Australian philosopher and Princeton professor Peter Singer developed a thought experiment in which he asked people if they would jump into a swimming pool to save a drowning child if it meant ruining a thousand dollar suit. Every person asked, without hesitation, answered yes they would jump in to save a drowning child. Then he asked the participants to send the thousand dollars they saved by not jumping in a pool to a charity that helps children dying overseas. This was a much tougher proposition. It’s hard to make sacrifices for people half a world away, harder when they pray to a “different God”, and even harder when they don’t look like you.
When I watch television, read the comments section on websites, or read letters published in newspapers there’s one reason consistently given for not helping Syrian refugees: fear. I don’t care how articulate or inarticulate the arguments are presented; fear is almost always the central thesis. Fear is a reasonable response to trauma. We live in a dangerous world, but are we to driven by fear? Is it immoral to deny help to someone because of fear? Is it reasonable to be more afraid of terror half a world away than the terror in our backyard?
I want to, in my own fallible way, demonstrate how we (Americans) focus more on terror threats abroad than the attacks we face at home. Paris made the world pay attention, yet with our eyes focused on the middle east and Europe we missed several terrorist provocations and attacks in our own country. The viciousness of the Planned Parenthood attack made us address a painful truth many in our country reflexively avoid: domestic terrorists are more likely to hurt or kill us than Isis.
Since 911 cowardly American terrorists have murdered and shot almost twice as many innocent Americans than their middle eastern counterparts, yet we don’t obsess over this. We’ve become very skilled at explaining away the actions of our fellow citizens. We dismiss their cunning as mental illness, we say they’re loners- even when they act in unison, we systematically disconnect the string of politically and racially motivated shootings and murders over the last few years because not doing so would force us to admit we’re under siege by someone other than dangerous people from Mexico, Chicago, or the middle east.
When Muslim Americans in Irving, Texas were greeted in front of their Mosque by a dozen well armed “Patriots” the terror they felt wasn’t plastered all over television. The young man in Fairfax, Virginia who planted fake bombs at a Mosque in Falls Church isn’t a household name. When five Black Lives Matter members were shot in Minneapolis last Monday night I had to look for information about the investigation because it wasn’t deemed worthy of media coverage. I’m convinced that a nationwide 90 day black out from politically driven, racially divisive cable news outlets and Yellow journalism websites would actually make some of our fellow citizens more informed than they are now.
I understand how rational people feel compelled to intervene in traumatic situations facing them, but I can’t understand how the same people can use the same side of their brain to deny the carnage around them. The nine Christians murdered in a terrorist attack in South Carolina weren’t murdered by Muslims, The almost monthly ritual of school shootings aren’t being committed by illegal aliens, and it wasn’t thugs from Chicago pointing guns at federal law enforcement officers at the Bundy compound last year.
Our cowardice and inability to talk, in an open and honest way, about these issues is telling. One undeniable proof of privilege is being able to avoid conversations that are uncomfortable or call into question your worldview. Every few weeks we see a breaking news story about children getting shot down like dogs in their classrooms, and all we get from our political class is an admission of impotence. They tell us there’s nothing we can do to stop gun violence in a free society, yet we’ve seen fast moving bipartisan legislation to slow down the refugee process for our Syrian brothers and sisters- who, by the way, are created in the image of our God. This kind of moral inconsistency doesn’t go unnoticed. As a nation I wish we were more John Brown than Jefferson Davis when it comes to affirming the humanity of a person, but I’m old enough for my wishes not to hurt me.