The “Islamic State” (IS) is very close to beating my country into submission, and I'm ashamed.
We're a country of immigrants. We take pride in our “melting pot” where traditionally a poor, young immigrant could use diligence, imagination, and a bit of luck to succeed brilliantly. Even our oldest families came here within the past four or five centuries. Our movies often feature some statue in New York of a lady with a lantern, saying “Give me your tired, your poor.”
We are a country of ideals and equality. Our father or grandfathers fought heroically against a grossly misguided country that made an ethnic group wear yellow stars. My father would be appalled to hear some pompous real estate guy suggesting we should make an ethnic group wear some sort of badges.
I do not agree with President Obama's mocking of anti-refugee folks as being afraid of women and children. I doubt his program would keep all adult male Syrians out, breaking up families. If I were IS, I would try to slip a few terrorists in among refugees, despite our careful vetting – or recruit terrorists from among young refugees. I can't say there is absolutely no danger in admitting Syrian refugees, even though, so far, refugees have been well vetted.
But I'm damned if I'll kneel to IS. IS can never subjugate us, but it seems dangerously close to scaring us into abandoning our values. Are we a nation of cowards?
Further, we have a special responsibility.
“You break it, you bought it!” reads the sign in a china shop. We broke Iraq, for no good reason, and predictably generated a recruiting boom for terrorist groups. If you supported Bush II in invading Iraq, you bear some responsibility. (So do I, despite my futile opposition. It's my country.) Yes, it's inconvenient to pay up. But pay the cashier on the way out.
Here in Las Cruces, many of the loudest protesters against taking in Syrian refugees are Christians. Clearly my anti-refugee friends aren't honestly asking themselves “What would Jesus do?” If they can muster some sketchy argument that Jesus would favor keeping the refugees homeless or in camps, I'd like to hear it.
The Christian course would be to admit refugees. Freely. Christians who can't support that course shouldn't try to rationalize being too frightened or too selfish to live up to their belief system. That happens to all of us, more often than we like to admit. It's part of being human. Nor should we be ashamed of fear: there's no courage without it. Courage is transcending fear – not fear's absence.
Some folks say their Christian beliefs mandate rescuing women from choosing abortion, or denying gay couples the right to marry. Those same Christian beliefs would mandate standing up for the admission of refugees. Jesus never said, “Follow me except when it gets hard.”
Jesus had courage. In a far less democratic society, he spoke truth to power, knowing that bad things could and would happen to him. But he knew fear would cause even Peter to deny him.
Jesus also said that turning away a needy person was like turning him away. Christians should be among the loudest voices for admitting refugees.
So should U.S. Citizens who understand what made this country great. Folks whose patriotism means just waving a flag on Veterans' Day, without honoring our ideals, should keep their flags in a drawer and stay home next November 11.
I share people's concerns. I don't relish placing another burden on our dicey economy or our health system. But it's the right thing to do.
[The above column appeared in the Las Cruces Sun-News this morning, Sunday, 29 November. Two days after Thanksgiving and weeks before Christmas, both of which holidays have generated their share of ironic comments on the opposition to accepting some Syrian refugees.]
[On one side my family was here at least by 1648. Walter Powers, then 14. Ancestors fought in the Revolutionary and Civil Wars, and farmed land in New England for generations. On the other side, my family arrived in the late 19th Century, I think. Jews from Lithuania, mostly. I'm proud of all these folks. I'm grateful they were able to come here. So, yeah, I recognize the advantages of being born here -- and the temptation to slam the doors shut.]
[But this is a tough question, for many. (Republican Congresspeople, whose prime imperative has been to oppose Obama even when he's articulating their own ideas, don't matter; but everyday people do.) Several times this week when someone commented that they appreciated and agreed with last Sunday's column on County Manager Julia Brown, I asked the speaker about this refugee issue. (I'd already drafted the column.) It was interesting. Few found it an easy question. One, who looked for a moment as if he might speak of the problems, said instead, "Well, given who my uncle was, . . ." and told me his uncle was Simon Wiesenthal, the Nazi Hunter, and that Wiesenthal (down to 90 pounds when liberated) had been allowed to come here right after he was rescued from Mauthausen concentration camp. A friend in the construction business noted that we'd all come here from somewhere, but now the shoe was on the other foot, and he didn't think that with all the crime and terrorism there already is in our world we could take the risk of accepting these refugees. But he wasn't comfortable saying that.]
[I do think "Christians" who invoke Christ as an excuse for hating gays or protesting women's right to choose how they'll deal with a pregnancy ought to stop doing that if they don't dare take the obviously Christian position on the refugee problem. I'm sure someone will stitch together some flimsy rationalization, maybe that Christ (who said to render unto God what is God's and to Caesar what is Caesar's) would tell us to treat this as a secular political decision. But come on, folks!]
[Too, Cuban refugees, two of whom are running for President, ought to reflect on the fact that although folks from other Latin American nations had problems immigrating, and although when Castro allowed Cuban refugees to flee here our leaders shouted that he was sending us the criminals and idiots, rather like the current refrain about Syrian refugees being terrorists, Cubans were let in without the usual care because of our nation's political position on Cuba.]
Many Jewish groups have stepped up to support admission of refugees