ISIS has changed the way we should think about refugees

We are a welcoming people, but ISIS just changed the rules

I’ve always been proud of our Southern hospitality. Say what you will, we’re certainly more welcoming to strangers than most places. I’ve also always been proud of our region’s fighting spirit. Our military’s ranks are chock-full of Southerners, and we’ve always been ready to defend our homeland at all costs.

To borrow the motto of the 1st Marine Division: No better friend. No worse enemy.

Hospitality and self-defense aren’t usually mutually exclusive, but the twisted plots of Islamic jihadists have now placed our ability to adhere to both those ideals in serious question. We’re in a classic moral dilemma, and one that shouldn’t be decided without a significant amount of soul-searching.

Before us stands the Islamic State, or ISIS, with the stated goal and demonstrated capability to kill Americans where we live and work. Also before us are the thousands of innocent civilians who are fleeing their barbarism.

What should we do?

Some say the threat of ISIS infiltrating the refugee population is manageable so we should welcome refugees into our communities. America must remain a beacon for liberty, they say, and anything less would betray our founding principles.

There’s a thick strain of American pride running through my veins that calls my heart to agree with those appeals. We’re the greatest country in the world, and our people are the most welcoming of all nations, and are always ready to defend the defenseless.

I heard proof of this openness as a child from my neighbors who fled war-torn Laos, and from two friends whose families were refugees from South Vietnam. I also saw this benevolence first-hand as a young soldier participating in the peace enforcement mission in the former Yugoslavia. We sent thousands of American troops to break up a fight in Bosnia and protect its mostly Muslim population. We had no direct national interest in that fight, except our shared humanity. There are countless examples of this compassion, covering all forms of assistance to every creed and color on the planet.

When weaker nations turn away from suffering, we turn toward it. America is more than just a country; it’s an idea that the strongest people are the freest people, and our strength, along with our freedom, are blessings that we must use wisely. It’s who we are. It’s our role in the world, and our place in history. As theatrical as that might sound to some, I believe it in my bones.

So when I hear our governor threaten to refuse admittance to Syrians who are fleeing a nightmare of war, rape, and slavery, I cringe.

When I hear my fellow Alabamians say that it’s “their problem, not ours,” I wince.

And when I hear the GOP frontrunner say he’d ban followers of an entire religion from entering the United States, my heart sinks.

But … and this is a heart-felt question to the left … what are we supposed to do about the very real threat that ISIS agents are already among the many refugees seeking asylum from Syria, Iraq, and elsewhere in the Muslim world? What are we supposed to do about the possibility that they’re here already, having entered through a variety of existing channels?

We’re told they’re being “vetted,” but nobody really believes that works. For instance, we just learned that the Department of Homeland Security prevents its employees from searching the social media history of visa applicants because such actions have the appearance of racial or religious discrimination. Had anyone looked at the Facebook rants of the San Bernardino jihadist, however, she’d have never been allowed into our country and 14 families would be celebrating rather than mourning this Christmas season.

Most experts know that we cannot screen these refugees, or anyone travelling from that region, in any foolproof manner. It’s not an issue of competence. It’s an issue of capability. It’s simply not possible.

So the answer seems to be, “We’ll just have to accept the risk,” yet I don’t think that’s an acceptable answer to most Americans.

Perhaps, fundamentally, we must accept that our enemy has changed the rules of war. If we’re going to win, or at least keep our families safe, maybe we need to change with it.