By Father Jeremy Tobin
The events in Paris cry out for a moral response. Our governor refuses to take in Syrian refugees, labels and castigates them as terrorists. When governors declare that they will not allow refugees into their state, or specify what kind of refugee or what religion, they are clearly out of bounds.
Xenophobia and islamophobia are unacceptable responses in dealing with a crisis of this magnitude. A clear understanding of who we are fighting should be expressed. This is not a “state” or even a country, it is a movement driven by hate and murder covered over by fake religion, period. This ISIS group is the next generation of Al Qaida.
The media is largely responsible for ginning up a response of fear in a populace that does not understand just who we are confronting in the Middle East. People do not understands a tactic of mass killing of innocent people as a tactic of war. The fear machine spreads hatred to everyone from the region. Political pandering only makes it worse.
“Everyone who is different could be a terrorist.” This intense hyper-crisis coverage makes people afraid. Initially the polls expressed a favorable response to taking in Syrian refugees, two days later, it is negative.
When people were calmer and could think things through they saw that taking in these families fleeing for their lives was the American thing to do. When the fear machine kicked in, they turned against them. This only feeds ISIS, and provokes more violence.
Again and again it is reported that this is the biggest refugee crisis since World War II. Apparently most people have little to no understanding what they are comparing it to. They were not even born yet. It is a pity that so many are in power who do not have a clue to what this phrase means.
I am saying unequivocally that we are witnessing a mass migration of people fleeing extermination. Their goal is only finding safety by any means necessary. In my religious tradition there is only one response to their plight, only one, provide them safety, security, the means to live and rebuild. Welcome them.
I have been hearing from religious groups all over the country urging us to welcome these refugees as brothers and sisters. They quote Leviticus and Exodus to support their moral imperative to welcome the refugees from the Middle East. I signed petitions. I have joined my voice to theirs. I like Matthew 25, “When I was a stranger, did you welcome me?”
This is our judgment. It is not about how well we provided for our own, or how much wealth we left them. It is not about how we took care of us.
It is not about us. It is Jesus Christ fleeing extermination, will we take him in? To a generation in power for whom World War II, and all its horrors, is but a few pages in a history text, such comparisons are irrelevant. To bring up Middle Eastern friends both Christian and Muslim, to share common gestures of appreciation and friendship, means nothing to these people filled with xenophobia and self-righteousness.
What is needed, and I join my voice to this chorus of righteousness, to the voices of those whose voices are drowned out in blood. We say, “Let these people in!” They are us and we are them. Our country is made up of Muslims and Christians and a whole lot more, so let in our brothers and sisters and their children to our haven of safety. To label them is more than an insult, it is a disgrace. This country, and Mississippi, has shed too much blood over labels. Stop it!
As a Catholic nurtured on our strong tradition of social justice, promulgated by the Likes of Leo XIII, Pius XI, John XXIII, Paul VI, John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and Pope Francis, I can only shout out the louder, standing on solid ground, “Let in the Syrians, the Iraqis, Muslims, Christians, Yazidis, and all.”
They flee a monstrous movement out to destroy them all. We must take them in. Sister Simone Campbell of NETWORK and Nuns on the Bus just texted me, “We need you to help protect and welcome Syrian refugees. Contact your representative.”
A national coalition of faith leaders issued a call to prayer and action to welcome Syrian refugees. This is the right side of history. This is where we should be.
(Editor’s note: The Mississippi Religious Leadership Conference invites all to an interfaith prayer and reconciliation service about the refugee crisis at Fondren Presbyterian Church in Jackson on Sunday, Dec. 6, at 5 p.m.)
(Father Jeremy Tobin, O.Praem, lives at the Priory of St. Moses the Black, Jackson.)