It’s time to overcome fear, indifference

There are some weeks your heart just hurts. For me, last week was one of them.

We can start with the violence in Paris. I love Paris. I’ve walked for hours along those streets, enjoying every step. (For the record, I’ve never met a Parisian who wasn’t willing to be friendly — if I was willing to be friendly.)

Not that Parisians are any more human than Lebanese, Chinese, Syrian refugees or any number of other people suffering violence this month. It just tweaked me harder to see bombs go off in places I’ve walked.

But let’s talk about those Syrian refugees. Gov. Mike Pence and other politicians are saying they won’t let any into their states or don’t want them in the U.S. because we fear Paris-style terrorism.

Can’t some people tell the difference between terrorists and the people being terrorized? Refugees are the victims, not the perpetrators.

France figured that out. In a speech, French President François Hollande vowed to go right ahead and admit the 30,000 Syrian refugees France had committed to. French national security and Syrian refugees have nothing to do with each other, he said.

For the record, he got a standing ovation for that.

Let’s be honest. The people against Syrian refugees now were against them before the Paris attacks ever happened. That violence just provided a new excuse.

National security is important. Yes, Middle Eastern terrorists did attack the U.S. and about 3,000 people died on Sept. 11, 2001.

That’s a tenth as many people are killed by guns each year. Since the 9/11 attacks, hundreds of thousands of Americans have been murdered. Only about 50 were due to Islamic terrorists.

That’s about a sixth as many as the people killed by anti-government, right-wing extremists. They try about 300 attacks a year. Why aren’t we afraid of them?

I’ll answer my own question: it’s human nature. You can be practical when it comes to people who look, dress and speak like you. We’re naturally nervous about folks who look different, worship differently and speak with accents.

There’s a word for that nervousness, though. It’s called, prejudice.

Prejudice against Muslims is real in the United States. It’s real right here in Columbus.

Let me give you an example. People say, “Why don’t Muslims condemn religious violence?”

Muslims around the world have been condemning religious violence forever. Last time I plugged the terms “Muslims condemn religious violence” into a search engine, I got 3 million hits.

Talking to Muslims in Columbus, I’ve heard them condemn religious violence — unanimously — in the strongest terms.

Yet that’s all but invisible. Most media ignore it. Most people ignore it.

That’s just one example of what anti-Islamic prejudice looks like in the real world.

Meanwhile, millions of Syrian refugees are suffering and dying. In being fearful (or just indifferent) we don’t protect ourselves. We play into the hands of the Islamic State, which want them dead.

Fear and indifference kill people, too. In a century’s worth of genocide: from the Holocaust to Rwandan genocide, Balkan “ethnic cleansing” and so on. World indifference has killed a thousand of times more people than even the most ambitious terrorist ever dreamed of.

France has less room and less money than we do. They’ve suffered spectacular violence. Yet they remain committed to admitting 30,000 refugees.

We’re talking about admitting a third that number. Some politicians don’t even want to do that. How selfish and short-sighted can we be?

We need to support Syrian refugees. We need to make room for more, not fewer.

The Rev. Dennis McCarty is a community columnist and all opinions expressed are those of the writer. He is a recently retired Columbus minister, and remains active as minister emeritus and a freelance writer on art, ethics, religion and social issues. He can be reached at editorial@therepublic.com.