Syrian refugees force us to face all our responsibilities as Americans

Asylum seeker or future terrorist? Our country has the responsibility to help the former while doing what it takes to keep out the latter. (Carl Court / Getty Images)

Asylum seeker or future terrorist? Our country has the responsibility to help the former while doing what it takes to keep out the latter. (Photo from a refugee processing camp in Mytilene, Greece, by Carl Court / Getty Images)

Reports that at least one of the killers in Paris came to Europe under the guise of fleeing war in Syria have sparked a huge response here in the U.S. More than two dozen governors, including Georgia’s Nathan Deal, have issued statements saying their states won’t accept Syrian refugees, although it’s questionable at best that they have the legal authority to do so. Congress is being urged to withhold funding for the resettlement of 10,000 refugees the Obama administration agreed to bring here. At the same time, President Obama is leading the way in branding those who oppose allowing refugees in, or who have suggested giving priority to Syrian Christians, as anti-American xenophobes.

In other words, it’s our usual collective response to a difficult problem, which explains a lot about why we have so many difficult problems.

Since Vietnam, the American public has seemed convinced that one key to winning a war is winning “hearts and minds” (never mind that our track record of winning wars in the era beginning with Vietnam has been far spottier than our record before Vietnam). Now on the home front, Americans seem determined to use either their hearts or their minds, but not both.

It is unquestionably heart-breaking to read the reports of real refugees from Syria. That war, with the Assad regime’s use of not only chemical weapons but such “conventional” weapons as shrapnel-filled barrels dropped and exploded over villages, has been brutal in a way we cannot really fathom. Then there are the atrocities being committed by ISIS: beheadings, rapes, forced conversions, mass killings. We know all these things are true, and I know of no one who disputes that there are genuine reasons for Syrians to flee their homeland.

At the same time, there have been warnings from the beginning — not only from ranting xenophobes — that such a sudden, vast migration offered an opportunity for ISIS to send fighters into Europe and North America undetected. Imagine there is even one terrorist for every 10,000 real refugees, just 1 percent of 1 percent of the human flood hitting our shores. There are millions of Syrians who have been displaced during the war, many of whom have left the country. Hundreds of thousands of them are seeking asylum in Europe; Germany alone said at one point it would accept as many as half a million per year for several years. Combine those possible numbers with what we know to be a significant number of homegrown terrorists in the West, many of whom have fought and/or trained with ISIS in Syria or Iraq, and the potential for terrorist attacks like the one in Paris is practically unlimited. Nor is it surprising that Americans doubt their government’s competence in screening refugees, given the fact the Boston bombers were also refugees — not to mention our government’s apparent incompetence at setting an effective strategy for dealing with Syria in the first place.

So the answer to this refugee crisis requires our hearts and our minds. It also requires some cooling of the rhetoric. That’s especially true for President Obama, who should have learned over the past seven years that vilifying his domestic opposition has never led to good results. He might acknowledge that, while there should be no “religious test” for refugee status in a pluralistic country such as ours, there is an argument that Syrian Christians should be considered for priority in the same way that European Jews seeking refuge should have been greater priority in the 1930s. It’s not that ISIS is less apt to kill their fellow Muslims, but that its leaders seem to put a premium on wiping out Christianity in the territory under their control — much as Hitler was a menace to all but was particularly intent on eliminating Jews.

A country as large and generous as ours — charities serving Syrian refugees have reported huge upticks in giving, so let’s not accuse Americans of being disinclined to help — there ought to be a solution that balances charity with prudence. I’m no expert, but here’s a thought: Perhaps we could add an interim resettlement step that gets those seeking refugee status inside the U.S. but in a separated, more controlled environment that gives us more time to confirm their identities (so many of them have lost their paperwork trying to escape) and weed out those who might be seeking to harm us. If that sounds like a reservation or internment camp, consider that unlike the American Indians or Japanese-Americans, these refugees weren’t already here when this debate began. They are coming to us as unknowns, and any threat is hidden in their ranks. We can treat them humanely even while keeping them separate long enough to maintain security — both for ourselves and for those refugees who eventually move on to live among us in a more integrated way.

