I recently visited the Civil Rights Museum in Tennessee. Standing on the site where Dr. King was assassinated, I found it strange to think of his legacy as belonging in a 'museum.’ We still face intense injustice and erosion of liberties in this New Year of 2017. And it remains a challenge to avoid letting insecurity and ignorance calcify our spirit. A case in point is the controversy over Mayor Chris Louras’ plan to resettle 100 Syrian refugees in Rutland.
When I heard about the clandestine manner in which the decision was made, I worried that the plan might be reckless, ill-thought-out, and put refugees at risk. Then I did some homework, and discovered that the plan looks better with some perspective.
Rutland’s population is about 17,000. The Syrian War has taken an estimated 250,000 lives - or over fourteen times the population of Rutland. Introducing 100 Syrian people, mostly women and children, into Rutland will increase this small city’s population by less than point six percent.
That’s a drop in the bucket, given the enormity of the crisis, and it’s unlikely to put either the ‘native’ Rutland community’s jobs or public safety at risk. So I can see why Mayor Louras didn’t feel the need to debate the idea publicly.
But among other concerns, is the fear that Syrians will bring Sharia law with them – never mind that not all Syrians are Muslims. In fact, one of the most persecuted groups in Syria is its 170,000 Christians – many of whom still speak Aramaic, the mother tongue of Jesus.
It makes me sad to think that Islamaphobia and ignorance of Syrian culture and history may sit at the heart of most objections to the mayor’s plans. But I’m encouraged that he and many other citizens are standing behind what I regard as an exemplary moral decision.
The Mayor has also argued that this plan is about economic regeneration, but it seems unlikely that a mere 100 people will make much of a difference in the regional economy.
Plainly and simply, this offer of resettlement is the right thing to do. And on this day of remembering Dr. King’s commitment to courage in the face of injustice, I have to hope we can leave it at that and just get on with it.
Correction 3:35 p.m. Jan. 16: The text has been corrected to reflect the right population figure for the city of Rutland.