I am so furious at the injustice and cruelty of America towards the refugee crisis at the moment that I cannot sleep. I have neither money nor power, so there is little I feel I can do. The only thing I can do is write, so that’s what I’ve done. I’ve written a letter and sent it to all of the politicians in the US government supposedly representing me. (Americans: you can easily find the contact details of your Senators and Congressmen online). Due to this target, my argumentation is based in the American context. I post the text freely here, so that others can copy, adapt, and use it for their own letters if they so wish. I’m especially furious at people calling themselves Christians, though my concerns are applicable to all politicians.
the text of the letter can be read here:
I have been watching the debacle of the Syrian crisis with increasing horror, and recent political figures have insisted on making the situation worse. I am writing to you now to plead for you to do everything in your power to aid and assist every and all refugees fleeing Syria, and encourage their succor in food, clothing, and shelter. There are five categories of reasons for this. As an American politician, the first four should be sufficient. As a public figure in what claims to be a Christian country, the last should be a clincher. The reasons we all ought to welcome the Syrian refugees with open arms are 1) humanitarian; 2) America’s historic, ethical responsibility; 3) to counter the racist and illiberal rhetoric surrounding the refugees and Muslims; 4) pragmatic, sociological reasons for long-term security; 5) a Christian and biblical imperative.
Humanitarian Reasons. The Syrian refugees are fleeing the bombs of a Western proxy war, the chemical weapons of a mad despot, and the scimitars of religious fanatics. It takes little imagination to understand the horror they are fleeing, or to guess what one would do in the same situation. They have seen friends and family murdered, communities and homes destroyed, and are seeking refuge for what in the west is taken for granted: life. All the high-flying rhetoric of freedom and human rights are pure bullshit if they do not materialize to aid any and all in need of them. The nationality and religion of people in need has no bearing on the moral imperative of humanitarian assistance. America has long been a place of refuge for those fleeing disaster.
Historic, Ethical Responsibility. The current crisis is more or less the direct result of American meddling in the Middle East. Though this meddling and the current geopolitical mess can be traced back at least to aftermath of WWI and American patronizing refusals to allow for a Kurdish state, the current crisis is directly the result of a misguided invasion of Iraq, a premature withdrawal from Iraq, a naïve support of Syrian rebels, and a weak policy of fighting ISIS solely through cruise missiles rather than on the ground personnel and humanitarian aid. Moreover, the west has treated Syria like a proxy war with Russia and Iran, rather like Korea, Vietnam, and Afghanistan. The creation of floods of refugees is the result. Because the refugees’ plight is therefore largely the result of American policies, America has an ethical responsibility to try to ameliorate the situation in the only way now remaining: providing for the refugee’s resettlement and reintegration into new communities. Not to do so is to descend to a level of inhumanity no better than that of Saddam or Assad.
Fight Racist Rhetoric. The objection to Syrian refugees is largely predicated on racist and Islamophobic fearmongering. The founding documents of America announce the ideal of the equality of humankind, and the history of America has been one of attempt to improve the reality of that ideal, slowly eliminating discrimination based in racism, sexism, nationalism, and religion. The alarming parallels between the rhetoric of Donald Trump and the 1930’s Germany shows how strongly such tendencies still must be resisted. It is simply untrue to claim that all Muslims are terrorists, or that Syrians are more likely to be dangerous than the disgruntled teenagers with access to guns already living in the US.
Pragmatic Sociological Considerations. If the above ethical arguments were not enough reason to welcome the Syrian refugees with open arms, pragmatic security concerns should. It is sociologically proven that communities which are marginalized, vilified, and without hope are the breeding grounds for violence. On the other hand, individuals who are integrated into their communities and have access to education, healthcare, and mechanisms for advancement are less likely to be susceptible to extremism. The best way to ensure long-term stability in the Middle East is to support community rebuilding. Practically for the refugees this means resettlement in various places throughout the world, but it also means a commitment to send practical social aid to Syria instead of just weapons. This is the best way in the long-term to defeat extremist groups like ISIS in Syria, but close to home it also means resettled refugees would become productive members of society rather than dangerous elements within it.
Lastly, there is no doubt that compassion for the needy is a Christian imperative, even costly compassion. In the Gospels Jesus railed against the leaders of his day for being more concerned with their own ideas of being right than with the needs of the poor. All of the humanitarian arguments above can of course be summed up in the so-called Golden Rule (Matt 7:12||Luke 6:31). However, Jesus’s teachings, like the Hebrew prophets beforehand, are much stronger. In a list of who will inherit the Kingdom of God, Jesus includes the welcoming of the stranger and clothing the naked as criteria for entry, with failure to do so being damning (Matt 25; cf. James 2). In fact, however, the Christian demand is much more radical than just this: we are to serve beyond where it is comfortable to do so—this is the point of the parable of the Good Samaritan—and even when doing so is potentially dangerous to our own safety (Matt 5:38–48||Lk 6:27–36). Even if there were truth in the libels that the Syrian refugees were dangerous, providing them shelter and assistance would still fall under the command to love one’s enemies. Failure to assist the refugees because of fear, or their religion, or because it might cost something is therefore to ignore one’s Christian duty. Since there is in fact no real danger, failure to assist the refugees is based purely on self-indulgence.
Considering the present state of American discourse, were I a prophet, I’d paraphrase Ezekiel and declare:
This was the guilt of America: she had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy (Ezek 16:49).
Please consider carefully these arguments, and enable aid and resettlement to the Syrian refugees and to peace in their homeland.