On Refugees, Risk, and the Value of Courage

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

In the beginning, there was death, and also facts

Everyone's talking about it - the press, the Presidential candidates, the President, the Governors. Every other post on social media relates to it, with people coming down on both sides of the issue, usually, predictably, along party lines. Some people want to ensure the Syrian refugees are welcomed in the West, and are helped to build a new life. Some people want to keep them out, on the grounds that they may be dangerous.

When the terrorist attacks occurred in Paris and Daesh took responsibility, I decided I needed to know more about this group. Who they were, what they wanted, their philosophy. I quickly expanded my search to include facts about terrorism in America, what the risks are, where the danger lay, and the historical context of refugees in America. It's a complicated subject, and I won't try and regurgitate what I've read. Anyone with an open mind and in Internet connection will easily find the same material I did, and I'm far from an expert on these topics. But I will state some facts that have informed my opinion on this topic.
  1. ISIS (Daesh) is an apocalyptic cult. It is based in 7th Century Islamic law, and its adherents are attempting to bring on the end-times by, among other things, establishing a caliphate in Syria.
  2. Daesh has very definite ideas about who is an apostate when it comes to their medieval belief system. Number one on their list of better-off-deads is people like me, followed closely by moderate Muslims who prefer to live in the 21st Century instead of the 7th. Christians are last on their list, provided said Christians pay a tax called jizya and acknowledge Sharia.
  3. Approximately 23.2% of people in the world identify as Muslim - roughly 1.6 billion people. Daesh's total fighting force is estimated at 20,000 fighters, or approximately .0000125% of the Muslim population.
  4. Many of the refugees from Syria who are seeking refuge here and in Europe are fleeing Daesh. The Caliphate has taken over their neighborhoods, and rather than being hung, or crucified, or being sold into slavery, they ran.
  5. So far, none of the perpetrators of the terrorist attacks in Paris have been identified as refugees. They've all been identified as European nationals.
  6. Since 9/11, nearly twice as many people in the United States have been killed by white supremacists, antigovernment fanatics and other non-Muslim extremists than by radical Muslims.
  7. Drawing a direct line between the United States' military endeavors in the Middle East and the rise of Daesh is a completely supportable thesis.
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My thoughts on the topic of Daesh and the plight of the Syrian refugees can be divided into three areas: Geopolitics, risk, and values.

Geopolitics

When I observe the world stage, and the continuing conflicts between radical Muslims and the West, I can come to only one conclusion: What we're doing isn't working. Bombing the hell out of Afghanistan, toppling Saddam Hussein, leaving without a plan or providing nation building - all of these things have made the situation worse, not better. It's led to minor and major terrorist attacks, the fraying of our alliances, and the continued deterioration of our nation's reputation on the world stage. Our strategy didn't work, and calling for "more of the same" seems the height of stupidity.

I'm not going to try and pretend that I'm in any way qualified to devise a strategic vision for dealing with the Middle East in all its complexities. Smarter people than me have failed for decades, and I don't have the education or the experience to even take a stab at it. But I do believe that any such strategy needs to be driven by a common goal that we can share with the regional stakeholders, and guided not by American arrogance in assuming our way is the only way, but by compassion.

By agreeing to help with the Syrian refugee crisis, Americans are telling moderate Muslims that we stand beside them in their struggle against Daesh. We're saying that we consider Daesh our common enemy, not a "Muslim problem." We're welcoming moderate Muslims into our community, a community built on civilized, egalitarian behavior, and offering them the protection of the greatest country in the world. To deny them refuge because they're Muslim, or only to allow those who pass a religious litmus test is profoundly bigoted, and reinforces the worst stereotypes about America.


Risk

The argument I keep hearing about opening our borders to the Syrian refugees is that the Boston Marathon bombings were carried out by refugees, so therefore we must ban all refugees in order to protect our citizens.

I do not deny that the cretins responsible for the Boston Marathon terrorist attack were Chechen immigrants. Their parents were granted asylum in this country, and that's why they lived here. But they weren't refugees, and they were not connected with any specific terrorist organization. I don't think you can draw a direct line between their immigration status and their decision to do evil.

I don't think Americans have a very good understanding of risk. For example, drowning causes approximately 3,500 deaths in the United States each year. Unintentional deaths from shooting causes approximately 600 deaths in the United States each year. And yet, people are much more cavalier about water safety than they are gun safety, especially as it relates to their children.

Daily, we drive our kids around in automobiles, even though 1 of every 4 unintentional injury deaths among children younger than 13 is caused by auto accidents. And yet, we accept this risk without thought, while collectively losing our shit over the possibility that a Daesh fighter might sneak in with the Syrian refugees.

I am in no way suggesting that the risk is "zero," nor do I think intelligence and law enforcement organizations should be lackadaisical in their approach to these issues. Due diligence is required when accepting any refugee population into our boarders. But a realistic evaluation of the risk/reward is required, and decisions should be made based on facts, not logical fallacies and emotion. And the fact of the matter is that I have more to fear from the white, Christian, secessionist whackadoos than I do from any moderate Muslim refugee.


Values

I served this country in uniform for 17 years. I don't think that service gives me more moral authority to speak to the values of the United States, but it did give me an impetus to analyze why I thought America was worth that service, and why I promised to give that last, final measure if required.

I served because I believe in America. I believe we're a nation of people who can accomplish anything. I believe we're a nation that values helping others, that values protecting the weak and opposing the oppressor. I believe we're a nation who wants to be seen by the world as a moral leader, who wants to retain our position as a Superpower and shape the world to our liking. And I believe we're a generous people.

So when I see that a growing number of states are "refusing" to take in Syrian refugees, I am deeply, profoundly ashamed. When I see that my fellow Coloradans are signing petitions to encourage Governor Hickenlooper to reverse his position on taking in the people who are fleeing Daesh, I am horribly embarrassed for them, and I judge their courage and compassion wanting.

We are Americans. How can we refuse these people in their hour of greatest need, when they are fleeing civilization's enemy, an enemy we helped create? Will we ask our all-volunteer Armed Forces to go into harm's way once again, to defeat our enemy on their own ground, while we ourselves cower in our corners, afraid to help those who have suffered the most at the hands of this scourge?

Will we learn nothing from history, where we refused entry to our nation to millions of Jews who were then exterminated by madmen? Will we instead intern Muslims, as we did Japanese-Americans, to our everlasting shame?

These people, the ones who want to close our doors in the face of the wanting, they're afraid, and I understand their fear. They see what happened in Paris, in Boston, and they're afraid. They see their own loved ones in the faces of the dead and injured, and they want protection. For them, forsaking our values in the name of safety is the right course.

And yet, such forsaking is exactly what Daesh wants from us. They want to sow discord among civilized nations, and turn us one against the other. They want us to turn away from our fellows, and invade their territory, thus hastening the end times.

We are Americans. We have a history of courage, and conviction. We see ourselves as the land of the free and the home of the brave. We must embrace our courage now, and stand up to the bullies who would have their own way on pain of death. We must welcome those who have fled from our enemy, and provide succor, and protect them with our might. We must accept the risk of doing the right thing, as a nation, instead of allowing our Armed Forces to always act as our proxy in this regard. We must not give in to fear. Courage is the act of doing what's right, in the face of fear.

I am afraid. But I will muster my courage, and I will welcome my Syrian neighbors. Because I am American.

1 comments:

Unknown said...

Janiece, I knew I could count on you for a smart, compassionate analysis.