As those of us in the United States of America head into our national holiday of giving thanks, I take note of the troubles of our brethren abroad. So many are without sufficient food, clean water, and a safe place to sleep. Many more fear for their lives as well as Europeans who are reeling from the massacre in Paris on Friday the 13th.
Fear brings its companion, Hysteria. Hysteria breeds irrational behavior and I am distressed by the rants of public officials on protecting our people by limiting the freedom of those others they consider at high risk to public safety. This country has been down this road before, especially during World War II, with the arrests and incarceration of citizens of enemy descent (see Jan J. Russell’s The Train to Crystal City: FDR’s Secret Prisoner Exchange Program and America’s Only Family Internment Camp During World War II).
In the Bible, there is the curious incident of the body found at the edge of the city limits [Deuteronomy, 21:1-8], upon which the elders of the city are to atone publicly with a sin offering. The sages say that this is to instill communal responsibility for the travesty that a stranger should die unwitnessed and unclaimed. I was troubled by this interpretation, feeling overwhelmed by the awesome task. With time and reflection, I now better understand that actions — both individual and institutional– impact the integration of people within society.
How many times have we read about the individual who was bullied and ignored, who later exploded in anger and vengeance? Would that we could turn back the clock, so that someone does reach out to this person. Could we better allocate our mental health resources to serve more people? What if gun sales were better controlled ? Why not try to reach out to our new neighbor, so that we could see each other as human beings?
How hard do we try to protect people from persecution for their ethnicity? The French and the Belgians are now dealing with the legacy of decades of neglect and isolation of their Muslim aliens, who were never adopted into their national identity. I think we’re a little better in integrating our immigrants, in part because of our pride in our heritage as a nation of immigrants.
Let us not turn our backs on the plight of the Syrian refugees, who are fleeing from the same kind of horror that Europeans are now experiencing through the evil actions of the Islamic State. They need a home where they’ll be welcomed, where their young will become integrated into our society, where they’ll adopt American values: this is my prayer for them. Throughout our history, we’ve turned others of “dubious” backgrounds into loyal, law-abiding citizens and we should continue to do so with the Syrians. Happy Thanksgiving!
Here is a letter from a former Iraqi Kurd (obtained from HIAS-PA):
My name is Ali and I served as an interpreter for the U.S. Army in Iraq for three years. In 2013, I came to Tennessee as a refugee after two years of vetting by the U.S. State Department.
I knew I had to leave Iraq in 2009 when a friend of mine, another interpreter, took a vacation in Sinjar. While he was at home, his car was blown up, killing him and two of his family members. If I stayed long after the Army left Iraq, I would have been killed too. In 2011, I returned home and began the refugee application process.
Over two years, my brothers, my wife, and my children traveled several times to the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad for screening. As a Kurd traveling to Baghdad, it was a dangerous for us. The airport, the hotel, and each of the checkpoints on the way to the embassy were all very dangerous. There were many interviews, tests, medical screenings, and background and security checks. They talked to family, friends, and people who employed us previously. And they did it repeatedly over two years. And then finally, on October 23rd 2013, we were approved.
Like my family, the refugees you see on the news are leaving because it is their only chance at a better life. They leave their homes, live in a tent or on the street … maybe they find a camp. Aid and international refugee programs are the difference between life and death.
As I watch the news from my home in Tennessee, I don’t understand politicians who are trying to stop people fleeing from war from coming to the United States.
I don’t understand why they’d try to prevent Kurds, especially, from coming to America. Over twelve years in Iraq, not one American soldier was killed by a Kurd. These are good people coming from over there. The little boy who washed up on the shore in Greece, his name was Aylan and he was a Kurd who fled the violence in Syria with his family.
The people fighting ISIS alongside Americans last week in Sinjar are Kurds. They are trying to escape ISIS and they need America’s help right now.
Thank you for reading my story.
Please contact your Senators– Robert Casey and Patrick Toomey in Pennsylvania– and tell them you support the resettlement of Iraqi and Syrian refugees who already undergo exhaustive security checks.