Syrian Refugees And The Luxury Of First World Problems
A red cup.
A few days ago, some people seemed to find that one of the most vexing moral problems of the day. Starbucks unveils a minimalist design for its holiday coffee cups — a red field, a green logo, no snowmen, snowflakes or fir trees — some guy makes a video lambasting the decision, and suddenly the so-called “War on Christmas” is all over the news again and Donald Trump is calling for a boycott.
This is what you’d call a First World problem. That is, the kind of thing that seems a problem when your stomach is full and the lights are on.
In Syria, they have not the luxury of First World problems. In Syria, people find themselves trapped in an internecine war, rebel factions fighting the government of strongman Bashar al-Assad. After four years, the death toll stands at about a quarter of a million. One of the victims: a baby killed in a mustard gas attack in August. Estimates vary, but about 10 million people — roughly half the population — have been displaced, including over 3 million who have fled the country. The United States has taken in 1,500 of them, with an additional 10,000 scheduled for entry in 2016.
But that won’t happen if some of us have their way.
In the wake of the recent terrorist attacks in Paris and reports that one of the terrorists managed to sneak into France on a false Syrian passport, 31 governors — all but one a Republican — have declared that they will seek to bar the refugees from their states. Presidential wannabe Ben Carson compared them to rabid dogs and complained that there is no vetting process. The House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly to impose harsh new restrictions.
It is not hard to understand where all this is coming from. Fear is a master motivator. But where fear is allowed the last word, terrorism is superfluous.
So it’s worth noting a few things.
One: Governors have no say in whether this country accepts refugees.
Two: These are human beings, not dogs, rabid or otherwise.
Three: The process for becoming a refugee is already pretty restrictive. Contrary to what Carson says, refugees face a vetting process that can stretch up to two years. They are scrutinized by the United Nations, the State Department, the FBI, the National Counterterrorism Center and the Department of Homeland Security, their stories are checked, they are interviewed in depth, subjected to fingerprinting, and even eye scanning.
Does any of this mean there isn’t at least a minuscule chance of a terrorist getting through? Of course not.
But a terrorist could also get through by posing as a student or tourist. It sure worked for the Sept. 11 hijackers. The only way to be completely safe from foreign terror is to close the borders: No one in or out, ever. Even then, you’d still have domestic terror to contend with.
So we might as well choose to give a damn about bedraggled people fleeing a war zone. Not only because it’s the moral thing to do, but because it’s the thing most consonant with who and what we are supposed to be.
It’s fitting that we’re having this discussion while preparing to celebrate America’s first refugee crisis. A bunch of boat people — diseased, unable to speak the language, a drain on the economy — washed up on these shores and the first Americans took them in. From that seed grew a mighty nation of refugees, people who now have the luxury of fearing refugees and complaining about the color of a coffee cup.
Not to put too fine a point on it, but that cup is in celebration of Christmas, which is the birth of Jesus. He was, you will recall, born in a barn to Mary and Joseph and laid in a manger.
Because there was no room for them in the inn.
(Leonard Pitts is a columnist for The Miami Herald, 1 Herald Plaza, Miami, Fla., 33132. Readers may contact him via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.) (c) 2015 THE MIAMI HERALD DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.
Refugees and migrants board the Turkish Coast Guard Search and Rescue ship Umut-703, off the shores of Canakkale, Turkey, after a failed attempt at crossing to the Greek island of Lesbos, November 9, 2015. REUTERS/Umit Bektas