Openness and tolerance are our strongest forces

Saddened by the growing chorus of US governors who say they won’t allow any Syrian refugees to be settled in their states. This is in response to news that one of the Paris attackers may have entered Europe via Greece, like most of those escaping the daily bloodshed in Syria.

I understand that governments have a duty to protect their citizens from violence and terror. But to impose collective punishment on tens of thousands in their moment of greatest despair, in false hope it might stop a determined few, may well be counterproductive. And it is profoundly inhumane. I am sadly reminded of the internment camps for Japanese-Americans during World War II, when far more than 100,000 people of Japanese ancestry saw their human rights violated, their dignity stripped away – a hugely misguided policy that achieved very little to make the US and its people safer. And it scarred a community for generations to come. 

Much of this may be the kind of raucous political posturing you’d expect in an election season. But some of these governors, like Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, are themselves children of refugees. He and others should know that welcoming the downtrodden, the disadvantaged, and the despondent with open arms has been one of the most enduring and positive chapters of the American narrative; and it has helped the country move from strength to strength – culturally, politically, and economically. People like Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan know what I mean. When I met him this June, we talked about the enormous positive contributions refugees have made time and again, and he was keen on welcoming more Syrian refugees to the Motor City. I hope Detroit’s doors will remain open, even as Michigan’s governor disagrees.

Some politicians and public figures are even calling for faith-based immigration policy. President Obama responded best when calling these suggestions “shameful”. “That’s not who we are,” he said. “We don’t have religious tests to our compassion.” I couldn’t agree more. Closing the gates, as not just US governors, but also many European leaders are now proposing, will engender precisely the types of divisions that terror groups like ISIS seek to exploit. The more we segregate, pigeonhole and label, the more they gain, as it reinforces their twisted worldview and strengthens recruitment into their ranks.  

Personally, I couldn’t think of a more powerful response to ISIS’ threats than to embrace those who have escaped their daily horrors with understanding, kindness and love. Syria may be today’s heart of darkness, but its wonderful people have the same dreams, goals and aspirations as most of us.  As Ted Kennedy put it “what divides us pales in comparison to what unites us.” Let’s build on that. Openness and tolerance may prove the strongest force we have.

To illustrate my point, watch the video above showing a moving conversation between a young boy and his father in Paris. 

Background image from Getty Images


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