Viewpoints

Kathleen Parker: Fear trumps reason on Syrian refugees

House Speaker Paul Ryan called Tuesday for a “pause” in admitting Syrian refugees, saying “it’s better to be safe than to be sorry.” Some GOP presidential candidates and governors are urging bans.
House Speaker Paul Ryan called Tuesday for a “pause” in admitting Syrian refugees, saying “it’s better to be safe than to be sorry.” Some GOP presidential candidates and governors are urging bans. The Associated Press

We shouldn’t be surprised that many Americans fear the fresh arrival of Syrian refugees in the wake of last week’s Paris slaughter by jihadis, including at least one who appears to have entered Europe posing as a refugee.

It’s pretty natural. Horrified by the savagery perpetrated on hundreds of civilians enjoying a Friday night, people think: No Syrians need apply here.

What they mean, of course, is no jihadists here. Agreed. There’s no guarantee that there are none here now, but why take a chance? If ever there were a case for abundant caution, it would seem to be now. Except for the fact that what is being proposed by several governors and politicians, including a few presidential candidates, is morally reprehensible, un-American and in some instances, legally untenable.

Fear does strange things to people.

At least 30 governors have vowed to not allow any of the 10,000 expected Syrian refugees to settle in their states. Legally, governors can’t prevent the free movement of people once they are granted refugee status by the federal government. So this is political posturing, unless the governors intend to take up arms against the feds, which would be especially interesting to the Islamic State.

Meanwhile, several contenders for the presidency have resorted to some rather bizarre interpretations of the Constitution, showing either a worrisome lack of understanding or some unremarkable “thinking.” Ted Cruz, who presumably knows better, has suggested that we should allow only Christian Syrians and not Muslims to enter the U.S. As President Barack Obama pointed out, we don’t do religious testing here.

Not to be outdone – ever – Donald Trump has said he would even consider shutting down mosques, presumably because they might be preaching un-American values. The great thing about America? We’ll let any old crank preach his own gospel from any fruit crate or mosque.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, apparently intent on displaying just how tough he is, said he wouldn’t even let in Syrian orphans under age 5. Both he and Ben Carson say they don’t trust our government to properly vet refugees.

Into this moral morass wanders at least one rational man, South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, who has suggested only that we temporarily pause our refugee program – perhaps to recover from the horror and clear our minds. Being lowest in the polling frees one to be rational about this.

Obviously, political polling indicates that the Republican base, already unhappy about ineffective immigration policies, approves of such draconian measures. They figure if the government can’t prevent millions of people from entering the U.S. illegally or staying past their visas, then how can we be sure it won’t let in a few jihadis among the refugees?

It’s a fair question that deserves a serious, responsible answer.

From Turkey on Monday, Obama defended his policy in Syria and said he won’t engage in another ground war in the Middle East. Obviously referring to our attempt to impose democracy in Iraq, he said that freedom from ideological extremism has to come from within “unless we’re prepared to have a permanent occupation of these countries.”

Only the most hawkishly delusional would disagree with this assessment. But freedom from slaughter is something else, is it not? Thus far, more than 200,000 Syrians have died. How many does it take to stir our moral outrage? When does someone else’s civil war become our problem? And, pointedly, does helping victims by killing Muslim “warriors” reduce or increase the likelihood that radicalism will cease or decrease?

These are all tough questions without clear answers, but our values and principles can help guide us through deliberations. Once we retreat from those values, we will have compromised, and potentially lost, what there is left to protect.

Kathleen Parker’s email address is kathleenparker@washpost.com.

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