Calm heads must prevail

Tempers have reached a boiling point locally and nationwide in regard to U.S. plans for continued acceptance of refugees from Syria, making good on its promise to shoulder the burden with other nations in the world.

Complicating matters are viral Internet postings on social media networks containing false or misleading information, including a claim that thousands of Syrian refugees are bound for Louisiana, although the number of those currently resettled here stands at 14, mostly women and children, according to the U.S. Department of State.

During the most recent fiscal year, a federal database shows, nine refugees have settled in Louisiana from Afghanistan; 53 from Burma; 70 from Iraq and one from Pakistan, all nations where terrorist activities are far from unknown, all fleeing life-threatening occurrences. That’s out of a total of 211 in Louisiana from nations all over the globe.

The Syrian refugees, as has been widely reported, are fleeing a vicious civil war, complicated further by the activities of Islamic State militants, and the increasing presence of military actions by the U.S., France and other nations.

Over nearly five years of strife in Syria the toll in human suffering is unfathomable. The lowest credible estimate of civilian deaths stands at around 200,000 to date from one non-governmental source; another says 111,000. Those figures do not include known combatants.

The range is so wide because methods of reporting vary in terms of methods used to tally, and overall accuracy. None of those numbers take into account the maimed. The number of people trying to leave the troubled nation is overwhelming global relief efforts.

The picture is clear, if one wishes to utilize body counts as a measure, that death works overtime in Syria. But body counts are the worst possible way of reconciling tragedy. The pain and fear can only be accurately assessed one survivor at a time.

The tragedies on U.S. soil associated with Sept. 11, 2001 and the massacre in Paris last week have not resulted in deaths near the number of the annual tolls in Syria. The Syrian death toll, however estimated, pales in comparison to the Nazi holocaust.

Taken one death at a time, one suffering family at a time, one grieving mother at a time, in New York, Syria or Paris, the cost in human emotion and spiritual capital is equally overwhelming.

A tacit understanding of this is one reason why the fears being spoken of right in our own community regarding the risks to us of refugee resettlement are valid.

Gov. Bobby Jindal’s demand for federal accountability in a letter to President Barack Obama, while shrill, is nonetheless not inappropriate. His executive order seeking to bar Syrians or encourage profiling of them is less clearly effective.

Going back to the numbers of refugees from around the globe who have been welcomed here, risks are equally possible from any of the people represented by them.

Ultimately, government policy at some point represent the will of the people, although that means the people have a clear responsibility to accurately and thoroughly scrutinize the sources of the information they use to determine what their will might be.

That means, now more than ever, that we all have a responsibility to think for ourselves, and look for primary sources of information rather than fall for easy morsels of misinformation by those who would exploit our worst fears for political or commercial gain.

If we have computers or smart phones that are windows into the global world, allowing us to read junk information, we also have the power to go beyond what is presented by the loudest shouters and seek truth.

That having been said, the federal government has a responsibility to clearly and thoroughly make its programs and plans as transparent as can be, and explain them to all of us in language we can understand, indeed painstakingly so, without promoting an agenda and without spin.

The politicization of Syria’s tragedies, the outrage in Paris and the fears of our people must cease, on all sides. We will then be able to make better determinations on matters so critical to our physical security and spiritual reconciliation. •