Slamming the Door on the Syrian Stranger

Slamming the Door on the Syrian Stranger December 2, 2015

(Reposted with permission from author)

“The terrorists are traitors to their own faith, trying, in effect, to hijack Islam itself. The enemy of America is not our many Muslim friends; it is not our many Arab friends. Our enemy is a radical network of terrorists, and every government that supports them.” George W. Bush

syria-refugee-crisisI understand the genuine desire by Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick (R-PA) to protect and defend Americans from potential security risks. Throughout the next few months, President (Barack) Obama, Gov. (Tom) Wolf, and Congress, in conjunction with national security experts, will thoroughly review refugee resettlement procedures.

However, to entirely halt the refugee resettlement process, or to pick and choose who enters based off one’s religion, goes against the democratic and religious principles which make America a beacon of hope and new beginnings for the dispossessed.

First of all, the terrorists who attacked Paris were all purportedly European nationals; not refugees. It’s no secret one of the primary goals of ISIS is to get Western nations to fear Muslims. ISIS knows that if the Western world alienates and persecutes an entire segment of the population, radicalism flourishes.

Secondly, despite calls to reverse the policy, President (Francois) Hollande of France said his country will honor its commitment to accept 30,000 refugees.

This much is clear: hatred inspired the terror attacks in Paris. By standing by their commitment to accept refugees, France is fighting the impulse to give into the kind of blind, unreasoning fear which only serves to feed the desire for more hate and violence.

There’s a staggering 60 million refugees worldwide, with over 12 million originating from the Syrian civil war. For those calling on neighboring countries to shoulder more refugees, it should be noted most Middle Eastern nations already have taken in a tremendous amount of refugees. Lebanon, for example, a country of 5.8 million people, has taken in over 1.1 million Syrian refugees.

With all this being said, the United States can and should do more.

If Congressman Fitzpatrick really wanted to contribute in a meaningful way to protecting the homeland and promoting the common good, he could’ve called out fellow Christians on their desire to close mosques and accept only Christian refugees.

Instead, Congressman Fitzpatrick co-sponsored H.R. 3573, which called for the President to “prioritize refugees who are members of a religious minority community, and have been identified by the Secretary of State, or the designee of the Secretary, as a persecuted group.” This stance by Congressman Fitzpatrick goes directly against the President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, who stated, “Regardless of their religious affiliation or national origin, these refugees are all human persons—made in the image of God, bearing inherent dignity, and deserving our respect and care and protection by law from persecution.”

In short, our capacity for good must be blind and equal in the eyes of both God and man.

It’s currently unknown what Congressman Fitzpatrick’s stance on closing mosques is. If he’s against it, his silence only serves to embolden political and religious radicals within our own country who seem to have no respect for or understanding of the 1stAmendment.

As a teenager at William Penn Middle School during 9/11, I remember the anger I felt towards the Muslim community. I soon realized that anger was misplaced when I heard about Muslims in Iran holding prayer vigils and countries like Turkey lowering their flags to half-staff for 9/11 victims. I came to understand that evil has no set definition or allegiance. Evil seeks to sow disunity, confusion and most damaging, anger.

If we hold onto such anger, only pain and suffering will follow.

My anger was replaced by a desire to learn about and grow from the long and complex history between the United States and the Islamic world. I hope that Congressman Fitzpatrick and others in a position of power seek the same path in an effort to make this world a more peaceful place for all.

By not giving into the fear of the unknown, the United States may once again stay true to the words, “I was a stranger, and you welcomed me.”

Stephen Seufert is the State Director of Keystone Catholics, a new social justice advocacy organization in Pennsylvania dedicated to promoting the common good. 

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