If there are better ideas, I’m all ears. But the all-or-nothing approaches suggested by our rhetoric don’t live up to any of our responsibilities as a nation.

Reader Comments 0

55 comments
Corey
Corey

Less than a week after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks that killed 2,996 people, President Bush held a news conference at the Islamic Center of Washington. “The face of terror is not the true faith of Islam,” he said, flanked by imams and community leaders. “Islam is peace.”

It was a message repeated often in the months and years afterward. “Our war is against evil,” the president said, “not against Islam.”

 In 1957, Dwight D. Eisenhower became the first sitting president to speak at an American mosque. At the inauguration ceremony of the same Islamic center that Mr. Bush visited in 2001, Ike assured his audience that the nation “would fight with her whole strength” for Muslims’ right to worship according to their conscience.


In 1974, Gerald R. Ford became the first president to send an official message to Muslim-Americans for Eid al-Fitr, the festival that marks the end of the holy month of Ramadan, saying that America’s diversity had been “greatly enhanced” by the “religious heritage” of Muslim-Americans. In 1981, Ronald Reagan nominated America’s first Muslim ambassador, the convert Robert Dickson Crane.



DianeLoupe
DianeLoupe

I applaud you for this column, which strikes a nice balance between both sides of this issue. We so desperately need to come together more often instead of calling each other names, especially when people's lives are at stake.

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@GaGirl53171875 If you have something to contribute, please do so. If you have an ax to grind, we can do without that.

GaGirl53171875
GaGirl53171875

Yeah, Diane, so balanced, he insulted President Obama twice and GOP folks none. That's as balanced as Faux news.

xxxzzz
xxxzzz

http://www.realclearpolitics.com/articles/2015/11/19/americas_ridiculous_refugee_debate__128776.html

 

If you’ve watched President Obama’s various speeches and press conferences over the past few days, you can be forgiven for coming away with the distinct impression that he doesn’t like you.

First came the president’s robotic, tone-deaf press conference in Antayla, Turkey, a mere three days after the horrific Paris terror attacks by ISIS. Appearing peeved that he even had to discuss it, Obama repeatedly defended his ISIS strategy in somnolent tones, blandly describing the slaughter of 129 innocents as “a setback.”

Plagued by repeated incredulous questions by usually friendly reporters—“Sir, you can’t really think you don’t need to change anything, can you?” was the basic gist—Obama finally got a bit heated: Not at ISIS, of course, but at his critics back home....

lvg
lvg

@xxxzzz Talking about ISIL while in Turkey  would make any western leader robotic. Turkish leader is a huge thorn in everyone's side in combatting ISIL.

Eye wonder
Eye wonder

@xxxzzz

Substance aside, and assuming the work is your own, you have strung together a series of sentences that hint at the possibility of intelligence. Well done, I guess.


EDITED TO ADD: Never mind; I see that you plagiarized (sort of). Next time you need to include quotation marks.

xxxzzz
xxxzzz

@Eye wonder @xxxzzz The link at the top is a pretty large clue that it is a quote.  I assumed most people would be able to figure it out.  Better designed sites than AJC make it easier to do things to what you write.  For example, most allow you to use the return key.

LilBarryBailout
LilBarryBailout

The middle east is on fire and it's due in large part to Obama's incompetence.  He doesn't want to do enough to fix anything, he just wants to do enough so he doesn't get laughed at.  His policy is half-measures, easily-called bluffs, and broken promises.  Either get in and do something that will work, or get out so we don't waste resources and lives.

America-hating leftists pretend everything would be OK if we just exited the region.  If they're not going to follow through on that, could they at least stop doing stupid stuff?

Kim James
Kim James

@LilBarryBailout Actually, the middle east has been "on fire" for decades, but it was the George W. Bush administration that fueled the flames with the invasion of a sovereign nation, Iraq.  The instability in that region created openings for more terrorist groups.

