As I write these lines, the debate about whether to support or oppose President Obama’s plan to receive ten thousand refugees in the USA is raging, while in the predominantly Muslim country of Mali (my field of work for the past 23 years) jihadists have killed an unspecified number of people and taken over 100 people hostage in a Bamako hotel today. This latest development is only heightening the tensions about the Syrian refugee issue.
WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?
In light of the Paris attacks, and in light of new findings regarding the perpetrators (fingerprints at the various crime scenes are those of several refugees who transited through Greece, not just one person as originally thought), and in light of the arrest of illegal Syrians made south of the USA’s borders, there are understandable and quite natural apprehensions — if not outright fear — about having any Syrian refugees come to America. I have received many messages from Christian friends asking me what I thought of the matter. What do followers of Christ need to know or do? I am comfortable addressing the former — what needs to be known and considered — and leave the latter, the doing, up to each one’s conscience.
WHAT DO WE ALREADY KNOW?
A trusted Christian friend who works with Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon, an entity that helps receive and resettle refugees in Oregon, has shared several articles with me about the long and thorough vetting process before refugees can actually immigrate to the USA. It’s a process that takes from 12 to 24 months. In spite of his reassurances, I’ve had a hard time shaking off the alarming statements repeatedly made by the Director of the FBI and other competent authorities about not being able to actually vet the Syrian refugees.
Some have rushed to the Obama Administration’s defense by (erroneously) stating that of the 750,000 refugees that came to the USA since 9/11, not one of them has been arrested on charges of terrorism (cf. The Economist in a graphic). It has been pointed out that the Tsernaev brothers who perpetrated the Boston Marathon bombings were refugees. The Economist responded by pointing out that the Tsernaev brothers were asylum seekers or “asylees,” not “refugees.” The Economist is disingenuous here, because refugees who apply to come to the USA while still overseas are essentially applying for asylum while still on the outside. They are “asylees” before becoming resettled “refugees.”
It is true that asylum seekers are those who have just entered the USA or are at the border, whereas refugees are on the outside, usually in a United Nations refugee camp. Some have tried to make much of this distinction and emphasized that the vetting process is less stringent for asylum seekers than it is for refugees. My reading of the situation is that the difference is overstated. In the final analysis, those points are moot considering that in the case of Syrian refugees not only is there a high probability that jihadists will be among them, but also that the security experts themselves say they cannot be properly vetted. Additionally, whether one asks for asylum after coming to the USA on a tourist visa or seeks refugee status while still overseas, the vetting process (where it is actually possible) is not a guarantee against “self-radicalization” and terrorism, as was the case with the Tsernaev brothers.
Ask any Muslim to evaluate on a scale of 1 (none at all) to 10 (certainly) if there will be jihadists embedded with the Syrian refugees that the Obama administration wants to bring to the USA, and practically everyone will give it at least an 8. The only ones saying it will not be so, because of the vetting process, are the President and mostly liberal politicians. What has the American people dismayed is that the security experts are clearly saying that there can be no valid vetting of the Syrian refugees. The President has suggested that there is more risk to the USA from the tourists who visit the USA every year than there would be from victimized Syrian refugees. What is being ignored in his argument is that there is a huge difference between possibility and probability. There may be (possibility) some jihadists among the tourists who come here. But it is very likely (probability) some jihadists will be among the Syrian refugees who will come here. Americans of every stripe are baffled by the President’s logic on this issue.
WHAT IS NOT BEING SAID?
Let me point out some things that are not being discussed in this ongoing debate between those who oppose receiving ten thousand Syrian refugees for fear that jihadists will be embedded with them, and those who insist that our American values of compassionate asylum demand that we vet them and welcome them here.
Opposition to Religion or Opposition to Terrorists?
Some politicians and pundits say that opposing the coming of ten thousand Syrian refugees is religious bigotry. Opposing people on the basis that they belong to Islam is contrary to American principles (interestingly, those who keep saying this have no qualms opposing Christians and their values, even fining them or jailing them for following their conscience). But is it primarily religion or Muslims that are in view, or is the troubling issue the high risk of terrorism?
