Thistlethwaite: For God’s sake, we must take Afghan refugees
One thing the Bible is crystal clear about is welcoming refugees. There can be no question about this for people of faith in the United States as well as for people of humanitarian values.
Whatever else you may think about the 20 years of war in Afghanistan, and that will be the subject of lengthy debate, we as a nation must act in light of the humanitarian crisis developing in that country in the wake of the U.S. withdrawal.
And yet, there is debate. It breaks down along the familiar lines of a vigorous commitment to those who helped us in Afghanistan and the drumbeat of nativism. Keep “them” out is the politically conservative refrain.
As a Christian pastor and teacher, it just galls me to see those political conservatives who claim over and over again to be the “defenders” of the Christian faith from, for example, some amorphous Democratic plot to “cancel Christmas” (as Tucker Carlson has claimed) and yet see them reject welcoming the stranger right now. And welcoming the stranger is not just a Christian value, of course. Welcoming the stranger is a Jewish value, a Muslim value, a Buddhist value, and a humanist value. It is the decent thing to do.
It is the worst kind of hypocrisy for Republicans to wring their hands about “the poor Afghans left behind” and then refuse to admit them as refugees. But the whole “America first” agenda fuels the fear of refugees, stoked to a fever pitch in the last administration. The fear-mongering is that “they” (immigrants) will replace “us” (self-designated “white” Americans).
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President Biden is acting swiftly despite this conservative push back. The president wrote a memo Monday granting Secretary of State Antony Blinken an extra $500 million for “unexpected urgent refugee and migration needs of refugees, victims of conflict, and other persons at risk as a result of the situation in Afghanistan, including applicants for Special Immigrant Visas.”
A group of 46 senators — 43 Democrats and only three Republicans — has called for “humanitarian parole category” to allow Afghan women leaders, human rights activists and other public figures to quickly and efficiently relocate to the U.S.
Only three Republicans? After 20 years of justifying this largely unjustified war conducted with inhumane bombing campaigns by appealing to the plight of Afghan women, only three?
The Bush Administration, especially through First Lady Laura Bush, was very fond of using the plight of Afghan women and girls under the Taliban to justify the attack on Afghanistan initiated by that administration. In a Thanksgiving speech in 2001, Laura Bush made that case:
“The plight of the women and children in Afghanistan is a matter of deliberate human cruelty carried out by those who seek to intimidate and control,” she said. “Civilized people throughout the world are speaking out in horror, not only because our hearts break for the women and children in Afghanistan but also because, in Afghanistan, we see the world the terrorists would like to impose on the rest of us.”
This refrain by the Bush administration was always an emotional appeal designed to obscure the fact that there was no clear outcome articulated for the war in Afghanistan and, of course, no exit strategy. The trillions we spent in Afghanistan largely went into the pockets of what President Eisenhower so wisely called “the military-industrial complex” and to corrupt Afghan officials and warlords.
If Republicans had actually cared about Afghan women for the past 20 years, every one of them would be supporting this “humanitarian parole category” now.
We need to actually act on the moral value of welcoming the stranger for Afghan refugees and, for God’s sake, do it quickly.
Rev. Dr. Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite is president emerita and professor emerita of Chicago Theological Seminary. She and her husband now make their home in the Vail Valley.