Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses

We need to accept more Syrian refugees into our borders.

Not because they’re poor or the “least of these.” Not because they’re persecuted Christians, or non-Christians to evangelize. Not because they could enrich our culture, or enhance our society. Not because we’re Americans, or because we’re hospitable Christians. Not because the power vacuum caused by the Iraq War has allowed militant groups to thrive. But because they’re human, and to send them back to Syria is to send them to their deaths. We don’t need an ulterior motive to justify saving lives.

The Syrian crisis is one of the worst humanitarian crises since World War II. Over half of the country’s population has been displaced. LGBTQ people can expect to be thrown off the roof of a tall building and then stoned to death. Christians and Yazidis (members of another religious group being targeted by the Syrian government) can expect to be tortured and publicly beheaded. Girls have been systematically kidnapped and sold into sex slavery. ISIS’s interpretation of Islam has no resemblance to any mainstream religion. It is a cult of death, concerned only with apocalypse and power. Parents only risk putting their child into a crowded boat across the Mediterranean if they truly believe that staying offers less of a future.

But the reaction from the West, which I believe has at least some responsibility in the crisis, has been muted at best. People who were rightfully outraged at the capture and destruction of Palmyra seemed less disturbed by the active annihilation of entire communities. I’m afraid that there is more concern about artifacts here than for other people.

The arguments against accepting refugees are vested and illogical and rooted in xenophobia. One objection is that ISIS members may be deliberately hiding in the unchecked masses. However, this doesn’t hold up when radicalized Islamists are desperately trying to enter the self-proclaimed Caliphate and recent acts of terrorism in Europe and America have largely been carried out by independently radicalized Westerners. This also ignores the thoroughly selective systems in place to weed out incoming radicals, and that leaving young Syrian refugees in poverty-stricken camps could potentially radicalize even more people.

Another objection, as GOP candidate Mike Huckabee put it last week, is “Are they really just coming because we’ve got cable TV?” Well, no. Syrian refugees are not, as the media puts it, “migrants.” They are not economic immigrants, people who leave their homes and search for better opportunities and nicer houses. They are refugees in the truest form, where remaining in their country would mean, at best, living without basic liberty or dignity, and at worst, being killed by religious extremists.

And perhaps the most prevalent, and blatantly racist, objection in Europe is that Islamic culture is inherently incompatible with Christian culture. This ignores centuries of cultural assimilation and adaptation, of which Christianity’s story is only one part. It ignores that Jews, Catholics and Protestants have all once been seen as incompatible with the dominant culture, and that Western Europe and America are both successful multicultural societies. It also ignores that many refugees are not, in fact, Muslim, and Muslims have been living alongside Christians and Yazidis in Syria for centuries.

Germany (pop. 80 million) is offering to take in 800,000 Syrian refugees, while America (pop. 321 million) has currently only accepted 1,500 Syrian refugees. We must advocate for higher refugee quotas. After the Vietnam war, 750,000 Vietnamese refugees were brought onto American soil to live safe and full lives. They have become American success stories — their destinies forever intertwined with ours. Recently, Sen. Dick Durbin and Sen. Amy Klobuchar have publicly advocated for America to take in many more Syrian refugees. This is only the first step of many we’d need to potentially save tens of thousands of lives.

Public opinion has the very real power to change policy. If you want to do something about the Syrian crisis other than going, “Oh, dear,” this is your chance.

 

Sign the petition to resettle Syrian refugees in the United States here: https://petitions.whitehouse.gov/petition/authorize-and-resettle-syrian-refugees-us.