In Aftermath of Paris Attacks, a Lesson from the Holocaust

As media attention focuses on the question of whether any of the Paris attackers entered Europe as refugees, I offer a few thoughts.

First, it is important to recognize there is a risk that a small number of extremists might infiltrate refugee flows. Advocates for generous asylum policies — of which I am one — should acknowledge this. Addressing it calls for appropriate resources to be devoted to the challenge. Moreover, screening will never be 100% successful. It never is.

The broader question, however, is whether fear of a few evil men (or women) will lead us to sacrifice our basic moral commitment to fellow human beings fleeing war, oppression and deprivation. I, for one, am not prepared to grant ISIS a veto over refugee policy or humanitarian obligations.

I am equally confident that the overwhelming majority of refugees will, if given a chance, prove to be productive members of their new societies who are grateful for the asylum they have been granted. Almost all of the research on Western refugee absorption shows net, long-term positive effects.

Goodness knows that multicultural Montreal, for example, is a much better place for having accepted those fleeing war and instability in Lebanon, Haiti, Rwanda, DR Congo and many other places besides. There certainly wouldn’t be such an excellent choice of shawarma restaurants without them.

During World War II there was also a real risk that among those fleeing war and Nazi oppression there might be spies and fifth columnists. Indeed, some were.

I am enormously grateful, however, that fear of that possibility did not lead the authorities to turn back a young boy who arrived in England with his parents in May 1940. He had made a desperate and a perilous journey from the Netherlands by road and sea, a bullet hole in his jacket from being strafed by the Luftwaffe en route.

Had he been turned back, I might not be here to write this.

That young boy was my father.

Rex Brynen is a professor of political science at McGill University.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Forward.

Author

Your Comments

The Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. All readers can browse the comments, and all Forward subscribers can add to the conversation. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Forward requires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not and will be deleted. Egregious commenters or repeat offenders will be banned from commenting. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and the Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.

Recommend this article

In Aftermath of Paris Attacks, a Lesson from the Holocaust

Thank you!

This article has been sent!

Close