First and foremost I do not claim to be saying anything new here. Most everything to follow I have either heard from others, read elsewhere, or have only changed slightly. Still, I think it pertinent for me to organize and share my thoughts on the matter.
As is well known, President Obama has promised to allow 10,000 Syrian refugees into America over the coming months. This has, understandably, garnered a considerable amount of controversy. Those in opposition to letting any Syrian refugees into America put forward the claim that doing so would certainly be allowing terrorists into our country, and would pose a danger and threat to the lives of innocent civilians.
Before proceeding, I would like to say that I am absolutely sympathetic to this argument, and I do not deny it a certain level of validity.
However, our opinion on the matter of allowing refugees into the US must be rooted in our own history as a people. It was only about seventy years ago that close to 1,000 Jewish refugees from Europe were sent back to their deaths by the US. How can we make this same mistake again? This fact alone, at the very least, has to instill all of us with tremendous sympathy for what are no doubt the vast majority of absolutely innocent refugees that are simply fleeing for their lives.
It must also be pointed out, however obvious, that President Obama does not want innocent Americans to be killed. Say what you will about his policies — some of which I agree with, and others I very much do not — his goal is not to have innocent civilians be killed. That is not why he wants to allow Syrian refugees into the US.
Further, it must be noted that the vetting process to be allowed into this country as a refugee takes close to two full years, and is incredibly, incredibly tedious, intense, complicated, and thorough. In short, it’s as good as it gets, and then some (the head of the FBI, for instance, must personally sign off on each approval), and so the chance of a terrorist from Syria slipping through the system is incredibly low. But this aside, if a terrorist really wanted to get onto American soil, a far easier way would be to just get a green card — a far less rigorous process. No terrorist is going to go through the refugee process. It just makes no sense.
From both a moral and pragmatic perspective, this is how I see things.
This all being said, though, given the unfortunate reputation from whence they come, allowing Syrian refugees into the US would no doubt, on some level, pose certain risks. There would be that much of a higher chance of letting a terrorist into this country than if we just simply turned all 10,000 refugees back to where they came from. As humans, though, and certainly as Jews, we must weigh the positives of our actions against the negatives. The risks against the benefits. Most everything that we do has some level of risk involved. We cross the street. We get into a car. More than 40,000 people die each year from car accidents. But we weigh the benefits against the risks, and determine — each person in his or her own way — what the proper course of action is.
If you are asking me, I think the benefit of saving thousands of lives — especially in the wake of our recent history — far outweighs the minuscule potential risk. Perhaps you think differently — and that is okay. But what must be remembered throughout is that we have respectful discourse with one another, and that we always remember that when we gain in one area, we often lose in another. The moral fabric of our society is no small thing to write off — and, like it or not, is going to be very greatly affected by the decision we, as a country, make in regards to the Syrian refugees. We ought not forget this.