Let’s put forth here what the pundits are either not seeing or saying: Suppose the terrorists belonged to a certain political party, and that they were trying to infiltrate the USA posing as refugees. Would the pundits still call opposition to that political party religious bigotry? They would not, because no religious labels apply. What is desperately needed in this country is for the pundits to look beyond the words “Islam” and “Muslim” because they are not just religious terms. They are never separate from politics. In fact, Islam expresses itself in political terms and political parties such as “Hezbollah” and “Hamas.” These are Muslim through and through, and yet those same pundits oppose Hezbollah and Hamas without calling themselves religious bigots!
The outcry coming from a significant majority of Americans is that it does not matter whether there is a religious label attached to people who believe they should do all they can to kill Americans. If the terrorists of the world had operated under some “Christian” label, their coming to America as refugees from that particular “Christian” label would be opposed. It’s not religious discrimination when the label does not matter, because what is in view is the high probability of terrorism from any group or religion.
Is Terrorism the Real Goal of ISIS?
To think our greatest threat is that ISIS will exploit the migration of refugees to infiltrate the USA and commit terrorist acts is narrow thinking. Yes, ISIS is interested in any opportunity to strike at the West, but that is not its main objective. Its supreme goal is something else, and ISIS knows that it is a goal that cannot be achieved by violence alone. So ISIS and Muslim religious leaders all over the world look at the refugee crisis differently.
ISIS (and many fundamentalist imams) would like to see more than ten thousand Syrians or Middle-Eastern Muslims come to America for the following reasons:
- ISIS is confident that Muslim refugees living in the West will sooner or later become disillusioned with western values and morality. Of course, ongoing ISIS propaganda will help bring about this disillusionment. It is already working. Indeed, those of us working with Muslims here and abroad have either witnessed or heard sad stories from disheartened Muslims whose dreams of a better life in the West were shattered when they realized how western traditions, values, politics, laws, and morality, were incompatible with their Islamic faith and culture.
- ISIS is confident that once the disillusionment takes place, Muslim refugees will do one or more of the following:
- They will run into the arms of a more fundamentalist or more orthodox Islam.
- They will catch the vision for Islamic dominance, and that they will passionately pursue or at least contribute significantly to the Islamization of the West.
- Hopefully, beyond economic and political jihad that is the duty of all true Muslims, some of them will “self-radicalize” (I use this expression from a western perspective only) and embark, as needed, on violent jihad.
So, ISIS wins on all counts.
It is a strategy that is increasingly successful in Europe. So, if Islam can achieve domination through demographic, economic, and political means, then why the violence? This was exactly Muammar Kaddafi’s point when he was still the leader of Libya. He was confident that Muslims in Europe would little by little overtake the economies, institutions, and politics of European nations through sheer business acumen, population growth, and voting power, therefore no bombings or any terrorist attacks would ever be needed (cf. item # 12 at http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/gaddafi-quotes-the-dead-libya-dictator-275336).
Still, ISIS will pursue opportunities to carry out terrorist attacks for several reasons:
First, contrary to the protests of so-called “moderate Muslims,” the leaders of ISIS are following the teaching of the Qur’an and the Hadith.
It is important that they convey to their constituents that they are following the example of Muhammad. ISIS’ top leader, Abu-Bakr-Al-Baghdadi, has a PhD in Islamic Studies. He was a highly respected Sunni imam in Iraq before the creation of ISIS. I think he knows Islam far better than the so-called “moderate Muslims” who parade almost daily on the West’s television screens every time a crisis comes along. Al-Baghdadi sneers at their and Obama’s notion that what is going on with ISIS is not Islam.
Second, the leaders of ISIS are concerned by the fact that a substantial segment of the Muslim refugees who have flooded Europe are Sunni Muslims. The number one reason for these Sunnis to move to Europe is survival. This is something that ISIS had to address, as its leaders do not want their Middle-East territory to empty itself of Sunnis whom they need in order to thrive. So embedding jihadists among the refugees and then carrying out terrorist attacks will bring about a reaction in the West which will cause the migration to slow down. ISIS knows that western politics and liberalism are such that the doors will only be smaller, not closed. In conjunction with this — so that the number of Sunnis migrating would be reduced — ISIS is mimicking Lebanon’s Hezbollah’s strategy of endearing itself to the local population with generous monetary help for anyone who suffers hardship on account of the ongoing jihad in their territory.
