If you, like around 30 governors and every Republican running for president, think the United States shouldn’t take in Syrian refugees in the wake of the tragedy in Paris, I’ve got a recommendation for you: Get up and go to your closet. Rummage through it until you find your Big Boy Pants (or Big Girl Pants). Then, put your Big Boy/Girl Pants on, one leg at a time, and ask yourself again whether you’re so scared of ISIS that you think we shouldn’t even try to find 10,000 innocent people who want to escape from hell on Earth.
You remember that huge national security apparatus we set up after 9/11 to prevent future terrorist attacks? That’s still there. We’re still paying for it. It still spies on us. So, I mean, we might as well use it, right? We already decided we were willing to sacrifice civil liberties for more safety – so why can’t we feel safe accepting a small number of people who just want to come here to share our reduced civil liberties in peace?
The vast, vast majority of Syrian refugees are innocent people who would just prefer not to live in a warzone or refugee camp. Lots of them still get filtered out by the United States’ extremely thorough security screening, which can take two years or more. ISIS is going to try and sneak people in, if they haven’t already, and one of several well-funded federal agencies tasked with preventing terrorist attacks will screen them out.
And yeah, there’s a small chance that one or two will slip through and hurt people. That’s a calculated risk we’re taking. It’s the same calculated risk we took with the 85,000 Iraqi refugees we’ve resettled here since 2007 – none of whom have attacked us. It's a calculated risk we took with the million or so Indochinese refugees we accepted after the Vietnam War, none of whom have attacked us.
Right now a lot of presidential candidates talking up their macho, decisive leadership abilities and Christian bona fides want the world's richest and most powerful nation to turn its back on thousands of people who are clearly innocent because a couple of them could hypothetically be terrorist agents. I just wish the GOP had been this cautious and risk-averse in the early 2000s, back when it was repealing Wall Street regulations and charging off into the Middle Eastern war that started all this.
Despite what Marco Rubio might tell you, ISIS and Western Civilization aren’t locked in some sort of epic battle. Western Civilization already won long ago. Beheadings and terrorist attacks are awful and frightening, but by and large they’re not making people in the US and Europe think twice about the legitimacy of democracy, technology, or women’s rights. The people who do wind up leaving Western Civilization to live in a medieval terrorist dystopia aren’t our best and brightest.
That’s not to say ISIS isn’t dangerous, because they obviously are. But the simple fact is that as soon as a major power actually sends a full professional army to fight ISIS on the ground, ISIS is toast. The main reason that hasn’t happened yet is because invading and occupying territory really sucks and nobody wants to do it. Sooner or later, though, enough terrorist attacks will make it politically expedient for some regional coalition to go in and clean this mess up. It’s just a matter of time.
Western Civilization is going to outlive ISIS. I’d wager that The Simpsons is going to outlive ISIS, too. The scary thing is that millions and millions of people have been displaced trying to get away from ISIS, and it’s not going to be safe for them to go home anytime soon. They’ve got no work, no money, they’re living on the streets or in camps, their kids are traumatized and not getting an education. If the US and Europe turn their back on millions of displaced people who need help, those people will:
A) Stay displaced, and
B) Probably bear a grudge for our refusal to help, which will make them a lot more likely to
C) Join whatever new and infinitely scarier terrorist group the survivors of ISIS start in the future.
So if doing the right thing isn't a good enough reason to help Syrian refugees, can't we at least help them because it's the smart, proactive thing to do?
It’s easy to forget that before 2011, Syria was a stable, urbanized, cultured, relatively normal country. Sure, the president was an awful dictator who threw dissenters in jail and tortured them, but people who kept their heads down in many cases lived lives pretty similar to our own: They went to college, lived in apartments, worked in offices, watched TV, hung out with friends, and took shitty phone videos at Gorillaz concerts:
That video was taken in Damascus in 2010. This is Damascus earlier this year:
Think about your past five years. Think about what it would’ve been like if in that time your home had been destroyed, your friends and family injured and killed, if you’d had to put all of your plans and ambitions on hold to flee for your life. Wouldn’t you want someone to step up to the plate and offer you a safe place to flee to?
I would. But since I'm fortunate enough to not be in that position, I just want my country to do something I can really be proud of for once.