Monday, November 23, 2015

Where Is Our Compassion?

I've been trying for some time now to avoid blogging about politics and current events, but I find it hard to remain silent over one particular recent development.

Imagine for a moment if during the November 13 massacre at the Bataclan in Paris the police decided not to storm the theater while the terrorists were inside systematically killing the concert-goers, but instead waited outside for the shooting to cease. "How will we be able to tell the terrorists from the audience?" they wonder.  "What if a terrorist were to drop his gun and act like a victim, and we were to accidentally lead him to safety and freedom along with the victims? We don't know these people - how can we choose who to rescue and who to fight?"  The surest and safest bet, they decide, is to not rescue anybody at all but instead wait until the shooting inside stops before going in and trying to sort things out, so instead of storming the doors they bundle off to a cafe for, oh, I don't know, a glass of cabernet and a croissant.

The world, of course, would have been justifiably outraged were this to have happened (it didn't). But recently, a majority of the American Congress, possibly a veto-proof majority, passed legislation that would make it so difficult for Syrian refugees to escape the horrific war being waged in their homeland by the very same persons that attacked the Bataclan that, in effect, none will be able to emigrate to the United States.  Rather than face that one-in-a-million (or less) chance that one of the refugees might be a terrorist in disguise, our cowardly Congress chose to let the Islamic State continue to slaughter and rape innocent men, women, and children, and maybe, just maybe, let refugees over here only after the Islamic State has finally been eradicated.  Do you not see how this legislation is the moral equivalent to the hypothetical case of the French police allowing the killing to continue at the Bataclan?

I can't vouch for the accuracy of the statistics, but I've seen a Facebook meme that states our odds of dying from cancer are 1:7 and our odds of dying in an automobile accident are 1:77.  According to the post, our odds of dying from a firearm assault are 1:25,000.  However, the chances that we will die from a terrorist attack are 1:20,000,000, lower even than the odds of being killed by a dog (1:11,000,000).  Yet even the remotest possibility of a terrorist attack drives this country into a frenzy of fear, and rather than face a statistical increase so incrementally small as to be negligible, we instead choose to let hundreds of thousands of innocent Syrians languish in harm's way, if not die at the hands of the very same forces that terrify us so much.

Why do we spend trillions of dollars fighting a war on terror when the chances of harm are so very, very remote, yet refuse to pass even common-sense gun legislation to reduce the 1,000 times more likely possibility of death by firearms?   Why do we accept a 1:77 chance of death behind the wheel but lose all of our compassion and throw others to almost certain death over the 1:20,000,000 chance of death from terrorism?

As blogged at length here a while ago, we humans have evolved in such a way as to react readily to perceived direct threats from others and to avoid indirect threats not from a specific person or persons.  So while it's not likely that they can do much of anything to us, we freak out over images of crowds chanting "Death to America" half a world away.  One particular presidential candidate justifies his Islamophobia over claims that he personally witnessed crowds of Arab-Americans cheering in Jersey City during the 9/11 attacks, even though the police claim that no such demonstrations took place.  

But we have no problem accepting the notion that many of our loved ones, as well as us ourselves, may suffer a fatal accident on the highway.  Since nobody's threatening to kill us by automotive homicide, we accept those astonishingly high death rates, but since there is in fact people threatening us with terrorism, we choose to turn our backs on our Syrian brothers and sister while spending economically crippling quantities of cash trying to eliminate those making the threats, despite the four-orders-of-magnitude lower odds of death.

Of course, the ultimate irony here is that by turning our backs on the innocent Syrians, we make them more susceptible to radicalization and make it more likely that at least some of them may eventually become terrorists themselves, while simultaneously ostracizing and alienating Muslims and Syrians already here, and instead of lowering the probability of a terrorist attack, we actually increase it.  

But that's using logic, not our caveman, visceral gut-reactions.  

No comments: