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Syrian Refugees And The Luxury Of First World Problems

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Syrian Refugees And The Luxury Of First World Problems

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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.

Over a red cup.

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 lpitts@miamiherald.com.) (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

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Leonard Pitts Jr.

Leonard Pitts Jr. is a nationally syndicated commentator, journalist, and novelist. Pitts' column for the Miami Herald deals with the intersection between race, politics, and culture, and has won him multiple awards including a Pulitzer Prize in 2004.

The highly regarded novel, Freeman (2009), is his most recent book.

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11 Comments

  1. Dominick Vila November 25, 2015

    The saddest part of all the rhetoric and the actions that are being taken to reject refugees escaping the ISIS barbarism is the deliberate destruction of our reputation as a bastion of freedom and democracy, the home of the brave, a nation of immigrants, and a country with a tradition to welcome those escaping tyranny. Not surprisingly, those responsible for the anti-American, unconstitutional, and destructive rhetoric and actions that are taking place, are the same ones who rejected 3,000 Central American women and children seeking asylum to escape from the drug related violence that prevail in their countries. They are the same people who ridiculed France when they refused to join us in the Iraqi crusades, and tried to change the term “French” fries for Freedom fries. They are the same people who fear foreigners and anything foreign. The fact that Germany and Sweden have accepted about a million refugees, and that President Obama’s attempt to save face by proposing to accept 10,000 of them does not bother them at all. The fact that many of the refugees are Christians, that many come from Iraq, Afghanistan, and several North African countries, rather than just Syria, does not prevent them from making stupid statements. The fact that tens of thousands have drowned trying to escape violence and terrorism when their flimsy boats capsized crossing the Mediterranean does not bother them. Why is this happening? Because of:
    1. Ignorance
    2. Ethnic, cultural, and religious prejudices
    3. Because our offer to accept a token 10,000 refugees was made by President Obama
    4. Because a stand against an influx of Muslims is needed to strengthen our stand against undocumented immigrants from Mexico and Central America.
    5. Because using fear is an effective tool to convince the ill informed.
    6. Because everything the GOP says and does is designed to demonize Democrats, influence the outcome of the upcoming party nominations and, most importantly, influence the outcome of the 2016 presidential election. If they have to trash our Constitution, values, history, traditions, and everything our country stands for, so be it. For them, the only thing that matters is winning, controlling the agenda, controlling all branches of government, and controlling policy making.

    Reply
    1. Cloudherder November 25, 2015

      EXACTLY.

      Reply
    2. CPAinNewYork November 25, 2015

      God, what a blather mouth you are! Don’t you do anything but sit in front of your computer all day and write this crap?

      You seem to forget that the “million” refugees that you claim Germany and Sweden have accepted pales when compared to the 12,000,000 illegals that we have absorbed.

      Reply
      1. Insinnergy November 25, 2015

        You seem to be avoiding the obvious cowardice of the USA… particularly the frothing Republicans.
        Explain it. Use facts.

        Reply
      2. stcroixcarp November 25, 2015

        How would your life be better without the 12,000,000 “illegals”? How will your life be worse with 10,000 refugees from Syria?

        Reply
      3. Aaron_of_Portsmouth December 5, 2015

        We realize it’s painful for your tiny brain to read more than a couple of sentences. Take an Advil, grab a beer, sit in your easy-chair, and burp the evening away. Y’all have fun now, ya hear?

        Reply
  2. CPAinNewYork November 25, 2015

    Hello, Dominick. Still fighting mental health?

    Reply
    1. CrankyToo November 25, 2015

      Yeah, he’s doing all he can, but some of you sickos are apparently too far gone to be saved…

      Reply
    2. Aaron_of_Portsmouth December 5, 2015

      His mental state far exceeds yours. It would be a miracle on your part to string together two whole sentences that were cogent and lucid.

      Reply
  3. ralphkr November 26, 2015

    Two years of vetting to get asylum in the US…hmmm, if you weren’t a terrorist at the beginning of the process you probably shall be by the end of the torture.

    Reply
  4. Aaron_of_Portsmouth December 5, 2015

    The GOP and its fanatical following are stricken with mental incapacity and heartless souls. The attitude they project is one that pollutes the souls of the inhabitants of America. Those who have better moral training have at least some form of protection from the “virus” that emanates from the diseased hearts of the governors and the GOP in general, whereas those who were raised by wolves give their consent for the pusillanimous Right Wing’s decision who would choose to turn their backs on those in need.

    And to highlight their ignorance of history, along with their un-Christian attitudes, they have group-amnesia about how their forebears were welcomed, given food and shelter, and were given tips on how to cope in the cold winters of New England.

    And now the ungrateful sacks-of woe would rather show their thanks by turning their backs on what it means to be a Christian. A punishment of some kind or another awaits those who are so callous as to behave as the GOP has, in light of the plight of Syrian refugees. (And certain deranged GOP hopefuls are so egregious that they suggest that only Christians would be welcomed). Such is the pathetic state of Christianity in America.

    Reply

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