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Annika Hernroth-Rothstein’s post about the fate of Aylan Kurdi, the Syrian toddler whose lifeless body washed up on a beach in Bodrum, Turkey, gave rise to many passionate comments about Europe’s refugee crisis. Understandably so.
I would prefer the term “the crisis of Middle East State failure,” but on this thread, I’d like to step back from discussions of nomenclature, the exact nature of the crisis, and who is to blame for it. There’s more than enough blame to go around. I don’t mean to say that assigning blame for it isn’t important: to fix a problem, we must understand how it came to be a problem; likewise, we must understand the cause of a problem if we’re to ensure it doesn’t happen again. So yes, we must assign blame. But we can assign it at leisure. The immediate problem needs immediate solutions, for without them, many more children will die.
On the podcast yesterday, I said something to the effect of, “There’s no solution,” or “There’s no easy solution.” I regret saying that. That a problem is hard does not mean it’s insoluble. To say that nothing can be done is obviously absurd. I only meant that I had not yet thought of a good solution.
I wanted to open this thread to put the collective intelligence, creativity, practical experience, and morality of Ricochet to work on this problem. I’d like people to come up with ideas, even if they might be silly — and I’d like to ask that no idea, however outlandish, be shouted down or mocked. Let’s just entertain any idea that comes to anyone’s mind to see if a part of it is good or might be bettered.
Among the principles I’d like us to use:
1) Half the refugee population are children. Keep that in mind.
2) We can grumble endlessly that other countries should be responsible for them; that they aren’t doing enough; that none of this should be our responsibility. I would argue that the latter point isn’t true: We’re been a significant actor in the region since the Second World War, and thus do share some of the responsibility for its condition now; but more importantly, we have limited power to change the policies of other countries; whereas we, the United States, are a sovereign nation that has the full power to change our own policies.
Finally, let’s acknowledge the countries who have done far more to shelter refugees than we have and far more than could reasonably be expected — Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan. Even if they have not solved the problem, and even if, in the case of Turkey, they have also contributed to causing it. There is much blame to go around. There is also much praise to go around. But none of that needs to go around on this thread: Let’s just figure out how we could save lives.
3) Even if an idea results in saving only one life, to have and implement an idea that saves a life is more than many of us will achieve in our lifetimes, and thus a good idea.
4) An idea that saves “a few people” is infinitely better than one that saves none. There is no reason to reject an idea because it isn’t “a comprehensive solution.” A “comprehensive solution” might not exist. Or it might: If you’ve got an idea for one, bring it on.
5) Let’s say the obvious: Most Americans would unhesitatingly say, “Let’s admit every one of those refugees.” We are a vast and rich country. We are anything but a cruel or an ungenerous people. But we are concerned that admitting millions of refugees from a culture very different from ours will further strain our own social order, which we sense to be unusually fragile right now. We’re concerned that we have lost the genius we once had for assimilating refugees. We are concerned that we no longer know how to integrate immigrants and make of them patriotic, productive Americans. We are concerned they will be a drain on our already-strained public finances. We are concerned, given the region from which they come and the fact that many of them are Muslims, that among these refugees may be terrorists or people whose religious beliefs are incompatible with the political principles we most hold dear.
6) None of these concerns are frivolous. No one who expresses them should be shouted down as a heartless bigot. These are risks that must be taken seriously: We can’t accept a very large number of refugees absent a full awareness that these are the risks we’d face, and a good, workable plan to minimize the risks.
7) Let’s also begin by saying something else that’s perhaps less obvious, but very true: In the past, America has admitted massive numbers of refugees, even from very different cultures, and has exhibited a historically unprecedented genius for integrating them. My grandparents were part of the wave of Jewish refugees that came to America fleeing the Nazis. As Zeynep Tufekci pointed out on her Twitter feed, This is what was said in America, at the time, about people like my grandparents:
But America did prove capable of integrating wave upon wave of Jewish refugees, most of whose children became fully American within one generation, and most of whose descendants are, like me, more loyal to America precisely because we understand that America was the country that opened its doors to us and saved our lives; it was the country that gave us opportunities to thrive that few people in all of human history had ever enjoyed. We were the flotsom of humanity — that’s what the hashtag #KiyiyaVuranInsanlik means — but Americans made us Americans, fully equal citizens, just like them.
I was born in Stanford hospital in 1968, the best place and time in all of history for a Jewish girl to be born, and when I think how America embraced me — do you know that I literally never heard an anti-Semitic comment until I was 16? Not once? And never heard another until my early 30s? — I do, truly, regret that I have but one life to give to my country. If America could do this to wave upon wave of Jewish, Scots, Scots-Irish, German, Irish, Italian, Chinese, and Vietnamese refugees — and it did — it shows that it is theoretically possible to this, so long as we remain committed to the ideal that permitted this to happen: e pluribus unum.
There are more refugees today than at any time since WWII. The few global agencies that aid them have paltry budgets, and a long history of creating squalid refugee camps that breed despair, fail to teach the skills or values required to succeed in modern economies, and incubate radicalism.
So what ideas might work?
A comment on Annika’s thread jumped out at me:
Douglas: Anyone clamoring to bring these people in should have to open their own homes to them. THAT would be humanitarian.
While I think Douglas meant this to be sarcastic, he’s absolutely right. Douglas, would you be willing? I certainly would. I owe it to the generation who took in my family; and even if I didn’t, what better use could I make of my home? It would be cramped, but I could take in a family of three. I don’t know if the French government would let me, but I can ask.
What if we could start a program to match refugees with families willing to sponsor them for, say, ten years, to take responsibility for them, to guarantee that they will not be a burden on the state, to educate their children, to teach them English, to teach them about America and the responsibility of citizenship, to help them train to do useful jobs, and keep careful watch on them to be sure they don’t slip through the cracks?
I think many Americans would be willing, don’t you?
A private initiative like this, launched in cooperation with State and the INS — what are the obstacles? Could it be done? Is it a good idea? How could we make it work?
What other ideas come to mind?