Monday, November 16, 2015

Animal Instincts in Post-Paris USA


Science teaches that with one key trait, we humans can distinguish ourselves from all other animals.

That trait involves our ability to process information in a rational way.  We don't just react; we have the capacity to apply a range of intellectual resources to improve a particular situation.

Therefore, just because a group of humans may choose to express their emotions in a vulgar, bestial fashion, the rest of us have the option - and indeed, the obligation - to meet that inhumanity with something better.

Last Friday, a rogue band of Muslims went on a killing rampage in Paris, France.  Initial clues regarding the identities of those terrorists indicate at least one of them may have been a refugee from Syria's ISIS-dominated civil war.  So it hasn't taken long for many right-wingers across Europe and North America to call for an immediate end to the acceptance of refugees from Syria and the Middle East.

Indeed, the refugee crisis from the Syrian conflict has already proven to be a financial, political, and logistical nightmare for Europe, whose liberal immigration policies for war refugees have come under unprecedented strain as hundreds of thousands of displaced Muslims from across the Middle East and northern Africa flood the continent.

Syrian refugees have begun trickling into the United States as well, with increasing numbers predicted to arrive as Europe reaches its breaking point.

Before that trickle turns into a torrent, however, an easy way to try and prevent a repeat of Paris' Friday-the-13th on our soil would be to immediately stop welcoming Syrian refugees.  At least, that's what knee-jerk reactionaries say.

Even if two or three terrorists can get through amongst an overwhelming tide of non-violent refugees, that's two or three too many.  Right?

Or... if we're going to be smarter than a horse or an ant, don't we have to think deeper about this?  Are provincialism and petty patriotism good expressions of intellectual resources?

First, we need to understand why last Friday night happened.  Was Paris merely a soft target, or is its cosmopolitan reputation more symbolic of hedonism in general?  Were the terrorists primarily exploiting the refuge crisis?

Maybe we can deduce those answers at this early stage in the aftermath.  But there are more questions.  And harder ones.  For example, how much has America's botched militarism within Islam contributed to the radicalization of Muslims across the world?

After all, it's impossible to argue that Iraq was less stable before the US-led invasion tied to 9-11.  That's been the Bush family's worst legacy.  The Obama administration's amateurish indulgence of the "Arab Spring" has been almost as disastrous. And it's impossible to argue that any Western force has been able to tame Afghanistan.  Can we really expect that none of these debacles will have consequences?

This isn't merely about politics, or even humanitarianism and compassion.

Consider what might happen if all Western countries immediately closed their doors to Syria's refugees.  What are all of those displaced people going to do?  At this very moment, there is a flow of homeless people surging across the Middle East and Europe.  This isn't a theory, or a hypothetical situation.  People with blood like yours and mine are literally fleeing their homeland.  This means that they've made a critical, bitter decision based on immense conflict.  They're not just on vacation, or taking a tour.  If anybody has an intrinsic right to act on animalistic instincts of self-preservation, isn't it these folks?

The word "desperate" comes to mind when describing them.

Now, when anything flows, that flow doesn't usually just stop without causing some sort of ancillary action.  Usually, if something stops a flow, there is a build-up of energy that eventually amasses enough strength on its own.  Then what happens with that mass of energy?

There is a simplistic logic in the presumption that keeping Syrian refugees out of the United States - even if it creates a logjam of human misery in Europe - could also confine any further violence to Europe.  But in our age of communication, travel, and technology, how can we be sure?  Besides, as America's current problem with illegal immigration shows, our borders are already pretty porous.  Only law-abiding people respect international borders - it's what many right-wingers already say about migrants.

The raw reality is this:  Syria's refugee crisis represents human kinetic energy created by deeply flawed politics both within Syria and across the political spectrum.  It is the result of not only domestic problems within Syria, but diplomatic bumbling and machinations from the White House to Downing Street to the Kremlin.  Fear ISIS and Islamic jihadists by all means, but we can no longer pretend that modern-day Muslim-backed terrorism has been fomented in some desert vacuum.

Politicians look for simple fixes, and it sure sounds simple enough to close borders and prevent refugees from getting in.  After the media saturated our consciousness with the horrors from Paris, people who desperately want to feel safe will be tempted to react in short-sighted ways, rather than peek across the broad train-wreck of factors that contributed to last Friday's attacks.

What really needs to happen is for the situation in Syria (and much of the Arab world) to stabilize enough for refugees to return home.  That will not happen overnight - if it happens at all.  And it will mean that we sanctimonious Westerners need to relinquish our notions of imposing Judeo-Christian and Greco-Roman democracy on Arabic cultures.  We've never been able to convert any Muslim country from even the most liberal interpretations of Sharia law.  Indeed, as the West marches incessantly towards secularization - a reality for America many evangelicals are only now beginning to fear - many Muslim countries have been vilifying secularization, especially as modern communication technology exposes more of their people to it.

This all means that the Syrian crisis isn't going away anytime soon, so we need to be smart, not scared.

With so many moving parts to this conflict, how is it possible to latch onto one aspect of it - the movement of refugees from a marginalized, war-torn country to more stable and prosperous ones - and expect to diffuse it without addressing its causes?

Meanwhile, there remain those humanitarian and compassionate considerations that could go a lot farther in diffusing some of this crisis.  Sure, the cynic in me is aware of the uncomfortable chance that "no good deed goes unpunished."  But even at the rates of refugee acceptance we're talking about for America, the numbers would not be large.  Our portion of refugees to welcome would be a token, considering the millions who are displaced.  Surely the integrity we would demonstrate on the human level would be of greater value than the provincial security our refusal wouldn't guarantee anyway.

That's not being cavalier when it comes to security.  But if security is all that America is about these days, how are we any better than marauding lions?

(By the way, in western Africa these days, lions are an endangered species.)


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