“There is no more Jew or Gentile.” – St. Paul
Do you remember your “Intro to Ethics” class? The professor put an ethical dilemma before you—a situation that demands a decision, but has no good options.
The classic ethical thought experiment—the one my own professor used—is the Trolley Problem. Various versions exist, but the basic idea is this:
You see in the distance a runaway trolley heading straight for a group of people tied up on the tracks. You stand beside the lever that can divert the train onto a different track, but one person is tied up on that track. You have no time to save the victims. Do you simply not act, and let the group die? Or do you pull the lever and save the group, thereby killing the one?
The thing about thought experiments is that they are hypothetical. Hypotheticals allow us to take the time to think through the issue—we don’t react out of fear or anger. We wrestle and do our best to think rationally in order to answer the question: What decision, when there are only bad options, is the least bad?
A reported 90% of people would choose to pull the lever, save the group, and send the trolley towards the one. In other words, 90% believe we have the ethical obligation to save more people, rather than fewer.
As we work through these difficult questions in the comfort of a classroom, we have the opportunity to make real changes in our lives. Thinking through ethical dilemmas forces us to identify what we consider valuable and then to apply those principles in our lives in real ways. Then, when the unfortunate time comes, we can respond to real-life ethical dilemmas with a degree of rationality. We can remember our values and respond appropriately.
Today, we are faced with a real-life ethical dilemma. Tens of thousands of refugees flee war-torn areas. A trolley full of terrorists ready to rape and murder, a trolley full of bombs sent by a dozen different groups (including the US) barrels down the tracks. As it careens toward them, we have the opportunity to pull the lever—to save them from certain death.
But many fear that pulling the lever endangers others. Not just others, but Americans. What if it causes the ISIS trolley to hit American citizens?
Since we all sit in comfortable places and we don’t actually have to react with any sense of fear or anger, let’s do what our professors taught us to do: think through the issue.
Let’s suppose that a terrorist, posing as a refugee has made it through the vetting process.
That is, he made it through screening by the National Counterterrorism Center/Intelligence Community, FBI, Department of Homeland Security, the State Department, USCIS, medical screening, then more vetting (including special processes for Syrians and other Middle Eastern refugees, such as fraud detection), and yet more screening from Customs, Border Protection, and TSA. During those 18-24 months of vetting, his information has also gotten through the continuous runs through terrorist databases to make sure no new information has come to light. After that, he made the small list of people who actually get to board a plane for America.
Then, let’s suppose that, once he gets here, he makes it through the gambit of extra documentation, vetting, and cultural training in the states.
Now that nearly two years has gone by and the terrorist has successfully (and miraculously) made it through the intense vetting process, what if he commits an act of terror?
This is where our freshman level ethics class kicks in. Do we save thousands (or millions) of people and accept the risk that some Americans might die? Or do we send them all to certain death—to be bombed or to be raped and murdered by terrorists?
Worse still, we know that ISIS wants us to refuse refugees because they can use Western Islamophobia to recruit desperate people. Do we send refugees back to a life of dodging bombs, thereby creating even more terrorists?
The chance of a terrorist posing as a refugee and getting through the vetting process is slim to none. But, even if a terrorist slips through the cracks, even if some Americans tragically lose their lives, do we save thousands (or millions) of people?
When we peel away the layers, the real question is this: Are American lives more valuable than Muslim lives (assuming that the majority of these refugees are Muslim)? To put in even more concrete terms, suppose a terrorist gets through and kills 100 Americans. Are 100 Americans more valuable than 10,000 foreign Muslims?
If we were sitting in a freshman ethics class, I have a feeling most would say that the life of a foreign Muslim is no less valuable than the life of an American.
But actions speak louder than words.
Even after experiencing what has been called the French equivalent of 9/11, France decided that it was worth the risk, that they had an ethical obligation to save 30,000 more Syrian refugees, that humanity means more than nationality, that they would not trade morality for fear.
When we decide that we would rather condemn tens of thousands of refugees to Hell on Earth, simply because we don’t want to risk the off-chance that a small number of Americans might be harmed, we effectively say that we would rather kill a very large number of people and save a few for no other reason than the fact that they are not like us.
We are sending millions of people to their death because of their religion.