Like everyone else I know, I have followed events in Paris since the attacks last Friday. For me, the tragedy has been magnified by the unthinkably unkind and fearful American rhetoric about refugee immigration that has followed. As I understand terrorism, its primary weapon is fear. Fear is an irrational emotion, one that thrives off our feelings of uncertainty and anxiety.
The power of terrorism lies in its unpredictability and the fear generated by that uncertainty. We don’t know when, where, or why a strike will happen. Life always features uncertainty, of course, but acts of terror magnify that uncertainty. We want protection. When we have been free of terrorist acts, we can rationally admit that such perfect protection is impossible. But a recent attack, like the one in Paris, finds us afraid and longing for safety and security.
It’s hard to remember that even in the best of all worlds, perfect protection is impossible to secure. When terror strikes, all bets are off. Alas, terror thrives on the fact that rational minds are not in charge when fear has taken hold. Demands for restrictions of Syrian refugees that have been cloaked in terms of safety are appealing because they claim a protection that we crave.
Such protection cannot be had. It is irresponsible to claim otherwise. Syrian refugees who wish to come to the United States are seeking liberty as generations of refugees before them have sought. We are a nation of immigrants, one whose ability to persevere and thrive is a function of our multicultural identity. Calls to shut the door on refugees are not just cruel, they are inconsistent with the liberty that we have claimed for ourselves since the first settlers came ashore in North America more than 400 years ago. Governors, Congressional leaders, and presidential candidates who demand that we shut the door on those in need of refuge are ignoring the historical mission of this nation. They are a betrayal of who we are and what we believe about ourselves and the world. For them I recommend the wisdom of Ben Franklin, who seemed to understand the conundrum of human emotions that follow from fear for our safety.
Franklin isn't the only leader reminding us that fear is not the answer to our troubles. There are others who urge us to stand up for what we believe.