At the same time, many of the same folks who want to assure Christ's place in Christmas are turning their backs on a humanitarian crisis of an overwhelming proportion. More than half of the governors in the U.S. have declared that they would close their boarders to the resettling of Syrian refugees within their states. This is not something they actually have the authority to do, of course, and it is most certainly not "what Jesus would do." Perhaps they've misplaced their WWJD bracelets.
I find it important to remind myself -- and I do need reminding ... a lot -- that people with whom I disagree are, for the most part at least, no doubt good people who see the world differently than I do. The conservative and liberal worldview are fundamentally different, and the beliefs and actions that flow from these worldviews are of necessity different as well. Just because I disagree with someone, just because I cannot understand their position, does not mean that they are stupid, or misguided, or evil. They may be stupid, misguided and evil, of course, but if I look at what they say and do through my lens I am in no position to judge. I have to try to remind myself to try my best to look through their lens to see if what they're saying and doing makes sense within the context of their own worldview. Hence, the need to remind myself of the need to at least try to comprehend before I condemn.
When I look at the reactions to recent terrorist attacks in Bomako, Paris, Sharm el Sheikh, and elsewhere around the world, I see inconsistencies. For instance:
It's been said that these extremist Muslims hate the United States because they hate our freedoms and our way of life. And yet the responses -- closing our boarders, refusing to give refuge to people in need, increasing surveilance of our citizenry, closing mosques and putting people on watch lists -- all seem to have the effect of limiting our freedoms and contradicting the fundamental principles of "our way of life." It is, of course, conceivable that such actions will make a miniscule difference in our safety -- and I don't see how it could with any seriousness be argued that any of these, or even all of these, measures would make much of a difference at all -- yet if they cause us to effectively reject the very thing the terrorists are accused of denouncing, haven't we essentiall declared their victory? "The terrorists want to destroy our way of life," it's said, and yet our response is to do it for them. An inconsistency.
These Mulsim terrorists hates us because we're Christian, is another assertion. Let us set aside for a moment that the United States is not now nor has it ever been a Christian nation. (No less than George Washington explicitly said so!) Still, let's let that stand. What are Chrisian values? Love, even to loving those who hate us. Serving the needs of "the least of these," those who are most in need of care and comfort. If Islam is, as is declared, a religion that teaches intolerance and hate, while Christianity teaches acceptance and love, why is it that the response of so-called Christians -- the same ones who want to ensure that Christ stays in Christmas -- is more like the marginal and extremist expressions of Islam than mainstream Christianity? Again ... if they hate us because of our Christianity, why don't we respond as Christians?
And then there are just facts. Stephen Colbert coined the term "truthiness" for that brand of thinking that prefers things that sound like truth, that confirm our own beliefs, to actual verifiable facts, but here are some nonetheless. (And I thank a member of the congregation I serve for this comparison of fact to fiction)
1) "The attackers in Paris were refugees from Syria."
The attackers were French and Belgian nationals, none of them were born in Syria or Iraq or any Daesh (The Arabic abbreviate name for ISIS, which they reportedly hate being called) occupied countries. One of the attackers was found with a Syrian passport which authorities have determined to be a fake, according to a report by the BBC.
2) "The vetting process for refugees is too easy."
The process for vetting refugees is quite thorough, and takes around 18-24 months to complete. For Syrians, the application process can take longer due to security concerns. A terrorist would have a much easier time applying for a tourist or business Visa. Even still, Visa requirements are waived for up to a 90 day stay in the U.S., if originating from a country such as France or Belgium, from where the attackers had passports.
Before a refugee even faces U.S. vetting, he or she must first clear an eligibility hurdle. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees — or occasionally a U.S. embassy or another NGO (non-governmental organization) — determines which refugees (about 1 percent) should be resettled through its own process, which can take four to 10 months.
Once a case is referred from the UNHCR to the United States, a refugee undergoes a security clearance check that could take several rounds, an in-person interview, approval by the Department of Homeland Security, medical screening, a match with a sponsor agency, "cultural orientation" classes, and one final security clearance. This all happens before a refugee ever steps foot onto American soil.
There is a concern for how much background information can be collected on an applicant, since it is very difficult to get background records from war torn Syria. This could potentially create a security concern, however as noted, there are much easier and quicker ways for a terrorist to enter the country and do harm.
3) "The Syrian refugees are mostly military age males."
The Syrian refugees, according to the UNHCR, are 50.5% female. Children 11 years and younger account for 38.5%. Conservative sites have been quoting misleading numbers about the percentage of males, putting them usually around 72%. However this accounts for refugees from 9 other countries as well, and only for Mediterranean Sea crossings, half of which are Syrian. "Single men of combat age" represent only 2% of those admitted to the U.S.
4) "The Tsarnaev brothers who bombed the Boston Marathon were refugees"
The Tsarnaevs were children of asylees whose parents did not go through the refugee processing system. Asylees and Refugees have similar but separate legal distinctions according to the U.S. government. A Washington Post headline did once say that they were refugees, which according to the legal definition is incorrect and misleading. Refugees are selected by the UN, an embassy, or by an NGO, while asylees are people who have already arrived in the U.S. and want to apply for asylum status.
The Tsarnaevs came here as young men and were radicalized in the U.S.A., as opposed to being terrorists who came to the country disguised as refugees.
5) "We are taking in too many of them already"
There are 4 million refugees displaced from the Syrian conflict that are registered by the UNHCR. The president has vowed to take in 10,000 of them this year.
6) "Muslim countries don't even take in any refugees, why should we? They should help their own people."
Turkey (1.9 million), Lebanon (1.1 million), Jordan (629k), Saudi Arabia (100-500k), Iraq (247k), and the United Arab Emirates (242k) are the top countries with hosted Syrian refugee populations. The next closest Western country is Germany, with around 200,000 registered refugees. The U.S. has so far taken in 2,200.
The Gulf States such as Saudi Arabia are not perfect in their treatment however, since they have limited to no means of obtaining citizenship, permanent re-settlement, or work visas for refugees. Many seek refuge in Europe and the US as a result.
7) "Most terrorist attacks on U.S. soil have been committed by Muslims"
Since Sept. 11, 2001, nearly twice as many people have been killed by white supremacists, anti-government fanatics and other non-Muslim extremists than by radical Muslims.
- Amid Syrian Refugee Crisis, Asylum Seekers In US Face Much Different Process Than In Europe (International Business Times)
- Tsarnaev brothers’ homeland was war-torn Chechnya (The Washington Post)
- Stretching Facts on Syrian Refugees (FactCheck.org)
- Refugees of the Syrian Civil War (Wikipedia)
- Visa Waiver Program (US State Department)
Even when I try to understand the thinking of those who are saying such things, even when I try to look at the world through the lens they do, I still can't fathom who their responses make sense. Perhaps I'm missing something, but I feel certain that they are.