Shortly after word spread of the carnage in Paris, a column by an American expat living in that city appeared on the International New York Times website. Pamela Druckerman typically writes about cultural issues, such as how French parents raise independent and interesting children largely by ignoring them.
I've long been a fan of Druckerman's witty and insightful commentary. But her column this time was somber, as she described the real-time reaction at a dinner party where she was a guest Friday night.
One paragraph, in particular, troubled me: "French people are tweeting #portesouvertes, to help people stranded on the streets. We all agree that this sounds nuts: Who would open their doors right now? The news says the gunmen are still on the loose. Police are warning people not to go outside."
I'm not about to criticize anyone's desire to "shelter in locked place" under those terrifying circumstances, nor do I imagine that Druckerman and friends ignored strangers pleading for help outside their door. But when innocents are being targeted, it seems to me that #portesouvertes is exactly the right response for anyone with the means to provide sanctuary.
In another dark time, many Europeans closed their doors to Jewish neighbors fleeing Nazi persecution. But some opened up, at risk to their own lives, and these are the heroes we rightfully honor today.
Interestingly, in a prior column (headlined "Paradise Lost") Druckerman had expressed disappointment that her beloved France hasn't done enough to accept and integrate Syrian refugees, many of whom are confined by circumstance in virtual ghettos that are ideal breeding grounds for ISIS recruits.
Globally we are in a time, and at a place, where it's morally imperative to open our doors, windows, hearts and homes to refugees fleeing some of the most barbaric villains in human history. Yet here in America we have craven Republican politicians, including presidential candidates, governors, and the Speaker of the House, campaigning to slam our doors shut. #portesfermees.
Speaker Paul Ryan says he only wants a temporary halt to admitting refugees from Syria and other Middle Eastern battlegrounds, while we figure out how to keep out every last bad guy. But he knows perfectly well we'll never figure that out. Meanwhile, countless innocent refugees suffer and die.
Granted that it's painstaking and imperfect work to weed out the few refugees who might do us harm from the multitudes simply seeking asylum. But we already have one of the world's most stringent screening systems. We should work to sharpen screening, not shut immigration down.
And our aim, along with increasing our own safety, should be welcoming more, not fewer Syrian and other desperate refugees.
Some in the #portesfermees crowd want to sharpen screening by excluding Muslims and only admitting people who can prove they are Christian. Talk like this makes me feel like I'm living in an earlier century—maybe not as brutally cruel as the one ISIS lives in, but similarly ignorant and intolerant.
Jeb Bush, one of several GOP presidential candidates advocating this morally indefensible, anti-American policy, was visibly annoyed and flummoxed (as he is most of the time since his legacy campaign floundered) when asked how refugees can prove they are Christian. He basically responded that if they can't prove it, they are out of luck. And if they are Muslim, they are really out of luck.
Jewish Voice for Peace, an organization that works to secure the same human rights for Palestinians as enjoyed by Israelis, is asking U.S. citizens to lobby their governors to keep accepting vetted Syrian refugees. We should all follow JVP's lead, and "Never forget" what it means to have a door to safety slammed in your face when you are at the mercy of madmen.
The overwhelming majority of Syrians seeking refuge in Europe and the U.S. are fleeing ISIS, not spreading ISIS. Is it really too much trouble for the richest and most powerful nation on earth to use its vast Homeland Security apparatus to identify worthy applicants and let these terrorized people in?
I wouldn't dream of asking anyone to prove they are Christian, Muslim, Jewish, or any other religion. Demanding "proof of faith" is exactly what terrorists in Africa and the Middle East have been doing for years, slaughtering anyone who doesn't share their murderous creed. But here's an idea:
Why not ask all those backing this closed door, Christians-only policy to prove how it matches up with Christianity's teaching? Is it #portesoeuvertes or #portesfermees?