Be silent before the Lord and wait expectantly for him; do not be agitated by one who prospers in his way, by the man who carries out evil plans. Psalm 37:7 HCSB
Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free…Emma Lazarus, “The New Colossus” inscribed on the Statue of Liberty
The fear from the Paris attacks of Saturday night is beginning to find its expression in the United States, and elsewhere. Fear is the weapon that terrorists wield to make their point, to advance their cause and to get their way, mainly because it works.
One of the seven terrorists involved in the Paris attacks, one, had been able to enter France through the corridor of refugees streaming into Europe from Syria. One. The others came in from neighboring Belgium. It was an attack that would have happened regardless of the presence of that one. But fear has a way of distorting perspective.
In relatively short time, the fear has crossed an ocean, and is finding expression in voices on this side of the water who are speaking out against receiving any Syrian refugees at all. These are people who are fleeing the same terror that we are fearing, except that it is happening in their streets and in their cities, on the heels of a revolution that has already claimed lives, destroyed property and impoverished millions. And here’s the even bigger irony. Many of the American voices opposed to taking in Syrian refugees are Christians. It’s disappointing to even make that statement, but it is true. Do you realize that 10% of the population of Syria is Christian? That many of these people are your brothers and sisters in Christ? That they have been victims of persecution because of the revolution, and are now victims of ISIS, too? And there are American Christians who want to slam the door shut and keep them out of the one country that the world looks to as a refuge from oppression and persecution, because of its Christian heritage.
Religious beliefs should not make a difference here. But they do. In spite of the noble poetic reference on the Statue of Liberty cited above, the United States has often been a very selective and exclusive refuge for those seeking freedom from religious persecution.
Pernicious immigration policy prevented most European Jews wanting to escape Nazi persecution from getting into the United States. The State Department used a number of policies, including strict quotas based on national origin, not religion, to block the entry of European Jews prior to World War II. Jews jammed into Europe’s neutral countries, like Switzerland, Sweden, Spain and Portugal, where they were safe, but where their numbers eventually overwhelmed the government’s resources, and caused them to stop allowing others to enter. Private resources from Jewish sources in the United States could have been provided in almost unlimited quantities to transport and house hundreds of thousands of Jews that were piled up in the neutral countries, opening up room for more to escape the Nazis, but the state department pulled out all the stops to prevent Jews from entering the United States.
Six million Jews died in the Holocaust. The United States, the bastion of liberty, freedom and justice, managed to rescue somewhere around 100,000. Between 1939 and 1941, when the US entered the war, the only way European Jews, in countries occupied by Hitler, could enter the US was under the quotas from their country of origin. Most were in Poland, but the number of immigrants allowed into the US from Poland was miniscule. Jews from Germany were limited to the quota of Germans allowed into the US, and most of those spots were taken by anti-Nazi German citizens who wanted out. Following the lead of their northern neighbor, Latin American countries limited their acceptance of Jewish refugees. Great Britain and Canada accepted more Jewish refugees than the United States, and so did Spain. Tiny Portugal saved almost as many.
The state department hid behind the same excuse that is popping up in the calls for refusal of Syrian refugees. We can’t let in all those Jews because the Germans may send saboteurs and terrorists in among them. So you’re telling me that the United States, with its military resources, cannot equip its FBI and CIA, and its state and municipal police forces, with the ability to screen refugees? After the fact, we determined that gross negligence allowed the 9-11 attackers in. We haven’t experienced an attack since then. There’s been a learning curve. Perhaps an attack is inevitable, but whether it is or not, taking care of a few thousand Syrians isn’t going to make it any more or less likely.
Terror is a weapon that is used to force people to give in to fear, and in so doing, give up their values. Take a look around. Fear is causing the abandonment of Christian compassion, and of a core founding principle of this country. Isn’t that what the terrorists are trying to do?