The third reason why ISIS will carry out terrorist attacks is to deliver on its promise to the Muslim world that they will hit at the heart of western countries, especially America. Islamic eschatology (what happens in the end times — gleaned mainly from the Hadith) is characterized by Islamic domination of the world, and violent jihad plays a big part in it. ISIS leaders and their supporting imams have been proclaiming that the end times are upon us, so they must sustain this eschatological image — an image in which the black banner of ISIS, and fire, and blood are the primary colors.
But what would happen if ISIS were denied the opportunity to hasten an Islamic Armageddon by embedding jihadists with the Syrian refugees? What if western powers enact laws against the migration of Muslim refugees to their respective countries, what then? Well, this, too, would play into the hands of ISIS.
Already, ISIS uses video clips from our own American TV networks and from the internet that show Americans railing against Muslims as evidence that the West — which to them is synonymous with Christianity — hates Muslims. Rejecting the Syrian refugees, especially women with small children, would be seen as further proof of the Qur’an’s teaching that Christians hate the people of Islam:
Qur’an 3:117-119 – In this passage the pronouns “they,” “their” and “them” are usually applied to Christians, and the pronouns “yourselves” and “you” refer to Muslims:
SO HOW SHOULD CHRISTIANS ANSWER THIS?
Should we, as followers of Christ, prove the Muslim world wrong by taking in the Syrian refugees? Personally, I believe that we have a duty to debunk the Islamic message that Christians hate Muslims and let our Christ-like actions redefine the word “Christian” for them. However, I am not advocating that we do so by taking in the Syrian refugees. You will have to prayerfully decide the matter in your heart and follow your conscience. My task in writing all this is simply to make sure that you do so with an informed mind.
In your deliberations keep the following facts in mind:
- There is no question that a substantial number of the Middle-East crowd migrating to Europe are just opportunists, and they make a great deal of fuss about their identity as Muslims. They are easy to spot. They are the ones who, for example, refuse to take food packages and bottled water from the Red Cross simply because of the cross icon printed on them!
- However, the overwhelming majority of those fleeing the Middle East region are genuine refugees:
- They have been battered in every imaginable way possible — physically, emotionally, socially, economically, and more.
- They know that attempting the sea crossing to land on some Greek island or some other European shore in overcrowded inflatable boats is so dangerous that it is practically guaranteed that daily at least one such boat will not make it and dozens of people will perish. And yet, the desperation is such that they risk it all. They embark with hearts broken from having to leave some relatives behind (often the older men stay behind so the women and children can go).
- They go because they cannot stay. There is no safe zone in which they can find refuge. Though over 90% of them are Muslims, for most of them their only motivation is survival. They personally are not thinking “Islamization,” and even less “terrorism.” At least not in these circumstances.
- As followers of Christ, as a people normally in touch with the heart of God, there is no question but that we should help! We have to do something:
- We cannot look away: “If you say, ‘But we knew nothing about this,’ does not he who weighs the heart perceive it? Does not he who guards your life know it? Will he not repay each person according to what he has done?” (Proverbs 24:12).
- We need to intervene in some way with compassion, as an expression of the normal Christian life, not to prove something — as do the pundits who are clamoring that we take in as many refugees as we can, to promote their do-gooder image or for political gain. As believers, we shouldn’t do something in order to prove the imams wrong when they say that Christians hate Muslims. We should do something simply because Jesus would.
