Everyone needs to stop their vacuous moral posturing over the refugee crisis

Both sides couldn't be tackling the problem with less seriousness

This kind of argument goes nowhere.
(Image credit: Gary Waters/Ikon Images/Corbis)

War in the Middle East has created millions of refugees, many of them streaming across Europe. Then the predictable — oh so predictable — political debate ensued. Heart-on-their-sleeves progressives demanded that hundreds of thousands of refugees be granted asylum in Europe and America. Tough-minded conservatives protested, in part because of usual fears about immigration, and in part over national security fears that among refugees might be ISIS operatives.

Those fears were widely ridiculed by progressives and their allies in the media — until they were very painfully realized in last week's attacks in Paris, which sent the refugees debate to a fever pitch.

As an immigration-supporting conservative and a citizen of the city just attacked by at least one terrorist who police think posed as a Syrian refugee, I just want to put my hands on my ears and scream "Enough!"

Subscribe to The Week

Escape your echo chamber. Get the facts behind the news, plus analysis from multiple perspectives.


Sign up for The Week's Free Newsletters

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

Sign up

First, to you conservatives: Guess what — these refugees are in dire need, and we can do a great deal to help them. America has an astonishing capacity for integrating immigrants (Europe is another story). And we wouldn't have this refugee crisis if George W. Bush hadn't set fire to the Middle East, something that my fellow movement conservatives had a little bit to do with. When I see governors so shamelessly pander to our worst instincts, I feel a little bit sick. When I see Mike Huckabee, a man who so mellifluously wears his Christianity on his sleeve, a man whom I used to admire, evince absolutely no moral qualms about shutting America's doors in the face of people in dire need, I hope he gets all the electoral comeuppance he deserves.

But second, to you, progressives: The world is a complicated place, and when it confounds us, we tend to resort to the easy narratives we use to make sense of the world. Such as, everyday people are raaaaacists. To mock people who have serious reservations about the refugee issue as being "afraid of orphans," less than a week after terrorists with fake Syrian passports murdered more than a hundred of my citizens is shameful.

Oh, we're going to "vet" those refugees, you say? We're going to background check them? Please, tell me how that goes. Go on, explain the process bit by bit. Are we going to look up refugees on Syria's probably nonexistent high-tech terrorist watch list and biometric database? Are we going to send ICS agents to Raqqa, under French bombs, to interview those people's former employers? Should we Google them and see if they "like" ISIS on Facebook? Explain to me, step by step, how we "background check" millions of refugees from one of the world's worst war zones in a reliable way. I am genuinely curious.

But please, whatever you do, in the name of all that is holy, if you don't go to church on Sunday, and if everything you know about Christianity is second hand, don't lecture me about my own religion. Yes, Jesus said to help the stranger. Yes, Jesus said to love even unto self-sacrifice. And also in the real world there are competing goods. I'm pretty sure Jesus would have wanted me to love my friends' friends who were murdered last week, but now I won't have a chance. If there's a moral issue out there, Christian tradition has wrestled with it for millennia, and in this specific instance has recognized that there are competing goods: We should love foreigners, but we should also love our own community. Christian tradition has generally recognized the merits of regulating immigration for the sake of one's own community. It's complicated. But hey, you can throw a Bible verse in my face and call me a hypocrite. Good for you! Thanks for fulfilling the cliché that progressives are always sensitive to the complexities of every culture, except Western Christian culture.

It's a terrible crisis. I wish I had the answer, but I don't. I do know one thing: None of this vacuous moral posturing helps, and all of it stinks.

Continue reading for free

We hope you're enjoying The Week's refreshingly open-minded journalism.

Subscribed to The Week? Register your account with the same email as your subscription.

Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry

Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry is a writer and fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. His writing has appeared at Forbes, The Atlantic, First Things, Commentary Magazine, The Daily Beast, The Federalist, Quartz, and other places. He lives in Paris with his beloved wife and daughter.