Syrian Refugee Crisis: Where is the Humanity?

In the past week, I’ve watched in horror and bitter disappointment as governors from the two states I call home, New Jersey and Massachusetts, proclaimed that they will not accept Syrian refugees.

Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey became a leading voice for the opposition to the federal government’s plan for Syrian refugee resettlement, even calling for refugees who are orphans younger than five years old to be barred from entering the U.S.[1] Governor Charlie Baker of Massachusetts was less adamant than Christie in his refusal, but Baker’s comments that he was “not interested” in accepting Syrian refugees “right now” sparked a protest of about 500 people at the Massachusetts State House on November 20th.[2] Christie and Baker are two of 31 governors, only one of whom is a Democrat, to say that they will not accept Syrian refugees in their states.[3] On November 20th, 27 of those Republican governors drafted a letter to President Barack Obama demanding the suspension of the federal government’s Syrian refugee resettlement program. Baker did not participate in this letter.[4]

On Friday, November 13th, when Islamist extremists inflicted unfathomable attacks of terror upon the city of Paris, many Americans desperately questioned: Where is their humanity? How could this happen? With the rejection of refugees by 31 U.S. governors, I am sorry to say that I am again asking the same teary-eyed questions: Where is their humanity? How could this happen?

 

Resettling refugees is a power vested to the federal, not state government, so it’s unclear what effects these proclamations and executive orders by governors will actually have, if any. It’s especially alarming, however, because Christie is a presidential hopeful, and he’s not the only one — former Governor Jeb Bush and Senator Ted Cruz also delivered muddled, unintelligent, and Islamophobic statements on the refugee crisis.

 

Bush, for one, said that American aid should focus on “Christians that are being slaughtered.”[5] Bush went on to say, “if you’re a Christian increasingly in Lebanon, or Iraq or Syria, you’re gonna be beheaded.” This message, New York Times reporter Anne Barnard wrote, was “news to Lebanon’s Christians, who hold significant political power.”[6] Obama scorned these remarks and others like it, saying, “We don’t have religious tests to our compassion.”[7]

Cruz, however, was no better than Bush. Cruz said that Muslims should be screened out, but that Christians should be let into America because “there is no meaningful risk of Christians committing acts of terror.”[8] This statement, in addition to being frighteningly Islamophobic, is blatantly incorrect. The Klu Klux Klan is the one of the worst terrorist groups in American history. The KKK is responsible for the murders of thousands of blacks, Jews, immigrants, gays and Catholics–all in the name of Christianity–and the hate group today still boasts a membership of 5,000 to 8,000 American people.[9] In addition, the 1995 Oklahoma City Bomber Timothy McVeigh, who killed 168 people and wounded 648, and the 2015 Charleston Church shooter Dylann Roof, who killed nine people, were both Christians.[10]

Now, I would never imply that Christianity in any way encouraged these terrorists, just as I would never say that Islam drives people to terrorism. It is the perversion of these religions that leads people to commit their heinous misdeeds. It’s ridiculous to assume that Islam promotes terrorism; it’s the world’s second biggest religion. There are 1.57 billion people in the world who practice it, most of whom do so peacefully.[11]

There’s no doubt that the terrorist attacks in Paris and Beirut (a city in Lebanon that has not received as much global attention and mourning) were horrifying and tragic. At least 130 lives were lost in the Paris attack and 43 lives were lost in the Beirut attack.[12]

Since the civil war in Syria broke out four years ago, 200,000 innocent men, women and children have been killed.[13] That’s an average of 148 people a day. Syria endures attacks even more deadly and more devastating than Paris or Beirut practically every single day.

Syrians endure not only fear of terrorists inflicting suffering upon their country, but also fear of their own government’s corrupt and violent military led by President Bashar al-Assad. This nonstop, paralyzing fear makes it impossible to live in peace in Syria. This fear is why Syrians are willing to pay large sums to smugglers to crowd onto a plastic boat and embark upon a perilous voyage across the Mediterranean Sea, even though it is likely that they will drown. This fear is what causes parents to send off their youngest sons and daughters on these voyages alone, even though it’s likely that they will be sexually abused by smugglers.[14]

