Friday, November 20, 2015

Pray for Paris: An open letter about Syrian Refugees

A person I like and respect shared this post.

I disagree with this post strongly.

To speak more clearly, this post is grotesque. It's abhorrent. It's un-American. It is inhuman.

Let's take it by paragraph.

Katie Jones
November 16 at 8:38pm · Edited · 
Katie Jones: I am seeing lots of posts in favor of allowing the Syrian refugees to enter our country. I commend my friends on their desires to be kind and welcoming to all, but I'd like to pose a couple questions to you: Do you welcome every homeless person you encounter into your home for an unspecified amount of time? Do you stop and pick up every hitchhiker you pass on the highway and bring him/her into your home?

These are loaded questions.  They presuppose a number of things that are simply untrue. You might as well ask me if I’ve stopped beating my wife yet.

The answer, of course is that that the screening progress for refuges is already incredibly long and arduous.

From the Economist: Refugees apply for resettlement at American embassies or through the United Nations. If they pass that first hurdle, they are screened by outposts of the Department of State all over the world. They undergo investigations of their biography and identity; FBI biometric checks of their fingerprints and photographs; in-person interviews by Department of Homeland Security officers; medical screenings as well as investigations by the National Counter-terrorism Centre and by American and international intelligence agencies. The process may take as long as three years, sometimes longer. No other person entering America is subjected to such a level of scrutiny.

I would conclude that other people have already raised this point, because in one of your updates you say “who just want to be protected to the best of our nation's ability from those who wish to harm us. Searching databases for records that do not exist in order to determine whether a person is a threat or not is not the best of our nation's ability.” You dismiss this rather glibly. The rebuttal is that such screens would not have stopped the Paris attackers, either, who had only a history of petty crime prior to their perpetration of the massacre.
Katie Jones:  I am going to go out on a limb and say that you answered both of those questions no. I will guess that your reasoning behind that is because your parents taught you not to. And because you don't know these people, their mental state, or their possible criminal backgrounds. And because it's just not a safe thing to do. This does not make you a bad person. This does not make you xenophobic. This does not make you racist, a bigot or an elitist. This does not mean you are throwing your values and morals aside. It only means that you know there are other ways to help these people while still maintaining your personal safety and the safety of your family. For example, donating to cause specific charities or volunteering at a shelter.
I’ve addressed the first part of the question, that refugees face unparalleled levels of scrutiny compared to anyone else entering the country, so we do have a pretty good idea of who they are. I think most people would take in a guest they know quite well if that person had nowhere to go.

I don’t know you personally, so I can’t say if you’re xenophobic, or a racist or a bigot. I can say after reading what you have written here that what you are advocating makes you sound like a bad person.

What you’re proposing is counterproductive. It is exactly what the real terrorists want. It will make us less safe.They want us weak and afraid. They want their tiny and temporary fiefdom to be seen as a refuge, and when we turn away these displaced women and children, those refugees don’t have a lot of options and may well wind up back where they came from. It shows the victims that they’re helpless, and it’s a recruiting bonanza for the terrorists.
Katie Jones:  Lashing out at individuals who do not support the entrance of Syrian refugees into our country is basically telling us, your countrymen, friends and family, that you value their lives and safety over ours. And that is what I don't understand. Will you only care about us after an attack? Is that what it will take to prove to you that this isn't safe? Do you think it is impossible to help these people without bringing them across our borders?
It doesn't make it impossible to help them if we "pause"the admission process, but it certainly complicates a process that’s already extremely complicated, and it makes life more difficult for those who have already suffered profoundly.

I’m reluctant to make comparisons to the Nazis, because that tends to undermine the seriousness of an argument. But as no less an authority than the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum drew the same parallels, so I feel it apt.

 I learned about a man named Dave Gushee on Fred Clark’s blog. Gushee wrote a dissertation that was later expanded into a book called Righteous Gentiles of the Holocaust .  In it, he explored why it was that some people, at great personal risk, helped their Jewish neighbors in Nazi-occupied Europe while the majority did not. Much of the study involves what he calls "boundaries of moral obligation." One such boundary, for many, was the fear of putting one's own family at risk in order to rescue a neighbor or a stranger from certain death. Many of those who remained bystanders did so due to a kind of "pro-family" ethic. They allowed a legitimate priority of moral obligation to become an illegitimate boundary of moral obligation.

