As so often is the case, the very simple sport of running is an excellent prism through which to view life’s more complex problems. For life in all its saturated colored highs, depressing grays, and even coal-black lows can be found within the compressed world of long-distance foot racing.
The lesson, overall, is not to give in to the highs any more so than to the lows. Instead, one learns to soldier on, establishing intermediate goals that lead to more profound ones as the process itself becomes the primary directive.
Therefore, much like how individual track and field events merely share the same venue at a track meet, but don’t cohere into anything beyond that unless bound by a unifying intention (i.e. the NCAA Championship), so too are myriad Americans increasingly sharing this land of the Pilgrim’s Pride, but not its common values or cohering historic assumptions.
That is the backdrop that frames the argument du jour of whether to allow thousands of Syrian refugees to immigrate to the U.S. in the wake of the ISIS attacks in Paris last week. And it isn’t an argument that easily translates into precise lanes of right or wrong.
To date, 31 state governors have said, “no” to the proposition of taking in 10,000 Syrian refugees, arguing that there are already enough strains on the body politic as it is, both ones born of our political making and ones tied to the tenor of our times. President Obama counters, “It isn’t who we are” to deny the refugees a safe haven from the savagery they face at home.
But in fact, how do we define WE, THE PEOPLE anymore? For the modern world has been unraveling the old ties that bind for quite some time, certainly well before we ever got to the Syrian immigration issue.
Where American cities once had single, well recognized telephone area codes, a local newspaper or two, and only three local network-affiliated TV stations (with each station located at the lower end of the dial in fixed positions), today there are hundreds of stations, fewer and fewer newspapers, and a cascading number of websites from which to choose your news point-of-view. And no affiliation stands as ever-lasting.
Churches, schools, and civic institutions were once woven together to create the fabric of society. But today the fabric of national identity is fraying as globalization and technology have weakened once stable institutions and nation-states. Even pro sports teams move from city to city like itinerant farm workers.
The Peace of Westphalia, which ended the 30 Years War in 1648, established the hegemony of nation-states as we know them today. This national hegemony led to the treaties and accords which formed the basis for international peace and trade. But we are increasingly witnessing the limit of that governing alignment as non-state players like ISIS and Al Qaeda emerge to control newly designed plots of land and a growing, non-linear assembly of hearts and minds, even as the old nation players continue exercising long-held enmities against one another, seemingly unable to move beyond the Cold War identities that dominated the latter half of the 20th century.
Bringing large numbers of Syrian refugees over here now when terror cells are searching greedily for avenues of entry, has the potential to use our best qualities of mercy and compassion against us. This is what asymmetrical warfare looks like. But to ignore the plight of the truly needy would also play into the hands of the jihadi propagandists who could point to America’s stiff arm as, “See, they hate you for who you are. This really is a clash of civilizations.”
This crisis does not arrive in a vacuum. It cannot be viewed simply as a snapshot when there is a longer narrative in play. Yes, these people are in trouble. But to immediately respond, “We have a long history of taking in refugees, so let us just take in these” isn’t thinking of the long-term consequence for them or for the USA. What’s the upshot of it if it continues to make the country less stable?
America has absorbed millions of immigrants since 1600. More than any other nation it is the nation of the world. There was a huge influx of immigrants from Europe in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. But from 1921 to 1965 there was a relatively small trickle – it was case by case via a National Origins Formula— because we needed to absorb and integrate those previous two generation of immigrants. Without assimilation we risk seeing more and more Americans remain so in name only, which only makes us weaker in times when unity forms real strength.
So if we are to take the Syrian refuges in we can’t just let them roam free bereft of any socialization. What good does it do to let them in, and then allow them to be shunned by a fearful local population to the point where unintended resentment sets in and possible radicalization takes place? The terrorists in Paris were European home-grown, like the Boston Marathon bombers Dzhokhar Tsarnaev & Tamerlan Tsarnaev.
Is it better to work politically to help carve out a safe place for the Syrian refugees back in the Middle East where they’re part of the general culture? Or would sequestering them in the middle east, as some suggest, increase the likelihood they would become radicalized as poverty and lack of medical care are recognized as the two most important indicators that lead to extremism?
These are difficult questions in difficult times. From a purely humanitarian standpoint the immigrants fleeing war-torn Syria deserve a chance to be re-settled. For its part France is holding to accepting 30,000 over the next two years despite the attacks in Paris.
But with so much debt already in our pipeline, with our infrastructure crumbling around us — and a contentious presidential campaign appealing to our more narrow-minded interests — we have to wonder how to apportion our limited resources as the world increasingly washes up on our shores.
There is no easy solution. Any answer is cautionary, at best. But some responsibility stems from our own addiction to cheap Mideast oil, and the convenience of backing dictatorial regimes who suppressed their own people as part of our see-no-evil pact with the devil. This goes back many decades, a multiple generational problem that will require a multiple generation solution. What is certain, however, is that it isn’t something we can simply run from.