or children that you are caring for at home. We can seek solutions to these many injustices in parallel to each other.
- Terrorists could get into our country by disguising themselves as refugees. Yes, they absolutely could. They could also get a student visa, a tourism visa, or use a valid or fake passport. Let’s not forget that the 9/11 attacks were committed by people using student and tourism visas. Yes, it’s true that one of the attackers came into Europe through Greece posing as a refugee, but he also used a fake passport which could have helped him get into Europe through a number of other avenues. He also was never approved for refugee status by any government agency in Europe in the first place, making his status more similar to a tourist passing through a foreign country, something a majority of us have done at some point in time (though probably without a fake passport).
- We need to keep ourselves and our families safe. I agree. This is a very valid concern. But the problem with this is that safety from evil is impossible to actually achieve. There’s always a chance that a homeless man could have a knife ready to stab me when I offer him a sandwich and a bottle of water, but it doesn’t mean I should stop feeding the homeless. Acts of violence are committed by people born in the USA every day. A majority of acts of mass violence in our country were committed by people who live here. Despite messages to the contrary, plots to commit acts of terrorism by refugees are virtually non-existent. Of the 784,000 refugees who have entered the US since September 11, 2001, only 3 were found guilty of any kind of involvement with terrorist groups. It’s also worth noting that due to the strength of our law enforcement, none of them were successful in their plots. It’s such an astronomically small number that you’d be equally justified trying to deport all 26-year old white men because the shooting at the Oregon community college last month was done by a 26-year old white man. As a 26-year old white man myself, may I humbly request that you please don’t suggest this. The truth is, most terrorism both in the US and in Europe comes not from people sneaking across the border but from within, at the hands of people who have been marginalized, treated poorly, and put into a difficult situation who are trying to find a purpose or means of escape from their conditions.
- Taking care of Americans and keeping them safe should take precedent over caring for potentially dangerous foreigners. Both Americans and Christians (so certainly those who identify as both) affirm that “all men (people) are created equal.” This applies to all people regardless of their skin color, country of origin, or religion. Anytime we say that someone isn’t welcome because they aren’t American, because they aren’t white, or because they aren’t Christian, we aren’t upholding that belief that all people are made in the image and likeness of God. Don’t forget that we are a country of immigrants and refugees.
Even if we ignore the Christian duty to care for those in greatest need, turning away refugees also just doesn’t make much sense politically in the fight against ISIS. In case you couldn’t already tell, these terrorists are followers of Satan, not Allah. And they have taken to employing many of their master’s strategies such as spreading fear and turning good people against themselves.
It’s clear based on comments made by many of our politicians that their fear-mongering is working. ISIS’s next greatest hope is that we would begin to isolate the Muslims among us by treating them as second-rate citizens. If we turn our back on the refugees seeking help and simultaneously begin to treat religious minorities in our countries even worse than we already are, we’ll be supporting ISIS. They want us to be hostile to Muslims because it will make us appear to be the enemy, and ISIS to be their friend. They want those who are fleeing the Middle East to choose a side, and they don’t want that side to be that of the westerners.
Imagine for a minute that you are a Muslim refugee fleeing Syria. You fear the violence that has seized your country and worry that you or your children may be the next victims. You are fortunate enough to find passage to the other side of the world, but when you get to the United States you are met with fear, hostility, and hatred and are forced to return home. It turns out that ISIS was right. The West really does hate Muslims. The Christians and Jews of Europe and the United States are as bad as they said. Maybe joining them in their war against the impious westerners is actually a noble cause after all.
What if instead you were met with love and hospitality? What a great witness not just to the Christian faith but also to western civilization at large! It would certainly change your perception of Christianity, and you may even begin to consider the teachings of Jesus for yourself. You’d discover the teachings of a man who fought injustice and violence. A man who commanded his followers to always show love and hospitality to those in need. A man who said that you should treat the least among you just as you would treat the creator of the universe himself.
Perhaps we’re being given an opportunity not just to help people with their material needs, but to help them spiritually in a way that could have eternal consequences. Are we really willing to turn that opportunity down out of fear of those who aren’t just like us?