This is my daughter. I love her more than anything else in the world, and I would do anything in the world to protect her. Do you see the shirt she’s wearing? She made it herself. It reads “Pray for Paris”, and it has flowers and a dove and a rising sun. We went to a vigil for those killed in the Paris attacks on Saturday, and she was deeply moved and wanted to do something. She wore it to school yesterday. What will be the effect of it? Probably nothing. She’ll feel better. But she’s doing more than you are, because she’s not rationalizing the bigotry, racism or xenophobia of those people who want to turn the refugees away.
Katie Jones:  I'd also like to share that I have not, by any means, been manipulated into my fear of this situation. This is not an imaginary threat created to gain public support of a political agenda. My fear is of terrorists who want nothing more from their life than to kill me and everyone one of you simply because we are Americans. Our blood is their greatest achievement and they will seek out that achievement by any means necessary. For example, posing as an innocent refugee seeking safety, just as one did to gain entrance to France in order to carry out the horrific Paris attacks. I will not allow you to shame me or anyone else who shares this fear and I'm greatly insulted by those who label my fear as anything else.
I absolutely believe that you’re afraid. But I don’t believe your fear is legitimate, and I do believe that you have been manipulated into it. To put it into the parlance of the intelligence community, their desire to kill you is more aspirational than operational, meaning they want to kill you, but the barriers preventing that are insurmountable to them.

Even if your fear were rational, making decisions based on fear, and apparently, nothing else, is a terrible way to live your life, and is monstrous way to go about crafting policy. It is the worst kind of cowardice, the kind that masquerades as conviction.
Katie Jones:  I care about each of you. I don't want to see any of you harmed in any way and I would do whatever I could to prevent that harm from happening. That includes asking and expecting our President to find a way to provide aid to Syrian refugees without exposing us to the evil of these terrorists.
Woah, woah, woah. How did we get from refugee to terrorists inside the same sentence?
Katie Jones:  Anyone who wishes to share this may do so. I'm not normally this politically outspoken, and to be honest, I was scared to voice my opinion tonight. But I encourage everyone to push past that fear and respectfully and kindly share their opinions and thoughts about this - because what's even scarier is what might happen if we don't.

No. I can’t respect the ignorance and cowardice that informed your post. You are wrong about everything you have written here.

Katie Jones:  To those who disagree: I kindly ask you to hold our elected officials to higher standards. We are blessed with the freedom and right to demand that they try harder. What harm can be done by demanding that in light of recent events, they reevaluate their plans and adjust accordingly? There has to be a safer way to help the refugees. I do not claim to know the answer, but then again, it's not my job to know the answer. That's their job. And it's not just their job, it's their duty. I hope you remember that.
I do hold them to higher standards. Higher than this. I will not ask my country to burn the innocent so that they may reach the guilty. If the United States takes the actions you suggest, innocent people are going to die, not so you can be more secure, but so you can feel like you are.
Katie Jones:  UPDATE 11/16 @ 11:39 PM CST: I never imagined this post would spread the way it has. I get a little braver with every like and share, and I hope you do too. Don't be ashamed for valuing our safety. Thank you for all your kind words and support!
UPDATE 11/17 @ 6:21 PM CST: Currently at 1,412 shares! I was floored when a few friends asked if they could share this, so I can't even begin to describe how shocked I am now! I am honored that so many of you have chosen to share my voice and stand with me on this issue. Before posting this, I felt slightly alone in my thoughts on this subject and even began to feel helpless in a way. Those feelings are long gone now thanks to the overwhelming support of each of you. Please remember to be kind and respectful to those with opposing views. I believe they care for us just as we care for them. No good will come from making enemies of each other. United we stand and divided we fall. Finally, I'd like to address the fact that I have been accused of hating Muslims and of being afraid of Islam. I assure you I am neither of these things. My love is for all people, from all nations, of all religions, of all genders and all ages. I do not assume all refugees are terrorists, and I don't believe anyone who shares this post assumes that either. There is a vast difference between wanting to stop an opportunity for terrorists to kill Americans and hating and discriminating against an entire religious following. I hope you begin to see us for what we really are - honest, hardworking, loving Americans who just want to be protected to the best of our nation's ability from those who wish to harm us. Searching databases for records that do not exist in order to determine whether a person is a threat or not is not the best of our nation's ability. 
UPDATE 11/18 @ 2:45 PM CST: I'm SPEECHLESS! I'm not sure why Facebook isn't showing anyone other than myself the total number of times this has been shared, but it shows me that it's currently been shared 9,678 TIMES! Thank you everyone for standing behind me! This is truly a humbling experience!
What do you think the odds are that you’ll be personally impacted by the actions of a terrorist? Keep in mind, almost all terrorism against Americans is domestic, our Timothy McVeighs.

By year, the number of  Americans killed by terrorism is usually in the low double digits. In good years, it falls to single digits. (In 2011, it was eight). You’re more likely to be struck by lightning than killed by a terrorist. In the United States, we have a population of about a third of a billion people. The odds of being killed by a terrorist are 0.0000303% .Even in 2001, it was only 0.00140%.

 By comparison, the United Nations estimates more than a quarter million dead,  4 million registered and 1 million unregistered refugees abroad and 7 million internally displaced.

Earlier in the post, I pointed out the difference between a legitimate priority of moral obligation and an illegitimate boundary of moral obligation. You want to protect your loved ones. Of course you do. Everyone does. Calling to reject the refugees will not protect your family. But even if it did, it would not be the right thing to do, because any possible threat to your family represented by these refugees is infinitesimally tiny compared to the real and legitimate threat facing the refugees themselves.


