Pictured above is the latest debacle in this saga of tragic debate. The mayor of Roanoke has come under heavy fire for penning a letter explaining that his city would not accept Syrian refugees. Well, that’s not true. The mayor of Roanoke actually came under fire for his unfortunate choice of historical allusion, that being a seeming condoning of the imprisonment of Japanese Americans during World War II. Yes, an awful period of our country’s history and an awful choice of historical reference. But that’s all the attention I’m going to give the mayor’s gaffe here. Because it comes back to this – he is under fire for his gaffe much more so than he is for the actual purpose of penning the letter, and that purpose was to turn away all the Syrian refugees that had high hopes of settling in the prominent American boomtown that is Roanoke, Virginia. A joke. But this is no joking matter. Some legislators are up in arms over President Obama’s intentions to admit several thousand Syrian refugees to the country. By the day I see more Facebook posts on my newsfeed with links to joining groups lobbying legislators to turn away Syrian refugees. European politics are shifting to the right, toward an anti-immigration fervor to keep these refugees out. The people are speaking.
Terrifying! "By land?" Then it must be bad!
Now, I think it is very important when assessing a polarizing issue to examine both sides of the argument, even if one has already chosen a side. So I’ll acknowledge right now that I understand the concerns. Of course there is the economy. Americans are already desperately seeking jobs, the very reason so many are anti-immigration, this actually meaning anti-letting-Mexicans-in. There are of course the concerns of having to reactivate our melting pot, as we haven’t actually done so since the 1920s. It hasn’t been turned on in nearly a century and so it’s hard to say if it will work. The main reason, however, is the concern that by opening our doors to a flow of Syrians we will unwittingly allow in the radical terrorists that behead civilians and massacre the streets of Paris, the ones that haunt our worst nightmares in these times. This is understandable. It is a legitimate concern. This breed of extremists is not one that is willing to listen to an argument and negotiate terms of an uneasy agreement. They have a cause and that cause involves killing you and me. These are not people we want to open our doors to, to put it lightly. And how can we be sure that if the doors are open any screen will be effective enough to keep the bad ones out? What guarantee can we have? And the harsh answer to that, quite frankly, is none. There is no guarantee.
This issue is supremely complex. There is nothing black and white about it; it is gray to the core. However, I’m not writing a book; this is, after all, just a blog post. But please don’t call it a blog. That’s beside the point; the point is I am not denying the legitimacy of the concerns over accepting Syrian refugees, but I am going to argue in favor of accepting them, and I am going to limit my argument to two overarching reasons.
The first of these reasons is simple: morality. If you’ll allow me to remove my gloves of decency for a moment… “The Syrian Refugee Crisis.” That is the title of this historical event. Fuck that. Fuck a title. We’re removed from what it is, and it is this: millions of people are fleeing a country where they have to be legitimately concerned about having bombs dropped on their heads and their children shot to death in the streets at any time. Listen to that. It’s not an exaggeration to appeal to a reader’s emotions; it’s a fucking fact. The government is killing its people. The opposition to the government is killing its people. Several terrorist organizations are killing the people. The US-led coalition is dropping bombs that kill the people. Russia is dropping bombs that kill the people. Society is in shambles. I am not writing to choose a side in a war right now. My point is this: I think we on the other side of a big ocean often find it easy to dehumanize the people of Syria, and I don’t mean that from a haughty imagined “higher moral ground” perspective, I mean this: because they are from an area of the world very far away with a very different culture and history, they are not us. And if they are not us and our society and our culture, then they are different in some almost subconscious way; they don’t live like us and so they, quite simply, are just not of the same fabric.
Let me say right now that this is absolute bullshit. Of course cultures and language vary, but across the world, as vastly different as we all are, we are much more the same. Syria was an advanced nation prior to the outbreak of civil war in 2011. People used social media. Young people went to University. Parents built careers and dreamed of nothing more than raising their children well. Young teenage couples went on dates at coffee shops and had seventeen-year-old sex at the girl’s house while her parents were at work and flipped a shit when her dad got home early and Timmy had to hold his breath while he hid in the closet before Sara’s dad finally got in the shower and she could slip him out the backdoor. Oh wait, sorry, I meant before Hedija could slip Adham out the backdoor. Do the fucking names change their humanity? This is the point that I am trying to make. These are people just like us who have had the horrible misfortune of having the country they live in go to absolute shit. That is all. They aren’t freeloaders or degenerates of some sort; they are average people who are fleeing thousands of miles to utter uncertainty because that uncertainty is better than the certainty of staying in their homes. Quite simply, they do not want to die, or live out their days in a horrific warzone – they want to be somewhere where they have a chance to live decently and aspire to their dreams.
