What to do about Syria, ISIS, Boko Haram…

When I got up yesterday morning, September 10th, I rewatched a video a friend had shared on Facebook that brought home for us Americans what the experience of a child in a place like Syria might be like.

Then I looked at the readings for the day, which included this:

Brothers and sisters:

Put on, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another, if one has a grievance against another; as the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also do.

And over all these put on love, that is, the bond of perfection.

And let the peace of Christ control your hearts, the peace into which you were also called in one Body.

And be thankful.

And this:

Jesus said to his disciples:

“To you who hear I say, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. To the person who strikes you on one cheek, offer the other one as well, and from the person who takes your cloak, do not withhold even your tunic.

And this:

love your enemies and do good to them

And this:

Stop judging and you will not be judged. Stop condemning and you will not be condemned. Forgive and you will be forgiven. Give and gifts will be given to you; a good measure, packed together, shaken down, and overflowing, will be poured into your lap. For the measure with which you measure will in return be measured out to you.

This, on the eve of 9/11.

We as a world seem to be stuck on whether to welcome refugees from places that are, literally, terrible places to live. Pope Francis has been consistent in urging the developed world to welcome refugees from Syria, Libya, and every other country whose situation is so unstable that residents feel their only hope is to flee. His exhortation this week for every Catholic parish in Europe to shelter at least one refugee made waves, mostly because Catholic Hungary and several other EU nations have been less than welcoming of would-be immigrants. But recall that his very first pastoral visit as pope was to the tiny island of Lampedusa, where he brought attention to the refugees and migrants who lost their lives there in a shipwreck trying to flee North African instability. While it took the image of a 3-year old Syrian to wake up America, Vatican Radio has been covering the refugee crisis from many angles since the beginning of Francis’ papacy. And while Americans may think the US immigration issue is completely different, I would not be in the least surprised if he argued otherwise in his upcoming visit to Congress.

So to those who would say it matters that the turmoil that drives some percentage of the migrants in Europe and most in the Americas isn’t physical violence but economic want, so what? (I suspect the pope will say something about economic inequality to Congress as well.) If what drives you into the hands of con-men and slave-traders and away from your family and community is poverty and starvation rather than bombs and thugs, what difference does it make? 

To those who balk because some, maybe most, of the immigrants are Muslims, so what? Recognize that the region racked by instability is predominantly Muslim, and the so-called Islamic State is not only not truly a state, but is every bit as barbaric toward the faithful followers of Islam who don’t hew to the perverse interpretations of the Koran that its leaders use to defend their barbarity. Of course they want out, too.

And to those who would claim that this is all a front, that the majority of those making the harrowing journey across back roads and wilderness into an undertaking future are actually jihadists seeking to infiltrate Europe and bring it down? Really?

What stumps me is not the refugee situation and our immediate response. What stumps me is how to stop it. Clearly, these regions need to be stabilized in a way that respects human rights and human development in ways that allow decent people to live and prosper in peace. How does that happen?

The Bible is of little help on this. Neither the Gospels nor Paul nor any other New Testament writer envisioned a scenario in which followers of Jesus would have political power.

History is of little help on this. While the world has defeated extremist ideologies in Europe through allied force, the military experience in the Middle East is different, and some of the sectional factions at odds have been fighting for millennia.

And what Jesus says in the Gospel of the day is the hardest message of all: You know those terrorists? The ones who profess death to America? He calls us to love them. 

What that looks like, and how we can love them while stopping the, from hurting others we love, I do not know. The only phrase that gives me a tangible place as an individual to go is this: pray for those who mistreat you. 

That we can do.

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