Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”–New Colossus, by Emily Lazarus, engraved at Ellis Island, NY
On Thursday May 19th, 2016 something happened in Kansas City. In the lower level of the Plaza Branch of the Kansas City public library, in a high ceilinged room, upwards of 200 people gathered to hear faith leaders speak about the growing fervor of Islamaphobia and it’s affects on the current refugee crisis, namely, the Syrian refugee crisis. Sponsored and organized by Kansas City’s Interfaith Council, and the American Friends Service Committee (a Quaker based peace and justice group countering violence), the conversation panel comprised of an imam, a catholic priest, a baptist minister, a protestant pastor, a rabbi, and a former military colonel speaking from a private citizen and professor’s perspective.
All faith leaders articulately orated on the tenets of their particular faith tradition and the religion-specific roots of hospitality and non-violence, that compel each faith’s followers to support and embrace, not turn away and marginalize, the humanity within the faces of neighbors and strangers and refugees.
All faith leaders reflected upon, and shared the heart and purity of their beliefs…the very best of each individual faith. But it was the evidence based facts and percentages delivered by Fadi Banyalmarjeh, of the Islamic Society of Greater Kansas City, that in my opinion, were the most remarkable in the conversation. According to Banyalmarjeh, Syria has the broadest history of welcoming refugees than any other nation in the world. Extending from it’s ancient past, Syria has welcomed millions and millions of refugees (including Muslims, arabs, Jews and Christians) fleeing violent environments. It was this revelation of Syria’s history of welcoming, in stark contrast with the current behavior and attitudes brewing in the United States about Syrian refugees, that struck the loudest cord in my ears, and packed the strongest punch to my gut.
When you hold up America’s recent acerbic rhetoric in it’s islamaphobic narrative, against the open-hearted inmost anthemic words of our national conscience, engraved at one of our dearest national sites, we stand convicted of ugly hypocrisy.
Will we lift our lamp beside the golden door for the tired? Will we? If we don’t we are no better than the worst of the violence that the world’s tired, poor, and huddled are fleeing from.
We will not be able to make larger changes singularly. But in small acts of solidarity accross our neighborhoods, cities, and states, our individusl actions and intentional encounters will accumulate in positive, and peaceful, welcoming change.
And as I sat in that crowded room last night, amidst a rising white-noise chorus of syllables of the english language, a lilting bubbly melody caught my ear. Coming from the seats directly behind me, were the chatters and child noises of two little children, speaking arabic, clinging to their father, their “Baba”. Later I would learn that they, along with their mother and their “Baba” are the first syrian refugee family to be resettled in our city.
(You can learn more about the panel participants by going to : Confronting Extremist Violence The Refuge Crisis, Violence and Fear: A Faith Response
You can also get more information about this topic and others like it by visiting the following websites:
Mercy Without Limits
American Friends Service Committee