In the debate, I often saw an argument along the lines of, “If I gave you 10 grapes and told you two were poisonous, would you eat any?”
It sounds clever. There’s a risk. Most intelligent people would say no, and so the idea is that taking in Syrian refugees when potential terrorists could be hiding among them is akin to consuming grapes when you know they could be poisonous.
This argument is old, as this tweet shows:
Some comments claim today's refugees different from Jews in 30s b/c no perceived threat to country then. Nope: pic.twitter.com/ycwivT4mo2
— Historical Opinion (@HistOpinion) November 18, 2015
Back when the Jews were fleeing the Nazis, nations all around the world denied them access because Nazis might be hiding among them. As a result, many more were killed in the Holocaust that could have been saved.
But what bothers me about the argument is how simplistic it is. It makes it sound like the probability is known, and that the only defense against risk is to avoid it entirely. It also makes the issue about the person being posed the hypothetical and not about who the grapes are.
Saving Syrian refugees isn’t the same as benignly eating a bowl of grapes or M&Ms and “knowing” some are poisonous.
It’s like knowing that there are people in a burning building and questioning whether or not to bother trying to get them out on the chance that some of them are arsonists.
“If there were 10 people in a building, and I told you two were arsonists, would you rescue any?” is about how the grape analogy sounds. Now suddenly we KNOW that there are arsonists among them. We even have a specific number, which makes this choice seem like a balance of odds.
And yet, despite knowing we could always find non-poisonous grapes or even some other food, allowing us to pass on this specific bunch of grapes, we still feel like the non-arsonists deserve to be saved from that building, right? I hope?
Syrian refugees are people fleeing a real danger. We have an opportunity to do the right thing and save them from the people we are supposedly afraid they are.
We lock our doors to protect the people inside, but I would question what kind of person you are to leave outside someone who is literally begging for his/her life.