Like most in the world, I mourn over the terrorist attacks in Paris. Also, I mourn over the war Syria. I mourn over the unrest in the Middle East that has given rise to terrorists groups and individuals. The hatred, the violence, the war, breaks my heart. Out of this complicated and horrific war in Syria that has spilled across multiple nations in the Middle East and involved other countires around the world, we in the United States and around the world have another complex question…what should be our response to Syrian refugees?
I have been torn over this issue. I have wrestled with thoughts of safety and thoughts of compassion. I have prayed. I have spent time in God’s word. Here are the simple thoughts of a simple pastor on a very complex issue.
The Syrian Civil War is fight between multiple factions within and without the country. These groups include Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Syrian rebels who are called the National Coalition for Syrians Revolutionary and Opposition Forces (Syrian National Coalition), the Kurdish people, and the Islamic State (ISIL, ISIS). Each of these groups have support from outside of Syria in this conflict making this war much larger than just the country of Syria.
The Syrian Civil War began in 2011 when protesters of Assad’s rule were fired upon and many were killed. Many of the protesters, along with many in the Syrian military, formed the Syrian National Coalition to fight Assad and overthrow his government. Other groups entered into this conflict, the Kurds and the Islamis State, and all groups seem to be fighting all groups in some ways for control of Syria. Other countries and organizations have supported these various factions in Syria in a variety of ways from verbal support to boots on the ground.
This fighting has devestated the people of Syria, and millions of Syrians are fleeing their homeland. The question becomes what is America’s respnsibility toward these refugees?
Many argue that these refugees offer a threat to the United States because it opens an avenue for terrorists to enter our country and perpetrate an attack much like the one in Paris. People argue that the refugees cannot be fully screened and properly vetted to be determined to be a non-terrorist able to enter this country. Since, we cannot discover their background, we should reject all refugees for the safety of our citizens. This week numerous state governers and state governemnts have moved to reject refugees to their respective states and have called upon the president to reject them from entering our country. They argue that the safety of American citicens take precedent over showing compassion to the refugees.
Again, I have wrestled over this issue, and after much thought, here are my conclusions. The United States has not been nuetral in the Syrian Civil War. In April of 2011, the United States imposed sanctions upon Assad and other Syrian officials. The sanction were expanded on multiple ocassions. In August of 2011, President Obama calls for Assad’s resignation. In August of 2012, Presindent Obama threatens military force if Assad’s regime uses chemical weapons. In September, the United States pledged $45 million in humanitarian aid to the Syrian National Coalition fighting Assad. In December, President Obama officially recognizes the Syrian National Coalition as the legitimate regime in Syria. In September of 2014, President Obama, after a congresional vote of supoort, ordered and carried out air strikes in Syria. Also, the United States have trained soldiers and leaders in the Syrian National Coalition. For a more complete look at the timeline click here.
By any measure or standard, the United States has entered this war. Sanctions, training, financial aid, official recognition of the Syrian National Coalition, to boots on the ground, to shots being fired, America has joined the Syrian Civil War. Whether or not you agree with America’s involvment in this conflict, America is still involved in this conflict.
When the United States entered into this conflict, we took on a responsilbility to the people of Syria. You cannot drop bombs on a country without obtaining a measure of responsoibility. You cannot say, “we care enough to shoot missles, but not enough to share tables.” That is hypocracy to which I believe the American people can rise above.
I want our country to be safe, but I want something more than safety. I want our country to be principled, firmly entrenched on the moral high ground of compassion and decency. It is indecent to enter a war and not support the people of that war. When America entered this conflict, through a vote of support in congress and the determination of our president, the leadership chosen by us, we took on a responsibility to care for refugees. Accepting refugees is the morally right and compassionate action.
Yes, terrorists may, and that is a small may, enter our country through thsee refugee channels, but you know what? Terrorists can enter our contry by boat, by plane, by work visa, by student visa, by holes in a fence, by marriage, by feet. Do not forget they can even be born here. We cannot let fear cause us to compromise our principles. We cannot let fear cause us to take one step down from our morals. We cannot let fear cuase us to be less than American because if we do, we cease being the great country that I love.
Yes, accepting refugees may cost us a small measure of safety, even though there has not been a sinlge confirmed case of a U.N. designated Syrian refuguee committing an act of terror. The fake Syrian passport found near one of the terrorists in Paris is under severe scrutiny on whether it even belonged to the terrorist, and there is, so far, insufficient evidence that the passport in question was ever granted U.N. refugee status. But we entered this conflict, we have given aid in this conflict, and we have even fired shots in this conflict. To turn our backs when this conflict gets ugly, when this conflict has implications at home, would be wrong.
I call upon our federal and state governments to welcome Syrian refugees. We obtained this responsibility when we entered this war. Do use caution. Accept U.N. designated refugees. Conduct our own screening and vetting process. Observe the refugees not only for our safety, but for their safetfy from the more radical Americans.
Let’s be smart. Let’s be compassionate. Let’s accept the responsiblity we took upon ourselves. You not only fight terror with missles; you fight terror through love and compassion as well.