By Christine Kaufman, Montana State Senator from Helena
A week before the Paris attacks, I was on the Greek Island of Lesbos, volunteering alongside young people from across Europe, welcoming overloaded rafts of refugees to safety. Up to 5,000 a day were attempting the treacherous crossing. We served wet, cold families tea and soup and distributed dry clothing. As I considered what I was thankful for this season, I thought of those fellow humans who have been forced from their country and homes, given up their professions and possessions, and risked death crossing the Aegean Sea with their children.
I met them for one small interlude somewhere toward the beginning of their long journey to find a place of safety to begin to build a new life. I fear their journey has gotten longer and less safe in recent weeks. Increasingly they are met with suspicion, fear, and outright hostility and hatred.
In far-away Montana, when our Governor put out a soft statement attempting to calm fears, saying Montana would make sure all protocols were in order to safely accept refugees, he was met with a barrage of anger from some Montanans. I was saddened and ashamed that 55 of my Republican colleagues in the Legislature added to this chorus with a letter urging the governor “not to facilitate admission of any Syrian refugees” in Montana.
Couched in a hollow show of sympathy for refugees and equally hollow praise for Montanans’ generosity and welcoming spirit, the author of the letter knows exactly how to play on the suspicions and fear of terrorism for political gain. He knows well the arduous and lengthy federal screening process refugees must go through before admittance into the USA. He is well aware that no governor can place independent barriers to the flow of particular people into any state. It was a shameful piece of propaganda.
Refugees are fleeing because their lives are at risk from ISIS’ barbarous attacks and our bombing raids. Rejecting refugees only increases the power of ISIS and reinforces their narrative that the West is a bad place and we are bad people. Rejecting refugees violates our values and humanitarian obligation enshrined on the statue of liberty. “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, … Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me…”
Rejecting refugees runs directly counter to the faith teachings that many of us espouse. Indeed, Jesus provided a litmus test for faithfulness in Matthew 25 based on our treatment of those who are hungry and homeless. “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance… For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, . . .whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”
I beg you to remember that terrorism has no religion. Islam is no more related to ISIS than Christianity is to the Ku Klux Klan, or the Aryan Nation. The Paris attackers were extremists acting in perversion of the Muslim faith, just as Tim McVeigh and Terry Nichols, who killed 168 Americans in the 1995 bombing in Oklahoma City, were extremists acting in perversion of the Christian faith. Just as those who attack health clinics that offer abortions are extremists acting in perversion of the Christian faith.
I beg you to remember the most shameful periods of our history and not repeat them. When Europeans came here as refugees and committed well-documented atrocities against our native population; when Montanans participated in interning Japanese refugees and U.S. citizens in concentration camps; when Montana passed the broadest, harshest and most notorious sedition law and imprisoned scores of Montana citizens of German descent for making comments critical of the war.
I beg you to remember our shared humanity in this time of turmoil.