There is a lot of self-righteous “not-in-my-back-yard” thinking regarding refugees from the Middle East. Largely born of fear which breeds distrust and hatred, such thinking is anathema to understanding and tolerance among peoples. Is it possible for a terrorist to slip into a country under the guise of being a refugee?
But not on the scale that fear mongers would have you believe. Such terrorists would be more like our home-grown lot—those who shoot up schools and theaters and military chow halls, not the sort that pulled off that organized disaster in Paris. Do we turn our backs on thousands out of fear of such aberrant types? Those are already with us, for heaven’s sake!
One must admit that groups seeking refuge tend to gather all sorts into their midst. Think about it! Beyond their immediate families and maybe a neighbor or two, they don’t know each other from Adam, usually. Most of those people have but one goal in mind—escape. As an American in my comfortable middle class environment, I cannot even imagine the horrors they have endured. (Though I did have one reader tell me “You got that refugee stuff right” about my book, In Enemy Hands.)
At the end of WWII, half of Germany’s people were homeless—literally homeless, for half the inhabitable structures had been bombed into rubble. (We needn’t get into why this was so.) Yet the Soviet Union, trying de-Germanize its satellites, sent 12,000,000 more people out of Eastern Europe and into Germany to wander from town to town seeking refuge. Twelve MILLION thrust into a population already in dire straits! Talk about ethnic cleansing! And, yes, some really awful Nazis managed to hide among the refugees and take up residence in some obscure town or village. (Recommended reading for those interested: Keith Lowe’s book, The Savage Continent.) It ended up taking a decade and more for the small, suffering, defeated nation of Germany to assimilate those refugees. But, for the most part, they did so.
Today, people want monumental changes—like finding places for thousands thrust from their homes–to happen instantly. Or they just want the problem to go away. Let Europe or the UN or refugee organizations handle it. Not my problem. I put five dollars in the plate last Sunday. Never mind that some of the problem—NO, not all, by any means—is of our American making. (Sometimes “the people” are left to remedy problems created by their leaders.) “Not-in-my-back-yard” is, often as not, the cry of people who have themselves never been OUT of their own back yards! Their compassion extends no farther than that fence they built around their hearts.
Would admitting a few thousand Middle Easterners to the U.S. turn us into a Muslim country? Hardly. Not all of those refugees are even Muslim to start with! Oh, but they will force us God-fearing Americans to live under Sharia law. First of all, not all Muslims buy into the extremism of Sharia law, just as not all Jews follow the strictest tenets of Talmudic law. The Amish live by a different code in the heart of America. Is anyone truly afraid they will “take over”?
The poem by Emma Lazarus on the base of the Statue of Liberty famously proclaims,
Give me your tired, your poor, / Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, / The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. / Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me . . .
Have many taken advantage of us? Do we not have issues of our own that must also be resolved? Undoubtedly. But as a nation, we have, on the whole, done very well by that sentiment on the Statue of Liberty.