- But what should be done, exactly? Some thoughts from the parable of the Good Samaritan:
- We cannot discriminate when it comes to extending compassion. We cannot focus only on those who are genuinely disenfranchised refugees and those who are opportunistic ones. In fact, even when the person in need is our adversary or our enemy, we are to love and help that person. In the parable of the Good Samaritan, the person helped would have been a Jew with whom the Samaritan would have naturally been at enmity. The fact that someone is insincere, selfishly opportunistic, and even adversarial, does not exempt the Christian from extending help. This is not negotiable for the followers of Christ. They are called to act in love by blessing even their enemies (Matthew 5:43-48). The question is how?
- Rescuing someone and binding their wounds does not mean bringing them home to us. Analogically — no exegesis intended — the Good Samaritan did not bring the wounded Jew to his house. He took him to the inn. Of course, someone will quickly remind me that this does not mandate that we not bring the needy to our home, as it was simply for practical reasons that the Good Samaritan took the wounded man to the inn. Exactly my point: for practical reasons, not for lack of compassion, we do not bring every needy person home with us. So for practical reasons — among them the avoidance of potential Islamic trouble — it is legitimate to ask ourselves if there isn’t some way to help other than bringing the Syrian refugees to the USA.
- Furthermore, does a measure of prudence somehow negate compassion? Proverbs 22:3 says, “A prudent man sees danger and takes refuge, but the simple keep going and suffer for it.” Is there not a case to be made for “prudent compassion” which foregoes neither prudence nor compassion, but finds a way to exercise both?
- Is there an “inn” where we could place them and care for them until order returns to their own homeland? Much has been said about militarily carving out a safe zone for them in Syria and/or Iraq. That will not be easy to do. I suggest that there already is a safe zone in the Middle East, and what is needed is for all western nations to do everything so that it becomes open to the refugees. That ready-made safe zone is Saudi Arabia. Logistically, it would not pose a problem to welcome a million such refugees when Saudi Arabia already has the lodging facilities to receive up to three million of them. There are one hundred thousand large air conditioned tents in Mina (near Mecca) that are used only twice a year for the Muslim pilgrimage. Financially, providing for the refugees through a combination of welfare and a work program would be easy for a nation awash in petro-dollars. Why should a Muslim nation like Saudi Arabia keep its doors closed to other destitute Muslims? Why is there not an international outcry from Muslims around the world about this? Why is no one daring to shame the Saudis for failing to live up to their own religious standard of taking in the poor and the orphans (which is what Islam brags about all the time)? On the other hand, a friend of mine recently wrote me with the following: “As I’ve thought about the Syrian refugee issue over the past weeks, the one thing that keeps haunting me is this question – if we resist them coming to America, are we bypassing an opportunity to share the gospel with them? If they are resettled in Saudi Arabia, what chance do we have of reaching them with the gospel? If they are resettled in the United States, will the church recognize the opportunity? Is that opportunity worth the risk of terrorism in the homeland? I don’t have the answers, but I keep thinking about the issue in those terms. “It is true that resettling the refugees in Saudi Arabia (which would be quite temporary, knowing how exclusive the Saudis have always been) would make evangelism hard, if not impossible. However, given the high risk of terrorism, and the even greater danger of Islamization (which would ultimately bring so much persecution!), perhaps there is something to be learned from Christ’s own example. What did He do when faced with grave danger? Did He put the matter of ongoing ministry and evangelism ahead of security? Did He not withdraw (several times), thus temporarily forfeiting ministry in an area and/or evangelism of a problematic group of people?
That being said, while all this is sorted out, Christians should not wait to intervene in some tangible way (it’s not enough to pray). There are wonderful Christian agencies such as Convoy of Hope and Samaritan’s Purse that are doing a great work helping the refugees wherever they can find them (overseas, and also those already in the USA). They need our financial help!
- Whatever measures are implemented, they will not completely eliminate the threat of terrorism. But whose job is it to deal with this problem? Is it the Church’s job? Has God entrusted us with the task of sorting out the refugees and policing refugees and fighting the terrorists? Even if Christians have a part to play, is it a militaristic role or is it a spiritual role? Who is to militaristically fight terrorism here and abroad — is it not the government? If God has not called the Church to such tasks, then let the Church be about the things that Christ has mandated Christians to pursue, namely to love God and neighbor, to know Christ and to make Him known, and “to be His hands extended, reaching out to the oppressed.”