LilBarryBailout
LilBarryBailout

Obama doesn't need Congress to do anything before sending troops. That's a fig leaf to allow him to continue to dither. And when he does send troops you can be sure the chickenhawk will be sending other people's kids to do the dying, and not his own.

lvg
lvg

@LilBarryBailout Where is the authorization to do anything in Syria involving ISIL unless ISIL attacks US????

LilBarryBailout
LilBarryBailout

The Commander in Chief isn't required to get Congressional approval before responding to attack.

And if I understand correctly, that authority you're whining about already exists in the resolution Our President Bush had passed back in 2003, and which Hillary voted for.

LilBarryBailout
LilBarryBailout

So, lvg, you're OK with Congress not passing a new AUFM. Interesting.

lvg
lvg

@LilBarryBailout NO SIR!- not to fight in Syria and whose side do you propose we fight on - Assad's  ? 
Russia?

Hezbollah?

Iran?

Al queda?

Al Nusra?

Militant sunnis allied woith ISIL?

Your ignorance is showing through your hatred of Obama.

lvg
lvg

@LilBarryBailout OK genius- Turkey is our ally through NATO; Its government is becoming more fundamentalist and tyrranical and at a moment of silence for France at a national soccer match, most of the audience booed many shouted Allah Akbar. Also Turkey has been aiding ISIL with a porous border and accepting oil from ISIl . In addiiton Turkey regularly bombs the Kurds who we are fighting with on the ground in Syria and Iraq to  effectively to push back ISIL. So in your never ending hatred of the President- should we attack Turkey? Pull out of NATO? Refuse to their agreeement to let US use their airbases?What is the GOP solution to the Turkey problem?

lvg
lvg

@Kim James @LilBarryBailout LBB and cons love to spend that Chinese credit card on unfunded US wars in the ME and they love seeing the body bags come home  as long as they and their families do not have to fight.How's that Senate resolution Obama requested over a year ago for US to send troops to Syria LBB?

LilBarryBailout
LilBarryBailout

Obama and his acolytes aren't interested in proceeding with caution.  They're interested in doing anything and everything they can to further the "transformation" (ask Britons or Swedes how their transformations are going).

And have you ever heard a president talk about Americans to foreigners the way Obama does?  He really does hate this country.

lvg
lvg

@LilBarryBailout When the opposition jumps  on coalition successes in containing ISIS in Syria and Iraq before the bodies are cold in Paris and when the cons want to glorify terrorists immediately as ISIL operatives who have successfully completed mass murder , any president would be critical of the politicians using terrorism to their advantage just like you.

xxxzzz
xxxzzz

@LilBarryBailout Remember Michelle's comment?  When her husband was elected was the first time she had been proud of America?

FIGMO2
FIGMO2

If we're gonna err, let's err on the side of caution. High on the list of our government's responsibilities is to protect its people. HECK! They have to swear an oath to do so.

Do you solemnly swear that you will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that you will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that you take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that you will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which you are about to enter: So help you God?

Note to our liberals...

please do not let the word "God" offend you.

Interim resettlement step?

Sounds good to me. We'll have to come up with an acceptable name given today's heightened sensitivities.

An Expatriate Enclave? Immigrants, both legal and illegal form those voluntarily. It's a cultural thing. 



xxxzzz
xxxzzz

@FIGMO2 How about refugee camp?  That's where many are living in Turkey now.

lvg
lvg

@FIGMO2 How about getting Putin to send the traitor back who caused intelligence services to back off  monitoring cell phone traffic.

RafeHollister
RafeHollister

Well said Kyle, proceed with extreme caution.  It would help if some of those "moderate Muslims" we hear so much about, but never really see or hear much from, would step up to the plate and say here let us help our adopted homeland sort out the "moderates" from the extremists.  Let us sponsor some of these folks and help them assimilate and let us provide some financial and moral support to our fellow Muslims, because America has been so good to and for us. 

rlc3
rlc3

President Obama is leading the way in branding those who oppose allowing refugees in, or who have suggested giving priority to Syrian Christians, as anti-American xenophobes.


