Why We Should Stop Admitting Syrian Refugees for Now

Why We Should Stop Admitting Syrian Refugees for Now November 18, 2015

Leave some Christians in the East
Leave some Christians in the East

If you love Syria, oppose radical relocation as a solution to the problems in Syria. The dream of a multiethnic, religiously diverse, free Syria must not be allowed to die through the barbarism of Daesh (the so-called Islamic State). Let’s not spend twelve times as much on each refugee we relocate in order to leave Syria cleansed of minority groups and moderate Muslims.

Apparently some, such as the National Association of Evangelicals, think the only reason to wish a moratorium on taking Syrian refugees into the United States is “fear.” This is, in fact, wrong. The United States should not take ten thousand more refugees for three reasons unrelated to irrational fears or even rational fear of terrorism.

Americans, like most free people, are willing to accept a risk to help other folk. All charity is risky, all loving acts can go wrong and we will not be bullied by the Daesh into doing the wrong thing through fear.

And yet brashness isn’t courage, and intending to love doesn’t always come out as loving.

Pious intentions on all sides of this issue might start a Facebook thread, but are not a way to make serious policy. Every Christian must help the poor, especially the refugee. This is a basic Biblical principle and so the argument amongst Christians is (or should be) how best to implement help for refugees.

I support a moratorium on this expensive sort-of-solution: relocation to a different hemisphere of a few refugees. I do not support ending help for refugees. In fact, nobody is calling for an end to aid to Syrian refugees. No ethical person supports sending refugees back to unsafe Syria or to the Daesh.

For the sake of argument, opponents of continuing relocation of Syrian refugees to the United States can accept two ideas (both debatable) and still oppose the present program:

1. The United States screens refugees very carefully and the odds of a terrorist coming in through such a program are very low.

2. The United States government has a moral duty to help the Syrian refugees.

Opponents could also assume absolutely pure intentions in all of the government agencies and non-profits involved in relocation and still oppose currently continuing relocation. While some may be motivated by ministry growth and the funding that comes with it, there is no reason to assume it is true of most.

Opponents can (and in this case should) reject:

1. Any opposition to helping refugees based on irrational fear of all forms of Islam or all Islamic people.

2. Any opposition to helping refugees based on racism or ethnocentrism.

In fact, opposition to moving Syrians a hemisphere away can and ought to be motivated by love of the Syrian people and culture.

Here are the three reasons I continue to oppose the United States continuing to take Syrian refugees:

It is an expensive form of tokenism.

Bringing ten thousand people to the United States evidently takes extensive background checks and years. The people we are bringing are already in safe havens. We are moving them a hemisphere away, not because no place else will take ten thousand people closer to home, but as a token gesture. It costs as much as twelve times more to bring a refugee here. Why bring them here? What is gained?

Such gestures do real harm as they make it look like we are doing something, when in fact we are doing a very expensive next to nothing.

It creates a permanent diaspora of Syrians that weaken the outlook for a better Syrian state.

The Obama administration has helped create a human rights disaster in Syria. In part, this was because we imagined that nothing would be worse than the Assad regime. The Assad regime is bad, but Daesh is far worse.

Syria will not be a great place to live for some time. If Europe will take millions of refugees on a semi-permanent basis, then why wouldn’t reasonable Syrians wish to leave? A few are even being told that they might win the global relocation lottery and come to the United States of America.

Where will that leave Syria? Do we wish a Syria with no Christians left? Do we wish a Syria where all religious minorities are gone? Do we wish to forever distort Islamic culture in Syria, one of the great centers of Islamic thought, by creating a diaspora.

Let’s encourage solutions that care for those in danger, provide them basic safety and human dignity, but do not put them so far from home that they will never return. Will a refugee coming to the United States of America ever move back to Syria?

It encourages putting off a real solution to Syria.

Syrians need to solve the Syrian problem. The great powers (especially the United States) have meddled in internal Syrian politics and now another power (Russia) has directly intervened. Russia, France, and the United States need to set up a safe haven for Syrians, a green zone, and help Syrians stay in Syria.

Nobody wants to see human suffering, but the root cause of the suffering is in Syria. Fundamentally, the goal is to end the need to help refugees, not create more refugees.

As a side note, even if we accept that there is a very, very small chance of a terrorist coming with refugees, there is not a zero chance. Proponents of bringing Syrian refugees to the United States have promised (in effect) that no terrorism will be tied to the refugees. If this promise were to be broken, and surely the news gives us reason for some rational concern,  it would set back helping refugees for decades.

When I have made these arguments, thoughtful people have criticized my view on three basic grounds. Again, I do not believe most of those who favor moving people to the United States hate Syrian culture. Good people agree on the goal, but are arguing about the means.

Let me summarize the criticisms and respond.

Camps are bad and tend to become permanent.

Yet I say: camps are bad, because they should be temporary. They give hope to restoration. Permanent camps point to on-going failure to resolve root causes.

Nobody wants a refugee camp. Nobody rejoices when people live in them. They should exist temporarily. When they do not, then it points to an ongoing problem. Perhaps we must eventually give up on Syrians being able to go home, but must we start there now?

Let’s spend more money on safe havens near Syria and not encourage Syrians to leave for wealthy states . . . and a cultural colonialism that will make it unlikely that they will ever return to Syria.

No political will exists to do anything different. We might as well help somebody as nobody.

Yet I say: no political will exists, because we have fallen into “two positions.” We are either for “bringing refugees to America” or against “helping terrorists.” If we don’t attack the polarization nothing will change.

I think Christians, especially in politics, need to propose an alternative. In the past some GOP Presidential campaigns have had workers who read this blog. If some still do, then may my little voice by one to urge an alternative. Some GOP candidate should propose taking the aid now being funneled to the ten thousand and multiply it by ten to help more refugees during this moratorium. Some candidate should propose setting up safe havens next to or in Syria that will keep Syrians near home so they can return when, God willing, Syria is safe again.

If no voices in powerful positions are raised with a better idea to help the present crisis for the God-loved Syrian people than shipping a tiny number of people to the United States, then our government has reached a crisis.

Your position provides cover for fear mongers and racists.

Yet I say: I will not give up hope for a better dialog on this issue yet.

I take this charge very seriously and so should all people in favor of a moratorium.

There are Arab haters on all my social media feeds. On a monthly basis, racists attack something I write on social media. In the inflamed circumstances around the Paris bombing, maybe an argument for prudence is badly timed.

As a result, Evangelicals who favor a moratorium for relocation of Syrian refugees must reject fearmongering and racism directly. Obvious truth: if the ten thousand come, as they almost surely will despite what most Americans wish, then I will rejoice in the good that will come of it. People will be helped and we all rejoice in this good thing.

Of course, we also spent millions getting fewer than ten Syrians trained to fight the evil regime in Syria. That was good . . . though more than a bit inefficient. I am not sorry for the trainees, just sorry for the waste.

I will not be sorry to have helped the refugees, just sorry for the waste.

Don’t we all wish our children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren are be able to visit a Damascus where Christians still worship on the Street called Straight? Don’t we want to see the lively cultural exchanges that happen when a diversity of religious people live in a mosaic so complicated I cannot begin to name all of them? Don’t we love the Syrian idea enough to wish to save it?

Transplanting the Syrian nation elsewhere will leave a vacuum at the heart of the Middle East. People will move to fill that vacuum. Can’t somebody stop this cultural destruction before it is too late?

Of course, in this kind of “guessing,” I might be wrong. We know it is right to help the refugees. We simply are unsure what is the best way to do it.


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