I met recently with Syrian refugees in Lebanon who are receiving help from Nabil Costa and the Lebanese Society of Educational and Societal Development.
My trip was part of the 21st Century Wilberforce Initiative’s support of education among the oppressed. Currently, more than 200,000 Syrian refugee children in Lebanon have no access to education.
One Lebanese pastor who has opened an education center described how some of the students have witnessed multiple horrors, including seeing upfront deaths at the hand of sniper fire and surviving an exploded chemical bomb that killed everyone else in the home.
When asked about his message to the United States regarding refugee resettlement, he implored, “You are living in the comfort zone and living in fear. We are in the conflict zone and we are experiencing victory every day.”
Recent statements by Donald Trump and some other political leaders related to halting Muslim immigration to the U.S. are grounded in political expediency and eschew both biblical convictions and transformative policies in a region of the world where there is active genocide against Christians, Yezidis and other religious minorities.
While not denying legitimate and reasonable security protocols, refugee resettlement to the U.S. is already one of the most stringent processes in the world and takes on average two years.
Since 9/11, 745,000 refugees have been resettled in the U.S. Less than five of those refugees, or less than 0.0007 percent, have been arrested on any terrorism charge.
Of the Syrian refugees already resettled in the U.S., 50 percent have been children, 25 percent are 60 or older and only 2 percent have been single males of combat age.
Four hundred thousand individuals in the U.S. have been killed by gunfire since 9/11; only 45 of those deaths are related to jihadi violence.
To put it another way, while every death related to religious violence is deplorable, in the last 14 years only 45 deaths or less than 0.02 percent of all gunfire deaths in the United States have stemmed from Islamic jihadism.
Forty-two percent of the jihadist plots foiled in the U.S. were reported by Muslims who were concerned about what their co-religionists were saying.
This includes heartbreaking examples of parents who have self-reported the actions of their teenagers to the government.
Perhaps one of the most legitimate security loopholes relates to gun legislation where individuals on the terrorist watch list are currently allowed to legally purchase weapons.
More than 2,000 individuals on the terrorism watch list have purchased a gun since 2004.
The majority of the world’s 1.5 billion Muslims are not of Arabic descent, are not from the Middle East, and the vast majority are peaceful citizens disassociated from the Islamic State, al-Qaida and other forms of violent extremism.
Muslim support is essential in building multinational coalitions. Some of the proposals put forward by U.S. politicians are not enforceable, and the heated rhetoric is inciting fear and damaging the U.S.’s long-term strategic interests.
As winter settles into Lebanon and the war drags into another year, reality and rhetoric often do not align.
I sat in a tent and listened to the story of a Muslim family who fled their farm five years ago to avoid the violence of a war in which they wanted no part.
Since arriving in Lebanon, the family’s oldest son was in an accident leaving him unable to work due to a substantial leg injury.
Tragically, the youngest son, born two years ago while the family were refugees, is slowly dying from a genetic disorder.
To medically address these devastations, the father borrowed from family, friends and neighbors and is now more than $17,000 in debt.
This family is not alone. According to UNHCR, 90 percent of all Syrian refugees in Lebanon are in debt.
Other refugees told me how their homes were bombed, their children kidnapped and their civilian loved ones murdered in the crossfire.
The challenge to choose liberty over fear, solidarity over isolation is all the more pertinent given the reality that Christians, Yezidis and Muslims who do not hold to the violent interpretations propagated by the Islamic State are living and dying in a context of ongoing genocide and crimes against humanity.
The choice for many of these noncombatant civilians is stark: death, suffering or flight as refugees holding onto more moderate forms of religion and a desire for peace.
I asked one of the young Muslim students what she liked best about going to one of the educational centers. She responded without hesitation, “Religion and Bible class.”
When pressed why this was the case, this 11-year-old said that she had learned from the Bible that she was “to love everybody and not to discriminate just because a person is darker or lighter, but to love everybody because everybody is created equal.”
These are powerful words. They are a reminder that we are called to live in a context of freedom that holds elected representatives accountable for politically expedient but unfounded statements, refuses to give into fear-based rhetoric, and chooses to welcome the vulnerable, many of whom continue to look to the U.S. as a beacon of hope regardless of their religion.
Elijah M. Brown is the general secretary of the Baptist World Alliance.