The refugees fleeing their war-torn country are human beings that deserve the right to live without fear. Although all the attackers in Paris were identified as European nationals and the Syrian passport found near the dead body of a terrorist in Paris was deemed fake, critics point to the theory that the terrorists entered Europe through the “migrant route” in Greece to oppose aiding Syrian refugees.[15] Comparing the Syrian refugee resettlements in Europe to the U.S., however, is not even a logical comparison. Unlike the massive influx that European countries are seeing, Syrian refugees are not flooding into the U.S. The process of applying for refugee status in the United States is actually quite complicated. It takes an average of two years for refugees to enter the U.S., and they must pass a series of rigorous security tests. These tests include clearance by the Department of Homeland Security, a medical check, a name check, and ten other security clearances.[16]

The American refugee security screenings are incredibly accurate. Of the 785,000 refugees admitted to the U.S. since 9/11, only three have been arrested for terrorism-related charges.[17] So far this year, 1,809 Syrians have been resettled in the U.S., and most of these refugees applied before the war broke out four years ago.[18] As New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof pointed out, if terrorists want to get into America, there are much easier avenues than the strict refugee screening process. They could apply for a student visa to study at an American university or send their European members to travel to the U.S. as tourists, which doesn’t require a visa. Kristof asked, “Hey, governors, are you going to keep out foreign university students?…Governors, are you planning to ban foreign tourists too?”[19]

Republican congresspeople are outraged that Obama is proceeding with his plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees by 2016.[20] In reality, this is an abysmal, embarrassingly low goal. In comparison, Germany and Canada have accepted 38,500 and 36,300 Syrian refugees, respectively.[21] Meanwhile, France, the country that was most recently attacked by Islamist terrorists, has committed to accepting 30,000 Syrian refugees over the next two years.[22]

The backlash to the Syrian refugees is mind-boggling. If anything, the attacks on Paris and Beirut should have made the American government more willing to take in Syrian refugees by opening their eyes to the violence, fear, and mayhem that plagues the lives of the Syrian people every waking second.

People wonder how Hitler was able to slaughter six million Jews during the Holocaust, but they turn a cold shoulder as hundreds of thousands of Syrians are being murdered by President Assad and Islamist extremists. One of the greatest regrets of Americans in 1939 was that the U.S. turned away the St. Louis, a ship carrying mostly Jewish refugee children, due to fears of communism infiltrating the country. The passengers of the St. Louis had to return to Europe, and some were subsequently killed by the Nazis.[23]

History has an ironic way of repeating itself. What Republican senator or governor would dare to say that turning away the St. Louis was the right thing to do? What human being would condone the senseless slaughter of innocent lives seeking refuge? By not accepting refugees, we are condemning them to their deaths.

Where is their humanity? How could this happen, again?

 

References:

[1] Diamond, Jeremy. “Chris Christie: Obama ‘created the refugee crisis’ in Syria.” CNN, November 18, 2015. http://www.cnn.com/2015/11/18/politics/chris-christie-obama-created-syrian-refugee-crisis/

[2] Gavin, Christopher and Fox, Lauren. “Hundreds rally against Baker’s stand on Syrian refugees.” The Boston Globe, November 21, 2015.

https://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2015/11/20/hundreds-rally-against-baker-stand-syrian-refugees/0Dldr1gZAFzNiyA4rhVGYK/story.html

[3] Fantz, Ashley and Brumfield, Ben. “More than half of the nation’s governors say Syrian refugees not welcome.” CNN, November 19, 2015. http://www.cnn.com/2015/11/16/world/paris-attacks-syrian-refugees-backlash/

[4] Gavin, Christopher and Fox, Lauren. “Hundreds rally against Baker’s stand on Syrian refugees.” The Boston Globe, November 21, 2015.https://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2015/11/20/hundreds-rally-against-baker-stand-syrian-refugees/0Dldr1gZAFzNiyA4rhVGYK/story.html

[5] The Editorial Board. “Paris attacks: Baker, others wrong to reject Syrian refugees.” The Boston Globe, November 16, 2015. https://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/editorials/2015/11/16/paris-attacks-baker-others-wrong-reject-syrian-refugees/imLJ1t3FWkRgF41IvXGpZP/story.html

[6] Barnard, Anne. “Beirut, Also the Site of Deadly Attacks, Feels Forgotten.” The New York Times, November 15, 2015. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/16/world/middleeast/beirut-lebanon-attacks-paris.html

[7] The Editorial Board. “Paris attacks: Baker, others wrong to reject Syrian refugees.” The Boston Globe, November 16, 2015. https://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/editorials/2015/11/16/paris-attacks-baker-others-wrong-reject-syrian-refugees/imLJ1t3FWkRgF41IvXGpZP/story.html

