Monday, November 16, 2015

Might As Well Not Take Any Refugees If We're Going To Start Singling Out Syrians For No Admittance

     The sudden upthrust of  xenophobia masquerading as caution is understandable enough, but the wholesale refusal to take in Syrian refugees by a number of state governors is a
Syrian Kids
Scary, huh?
(photo from
wasted effort.
There are now 10 Governors (probably more will jump on this bandwagon by the time I finish this piece) who won't accept Syrian refugees after the Paris massacre a couple of days ago.  As one among many of those "huddled masses" who came over here as a refugee in 1950 from the "teeming shores" of postwar Europe, I'm finding this exercise in holding all Syrians at arm's length
 contrary to the best angels of our American nature.  
     First off, it's utterly ridiculous, even by intent.  While a small minority (13%) of those who inhabit Syria are Christians, these people are for the most part Muslim Arabs who happen to reside in a "manufactured" political entity called Syria, which didn't even exist until it was part of the carve-up of the Ottoman Empire after World War I, in 1919 at Versailles.  Before that, it languished for centuries as part of the Ottomans' vast land holdings that spread north into the Balkans and east and south from what is now Turkey, going all the way down the Arabian peninsula and over into Egypt. In '07 I was in Syria and shopped at the Souk Hamideh in Damascus, so named after the last Ottoman Sultan Abdul Hamid II. The Ottoman presence is still pervasive in Syria, which was under French control from 1920 until 1936, when it gained independence.  By ethnicity, language, culture, religion and history, the vast majority of Syrians are the same as their fellow Arabs throughout the middle east.  
     Trying to single out Syrian Arabs from their brethren in the rest of that post-Ottoman region is a fool's game, as the only token of their Syrian status is a piece of paper called a passport.  For an Arab of Syrian residence to obtain a fake passport is an easy task, so I doubt very seriously that a determined terrorist from Syria would have much trouble entering this or any country with a passport that makes him a Jordanian, a Saudi Arabian, or any number of other national identities that are essentially Arabs first, nationals second.  Meantime, thousands of the most miserable human beings on the face of the earth, most of them--contrary to what that breathtakingly ignorant presidential contender Ben Carson has said about most refugees being young males--are women.  The number of males aged 18-59 amounts to 21% of the total.  
     Meantime, the United States has accepted a relatively tiny number of Syrian refugees since the civil war there started in 2011.  So far we've taken in 1,500 of the nearly 4 million who have fled.  Upping the ante a bit, President Obama has authorized a total of 33,000 refugees to be admitted this year from the "Near East/South Asia," which
We Can Find Space For These Folks
We're A Big Country With A Big Heart
(photo from
includes Syria but also means that many refugees will be coming from other parts of that region. These are relatively small, manageable numbers that can stand all the official vetting and scrutiny required by security and common sense.  In context, consider that in just one day in 1907 nearly 12,000 immigrants passed through Ellis Island.  

     Taking in refugees is so definitive of the essence of America that arbitrarily rejecting a whole class of them because of the awful nature of a handful who can probably slip through the system anyway is a pretty crass rejection of our own identity.  Tightening up the process is probably long overdue, but saying to those who, like me, were once the "wretched refuse" of their native lands "no, you can't come because of who you are" is a heartbreaking turn, a hardening of our hearts, a sorry capitulation to our most reptilian fears.  


  1. Thanks John, just saw word of this on Dakota Free Press. You are getting a lot of good commentary, including a run for Gov in '18.
    Sad part of this is that just like a century and a half ago, we did the same thing with the Chinese, after they had done the hard work of building the railroads across the mountains in the Western US. Banned anymore from coming and kicked out the ones that were here.

  2. Don't forget the California Alien Land Law of 1913, which was aimed at Japanese immigrants. We don't always live up to our ideals.

  3. Thanks again John, for your taking time to give the public some good thoughts to dwell on. This time of year we need to remember that important young family that fled turmoil and persecution in their homeland after giving birth to a future king in a stable as 'There's NO ROOM for you!"