Night after night, our TV screens are inundated by heart-wrenching images of Syrian and Libyan refugees fleeing the violence wreaked by the Islamic State upon their native land, of the bodies of refugee children washed up on the shore.
Surging into Europe, they are causing European politicians great angst: Will the Muslim hordes over-tax their social services? Will they change their culture? We’re told there hasn’t been such a refugee flow since World War II.
The Europeans are getting exactly what they deserve. They chose, willingly, to ignore Jeremiah 22:3: “Do what is right and just. Rescue the victim from the hand of his oppressor.”
Whether they welcome refugees or not isn’t the point. The moral imperative is to “rescue the victim from the hand of his oppressor” — not merely to provide sanctuary for those who manage to escape the war zone.
Rescue is an active verb. It doesn’t imply sitting around, waiting for desperate people to turn up on your doorstep and then welcoming them. It implies going to the place where they are in danger, and ending the danger. When it’s just one or a few suffering at the hands of an oppressor, simply getting the victim out may do the job. When the victims are hundreds of thousands, rescuing the victim may involve eliminating the oppressor.
But wait, many will say. Didn’t Jesus tell us that when someone slaps us, we should turn the other check? He did. But that begs the question: Europe is not the one being slapped, it’s the refugees. The refugees are doing exactly what people always do in such circumstances — try to get away from danger. That’s why they are flooding into Europe.
Jesus also made clear that he didn’t come to repeal or repudiate the law and the prophets, but to fulfill them. And, as noted, the Prophet Jeremiah makes it clear that the “right and just” action is to “rescue the victim from the hand of his oppressor.”
There is no way around military action to rescue these victims from the hand of the oppressor. Europe’s leaders — and President Obama — know it.
So why haven’t they done anything? The short answer is cowardice. Europe was pretty much decimated by World Wars I and II. There’s no stomach to run the risk of repeating those disasters.
A somewhat longer answer is the same reason that you haven’t seen Arab or Muslim nations step up: They know they don’t have the experience to be competent from the get-go. Their troops haven’t engaged in sustained combat, and their generals and other leaders don’t have experience directing major military actions.
Only the U.S. has that sort of experience, and President Obama has made clear he hasn’t the stomach to engage and defeat ISIS on the ground, which is what is required to “rescue the victim from the hand of his oppressor.”
Which brings us to St. Stephen of Hungary. King of that nation around 1,000 A.D., he fought only defensive wars — wars needed to defend his people and their lands from others.
Catholic doctrine speaks of a “just war.” All war is hell, as all soldiers know. Some suggest that because Jesus said, “Blessed be the peacemakers,” war is simply prohibited. But they conveniently ignores Jesus’s teaching, which is fully in line with that of Jeremiah: “Let him who has no sword sell his mantle and buy one” (Luke 22:36).
And if one believes, as Catholics profess, that all Scripture is divinely inspired, how can one ignore Ecclesiastes 3:3, which tells us frankly, “There is a time to kill”? Or Luke 3:14, which tells us that when asked by soldiers what they should do, John the Baptist didn’t tell them to lay down their arms. Instead, he counseled: “Do not take money from anyone by force, or accuse anyone falsely, and be content with your wages.” Why didn’t he tell them to lay down their arms? Because their job was to maintain the “Peace of Rome;” they were the peacemakers.
In Romans 13:4, St. Paul tells us that “rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.“
What has happened in Syria and Libya is a crime of the highest order. It is long past time for the nations of the world — and especially for Europe and the Muslim nations of Arabia and North Africa — to intervene to re-establish peace and to enable the refugees to return to their homelands.
It would help immensely, of course, for much of the fighting to be done by the refugees themselves. They need training on an immense and urgent scale. They need leaders who have been in battle, who can provide the example. People learn quickly in combat, but casualties can be greatly reduced if inexperienced troops are accompanied by experienced soldiers. That means, unfortunately for Europe and the U.S., there will need to be “boots on the ground.”
Finally, it is not adequate to war war to simply quickly destroy ISIS and similar elements. There must be a concrete plan and a commitment to return the refugees to their homeland and to rebuild the society ISIS has destroyed.
We had that plan in World War II, which is why within five years of the end of the war Germany and Japan both were functioning reasonably normally.
By destroying ISIS, other Muslim countries, Europe and the U.S. can “rescue the victim from the hand of his oppressor.” By having a massive plan to quickly rebuild Syria and Libya, the U.S., Europe and Muslim allies can be the peacemakers of whom Jesus spoke in the Beatitudes.
St. Stephen of Hungary would have understood that. One can only hope that the hardened hearts of today’s political leaders in Europe, and, yes, the U.S. can also come to understand.