The U.S. government should refuse to resettle Syrian Muslims, two presidential candidates announced this weekend. Reacting to Friday’s devastating Paris attacks, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) both advised the government to agree to resettle only Syrian Christians.
“But I do think there is a special important need to make sure that Christians from Syria are being protected because they are being slaughtered in the country and but for us who? Who would take care of the number of Christians that right now are completely displaced?” Bush told “CBS: This Morning.”
Cruz, who won the Values Voter Summit straw poll this year, has announced that he’ll introduce a bill that would bar Syrian Muslims from entering the country. Syrian Christians, however, would be welcome.
“There is no meaningful risk of Christians committing acts of terror. If there were a group of radical Christians pledging to murder anyone who had a different religious view than they, we would have a different national security situation,” Cruz told CNN.
Eric Rudolph’s victims might disagree.
Rudolph, who bombed abortion clinics and a lesbian bar in addition to Centennial Olympic Park in Atlanta, G.A., spent time in the white supremacist Christian Identity movement. The Anti-Defamation League characterizes Christian Identity as “a religious sect” whose adherents believe the Bible teaches the supremacy of the white race. Members have attempted to bomb synagogues and mosques, and in 2014, one attempted a mass shooting at the Austin, Texas police department and Mexican consulate.
As Kathryn Joyce reported for Religion Dispatches in 2012, violence against abortion providers is often connected to Christian extremism: Barnett Slepian’s murderer belonged to the Lambs of Christ, a radical Catholic group. George Tiller’s murderer had connections to Operation Rescue, another Christian anti-abortion group. And one militant group, the Army of God, explicitly calls for abortion providers to be physically maimed so they can no longer work.
Christian extremism is not limited to the United States. In the Central African Republic last year, Christian militias targeted Muslims for death.
Most Christians, of course, denounce extremist violence and consider it to be an abhorrent abuse of their faith. The same is true of most of Muslims. And regardless: It is clearly unconstitutional to refuse to resettle refugees on the basis of religion. It's an affront to our shared value of religious freedom as well.
President Barack Obama understands this. At a press conference, he denounced calls to reject Muslim refugees.
“When I hear political leaders suggesting that there should be a religious test for admitting which person fleeing which country,” he said, “when some of these folks themselves come from other countries, that’s shameful. That’s not America. That’s not who we are. We don’t have religious tests to our compassion.”
Meanwhile, 27 governors have said they won’t accept any Syrian refugees at all – a dubious assertion since resettlement of refugees is a matter for the federal government, not the states. (It’s also worth noting that Syrian refugees are subjected to intense screening by U.S. officials, a process that can take two years to complete. Only about 2,000 have been admitted so far. A terrorist looking to slip into the country would likely try other avenues.)
The Vice President of the European Commission said yesterday that there is still no firm evidence that any of the Paris attackers had been refugees. It’s also important to remember that the Paris gunmen, like all terrorists, did not discriminate on the basis of religion. They did not check to see who wore a crucifix or hijab; they planted bombs and shot into crowds, murdering people at random.
It is precisely this indiscriminate brutality that has forced Syrian refugees from their homes. Muslims and Christians have suffered and died together at the hands of ISIS. They fled together. They should be welcomed to our shores together, too.
No one religion has a monopoly on extremism. It is tempting, certainly, to pretend that some group has a special penchant for violence, but this is how we exempt ourselves from self-reflection. Violent extremism is not the unique provenance of Islam, or of Christianity or indeed of religion itself. It will not disappear if Islam disappears. It will disappear when the human race is extinct.
We will not solve extremism with more extremism. We may begin to solve it with liberty. There is no better way to honor the Paris dead.