I will grant that our forebearers in the Pleistocene Era survived in part because they learned to assume that the rustling in the grass might be caused a snake rather than merely the wind. This default assumption served them well because in their case a “false positive” resulted in no more harm than to stop them in their tracks for a moment while they assessed the situation before moving on.
By the time of Ancient Israel, human consciousness had progressed to the point that, rather than fear the foreigner, the sojourner, and the alien living in their midst, our forebearers learned to set aside their fears and embrace others from outside their tribe. To minimize risk of harm at the hands sojourners, these forebearers of contemporary Judaism, Christianity, and Islam developed an ethic of hospitality; a reciprocal agreement that the traveler would be welcomed, housed, and fed. The traveler agreed not to plunder the household of the host. The host offered hospitality and protection and the sojourner behaved as a gracious guest, shared news from far away, and did not overstay.
We find evidence of this shared agreement throughout the Hebrew Scriptures. Numerous passages declare that the sojourner and the alien must receive just treatment; be allowed to glean the fields and vineyards for sustenance; and participate in festivals and celebrations.
When the prophets spoke out against the injustice of their day, they warned that doom and devastation would come as the consequence of the unjust acts of an unjust society. They repeatedly listed the mistreatment of the sojourner and the alien among the shortcomings that foretold doom.
Now, I am not naïve enough to think that America has no enemies in the world or that there are not people living among us who wish us harm. What I do believe and would ask our leaders to consider is that fear-based policies such as travel bans, extreme vetting, and refusal to admit refugees creates a climate of unwarranted fear and suspicion. Further, that policies that grow out of this fear and suspicion do more to bring about the radicalization of immigrants, inspire homegrown acts of domestic terrorism, and perpetuate unrest than they do to make us secure.
Unlike the rustling in the grass caused by the wind, the “false positive” of assuming that all immigrants, all refugees, and all Muslims pose an imminent threat causes harm to us. It creates an unwarranted climate of fear. It justifies irrational policies like building a border wall, singling out followers of one of the world’s great peace-loving religions, and denying aid and comfort to honest, trustworthy souls who are seeking nothing more than a safe refuge from war, violence, and death.
If we should fear anything in our current circumstances, we should fear the corrosive effects of our fear-based over-reactions and unjust policies. Instead of fearing the immigrant, the refugee, and the sojourner among us, we should fear the hardheartedness that results from exaggerating the threat of international terrorism, homegrown radicalization, and undocumented immigrants living peacefully among us. Instead of walling ourselves off from our neighbors, closing our airports, and attributing hostility to billions of peace-loving Muslims, we must listen to the angels of our better nature, move cautiously yet boldly toward opening our hearts and our borders, and build our national policies on a firm foundation of justice and righteousness rather than upon the sands unwarranted fear and ignorance.