Considering refugees from another era

Donald Nguyen, M.D., is one of our regular community contributors.

Mr. Khizr Khan, who spoke lovingly of his son at the Democratic convention, said if Donald Trump had been in charge, his family and the story of their son’s sacrifice as a Muslim-American fallen U.S. soldier defending America would not have happened.

The presidential Republican nominee’s call for a ban on Muslim immigrants and Syrian refugees entering the United States pending a more rigorous vetting process reminded me of a similar refugee crisis 40 years ago. During the last days of the war in Vietnam, the other forgotten war, thousands of Vietnamese people braved the sea to run away from the communist North Vietnamese army invading the South.

Many perished in the sea while others were lucky to be saved by the 7th Fleet of the U.S. Navy or evacuated from the rooftop of the U.S. Embassy. My family was lifted out of Saigon with mortar shells exploding around them and many others came to this country later as “boat people.”

It occurred to me that if Mr. Trump had been there in 1975, how many of us would have been vetted prior to being saved from the sea, or prior to board a helicopter with bullets flying overhead? How many of us were suspected of traveling to the U.S. to become “sleeper cells” with the intention of turning America into a communist country and to carry out terror acts? Of course, we were not suspected of such plans, as we were running for our lives from the communists.

One thing is for certain to me, though — if Trump had been in charge then, many Vietnamese people including my family and I probably would not be here today, just as Mr Khan’s family would not. Vietnamese refugees are no different from Syrian or any other refugees.

We both share the common desire to flee an oppressive regime that is hell-bent on killing and exterminating humanity. To this day 40 years later, the most ardent anti-communist sentiments are still found among the first generations of Vietnamese-Americans — and the same anti-ISIS sentiment can be expected from Muslim and Syrian refugees who defied the order from ISIS to stay with their caliphate.

Because of Islamophobia, many people do not see that Syrian refugees are not violent extreme fundamentalists. ISIS has strict orders to kill any Muslim who wants to join the modern world or who rejects their ideology of extremism and intolerance. If the U.S. has to fight ISIS at home, I recommend one group of Muslims who are the staunchest anti-ISIS — and that is the Syrian refugees. They will be the eyes and ears for the law enforcement and security forces in the community, in the mosques, in the schools, in the local food markets to fight terrorism.

They will be a force to reckon with in the fight of reforming and modernizing Islam, as they are the least likely to be radicalized. Currently the vetting process of Syrian refugees is one of the most comprehensive and complex series of vetting, and we need to receive them with open arms as they may represent our best hope in the fight of radical Islam extremism at home.

As the ISIS territory and caliphate are rapidly shrinking and systematically defeated overseas, ISIS will resort to global spreading of terror cells as its primary attack mode. Muslim-Americans like the Khan family and especially Syrian refugees fighting alongside with our Homeland Security forces could be our trump card against ISIS, unless Mr. Trump gets his way.