I’ve had occasion to spend some time driving around the state for work and I’ve been listening to reports on VPR about Syrian refugees- and our politicians responding to the situation. It’s been a divisive issue, with a few leaders stepping up to welcome refugees- like Governor Shumlin and President Obama– and a few leaders fanning the flames of fear- like Sen. Lindsey Graham, Gov. Bobby Jindhal, and our own Vermont Republican gubernatorial candidates.
The UN estimates there are over 4 million refugees from the civil war in Syria. Most of them are in Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon. In recent months tens of thousands of Syrian refugees have left crowded camps in the region and struck out for Europe- often paying smugglers to guide them on dangerous journeys across the Mediterranean. Many have died just trying to make the trip.
So what is our response? Many politicians have engaged in disgusting pandering and fear-mongering- including gubernatorial candidates Bruce Lisman and Lt. Governor Phil Scott. I applaud Gov. Shumlin for his leadership on this issue, and I was glad to see Matt Dunne making a strong statement of support for Vermont hosting Syrian refugees.
“I would have hoped that Phil [Scott] would be someone who would not just fall in line with the right-wing Republicans in Congress.”- Matt Dunne
President Obama has been making the case for welcoming Syrian refugees to the United States, but he was defied by 47 Democrats in the House who sided with Republicans in an effort to halt refugee resettlement in the wake of the attacks in Paris last week. It turns out the “Syrian” in the group of attackers probably wasn’t Syrian at all and was in the possession of a forged passport.
Over the last few weeks in my church, our pastor has been talking about moving out of an attitude of Scar(e)city into an attitude of Abundance. Is it good for us to protect what we have at the expense of our neighbors? Are we really willing to reject our obligations to other human beings when we have been blessed with so much? I can’t imagine that our free society, with all of its diversity, could be diminished by including a few thousand people who are fleeing a war-ravaged land. With all of the abundance in the United States of America, and here in Vermont, can we really turn away these refugees with a clear conscience?
My answer is emphatically no. We’ll all benefit from having open doors and open hearts in a world that has seen so much violence. If we turn our backs on Syrian refugees, like we did so many Jewish refugees fleeing the rise of the Third Reich in the late 1930s, we sacrifice all of the moral high ground and good will that we so often claim in the world.
I hope compassion wins out, and that we do take in a good number of Syrians who want safety and freedom and have had to wait, fight and sometimes die to have a chance to get it. We have so much to be thankful for in America, and in Vermont. How dare we pretend to live in a world of scarcity when our freedom, compassion and opportunities are so abundant?