What do you do with this many refugees?
Anyone who is even remotely aware of global events, of course knows about the refugee crisis in Syria. More displaced people pouring out of their homeland than at any time since WWII.
The world has an opportunity to respond. But it’s going to cost a lot. And so, here you and I are, far removed from the problem, while our government and our churches try to figure out what we are going to do about this.
It has been interesting, and a little disheartening to listen in on the discussions happening, from radio microphones to pulpits to people I have encountered, about what we as a society should be doing in the midst of a crisis like this. I have heard a lot of points that are made to try to deflect the need to respond.
You know, the way we respond to people in need says a lot about our hearts.
The reasons that keep us from responding might say even more.
These are some of my favorite ways Americans are deflecting the need to respond to Syrian refugees.
Why Aren’t They Staying to Fight?
It does seem to be true that at least half of the refugees that are pouring out of Syria are “fighting age” men. That doesn’t sit well with many people. I’ll admit, it doesn’t sit well with me.
It doesn’t sit well with me, because I would like to think that if ISIS were in my country, I would fight and die under some sense of “honor.”
But the fact is, we Americans are born into a superpower, a superpower that is almost constantly at war somewhere in the world. And yet, despite all of this war, we are also a society that outsources our fighting. We all have a choice about whether we are going to fight or not.
I have never been put in a “do or die” situation where I had to defend my family or property from invaders. Maybe there isn’t enough of Syria that is worth defending anymore. Either way, it’s not a legitimate reason for us to not respond.
We Have Enough Immigrants Already
I hope everyone is up on their American history, because immigration is not a new issue in American life.
For being a nation of immigrants, we sure like to keep other people out.
Every single time there has been a wave of fresh immigrants, be they Chinese, Japanese, Irish, Latino or other, those people have met resistance from those of us who already have our corner staked out.
You know something? We have plenty.
If the richest society in the world can’t take care of 10,000 people, then I am convinced we can no longer call ourselves a moral people.
In fact, I would say we need immigrants. We need immigrants coming in and assimilating in order to maintain our way of life. (True, it does no good for immigrants to come here and do nothing to become “American.”) But the fact is, America has always had growth spurts through immigration and the immigrants always faced extreme prejudice and the attitude that they were stealing from those who were already here.
The argument then goes that there might be some ISIS affiliates sneaking in with that 10,000, and if we cannot properly “vet” these people, then we shouldn’t let them in. This is, of course, ridiculous, first for the reason that it is impossible to “vet” refugees by American standards, and second because ISIS is already here. Minneapolis is already seeing a problem with extremism from their large Somali population. So the problem is already here.
The argument that we have enough people already just doesn’t hold up in light of the gospel. It is another attitude that serves to protect ourselves, our power, our security, at the expense of people who have nothing.
You Know, This Isn’t Really Solving the Problem
Okay, so helping millions of refugees move out of harm’s way is not going to solve the root of the problem. The root of the problem is perpetual and shocking violence.
Of course, this is true, but are we really going to be so brutally pragmatic when it comes to human lives?
Yes, moving people out of Syria is not going to help anything. It’s going to be impractical. It’s going to be expensive and costly. And it will still take an unimaginable amount of effort to solve the problem.
But you know what?
There are real lives, right now, that are in danger. There are men, women and children who are terrified for their lives. I don’t mean to be naive or pour my bleeding heart all over the place. That’s just a fact.
And any resistance we put up to helping only illustrates our uniquely American privilege to choose whether or not we engage with the world’s problems.
Our culture was born in a soup of isolationism, and it still saturates us in many ways. There has never been a “popular” American war, a time when the majority of people believed we should intervene in Europe or Asia.
It is only when Americans were confronted with the perception that American lives were in danger did we go to work and join the Allies in WWI or II. If not for American lives being at stake, we have the choice about whether we are going to acknowledge a holocaust.
But the gospel is not so pragmatic and it certainly isn’t isolationist.
It doesn’t count the cost when human lives are at stake.
It doesn’t ask if anyone is able to fight.