Monday, September 7, 2015

Better Catholics than Ross Douthat

Pierre Montailler, Works of Mercy, 1680 (via Wikipedia).
Monsignor Ross Douthat, Apostolic Nuncio to 42nd Street, on why the US has relatively little moral obligation to take in Syrian refugees:
One answer is that nations that are directly implicated in Syria’s agony have more responsibility to accept refugees than nations that are not. The strongest obligation would belong to those countries — the Gulf States and Iran, above all — who have fed arms and money into the Syrian conflict. A weaker-but-still-meaningful responsibility would attach to the United States, because we too have sent arms and because of the links between our Iraq intervention and the region’s current chaos. Other countries would have more attenuated obligations, or none at all.

But the reality is roughly the reverse. Countries like Qatar and Saudi Arabia are basically accepting no refugees. The U.S. is accepting relatively few. And the countries that have opened the door widest are places like Germany and Sweden, which are motivated by a different theory of moral obligation: A utilitarian universalism, which holds that the world’s wealthy nations have an obligation to accept refugees, period, regardless of whether their own governments bear any responsibility for the crisis that produced them.
Actually the countries that have opened the door widest are Turkey, with 1,805,255 Syrian refugees; Lebanon, with 1,172,253; and Jordan, with 630,224, all absolutely dwarfing the numbers taken in by any European country, though Germany is planning to end up slightly ahead of Jordan. Of course these countries don't have much choice; they can't seal their borders as easily as Hungary or, more to the point, Saudi Arabia and Israel (with the fence Netanyahu just hastily announced). But they have taken on 95% of the total number and are extremely overtaxed, with little international help. It might be better for rich countries to meet their financial commitments to helping the border nations cope.

Chart via Vox, which has many more.
Once again, on the guilt theory that the party most responsible for the violence should help the most, Iran and Saudi Arabia have certainly not made things a lot better by helping their vicious clients with war matériel and cash, but the primary responsibility belongs to the United States, whose motiveless invasion of Iraq in 2003 created the vacuum in which the Salafist insurgency (staffed and trained by veterans of US meddling in Afghanistan over the past 35 years) was able to grow, thrive, and frighten the Damascus regime into overreacting with such extraordinary brutality to the Arab Spring (as I've said, we mocked when Assad said he was threatened by terrorists, but it was really true; only of course he focused on defending himself against unarmed students anyway).

But what really gets to me is the lip-curling contempt of that "universal utilitarianism" with which he taxes Germany and Sweden for accepting the principle that refugees must be helped no matter whose fault it is. I guess it really is utilitarian in the good Herbert Spencer sense to ask how we can make a situation better before we ask who we can blame, but that's not a position unknown to Christianity.

As in Pope Francis, you know, calling on every Catholic parish in Europe to take in a Syrian family. Starting with the Vatican City, which has two parishes.

But German and Swedish authorities have to worry about enraging the neo-Nazis, or they might get in political trouble—
The utilitarian theory is blind to the realities of culture, the challenges of assimilation, the dangers and inevitability of backlash.
—so they'd better not take all this charitableness too far! I mean, you might end up with some fabulously wealthy anti-immigrant flake with a German-Baroque combover taking over your conservative party.

The voice of the Pharisee is loud with this one:
prudence has to temper idealism on these issues....

It seems reasonable to believe that by accepting so very, very few refugees — only 1,500 so far — from a conflict our Middle Eastern misadventures worsened created [fixed it for you, Ross] the United States is failing in its obligations to the Syrian people.

But it’s also reasonable to worry that by accepting hundreds of thousands of refugees on a continent already struggling with assimilation, and making itself a magnet for still more, Germany is failing in its obligations to its own.
We're possibly bad, but if we are, Germany's worse, by being so ostentatiously better than we are?

I do love it how, blasphemers and unbelievers as we are, we're still not only better Christians, but better Catholics than Ross Douthat. One place to donate, by the way: United Nations High Commission for Refugees.

No comments:

Post a Comment