We Must Accept Refugees

I had a conversation today with someone who holds the opinion that Europe and the rest of the world should stop accepting Syrian refugees because of the Paris attacks on Nov 13th, 2015. It has been reported that one of the attackers entered the European Union through Greece as a refugee. Even should this prove to be true, this alone does not mean the world should turn away refugees from Syria. I now embark on a long-winded explanation of my position.

We call it the “war on terror” rather than specifying an enemy nation. In fact, terrorists in the last two decades have been from many countries: Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Egypt, the United Kingdom, and even the United States, among others. We acknowledge that our opponents in this war are a group of people spanning race and nationality and not a nation itself. This is no surprise.

The world operates more globally than it did 100 or 1000 years ago. The industrial age and now the internet have accelerated this change. Today, groups like ISIS no longer exist in a bubble, isolated from people with different beliefs. Our new connected-world society has not yet adapted to find balance between opposing ideologies. People clash with ISIS over their interpretation of the Quran, while other people clash with the Westboro Baptists over their interpretation of the Bible.

Yikes. Killing in the name of religion goes both ways, I guess.

Maybe this all is not so different than the Crusades. One religous group is trying to force their beliefs on the rest of the world. Naturally, the rest of the world is upset about this and is fighting back. As part of that latter group, I don’t want to follow the ISIS interpretation of the Quran. I don’t want to follow anyone’s interpretation of any religous text, for that matter. The Westboro Baptists probably don’t like me either.

As I write this, over two million refugees have fled Syria. They fled because ISIS doesn’t think they adhere to the Quran and may kill them. They fled because we bomb Syria in pursuit of ISIS and may kill them as collateral damage. Both seem like good reasons to leave and I hope other nations would accept me if I were in that postion.

For argument’s sake and simple math, let’s say only one percent of those refugees would have been killed in Syria because of their beliefs or the actions of other nations. That’s 20,000 people. Why are we more offended over an attack in Paris that killed 129 than we have been over events in Syria that have killed tens of thousands? Or, for that matter, deaths in Colombia, China, or Lebanon due to other religious and political conflicts.

We cannot call this a global war on terror without owning the war itself. We’re in a war, and whether we started it or not, we don’t get to take offense at deaths based on where they happened or where the victims are from. All lives are equal to all other lives. If the rest of the world can save the lives of any innocent Syrians, then we must accept refugees even if our enemies will attempt revenge on our own soil. It’s the right thing to do.

In closing, a word from Bertand Russell, circa 1959:


One last question: Suppose, Lord Russell, that this film will be looked at by our descendants, like the Dead Sea scroll, in a thousand years’ time. What would you think it’s worth telling that generation about the life you’ve lived and the lessons you’ve learned from it?

I should like to say two things, one intellectual and one moral. The intellectual thing I should want to say to them is this: When you are studying any matter, or considering any philosophy, ask yourself only what are the facts and what is the truth that the facts bear out. Never let yourself be diverted either by what you wish to believe, or by what you think would have beneficent social effects if it were believed, but look only, and solely, at what are the facts. That is the intellectual thing that I should wish to say.

The moral thing I should wish to say to them is very simple. I should say love is wise; hatred is foolish. In this world, which is getting more closely and closely interconnected, we have to learn to tolerate each other. We have to learn to put up with the fact that some people say things that we don’t like. We can only live together in that way; if we are to live together and not die together, we must learn a kind of charity and a kind of tolerance which is absolutely vital to the continuation of human life on this planet.

– Interview of Bertrand Russell (1872-1970), British philosopher and mathematician and Nobel laureate, on BBC’s Face to Face (1959)

1 thought on “We Must Accept Refugees

  1. Thank you for the thoughtful commentary. Refreshing amongst the sea of memes in the general theme of “kill them all, let god sort them out”.

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