Michael Shammas ’16 grew up in Eastern North Carolina and is the son of Lebanese immigrants who arrived in the United States during the Lebanese Civil War. He is now a third-year law student at Harvard Law and is the editor-in-chief of The Harvard Law Record.
What a precious human life we all have. The thin container wrapping this life—its color, its gender, its religious claims and political delusions … it’s all nothing next to the inexplicable miracle that is a human consciousness. To stifle such an irreplaceable possession, as hate-crazed men did in Paris last week, is a crime without equal.
Within its delicate container, a consciousness—a human life—thrives or shrivels to the extent that its environment is rich or decrepit, peaceful or violent. Too many places on this earth are trash heaps of wrenching poverty, or of violence that sizzles over pools of hatred too deep for many Americans to comprehend.
Coming from a place torn by a civil war fought by “religious” maniacs, my parents understood the dark depths of those pools too well. More than two decades ago they, like many others, did something very brave: They left their home country, Lebanon, in search of opportunity in the United States. Because America had what Lebanon did not: Rule of law, peace, opportunity for career advancement, immunity from sporadic terrorist attacks or regular invasions.
Being peaceful and rather secular Eastern Orthodox Christians in a country where being peaceful and minding your own religious business had fallen out of fashion long ago, they gave up all they’d known—Lebanon’s beautiful Mediterranean climate, its food, its warm and ancient culture—in order to discover a place where life grows rather than shrivels.
Like most of the immigrants coming into the United States, legally or illegally, my parents have repaid the chance to live in an environment where life is relatively sheltered from cycles of hunger and hatred and violence. The compound effect of their contributions, of the contributions made by hundreds of thousands of other immigrants, are readily discernible to anyone living in the United States.
Without the ability to grow up in North Carolina, away from the material scarcity and conflicts of Lebanon, I would not be who I am today. This is true—exponentially more-so—for the Syrian refugees fleeing their battered country. Every Syrian refugee is leaving not to do violence, but to escape violence. Those who mingle with the refugees to kill, like one of the Paris terrorists did, are not refugees. They are murderers, and the federal government has effective measures in place to screen them out.
To put a stop to welcoming legitimate refugees is to paint with much too broad a brush, to abdicate our moral duty as Americans to fellow humans. It’s to ignore the stories of countless Middle Eastern immigrants like my parents.
The Republican governors who smugly paint the Syrian refugees as terrorists would flee in a heartbeat if they lived in a war-torn country. Although terrorism is a legitimate concern, Governor Pat McCrory’s attempt to bar Syrians from my home state of North Carolina is founded on ignorance—ignorance of the federal government’s screening processes and ignorance of Syrian culture. It’s a manifestation of the sort of narrow-minded in-groupism that groups like ISIL hope to trigger through terrorist attacks in order to alienate Western Muslims.
Western openness exemplifies our best values. Unlike tyrannical regimes like Assad’s or roving bands of murderers like ISIL, such openness is inclusive. Tolerant. And by being tolerant at home, we promote tolerance abroad. We lead by example.
To Governor Pat McCrory and the other Republican governors trying to stifle refugees: There is room for everyone in America—especially Syrian refugees.
Let them in.
This post has been modified from an older post.
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