One of the understandable reactions to the terrorist attacks in Paris is fear of the refugees pouring into Europe and knocking on our doors.
The 10,000 refugees the United States has agreed to welcome, out of the several million people looking to escape the violence in Syria and other parts of the Middle East, represent a scary combination of the known and the unknown.
We know that most of them come from areas where Islamic State is operating or threatening. We know that the majority of them are Muslim, which provides one more connection with Islamist-motivated terrorist organizations than most of us have. We know that some refugees entering Europe have used false identities and lied about where they came from.
We don’t know whether Islamic State or other terrorist organizations are infiltrating refugees to gain entry to Europe or the United States. We don’t know how widely Islamic State’s twisted theology appeals within the Muslim world. Those of us outside the immigration system don’t know how well the screening process for refugees works.
All of those knowns and unknowns make the American public receptive to demagoguery about the threat posed by the refugees and the need to turn them away to keep our homeland secure.
From a Jewish perspective, however, we don’t see how the United States (and Georgia and other states that have announced their meaningless refusal to take refugees) can say no to the few refugees the Obama administration has agreed to take.
We know that at least a quarter-million people have died in four years of the Syrian civil war and that, short of a diplomatic miracle, tens of thousands more will be killed before it’s over, so we know that taking in refugees is saving lives. We know of no higher mission in this world than saving innocent lives and thus the generations to come.
As human beings and as Jews, we are horrified at the prospect of condemning thousands of people to death at the hands of Islamic State, which kills more Muslims than any other group, or the Assad regime or the various other fighting forces on the ground in Syria or the foreign air forces flying overhead, all for the “crime” of being different.
At such times, we of course think back to the 1930s and the Jewish refugees whom the United States and other nations turned away instead of saving them from the Nazis. It’s worth remembering that one of the justifications for rejecting those Jewish refugees was the fear of saboteurs and insurrectionists hidden among them.
But that was then; this is now. And now we know a simple truth: Those who wish to do us harm don’t need to hide among refugees. In fact, they would be fools to subject themselves to the multiphase scrutiny of the U.S. refugee process when they can so easily enter the United States in other ways, from obtaining tourist or student visas to sneaking across our porous southern and northern borders.
Let us not forget that from the 9/11 attacks on the United States to this year’s January and November attacks on Paris, the culprits were either legal residents or illegal immigrants, not faux refugees. To use their evil as an excuse to turn our backs on real refugees is to condemn ourselves as accessories to murder.