The Illogic of Anti-Refugee Sentiment

Of a few different manifestations of Islamophobia to ramp up once again in light of the attack on Paris (and Beirut and other places, but we don’t really care about them), the one that is the most confusing to me is the claim that we need to stop helping refugees. The argument is that we don’t like what ISIS is doing to people so much that we want to leave millions more to become their victims. It is trying to punish the people escaping terrorism because we don’t like the terrorism they’re trying to escape. It’s like saying we should definitely not have helped the Jews get out of Nazi Germany because we don’t like what Germany is doing to them – which most of us didn’t, although we could claim a bit more ignorance on that one.

How Many Arab Lives Equal One Westerner Life?

Let’s unpack that a bit further. There are millions of refugees seeking help. Let’s assume that a couple dozen of these are terrorists just trying to get to a Western country. It’s true that there may be a few taking this strategy, even though it isn’t a great strategy. Suppose that these few dozen do successfully pull off a significant attack in the Western world and kill 1000 Westerners, which includes Muslims – the Paris attacks were in one of the most diverse areas of the cities, including many Muslims.

Ok, so 1000 Westerners have died, but 2 million refugees have been saved. If you’re saying that’s not a worthwhile risk, you’re saying that the ratio of value between an Middle Eastern life and a Western life is at least 2,000:1. We can quibble over the details of the ratio, but we’re talking about – at minimum – several hundred lives we would be willing to sacrifice for each one person like us we save. We frequently operate on this kind of ratio. Just look at how many we’ve justified killing in response to September 11th, while at the same time ignoring white supremacist violence within North America even though they kill more within our borders than ISIS does by a wide margin.

I really don’t know any way to explain this attempt at logic without resorting to pure racism. Let’s say what this logic is: seeing Arab lives as completely unworthy pawns to be thrown away to protect people like you.

As a Christian who believes every person bears the image of God, that’s just not acceptable. An Iraqi life is worth just as much as my life. There’s a 1:1 ratio, no matter what person you’re talking about.

Meanwhile, ISIS Wins

It’s remarkable how few people seem to bother considering what ISIS accomplishes by the Paris attacks or any other attacks. People often just assume that bombing them into submission is the only real solution. Unfortunately for us, that’s the solution that most benefits ISIS. Let’s try to approach this logically.

What is the main motivation to join ISIS? A chance to fight back against the West, who has killed millions of civilians in the Middle East in the last 50 years. Most people in Iraq lost at least one friend or family member, needlessly, within recent enough memory for it to still hurt. I’m not counting military which is generally pretty understandable – just things like the frequent deliberate bombing of weddings. That seems to be the primary motivation for the majority of ISIS supporters, and the power vacuum created by the West’s misguided attempts to bring democracy through slaughtering civilians allowed it to translate into governance. It’s all geopolitics, nothing to do with Islam which is very clear that you do not kill innocent people (wars may be acceptable under strict conditions ISIS isn’t anywhere close to following).

Refugees generally have three choices:

  1. Run and hope that you’re one of the lucky ones who a Western country accepts. If you are lucky, you’ll likely be treated with fear and suspicion the rest of your life as you just try to live.
  2. Die fighting against ISIS or otherwise staying within their territory.
  3. Stay and support ISIS.

So, if we take away option number 1, they have to choose between they and their families being killed or just getting. Many in the Middle East are choosing this option. That’s another fact that many seem to forget as they yell out “why aren’t Muslims fighting ISIS?” They are bearing the brunt of the fighting back, and they are dying doing it.

On the other hand, if we strongly encourage option 1, by opening our doors – with proper screening, yes – we take away that motivation and most are going to take that option that is clearly the best for them and their families. Instead, for the most parts we’re doing the opposite.

We’re not only taking away the refugee option, we’re also making it clear in many cases that even Muslims who are already here – and usually Sikhs and others get caught in the crossfire – are not welcome. We do things like burn down their mosques. Can you imagine how much we would be freaking out if there were frequent hate crimes burning white churches because 0.01% of Christians did something bad (like you know, the Inquisition, the Crusades, the KKK, Westboro, the witch hunts, residential schools, Native genocides…) ? There would be an uproar and we would feel completely justified about violent retaliation. But Muslims – non-white people in general – are not allowed any similar reactions.

The reality is that the more we attack and ostracize Muslims, the worse the world will get. You can’t stop violence with violence. We stop violence by taking away that motivation, by allowing love to cast out our own fear of them and their fear of us to the point we stop thinking about “us” and “them”. Love your Muslim neighbour, including your global neighbours like the refugees.

Ryan Robinson

It is easiest to identify Ryan as both theologian and tech guy. By day, Ryan is a Technical Consultant work with PeaceWorks Technology Solutions. There, he works on websites, CRMs, and SharePoint implementations. Along with blogging here, Ryan is a founding member of the MennoNerds blogging network and a contributor to the book A Living Alternative.