[8] The Editorial Board. “Paris attacks: Baker, others wrong to reject Syrian refugees.” The Boston Globe, November 16, 2015. https://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/editorials/2015/11/16/paris-attacks-baker-others-wrong-reject-syrian-refugees/imLJ1t3FWkRgF41IvXGpZP/story.html

[9] Taylor, Collin. “The Top Five Attacks on America Committed by Christian Terrorists, Not Muslims.” Occupy Democrats, November 17, 2015. http://www.occupydemocrats.com/the-top-five-attacks-on-america-committed-by-christian-terrorists-not-muslims/

[10] Taylor, Collin. “The Top Five Attacks on America Committed by Christian Terrorists, Not Muslims.” Occupy Democrats, November 17, 2015. http://www.occupydemocrats.com/the-top-five-attacks-on-america-committed-by-christian-terrorists-not-muslims/

[11] “The Future of World Religions: Population Growth Projections, 2010-2050.” Pew Research Center, April 2, 2015. http://www.pewforum.org/2015/04/02/religious-projections-2010-2050/

[12] Barnard, Anne. “Beirut, Also the Site of Deadly Attacks, Feels Forgotten.” The New York Times, November 15, 2015. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/16/world/middleeast/beirut-lebanon-attacks-paris.html

[13] Ahmed, Beenish. “Syrian Refugee Puts Paris Attacks into Perspective in One Simpler Sentence.” Think Progress, November 15, 2015. http://thinkprogress.org/world/2015/11/15/3722379/paris-refugees/

[14] Bennhold, Katrin. “Migrant Children, Arrive Alone and Frightened.” The New York Times, October 28, 2015. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/29/world/europe/in-waves-of-migrants-children-arrive-alone-and-settle-in-uneasily.html?_r=0

[15] Legum, Judd. “The Big Logical Error Made by Everyone Linking Syrian Refugees to the Paris Attack.” Think Progress, November 21, 2015.

http://thinkprogress.org/world/2015/11/21/3724816/the-big-logical-error-made-by-everyone-linking-syrian-refugees-to-the-paris-attack/

[16] The Editorial Board. “Paris attacks: Baker, others wrong to reject Syrian refugees.” The Boston Globe, November 16, 2015. https://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/editorials/2015/11/16/paris-attacks-baker-others-wrong-reject-syrian-refugees/imLJ1t3FWkRgF41IvXGpZP/story.html

[17] Kristof, Nicholas. “They Are Us.” The New York Times, November 19, 2015. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/19/opinion/betraying-ourselves.html?rref=collection%2Fcolumn%2Fnicholas-kristof&action=click&contentCollection=opinion&region=stream&module=stream_unit&version=latest&contentPlacement=1&pgtype=collection

[18] The Editorial Board. “Paris attacks: Baker, others wrong to reject Syrian refugees.” The Boston Globe, November 16, 2015. https://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/editorials/2015/11/16/paris-attacks-baker-others-wrong-reject-syrian-refugees/imLJ1t3FWkRgF41IvXGpZP/story.html

[19] Kristof, Nicholas. “They Are Us.” The New York Times, November 19, 2015. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/19/opinion/betraying-ourselves.html?rref=collection%2Fcolumn%2Fnicholas-kristof&action=click&contentCollection=opinion&region=stream&module=stream_unit&version=latest&contentPlacement=1&pgtype=collection

[20] Kristof, Nicholas. “They Are Us.” The New York Times, November 19, 2015. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/19/opinion/betraying-ourselves.html?rref=collection%2Fcolumn%2Fnicholas-kristof&action=click&contentCollection=opinion&region=stream&module=stream_unit&version=latest&contentPlacement=1&pgtype=collection

[21] Carroll, Lauren and Qiu, Linda. “PolitiFact Sheet: 5 questions about Syrian refugees.” PolitiFact, November 19, 2015. http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/article/2015/nov/19/politifact-sheet-5-questions-about-syrian-refugees/

[22] Tharoor, Ishaan. “France says it will take 30,000 Syrian refugees, while U.S. Republicans would turn them away.” The Washington Post, November 18, 2015. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2015/11/18/france-says-it-will-take-30000-syrian-refugees-while-u-s-republicans-would-turn-them-away/

[23] Kristof, Nicholas. “They Are Us.” The New York Times, November 19, 2015. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/19/opinion/betraying-ourselves.html?rref=collection%2Fcolumn%2Fnicholas-kristof&action=click&contentCollection=opinion&region=stream&module=stream_unit&version=latest&contentPlacement=1&pgtype=collection

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