Tom Eblen

Tom Eblen: If anti-refugee politicians get their way, the terrorists win

A woman wearing a thermal blanket held her child on a beach on the Greek island of Lesbos shortly after crossing the Aegean sea on a dinghy from Turkey's coast with other refugees and migrants on Friday, Nov. 20, 2015.
A woman wearing a thermal blanket held her child on a beach on the Greek island of Lesbos shortly after crossing the Aegean sea on a dinghy from Turkey's coast with other refugees and migrants on Friday, Nov. 20, 2015. The Associated Press

Terrorist attacks like the one in Paris make me fear for America’s future.

I don’t fear the terrorists so much as the reaction they prompt among America’s fearmongers and the people who listen to them. Their actions are capable of doing far more damage to this country than jihadists could ever accomplish.

By seeking to block President Barack Obama’s decision to take in 10,000 of Syria’s more than 4 million refugees, based only on speculation that a few terrorists might slip in among them, these fearmongering politicians trample on the values that have made America great.

This kind of fear and prejudice has produced some of the most shameful episodes in American history. They include the riots in Louisville against Catholic immigrants from Ireland and Germany that killed 22 people in 1855 and, more recently, the government’s decision to turn away European Jews and imprison innocent Japanese Americans at the beginning of World War II.

Ted Cruz, the mean-spirited senator from Texas who is seeking the Republican nomination for president, has suggested taking in Christian refugees, but not Muslims.

He disregards the fact that the jihadists, who distort their religion’s beliefs to justify murder and mayhem, have killed more Muslims than Christians. And he ignores the fact that Syrian and Iraqi refugees have been victimized by Jihad terrorism as much as anyone.

Cruz also fails to acknowledge America’s long history of home-grown terrorism by people who claimed to be Christian, from Ku Klux Klansmen to Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh.

The anti-Muslim remarks that have come out of the mouths of GOP presidential candidates Donald Trump, Ben Carson and Rand Paul since the Paris attacks have been shameful.

“Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses, yearning to breath free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore,” it says on the Statue of Liberty, a gift from the people of France in 1886. “Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”

Slamming the golden door on refugees from terrorism is simply un-American.

The fearmongers’ arguments are even more ironic when you consider that most of them are tireless defenders of the gun lobby. Americans with easy access to firearms kill far more of their fellow citizens each year, in both random acts of violence and organized mass murder, than foreign jihadists could ever aspire to.

Most of the fearmongers boast about being good Christians. But by turning their backs on Syrian refugees, they are acting contrary to the teachings of both Jesus Christ and the Old Testament prophets.

That is why Jewish leaders and officials with most of the major Christian denominations spoke out last week against the fearmongers.

“The risk is low and the humanitarian need is great,” the Louisville-based Presbyterian Church USA, with 1.7 million members, said in a statement. “Now is the time for the faith community to speak up on behalf of refugees, from all countries. Do not let the noise of a fearful few drown out compassion, facts, and logic.”

Bishop Eusebio Elizondo, Chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on Migration, criticized politicians who are “using this tragedy to scapegoat all refugees.” He noted that Syrian refugees face this nation’s toughest security checks, which can take two years before they are admitted.

“They are extremely vulnerable families, women, and children who are fleeing for their lives,” Elizondo said. “We cannot and should not blame them for the actions of a terrorist organization.”

You would think some of this would make an impression on anti-refugee governors and members of Congress, the overwhelming majority of whom are Republicans. But the fearmongers seem to take their moral cues these days from the right-wing media rather than the faith community. Maybe that is why the party of Lincoln and Eisenhower has devolved into the party of Trump and Cruz.

In their quest for popularity and power, the fearmongers are appealing to our basest instincts. They also are playing into the hands of the terrorists, whose main goal is to make us afraid.

If the fearmongers get their way, the terrorists win. If we let our fear of the terrorists cause us to give up our civic and religious values for some illusion of safety, we will have destroyed America for them.