Friday, November 20, 2015

Balancing Security and Compassion

I have been very disappointed (though not surprised or outraged) by the politicization from both sides on the issue of accepting refugees from Syria.  In some corners, the reaction has been alarmist and even prejudiced.  However, that does not justify slandering those who have legitimate concerns for the current administration's ability to vet refugees.  A small group painting all Muslims with the same "extremist" brush does not excuse painting all critics of the administration with the same "bigoted" brush.

Personally, I feel we should not only take in the 10,000 refugees that President Obama has suggested, but that we should relieve the burden on European nations by accepting a far greater number - even hundreds of thousands if necessary.  If there truly are high risk individuals in these enclaves, aren't we being selfish by leaving them in Munich, Vienna, or Bucharest, where law enforcement officials are overwhelmed by the millions flooding across their porous borders?

I understand why others might disagree.  There are serious concerns over security that must be addressed.  I respect the House proposal to put a pause on the process until the various department heads can certify that the vetting is secure.  While I feel in this emergency that there is no time to waste and we should accelerate rather than delay the process, I acknowledge that this is a reasonable proposal that should be considered and debated, rather than condescendingly dismissed.

On the other hand, religious tests proposed by some or blanket rejections are disturbing to me.  (I have no problem accepting those facing religious persecution, but the impetus behind these proposals has been a distrust of Muslims, not a desire to help Christians.)  Not only is the concept un-American, but it sends the wrong message to our friends in the Muslim world.  We are compassionate to all, not just those who are like us.  We will make more friends, and fewer enemies, by being open to all those seeking refuge.  

As far as security is concerned, we will always be faced with the possibility that those seeking to do us harm may cross our borders.  However, those who have posed the greatest risk historically have been able to obtain entry through other legal means, such as through a business or student visa.  For that matter, domestic terror and gun violence is unfortunately a common occurrence.  Instead of trying to keep everyone out, we should work to monitor those who pose the greatest risk and prevent them from obtaining deadly weapons or explosives.  We should closely guard nuclear materials, and work to contain biological and chemical threats.  

Likewise, we should focus on securing high-risk targets where mass casualties are most likely. Security at venues such as airports and stadiums, while poorly graded, nonetheless acts as an effective psychological deterrent.  So far there have been no successful attacks on a U.S.-based airliner since 9/11, and the bomber at Stade de France last week was prevented from entering the stadium, saving untold lives.  

Also, we must keep some perspective as it relates to terror.  We face all sorts of threats every day when we eat, travel, walk, drive, and interact with people.  For example, there are over 30,000 deaths in the U.S. every year from motor vehicle accidents, but no one has called to ban imports from Toyota.  There are over 10,000 deaths annually in America from gun homicides, but many of those clamoring to close our borders are the same people who vehemently defend gun rights (by the way, I support additional limited gun control measures).  

In other words, we are faced with risks at every turn, but we don't stop living our lives or react irrationally to those risks.  If you would let a Christian have a gun, or a fraternity pledge own a car, ask yourself why you wouldn't let a Muslim have a home.

The threat from terror is real, and when it strikes, it can have wide and chilling effects (as intended).  It is possible that a Syrian refugee admitted to our country today may someday kill innocent Americans, and our politicians should be prepared to account for the manner in which they have fulfilled their duty to protect us.  

But it's too easy to just say no to the refugees.  The job of protecting us might be simpler if the government just took away all our guns and if we permanently parked our cars.  

But I'd rather live in a world where I am free, where we don't live in fear, and where we act with compassion for all than in a secure, locked-down facility.  This is the intersection of security and freedom in the real world.  It's complicated and fraught with peril.  

This is where we decide what kind of country we are.  Will we be haunted by the decision to turn away another St. Louis?  If we don't harbor refugees, how many will die?  How many will live a half-life in constant fear for their own safety and for that of their children?  We don't have to harbor refugees.  But we can, at relatively little expense, make life meaningfully better for a significant number of the most unfortunate people on this planet.  Absent the security concerns, why wouldn't we?

Rather than choosing either security or compassion, let's choose both.  We have the resources to generously accept refugees while maintaining security, particularly in those arenas (i.e., nuclear, air travel, etc.) where we face the highest risks.

1 comment:

Sister K said...

Thank you, Jeff. Well stated. Love you, Aunt Charlotte