Thank you, Selco, for the thought provoking commentary and unanswered questions. Your article leaves many of the either/or arguments out in the cold – it’s just not as simple as either we take them in or we don’t. I’ve had many thoughts, particularly today, and like you, largely without definitive answers. Just for starters:
1. I turned on the TV briefly this afternoon just to see what’s going on while I ate a few bites of easily obtainable, delicious food (unavailable to most of these refugees). One commentator made a wonderful observation about the large number of Vietnamese refugees we took into the U.S. after the Vietnam undeclared conflict. He noted that about 15 years later, California had a number of high school class valedictorians with the last name of Nugyen. Indeed….
2. I well remember as a young child when we welcomed Hungarian refugees (1954/55) to our school. Their clothes were different from ours, they looked a little different from most of us, and they didn’t speak any English. Of course, Hungarian wasn’t taught in our schools, so we were all at an impasse as far as communication went. But I remember going with some of my classmates and some of the older kids just instinctively trying to make friends without the ability to verbally communicate. Sadly, I have no recollection of them still being at our school the following year (or perhaps even through that first year). I don’t know what happened to them. I contrast that with Hungary’s current prime minister who said that refugees “should not come” to his country (he’s clearly not old enough to remember, nor has he apparently studied and cared enough about his own former countrymen’s history).
3. And far more recently I remember an Army physician who was tasked with helping to treat our emotionally scarred Soldiers who’d returned from war, and who then methodically murdered 13 of them, while injuring many more. Or the son of Kuwaiti immigrants who was only about a year old when his country was overrun by Iraq, only to be saved by the United States military. Then that young Kuwaiti killed five U.S. military recruiters in Tennessee. Or perhaps one might recall the recent stories of people in their teens and twenties that have gone (or been intercepted as they tried to go) to be trained by ISIS and other similar groups, many with plans to bring back and use their new “skills” to destroy everyday Americans that had welcomed them.
4. And of course there is the gut-wrenching photo of the little 3 year old Syrian boy, face down in the sand. We don’t see already-dead victims of crime or other tragedy in U.S. newspapers or on TV, yet it’s OK to show this little boy very up close, and very personal. You’re right, Selco, some are more worried about whales than human beings, it seems. But I’ve wondered sometimes if that’s “easier” to deal with – after all, we can’t relate to whales or even abused pet dogs or cats – they aren’t us. We can view them with compassion and horror while remaining at least somewhat detached, and DO something. Looking at other human beings is perhaps much harder because they’re human, and we tend to just shut down emotionally. It would be too much to bear if we really thought about it. In some respects, the term “denial,” so well understood by families of addicts, may fit many of us when it comes to the human crisis. We can’t handle facing it, so we “turn off” emotionally, reject the refugees so we don’t have to deal with it, and move along with our relatively comfortable lives, occasionally clucking about how terrible “it” is “over there.” Most of us, especially those in the U.S. and modern Western Europe, cannot relate to true human tragedy and suffering, unless they’ve been deployed as part of a military force to Iran, Afghanistan, the Balkans, etc. We can’t emotionally deal with it – so we don’t.
Those are just some of the many thoughts I’ve had recently, particularly this weekend. And like you, I don’t have good answers, despite knowing what the most correct answer is. It’s much too difficult to apply the most correct answer when it isn’t just a simple decision that will turn into a success story. There’s far more than just inconvenience involved – sometimes it’s a matter of even downright physical safety and/or survival (both for the refugees and for those opening their homes and nations).
But one answer that certainly can be undertaken by most is carefully researching relief agencies, and making donations to those that appear to be the least profit-minded, and the most directly serving of basic human needs, as compassionately as possible. I cannot do everything – but I can do something.