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The Refugees from Fear
21 Nov

A safe world is what we hope for every time a child is born. It’s what we want whenever a loved one steps outside. We all aspire to a safe life. We discuss it regularly with friends and even pray for it. But how much safety is enough? Can there even be too much of something that we so cherish?

The people expert in such matters know that when a speed limit is set on state highways, a certain number of deaths will follow; the higher the speed limit, the more deaths that will almost certainly occur, the lower the limit, the fewer expected deaths. Yet the speed limit, once set, is considered to be a safe speed to travel even though we know a number of fellow drivers will die while heeding it, every year.

Why would a speed limit be set to accommodate a particular number of deaths? Clearly, this is a calculation that is not just about safety. There are efficiencies demanded by commerce to consider. Salesmen and goods need to move all around the country. The jobs we hold demand that we be on time. And the perceived risk in travel is routinely thought worth it when a vacation home beckons for the weekend, or when the in-laws require another visit

It is completely acceptable to us that a speed limit, that number, is considered to be safe even as it contains explicit risk. The act of owning a gun and living in communities with gun owners involve similar calculations, where imperfect safety is considered acceptable. We know that as a result, there’s a chance that the situation will occasionally go against plan. But, so be it.

Smokers, sugar eaters, couch potatoes, medical patients, firefighters and athletes all accept risks too; the ones inherent in their endeavors.

So why must the risk from terrorism be zero? My asking this question in no way implies that I support terrorism. I abhor it. But in life as we know it, zero risk is an unnatural state. No one day in no one’s life has zero risk attached to it. We can trip while taking a walk, or choke while eating a meal. I could go on, but the point is clear. Most of us don’t think about such risks, not because there is zero risk in walking or eating, but because the risk is quite low. It’s even good that there is some risk; how awful would food have to be for there to be zero risk of choking on it?

Keep in mind we live in a country with a number of fellow citizens killed outside of the justice system, each year, that exceeds all other countries that are not engaged in civil war. The number is more in one year than the total number of Americans killed by terrorism since 9/11, including 9/11. So it is in our capacity to accept some risk. We know, as a culture, that risk is a part of life.

Zero risk is not rational. It goes beyond human nature’s ability to deliver. Low risk, yes. Low risk is attainable, as most aspect of life illustrate. But zero is impossible. The history of the world, of our own nation even, is replete with terroristic acts.

If we assume that there is an explanation for this desire of perfect safety with respect to Syrian refugees, it isn’t found in the hope for safety. Those who ask for it know that perfect safety is impossible. It must be something else that they desire, sheathed in an unreasonable request. Perhaps it is as simple as a wish to be cleansed of fear. If someone is unware of the methods in place that already protect us (four national security agencies, including the CIA and the FBI, already vet every refugee in an 18 to 24 month process), if someone is unaware that the actual source of risk within us is far greater that the risk outside of us, it is possible that the clarion call for perfect safety is actually a plea made from perfect fear.

Perfect fear sees risk everywhere, like someone afraid to go outside for what might be lurking there. When it comes to terrorism, perfect fear sees terroristic attributes in everyone who shares a trait with the terrorist. Such a trait might be a homeland, a religion, or a preference for certain clothing. And in doing so, perfect fear assigns guilt, or (in a nod to fascism) the potential for guilt to the innocent. What nation holds such a notion, lumping the innocent in with the guilty, as an ideal?

It’s certainly not the behavior of a great nation. Humanity is not perfection. But we can help those who try to escape its worst elements. If you want our country to be great, the pathway is not from fear, but towards it; rationally, realistically, collectively forward.


About the Author

Written by Stephen Taft

I live in New York City, work on Wall Street, and think about justice...all the time.


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