  1. You thoroughly go over what's wrong with the way Katie Jone's open letter dehumanizes refugees, so I won't rehash any of that. I will add, though, that Katie dehumanizes the homeless without a second thought in order to prop up her faulty logic, mostly emotional driven message. I mean, we really ought to be helping refugees AND we really ought to be helping the homeless instead dismissing either as problems that are too big for society to solve.

  2. You make some good points. Here are two more:

    1) There is absolutely no reason to believe the refugees support ISIS, and every reason to believe they do not. Remember, these are the people running away from ISIS.

    2) The reality is that terrorists who want to enter America will simply hop on a plane. The screening process for that is virtually non-existent, and the TSA has been repeatedly proven ineffective, whereas the screening process discussed above for refugees is quite extensive.

    These two facts alone clearly demonstrate that any opposition to allowing Syrian refugees to begin the entrance process on grounds of safety is utterly, completely irrational.

    1. 1.) Exactly right. These people aren't ISIS, they're the *victims* of ISIS. I couldn't find the quote, but someone high up in the US Intelligence apparatus observed that Muslims are doing much more to fight ISIS than anybody else.

      2.) Rick Snyder, the first to announce his opposition to Syrian refugees was asked twice in a recent interview if he would ban tourists and he said he had no intention to do that.


      Snyder comes off as reasonable, if you don't know the facts, and I'm disturbed that NPR is letting him dictate the terms of the interview by adopting his "pause" terminology.

      I'm amazed how much traction this position has. It should be a no-brainer to accept the refugees.

      I wound up responding to the post in question because it was posted by someone I thought should know better. (Also the tone of the piece bothered me, what with the implication that anyone who wants to welcome refugees is just a soft-headed dupe who "lashes" out at the hard men of the world, who have determined through their dispassionate assessment of the situation that the DPs just need some more tough love before they can pull themselves up by their bootstraps.) I'm just venting my spleen here; nobody is going to see my response, but the "reasonable" tone of the piece bothered me in a way that usual background level of crazy uncle bullshit on Facebook doesn't.

  3. This is a very intelligent, and heartfelt response to a sadly misinformed albeit eloquent person. Of course you would imagine I agree with you, Josh -- but going beyond that, reading your very considered and humanistic commentary makes me proud that I know you. That all said, two things that I keep coming to when thinking of ISIS and the refugee crisis that are somewhat relevant:

    1. It is completely disingenuous to identify the Syrian refugees as being somehow complicit in the terror activities of the ISIS death cult. If anything, ISIS is employing deliberate maskirovka tactics by using the situation as cover for their more carefully calibrated techniques of convincing domestic disaffected men and women to adopt their own cause. If anything, the attackers are a delivery system for the organization's planners by which they can deliver mayhem and sow confusion in places beyond the reach of their conventional weapons platforms. If ISIS could use aircraft, ballistic missiles, drones, and other standard military ordnance and systems to inflict this damage they would. But since they do not, they use individual people to do the same. The desire to cause terror as a tool of war is really little different (save for the technology) from the methods advocated by Guilio Douhet in 1921 in Command of the Air -- where he argued that terror bombing of civilian cities from the air, using a variety of ordnance including high explosives, incendiaries, and gas, could coerce said populations to submit to force. Air power becomes a delivery system for mayhem, conflating the actual power of the wielder beyond its ordinary military potential. Jump ahead to 2015, and we see how Douhet's objectives have been adapted for use by a non-state/quasi-state actor with chilling effect. And by creating terror in the West (mostly in the US, frankly), ISIS has created the circumstances to fulfill their real objective, which is to convince Muslims that the Occidental West hates them and wishes their destruction -- imbuing their eschatological worldview with ever-growing legitimacy as we continue to heap abuse and indignity on innocents.

    The second point I keep thinking of is not only how this plays directly into the hands of ISIS, but also how the West is missing a tremendous opportunity to reverse this entire discourse by replacing fear with compassion. Were the US to respond with offers of greater access and support for deserving refugees, ranging from expanding the asylum program (though not changing its vetting requirements) to creating safe cantonments throughout the Balkan States, the Levant (including Turkey, Cyprus, and Lebanon) for refugees using DoD resources and military protection, and help to rebuild the broken lives of the millions of Syrians, Afghanis, Iraqis and others fleeing war and devastation (War and Devastation that the US owns, by the way, as the direct cause of instability and social degeneration in their home countries over 30 years of morally bankrupt and illegal policies) it would create far more good will, support, and the foundation for future potential allies in the region. But that would take hard work, time, and moral courage. . . something that is in very short supply in American society today.

    Just a few ancillary thoughts that I keep chewing over, and was reminded of as I read your post. Great job, Josh -- keep at it. I'm proud to know you.