TWO ASPECTS OF THE ISLAMIZATION ISSUE:
- The Fear Factor. I would like to address the fear factor here – the fear not just of terrorists coming our way, but the fear of seeing Islam overtake the world. Indeed, the clear teaching of the Qur’an and the Hadith — which is the stated goal of ISIS and all Muslims — is that Islam should become the only religion of the entire world. Where many Muslims differ with ISIS is on the issue of a single caliphate or Muslim empire that engulfs every square inch of this earth. (In contrast, Christianity seeks to make disciples in every nation, all the while knowing that God’s Kingdom is not a political one, but a spiritual one. Christians know the Bible clearly teaches that many will reject the Gospel and opt to remain in the kingdom of darkness). The Muslim agenda, if pursued, will inevitably lead to a clash of civilizations. Will Islam overtake the world and rule Christians? Here are some thoughts for you to consider:
- Islamization will advance throughout the West because of the increasing lack of moral, cultural, and political resolve of secular leaders to oppose it. Just watch where many European nations are finding themselves today on account of political correctness and ongoing Islamic intimidation. It seems American leaders have not learned a thing from the European situation, and the stage is being increasingly set in the USA for a mingling of government and religion — which is what Islam inherently does — in a way that favors the spread of Islam. Indeed, even if we were to read the Constitution in a way that advocates a separation of church and state so that matters of faith would not dictate government policy, the fact is the government is sanctioning the Church if it fails to follow policies mandated by the Supreme Court, all the while turning a blind eye when Muslim individuals and institutions do the same.
- Though the secular world may suffer the effects of encroaching Islamization, this is not synonymous with world domination of the sort that would vanquish God’s people. Here are some reasons why we should not fear:
- We are not a people of fear, but a people of faith (2 Timothy 1:7).
- Jesus promised that His Gospel shall be preached to all nations (i.e. ethnic groups, including the ones that have embraced Islam), and then the end will come (Matthew 24:14). This would not be possible if Islam were to dominate the world. Islam will cause much trouble, but it will not dominate the world and make it impossible for this promise of Christ to be fulfilled.
- Jesus also said that He would build His Church and no power on earth or in hell could prevail against it (Matthew 16:18). This would not be possible if Islam were to dominate the world.
- It is inevitable that in the Kingdom of God the enemy would sow his weeds among the wheat (Matthew 13:24-30), but nowhere in the teaching of Jesus do you ever hear of the weeds overcoming to the extent of wiping out the wheat. Whatever weeds Islam may sow in the world, Jesus will come for His harvest of the good wheat.
- The Resistance Factor. What can they do to affect what terrorists may yet want to do? I have already suggested that the Church leave that matter up to the government. Of course, this is not meant to say that Christians have no responsibility whatsoever here. We can pray — before all else, pray! We should pray for ourselves, and for (not against) Muslims, remembering that they are the first victims of Islam.It is important for Christians to lovingly engage Muslims and give perspective by discussing the issue of terrorism in a respectful way with them. Do not quarrel. Anger, belligerence, even rage, are part of the spirit of Islam, but Muslims cannot discern it unless the Holy Spirit opens their eyes to it. Quarreling with them or responding in kind achieves nothing. A follower of Christ should never forget that “man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.” (James 1:20).We should also speak to our politicians and ask them to enact laws that take away the rewards or incentives that would tempt Muslims living in the USA to support violent jihadism (that’s another long discussion that necessitates a separate article).But what about the more pressing issue of Islamization? What can Christians do to affect the degree of Islamization that might take place in the world? Consider the following thoughts (some of which I owe to JL Williams):
- While the Bible clearly teaches that the people of God have a responsibility for the “aliens” living among them (Leviticus 19:34), there is something to be said about the parameters and warnings that are in given in the Old Testament for such situations. Those situations instruct New Testament Christians as well as believers today (Exodus 22:21; Romans 15:4 and 1 Corinthians 10:11).
