A new group of immigrants is now arriving within our borders: the Afghans who allied closely with Americans during the just-concluded war in that beleaguered country. More will arrive over time as the bureaucratic documentation process works itself out. Then, of course, there are still immigrants who arrive, and attempt to arrive, across our southern border. Our Bible dwells on the need for kindness to strangers a good deal more than it mentions kindness to our neighbors. We Americans are, by and large, caring and welcoming people. Most of us have been brought up on the biblical ideas of hospitality and continue to exemplify those ideals whether or not we worship the same way our parents and grandparents worshiped. Still, I would not want to be an immigrant to this country just now.
Some of us sometimes succumb to fear mongers who, though a minority of Americans, are very vocal, very loud and usually political, and get caught up in a group xenophobia, or fear of strangers. The focus of the fear changes over time, but it is usually the newest batch of immigrants who are arriving to our shores. After the 9/11 attacks, it was very popular for us to say to one another in this country, “Be vigilant, but don’t change our way of life because of the attacks, or the terrorist will have won”. Currently, it seems to me that the terrorists may have won, at least for now.
The Terrorists appear to be winning at the moment because so many of us have changed who we are as a people in the face of the threat of terrorism. The goal of terrorism is to spread terror, unreasonable fear. That mission has been accomplished. Everywhere in America, people seem to live in fear of a terror attack. Since 9/11, there have been no violent attacks within the U.S. Homeland that were perpetrated by anyone who traveled from outside the U.S. specifically for that purpose. I am not dismissing the horrific tragedies that have occurred in so many states in the U.S., but the perpetrators of those awful crimes were U.S. residents or, indeed, citizens. Yet, many of us seem to have lumped everyone who vaguely resembles Mid- or South Asians in appearance into a category of “Terrorist”. Indeed, the perpetrators of some of the worst “terrorist”attacks in recent years, had no connections of any sort to the Middle East or any part of Asia. Also, isn’t it a bit of a stretch to assume that every immigrant from the south is a drug smuggler? We must, of course, be vigilant. However, being vigilant does not mean that we must attempt to isolate ourselves inside a protected bubble. Being who we are as a people means continuing to try to be the welcoming, caring people that we have always tried to be. We cannot “protect” ourselves from the world because we are part of the world. Nor does being vigilant mean becoming vigilanties.
There is a reason that our biblical guidebook focuses on hospitality to strangers rather than to those who we already know. Strangers are simply in more need of our hospitality. Also, we must go out of our way to help strangers while the neighbor is right next door. We must be vigilant. Part of that vigilance must be to avoid those who wish us to be afraid.
Peace and God Bless