When did he say that?

TBS
TBS

Kyle

Good article. Appears you have a well thought out way to show both compassion but also caution at the same time

Maybe some of the clowns on both sides of the aisle will come up with an acceptable solution

Caius
Caius

Nice thoughtful column Kyle.  I will concur with most. I will add that a bunch of us who consider ourselves Christians feel a need to help the true refugees.  Our churches should be able to do a lot.

Jefferson1776
Jefferson1776

Don't let fear run your life is what the American way dictates.

WhyorWhyNot
WhyorWhyNot

Every time I see pictures of these refugees, I see thousands of able-bodied men. Why don't we consider taking in the women and children temporarily. Let the men stay and fight for their ancestral homeland. Then, when the country is secure, let the women and children return.

Why should we take in a 25-year old able-bodied Syrian here, and then send a 25-year old American to fight for his homeland.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@WhyorWhyNot I am sympathetic to the refugees, but I have to wonder why the Syrian men are not standing up and fighting for their country, instead of going elsewhere with their wives and children.


Anyone have an answer?

xxxzzz
xxxzzz

@Wascatlady @WhyorWhyNot Fight with what?  With who?  There are at least 4 factions that may attack any of the other 3.  ISIS, Al Queada and the government have good sources of arms.

RoadScholar
RoadScholar

Excellent piece of work Kyle.

"Nor is it surprising that Americans doubt their government’s competence in screening refugees, given the fact the Boston bombers were also refugees.."

Weren't they admitted and then they became radicalized? Same as many radicals for a multitude of causes. Even the home born/grown ones.

Best idea so far is to carve out an area of Syria and Iraq to build a war free zone so at least the masses can live w/o the fear of killing. Then review each persons "credentials" and see who are the most desirable to let to immigrate. That way at least those fleeing won't drown or  loose their family ties.

Stephenson_Billings
Stephenson_Billings

Sick taunts of the Paris mastermind: Jihadist boasts of freely crossing Europe's borders and mocks police who had him in their clutches

  • ISIS jihadi Abdelhamid Abaaoud has shuttled between Syria and Europe, exploiting the migrant crisis on EU borders
  • The mastermind of the horrific terror attacks travelled across Europe despite being on several wanted lists 
  • He recruited two brothers he had known since childhood to carry out Friday's murders of 129 people
  • The jihadi was even featured in ISIS's propaganda magazine Dabiq, bragging about his terror plans for Europe
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3321335/Sick-taunts-Paris-mastermind-Jihadi-boasts-freely-crossing-Europe-s-border-mocks-police-clutches.html

GaGirl53171875
GaGirl53171875

Our own homegrown domestic terrorists are more of a threat to The U.S. than ISIS. The white supremacists who bomb and burn the churches with black congregations. The anti-choice folks who bomb clinics and shoot folks while they are sitting in church. Right wing scaremongers in this country don't want us to remember that white supremacist hate groups increased by over 1,000 when President Barack Obama won the presidency.

BTW Kyle, how about giving us examples of all the times President Obama vilified his opponents? Because I have a slew of examples of Republican legislators who have vilified and insulted the President.

xxxzzz
xxxzzz

@GaGirl53171875 There isn't enough storage on the AJC servers for Kyle to list all the times Obama vilified his opponents.  He's called the "Divider in Chief" for a reason.

xxxzzz
xxxzzz

@Wascatlady @xxxzzz @GaGirl53171875 No, he's called that because he's the rudest, most divisive president in our history.  He's like Hillary and thinks the Republicans are enemies.  I despised Bill Clinton.  He was a lying, amoral sleazebag.  But he was my president.  He didn't try to denigrate in broad terms all those who disagreed with him.  Obama does.  He makes no effort to be the president of the whole country.  You probably don't think Democrats were abusive of W. either.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@xxxzzz @GaGirl53171875 He is called that simply because he is black.  Other people see the world as "us" and "them" and he is not "us," according to "them."