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The “refugee” koan

[ by Charles Cameron — considering both sides, while tilting one way or the other ]

I call it a koan because you can flip it — there are two sides to it, and very possibly a serrated edge that it can balance on, foiling your best efforts to come up with a yes-no answer:

On the one side, Tsarnaev:

Not a Christian, BTW..


Okay, before the second shoe drops…

Consider this, from Benjamin Wittes, In Defense of Refugees today on Lawfare:

It is worth reflecting at least briefly on the security risks of turning our backs on hundreds of thousands of helpless people fleeing some combination of ISIS and Assad. Imagine teeming refugee camps in which everyone knows that America has abandoned them. Imagine the conspiracy theories that will be rife in those camps. Imagine the terrorist groups that will recruit from them and the righteous case they will make about how, for all its talk, the United States left Syria to burn and Syrians to live in squalor in wretched camps in neighboring countries. I don’t know if this situation is more dangerous, less dangerous, or about as dangerous as the situation in which we admit a goodly number of refugees, help resettle others, and run some risk—which we endeavor to mitigate — that we might admit some bad guys. But this is not a situation in which all of the risk is stacked on the side of doing good, while turning away is the safe option. There is risk whatever we do or don’t do.

Most profoundly, there is risk associated with saying loudly and unapologetically that we don’t care what happens to hundreds of thousands of innocent people — or that we care if they’re Christian but not if they’re Muslim, or that we care but we’ll keep them out anyway if there’s even a fraction of a percent chance they are not what they claim to be. They hear us when we say these things. And they will see what we do. And those things too have security consequences.

And, from a very different area of the political spectrum, this:

There’s a reason that hospitality is actually a religious virtue and not just a thing that nice people do: it is sacrificial. Real hospitality involves risk, an opening of the door to the unknown other. There is a reason it is so important in the Biblical narratives, which were an ancient people’s attempt to work out what they thought God required of them in order to be the people of God. Hospitality isn’t just vacuuming and putting out appetizers and a smile — it’s about saying, “Oh holy Lord, I hope these people don’t kill me or rape my daughters, but our human society relies on these acts of feeding and sheltering each other, so I must be brave and unlock the door.” Scary stuff. Big stuff. Ancient and timeless stuff. “You shall welcome the stranger.”

Now: is that wisdom, or foolishness?


Aha, the second shoe..

Besides Tsarnaev, who else do we know who came here as a refugee?

albert einstein non christian refugee

Einstein, no less.

And Einstein was not a Christian either, FWIW.

7 Responses to “The “refugee” koan”

  1. Yadid Says:

    They can’t get a visa, my friend, secular communist Muslim persecuted by Assad, applied for a visa (to France) and was denied, although he did all his MSCS studies in France and worked there during many years. He passed the border in clandestinely as refugee. The point is all these people cannot get a visa…
    The comment from the Hungarian Minister of Justices resonated to me, these refugees want to pick the country where they want to go and not staying in poor countries: are they scared for their lives, or are they looking for a working permit?
    Besides they are numerous enough and aggressive enough to create riots stoning the local police, why they don’t have the guts to fight for their country like any other people have been doing?!
    Furthermore, there are some part of Syria which are safe, why leaving the country when some parts are safe? (Latakia vicinity for example).
    Tsernaev family used a tourist visa to enter the USA before applying for asylum: one family, not one million. For Jews, they arrived in mass, were poor and finger pointed, especially in New York until they proved their value and were protected by local people. Einstein was already a genius at best, a Professor of the Berlin Academy of Sciences at least, and was probably offered a lot of $$ to stay in the USA when he visited in 1933, at 54 yo.
    I’m not sure Tsernaev and Einstein cases can be compared with this million of migrants.

  2. Scott Says:

    Einstein was also from a different cultural background, and not just the Jewish part. There’s a huge difference between the outlook of a Swiss and a Syrian. Hundreds of years of traditions, from government to everyday cultural mores. Those views don’t change just because the soil beneath your feet does. I’m not sure they can be compared based on that as well.

  3. Charles Cameron Says:

    Thanks, both.
    I agree that the comparisons between Einstein, Tsarnaev and present day refugees aren’t by any means exact, but I’ve seen both Einstein and Tsarnaev used on opposite sides of the current debate anyway, so bringing them together should provide some sort of pause for thought.
    My characteristic method of juxtaposition is intended to draw out both samenesses and differences, so critical thinking should indeed be part of the process — and in general, I’m more interested in asking questions than in stating answers.

  4. Yadid Says:

    The stretch is a bit egregious between 2 cases files as point-cases versus 1 million in a bulk.
    Technically, Tsarnaev was granted asylum, and Einstein a refugee with a job in the US at Princeton University and a personal acquaintance of Churchill. None of them were illegal immigrant or passed the border without status. The case is not 1 million of Chechens passed the border and it happened that some of them were terrorists and other genius. Similarly, the case is not 1 million of Jews passed the border and is happened that some were genius and others terrorists.
    On a personal note, I know Chechen terrorists, I don’t know any Chechen genius. I know Jewish genius, I don’t know any Jewish terrorist (except a few mentally ill). Then comparing a koan with 1 side taking a sample from people whom 80% are more likely to become terrorists, and with the other side from people whom 80% are more likely to become a genius, doesn’t sound intellectually fair.
    Tsarnaev were not terrorists, their US grown kids became so. In current migrant situation, we cannot speculate whether their kids will become terrorists or not, the migrants themselves have terrorists among them.
    If we want to compare what is comparable, we need to take from the history big group of migrants and see how many genius vs terrorists they had. I’m thinking about Hungarian refugees from 1956, or French Pied-Noirs from 1962, or even Syrian moving to Latakia or Tartus.
    It is true though that many Syrian refugees are very talented people as university professors, physicians, etc… However, among them how many are refugees with a valid asylum request (like secular communist muslims), versus people who got their houses destroyed (what is the reason for the request of asylum).
    USCIS defines refugee as follow. There seems the legit reason to recognize this million of people as refugee is not based on a “well-founded fear of persecution” but rather on a Presidential decree… Both Tsernaev and Einstein were in category (A) with a legit well-founded fear of persecution.
    (A) any person who is outside any country of such person’s nationality or, in the case of a person having no nationality, is outside any country in which such person last habitually resided, and who is unable or unwilling to return to, and is unable or unwilling to avail himself or herself of the protection of, that country because of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion, or
    (B) in such circumstances as the President after appropriate consultation may specify, any person who is within the country of such person[…]

  5. Grurray Says:

    “In current migrant situation, we cannot speculate whether their kids will become terrorists or not, the migrants themselves have terrorists among them.”
    See the 100,000 Somali refugees that have been relocated in the US since the 90s, the majority in Minnesota. So far over a hundred of the refugees and children of refugees have either joined al Shabab or been arrested trying to make the trip over. They have high rates of unemployment, poverty, and mental health problems, particularly among their children:
    They went out of the frying pan of a war zone and into the fryer of the welfare system.
    Compare them to the Indochinese Hmong who were relocated after the Vietnam war and have similar numbers in Minnesota. They have much lower rates of poverty and much higher home ownership, business ownership, and overall life achievements.
    There may not be an exact science to determining who will assimilate well, but there are some obvious clues that are being ignored.

  6. Grurray Says:

    Amy “Tiger Mom” Chua speculated on the three part formula for ethnic success
    Anyone who’s been to a casino or read about the CIA’s secret war in Laos knows the Hmong have got the superiority complex in spades.

  7. Charles Cameron Says:

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