Do Not Harden Your Hearts

The inscription on the Statue of Liberty partly reads "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free." Reading the comments made by some Republican presidential candidates in the aftermath of the Paris attacks about preventing Syrian Muslim refugees from coming to the United States, one would be hard pressed to believe that we live in a country that is proud to be called "a nation of immigrants."

Predictably, the shameful rhetoric was led by Donald Trump who told Yahoo News that he would consider requiring Muslim-Americans to register with a government database or require them to carry special identification noting their faith. The Hill reported that Trump also said that the U.S. would have "absolutely no choice" besides shutting down mosques when "some bad things happen."

This is fear and demagoguery masquerading as prudence. Writing on the CNN website, attorney, columnist and editor Dean Obeidallah said shutting down mosques "would be as outrageous as closing down a mega church because two or three members firebombed an abortion clinic. Our system of justice punishes specific wrongdoers, not all who simply share the same faith or race of a criminal."

The anti-Muslim paranoia has quickly spread across the Republican establishment. 27 states have announced that they will refuse to take in Syrian refugees. The announcements were made by the state's governors, all of whom are Republican except one.

New Jersey governor Chris Christie said the United States should not accept a single Syrian refugee, not even "orphans under age 5."

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This rhetoric has had a profound effect on the American public's perception of all Syrian refugees, particularly Muslims, and this is where the real danger lies. According to a Public Religion Research Institute poll published on November 17, 56 percent of Americans say Islamic values are at odds with American values.

The numbers are even higher among Americans who identify themselves as 'Christian' or 'Republican' with an alarming 76 percent believing that "that Islam is at odds with American values and way of life." Among Democrats, only 43 percent agreed.

Meanwhile, Middle Eastern Christians, not only Syrians, but also Iraqi Christians, have been on the move since the U.S. invasion of Iraq made them repeated victims of jihadist Sunni militias there. Even the right-leaning U.S. movement In Defense of Christians has failed to come to their defense since the Nov. 13 ISIS attacks in Paris.

While some have advocated admitting only Christian refugees to the U.S., the administration has rejected preferential admission of Christians as contrary to American values and the constitution, even though the indifference of the secular policy establishment has callously ignored their plight for more than a decade.

Speaking for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Bishop Eusebio Elizondo said, "I am disturbed, however, by calls from both federal and state officials for an end to the resettlement of Syrian refugees in the United States. These refugees are fleeing terror themselves -- violence like we have witnessed in Paris. They are extremely vulnerable families, women, and children who are fleeing for their lives. We cannot and should not blame them for the actions of a terrorist organization."

Chicago Archbishop Blasé Cupich asked in the Chicago Sun-Times on Nov. 20, "How can we look the other way, as they huddle with their children in foreign lands with barely any shelter, clothing or food?" He pleaded, "We must not. These are our neighbors."

Likewise, New York's Cardinal Timothy Dolan wrote on November 22 in an op-ed for the New York Daily News, "Today, we must once again make certain that the hatred directed toward us by others does not lead us to close our minds and our hearts to the pain and suffering of those in need. To do so would mean a different time of destruction, this time to our morals and our principles."

Unlike American state governors and Republican presidential candidates who have called for a ban on Syrian refugees in the U.S., European leaders have been generally mature about seeing through the ISIS campaign of strategic disinformation.

The head of the European Commission and the speaker of the European Parliament have declared that Europe must not allow ISIS to dictate the terms of its refugee policy. Other countries that have been attacked by terrorists such as Canada, Australia, and Britain, have not backed away from their commitment to take Syrian refugees, and the U.S. shouldn't either. Doing so allows the enemy to dictate the terms of the battle.

The new Canadian premier, Justin Trudeau, has pledged to keep to his promise to accept 25,000 Syrians in that country. "It didn't take the tragedy of Paris for us suddenly to realize that security is important," he said.

As Americans, we should not stigmatize hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees who are fleeing for their very lives because of the violence carried out by an extremist fringe, and not only for moral and humanitarian reasons. The US has every strategic reason to refuse to succumb to fear and to continue providing refuge for those escaping the nightmare of war.

The chances of an ISIS terrorist infiltrating through refugees to the U.S. is miniscule and would be part of a process that takes years.

None of the Paris assailants were refugees. They were French and Belgian citizens who had traveled to the Middle East to train and fight and then returned unnoticed to sow mayhem in Europe. They are part of the 4,500 Europeans who have gone to fight in Syria, many of whom are unknown to European authorities.

There's no doubt that we have entered a period where unfortunately we can expect more ISIS attacks as they continue in their strategy to provoke an apocalyptic confrontation with the 'Crusader infidels.' It is critical that we do not fall into the trap ISIS is setting for us.

ISIS hopes that when Syrian refugees, whether Muslim or Christian, in the West are demonized, they will become alienated from the country they live in and turn to violent extremism. For ISIS, spreading the perception that the West is at war with Islam is a huge recruitment booster.

ISIS strategy also seeks to make Americans and Europeans think of refugees as potential security threats rather than the victims that they are. It is important that ISIS not succeed in its tactic of spreading strategic disinformation. ISIS does not want the West to give a home to anyone fleeing its 'caliphate.'

ISIS is losing and will inevitably be beaten. The growing array of countries lined up against it makes it obvious why. We must be careful not to lose our Western values of democracy, culture and way of life in the process or the coming victory will be a hollow one.

[Drew Christiansen, S.J., is Distinguished Professor of Ethics and Global Development at Georgetown University; Ra'fat Aldajani is a Palestinian-American businessman and political commentator.]


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