In Response to “Thoughts on Immigration”

I second Tom’s thoughts.  Having said that, I’ll quibble with some minor points and hope I’m not misrepresenting his ideas.

Tom asserts that those alarmed by the current wave of refugees into Europe, though they cite the risk of terrorism, are really only “refusing refugees for the sake of refusing refugees.”  I believe most are specifically refusing Muslim refugees.

I’m not here to demonize these folks.  The news out of the Middle East is bad, and an Islamophobe who has made a career of portraying Muslims as bloodthirsty savages could reasonably claim that the Islamic State is stealing his job (let him file a complaint with the Trumpocrats).

It’s too much to ask that any mind process the stories of hundreds of thousands.  In order to hold the idea that “Muslims” are regular folks and that “we” are no different, you have to subscribe to a theory that says so.  This theory holds up very well, but I can understand how someone not starting with that theory, and seeking in good faith information about the wider world, wouldn’t necessarily form it.  Not to disparage reporters (I respect them collectively more than I do any other group of people engaged in a common enterprise), but, “if it bleeds, it leads.”  We hear about the bomb that blew up a packed marketplace in Baghdad; we rarely think — unless we are predisposed to do so — about everything that must be true for a marketplace to be packed.

Thus, in a way, the task of convincing a skeptic that her chances of being blown up by a Syrian refugee are small is similar to that of convincing a person afraid of flying that it’s safer than traveling by car.  Often, those in the latter group concede that you’re probably right, but it doesn’t change their position because their fear isn’t rational in the first place.

We who support an open policy should not be afraid to recognize that there are risks and downsides.  To exaggerate for dramatic effect, a town of 100,000 can’t accept twice as many strangers at once without some friction.  Let’s admit that among the desperate, unwashed masses, many species of criminal must be present (not just terrorists).  This is a cost.  I don’t believe that a deeply liberal society, having earnestly weighed the risks, would choose to turn away a crowd among which are many families, doctors, artists etc, etc, and etc.

I’ll quibble with another point.  Tom echos the common assertion that the US and its allies are ultimately responsible for what drove the refugees from their homes (so, we are obligated to accommodating them).  I also said in my first piece on this subject that “we do bear a share of the responsibility for the present turmoil in the Middle East.”  When writing that, I lingered over “a share”:  Should I emphasize it more?  I couldn’t find the words to strike the right balance, so I decided to err towards downplaying our role.

Yes, our influence in the region has been massively counterproductive, but the forces making life impossible for decent people there are not simply our puppets.  The relationship between our inept politicians and the passion with which Syrians are fighting their compatriots from street to street is as diluted as a homeopathic remedy.  I don’t deny that our bombs harm and kill civilians, but the threat of an Arab being bombed by America is as exaggerated as that of an American being bombed by an Arab.  Americans are many times more likely to shoot up other Americans, just as Arabs are much more likely to kill Arabs.

Let us welcome those who flee the madness.  The violence they flee is simultaneously incarnate in our own society, because it is human.  We need only look into ourselves to realize that it is not alien.  Yes, they are criminals and terrorists.  We are, too.  We have a marvelous legal and economic system, which we buy into.  In my experience and that of many others, they buy into it, too.  You don’t have to look too far into the past to find times when this marvelous framework broke down for us and those closely related to us.  Right now, many from the Middle East are going through such a dark time.  Their vehicle has broken down on the highway; let’s pull over and give them a ride.  We’ll be in their position soon enough.