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Jeb Bush Is Cool With Syrian Refugees Who Can 'Prove' They Are Christian

As Republican governors speak against resettling Syrian refugees in their states following the Paris terror attacks, presidential candidates Jeb Bush and Ted Cruz suggest that only the Christians among them should be allowed in.
November 18, 2015, 9:35pm
Photo by Cristobal Herrera/EPA

In the wake of last Friday's Paris terror attacks, which were claimed by the Islamic State group, governors from 30 states — all but one of them a Republican — vowed that they would fight the resettlement of Syrian refugees.

"I have been told by my law enforcement agency, by Homeland Security, that there have been some major threats against the United States after 9/11, and all of those individuals came out of refugee programs," said Alabama Governor Robert Bentley in an appearance on CNN this week.

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But Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush doesn't think the US should refuse entry to all Syrian refugees — just the ones that he's completely sure aren't terrorists, like Christians.

Related: This Lone Democratic Governor Is Calling for the US to Reject Syrian Refugees

Speaking Tuesday at a campaign stop in South Carolina, the former Florida governor and Republican candidate for president said that the US should welcome a select few of the millions of people fleeing Syria, particularly those who aren't Muslim.

"At a minimum, we ought to be bringing people like orphans and people who are clearly not going to be terrorists," he said, before singling out Christians as among this group.

"There are no Christian terrorists in the Middle East," he declared. "They're persecuted, they are religious minorities."

When pressed to explain how he would suggest screening refugees for their religion, Bush struggled to come up with an answer.

"I mean, you can prove you're a Christian," he offered. "I think you can prove it. [If] you can't prove it, then, you know, you err on the side of caution."

He doubled down on dividing Syrian Christians from Muslims at another stop later that day.

"They're not Islamic terrorists, they're Christians who are being castigated, persecuted, and sadly, in some cases, beheaded because of their love for Jesus," he remarked at a South Carolina high school.

Bush is not alone in making such statements. Texas Senator Ted Cruz also argued that the US should only let in Christians refugees because, unlike some radical Muslims, they are not the ones committing terrorism.

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"President Obama and Hillary Clinton's idea that we should bring tens of thousands of Syrian Muslim refugees to America — it is nothing less than lunacy," he said over the weekend, while being careful to emphasize that he meant Muslims. Displaced Christians should instead be welcomed.

"There is no meaningful risk of Christians committing acts of terror," he remarked. "If there were a group of radical Christians pledging to murder anyone who had a different religious view than they, we would have a different national security situation."

Related: The UN Is Warning Countries It's a Terrible Idea to Stop Accepting Syrian Refugees

Besides seeming to malign the Muslim religion and innocent adherents of the creed as predisposed to acts of violence, such broadly generalizing comments gloss over historical facts.

Robert Pape, a political science professor at University of Chicago who studies suicide terrorism, notes several examples of terrorism committed by Christian groups in the Middle East, such as the Arab Christian paramilitaries who carried out civilian massacres during the Lebanese Civil War in the 1980s. George Habash, a Christian Palestinian, masterminded the 1970 hijackings of four Western airliners by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. Luttif Afif, the Palestinian commander who led the Black September Organization's terrorist attack at the Munich Olympics, killing 11 Israeli athletes, was born to a Jewish mother and a Christian father. The group called its operation "Ikrit and Biram," after two Palestinian Christian villages where residents were expelled by the Israeli military after 1948.

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There are also notorious examples of non-Islamic terrorism outside of the Middle East. Sri Lanka's Tamil Tigers insurgency, which Pape has described as "a purely secular suicide terrorist group," popularized the use of the explosive belt or vest in its war against the state. Right-wing opponents of abortion have committed bombings and killings in the US. Acts of violence committed in the name of the extreme "Christian Identity" ideology also come to mind, as do the exploits of the Ku Klux Klan, which portrayed itself as upholding Christian morality during its terror spree in the 20th Century.

In any event, it would seem obvious that basing a discussion of terrorism and related threats on religion is foolhardy.

"There is this broader conventional wisdom that it's Islam as a religion which is the root of the threat," Pape said — which is simply "a mistake." There is nothing inherent in Islam that leads to terrorism, he noted. What's more, it's simply a matter of fact that violent acts of terror are not exclusive to radicals who identify as Muslim.

President Barack Obama agrees. Speaking earlier this year at the National Prayer Breakfast, Obama criticized those who are inclined to associate an entire religion to terrorism.

"Lest we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ," Obama stated. "In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ."

The president has responded to the recent calls among Republicans to restrict Muslim refugees from entering the US as "offensive" and "hysterical."

"ISIL seeks to exploit the idea that there's war between Islam and the west," Obama remarked at a regional summit in the Philippines on Monday, using an alternative name for the Islamic State. "When you see individuals in positions of responsibility suggesting Christians are more worthy of protection than Muslims are in a war-torn land, that feeds the ISIL narrative. It's counter-productive. And it needs to stop."