- The most serious concern was that the aliens would promote a religion other than the Lord’s and draw the Israelites toward idolatrous practices (Leviticus 18:26-30). Therefore, God instructed the leaders of Israel to teach the aliens that there could be only one rule for everyone (Leviticus 18:26; Numbers 19:10; Deuteronomy 21:12; Joshua 8:35). There was no accommodation for a subversive religious system to thrive.
- There was no “fast track to citizenship” for the aliens (Deuteronomy 23:7-8). And yet, with the passing of time and as the aliens put their faith in God, they were given equal status with the people of God (Ezekiel 47:22-23). However, certain aliens who had a long tradition of opposing the people of God, not only incurred God’s disapproval, but they were deported (Nehemiah 13:1-3).
Of course, some will say that these were rules under theocratic rule, and one cannot apply them in the present immigration debate, as America is certainly not a theocracy. But does this mean the principles contained in those Old Testament instructions have nothing to teach us or nothing to contribute to the discussion about Muslim migrants from Syria and the issue of Islamization? Should not these principles inform our spiritual stance and how we would pray about this serious matter?
There is nothing bigoted or uncompassionate about those instructions. In fact, their respective context indicates that they were intended to promote love for the alien and spiritual protection for the people of God (indeed, where is the bigotry in Leviticus 19:34?).
I will leave it to each reader’s prayerful reflection and conscience to decide the relevance of these things to the issue of the future immigration of Muslim refugees and their long tradition of opposing the Church and Christians. Realistically, whatever your convictions might be, there is little you can do about Muslim Syrian refugees being allowed to come to your neighborhood if the political authorities decide to let them in. You could, at most, express your position (for or against) to your mayor, governor, or representative in congress. Whatever your position, if these refugees should show up in your neighborhood, what should you do about them? In fact, what have you done so far about Muslims already present among us?
BUT ONCE THEY’RE HERE…
Should there be an influx of new refugees that join the population of Muslims already present among us, I wish to offer some specific advice:
- Christians should take the lead in welcoming them — even those believers who might have been against their coming to America in the first place — because once they are here, a new set of dynamics comes into play. In that scenario the main issues facing the followers of Christ are mercy and mitigation. We exercise mercy in that Jesus has shown us that it trumps all other considerations (cf. Matthew 9:13 and 12:7 in their respective contexts). And we mitigate Islamization by lovingly proclaiming the Gospel to them.
- Engage Muslims who are already here – do not let them think that the secular and sinful trends of America are “Christianity” – alter their perception. This means taking the initiative — as Muslims will most likely not come your way — and spending time just being with them so that your life message would challenge their understanding of Christians and true Christianity.
- It is inevitable that sooner or later you will have to confront Muslims with what is inherently wrong with Islam itself. Don’t do this without having first earned the respect of your Muslim neighbor. Don’t do this unless you have spent time in prayer for them, thus allowing the Holy Spirit to deeply touch your heart for Muslims. Remember that before cleansing the Temple, Jesus wept for Jerusalem. Always weep before you whip (I use the former literally, and the latter figuratively).
- Focus on meeting heartfelt needs and offering spiritual answers to them. Jesus spent 95% of His time speaking about solutions and only 5% of His teaching was concerned with doctrines or theological debates. This is important, because Muslims will almost always draw you into a religious or doctrinal debate. Try not to go there! However, for those times when the circumstance demands that you address some issues, speak the truth about Islam, but speak it in love, as a respectful debater, not with insults: “But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer [not “provoke a quarrel”] to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect…;” (1 Peter 3:15).
Sheikh Abdullah, a friend of mine who has ministered all his life to Muslims, once said this: “There is one thing that every Muslim in the world knows: that Islam does not ‘work’ and does not answer the deepest need of the human heart for peace with God.
Whether we find a way to help the Syrian refugees outside of our borders or within our neighborhoods, ours is the opportunity to make a difference in their lives. In the present tensions and climate of fear, the greater concern is not with terrorism as such, but with the Muslim agenda for the Islamization of the entire world. There is no rampart more effective against it than love, mercy, and compassion coupled with biblical truth and witness.