By Bill Mefford
I remember, years ago, when I worked in an urban ministry in Waco, Texas I helped run what we called Poverty Simulation weekends. These weekends were designed for participants to learn about the life of poor people and to return to their communities and to enter into compassionate relationships with the poor. A religious group heard about the weekends and asked me to help them create a similar weekend based around the experiences refugees go through as they arrive to this country. After we created it, I took the college students I worked with in our local church to Atlanta to go through the weekend together.
We were all challenged by the experience, but what challenged us the most were our interactions with the refugees themselves. It was Spring of 2002 and the United States had just gone through the tragic events of 9/11 as well as the ensuing invasion of Afghanistan. I was not sure what to think of our invasion of Afghanistan and neither were the students. But as we sat in the living room of a newly arrived Afghan refugee, who happened to be Christian, we at first felt like perhaps the US incursion into Afghanistan was justified, since it seemed part of our justification was to protect people like this amazing man and his family from the oppressive Taliban.
But as the man told his story we came to discover that the oppression he suffered through came not at the hands of the Taliban, but by the group that was called at that time the Northern Alliance, whom the Taliban had ousted from power several years previously. We came to understand the US invasion into Afghanistan was an attempt at a simple solution to a vastly complex and historical problem. We knew we had to oppose the war on Afghanistan.
The story of this one refugee family showed us both that he and his family were the manifestation of perseverance, dedication to family, and love of others. But secondly, listening to this one refugee family challenged my basic allegiances and the popular stream of information I was using to justify those allegiances – or that which makes up our individual worldviews.
You see, in addition to the economic, political, social, and cultural contributions refugees make to our communities and to the nation as a whole, refugees remind us that as individuals we are members of a global community and that we have responsibilities to that community. When one part suffers, we should all share in that suffering and that begins by seeking to understand what is causing the suffering in the first place.
Sadly, the suffering being experienced by many Muslim refugees – indeed, all refugees even – is due in part to the unconstitutional and immoral policy initiated by the current administration to ban refugees from certain countries that are overwhelmingly Muslim. The Muslim Ban defies key constitutional protections and principles, but it also defies basic morality we should share as members of a global human community.
And when seen against the backdrop of this administration’s overall migration policies, the Muslim Ban is part and parcel of a larger attack on all migrants of color. The administration decided at the beginning of the 2018 fiscal year to allow in the lowest number of refugees by any previous administration (45,000) and we are almost halfway through the year and we are on track to not even allow in half that number. Even while bombing the chemical weapons-making stations, we have only received 11 Syrian refugees – all year. This is not moral. One people group, the Yazidis, have endured enormous suffering and the United States has taken in only 3 Yazidis all year. Three.
The Muslim Ban should most definitely be overturned by the Supreme Court. But we also must see it against the backdrop of the policies of this administration and understand that questions of religious freedom go hand in hand with policies of racial discrimination. And we must fight for freedom for all people; freedom from the oppression of religious bias as well as freedom from the oppression of racial injustice. Then we can truly begin to live into the idea of liberty and justice for all.