The clear linking of the horrific terrorist attacks in Paris on Nov. 13 to strongholds of the Islamic State, as well as the discovery of a Syrian passport at the scene of one attack (whether faked or not, whether held by one of the bombers or not), sparked a heated debate in Europe over whether to turn away Syrian refugees, or even all refugees. Some governors in the United States also declared that their states would likewise reject Syrian refugees. Targeting an entire foreign population for the crimes of a few is the textbook definition of xenophobia, which, sadly, has a long history in the United States.
Providentially, just two days after the attacks in Paris, Pope Francis marked the 35th anniversary of the Jesuit Refugee Service, praising the group in particular for its education of refugee children. Reflecting on the pope’s visit in a video interview, Thomas J. Smolich, S.J., director of J.R.S. International, reminded viewers of three important facts. First, it is important not to “globalize” blame—that is, not to say, “This is all Muslims, this is all immigrants.” Second, refugees, particularly from Syria, are fleeing the same type of violence that occurred in Paris. Finally, J.R.S. has for its long history worked for integration, as a way of welcoming refugees “into the one human family.”
The message, which may sound radical, is nonetheless at the heart of the Judeo-Christian tradition. “You shall not oppress a resident alien; you well know how it feels to be an alien,” says the Book of Exodus, “since you were once aliens yourselves in the land of Egypt” (23:9). Particularly in the United States, a country founded by refugees and immigrants, this command must be heard and heeded.