This man left Syria for Jordan just because he thought he needed
medical treatment for getting a little hit in the face by a rocket launcher.
Then in Jordan they threw him a casual, "You need heart sugery dawg."
WHAT REASON COULD THIS MAN HAVE FOR WANTING TO LIVE
IN THE UNITED STATES?
That is the first part of my argument. Yes, concerns about terrorists slipping in amongst them are legitimate, particularly in the context of worries around the most recent Paris attack. And yes, concerns about how our economy and institutions will deal with, quite simply, the numbers of people are legitimate. But how the fuck do these concerns outweigh the lives of literally millions of people? How does the fear of an attack one day maybe happening on our soil outweigh the immediate attacks that they face? And so the sad irony is that our horror of potentially allowing in a few terrorists amongst thousands and thousands of saved innocent lives is the very real everyday horror that these people have been facing and the exact reason they have left their country for ours. Yes, our concerns are legitimate, but they do not trump the basic human obligation to help our fellow human beings when we can. And make no qualms about it: we can.
Now, part two. I understand that morals are subjective, so I offer something more practical if you will, something that will perhaps sound more controversial and stoke the general ire. I’d say sorry if I meant it but I don’t, so I won’t. I find this argument necessary to attempt to reach different mindsets. People don’t like to be marginalized and mistreated. That’s human nature. And if you marginalize and mistreat people for an extended period of time, they are not going to want to be your friends. They are probably not going to like you. Regardless of one’s stance on allowing refugees in, most people agree that Daesh is horrendous and is going to have to be done away with one way or another. Most people can agree that peace must come to Syria, one way or another, and that it would really be great if greater peace could come to more of the Middle East. I’m not going to discuss the feasibility or strategy of any of those issues here; the idea itself is the point in this case. So here is an over-generalization, but it contains truth: would you like to win millions and millions of hearts and minds across the Middle East, and even the globe, or would you rather further marginalize and isolate them, ultimately making them at best not your friends and at worst your enemies?
This famous scene was actually staged for a variety of strategic reasons not least of which
was to satiate the ever hungry American mass media, but hey! You get the idea! We won!
If you’ll humor me and put aside the strong feelings that that may have stirred up for just a few moments, I’ll continue: how often in history has mistreating a massive group of people paid off in the long run? How often in history has acting rashly out of fear paid off in the long run? I’m not talking morals now; I’m talking coolly calculated strategy. Taking the risk and opening our doors now will benefit us in the long run. Our enemies who say we are selfish and hypocritical will find a harder time legitimately making their arguments. Our allies who point their fingers at us for not doing enough will find a finger pointing back at them to do more. The American Dream will find a revitalized meaning amongst a new generation and disillusioned cultures across the world. This country will ultimately benefit from taking the risk now. So I present it in that light. Over-simplified statements in some cases? Of course. But it comes down to this for argument number two: it’s a simple cost-benefit analysis, and when one thinks beyond the immediate costs, the long-term benefits tip the scale dramatically. There are real risks and it’s not going to be easy to let thousands of refugees in, but our country will ultimately stand in a stronger and quite simply better position for doing it.
I’ll conclude by again acknowledging that this is a supremely complicated issue. My writing has employed generalizations and has certainly not taken on every facet of the thing. It is simply a collection of my thoughts, and I hope that by articulating them I may be able to in some slight way stir the minds and souls of my fellow Americans and people around the globe. We don’t all agree, but we all need to think, and to listen to each other’s differing opinions, and then act, in one way or another. Because no matter where you stand, there are millions of human beings living in terror and painful uncertainty as a result of this thing at this very moment. That’s a fact, and so sweet easy inaction is not okay no matter what the circumstances.
*images above sources: bbc for most of that shit and then al jazeera for the screen grab, also reuters for sum dank fotos. look at me being mature and citing my sources.