Bud Kennedy

Misreading refugees, and the Dan Patrick Bible

Gov. Greg Abbott defended his decision on Fox News Channel.
Gov. Greg Abbott defended his decision on Fox News Channel. twitter.com/GovAbbott

Wadih el-Hage was an American. He lived in Arlington.

And he hated us and plotted to kill us.

In the 1990s, he drank coffee mornings at an east Fort Worth diner, then went home to write al Qaeda’s paychecks. As Osama bin Laden’s administrative secretary, he was the messenger who ordered the 1998 bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa.

Now, he shares a Colorado maximum-security federal prison with another guy who once was a Dallas fast-food cook.

In 1993, visiting Jordanian college student Eyad Ismoil was the van driver in the first World Trade Center terror bombing.

They did not come to the U.S. as United Nations refugees. They originally came to America for college, just as more than 500,000 students do every year — a number that went up sharply during President George W. Bush’s administration when extra goodwill admissions were added for the Middle East.

So far, the most prominent Islamic State group incident in Texas has been last May’s attack on a Garland rally mocking Islam. One gunman was born in Illinois, the other in Dallas.

The threat of terror is as close as the diner counter or the college campus.

It is something we live with every day in Texas and America.

But it is no reason to turn away families, women and children seeking refuge from war and death in Syria, or for Gov. Greg Abbott to call for specific law enforcement “tracking” of the 200 or so Syrian refugees already resettled here.

The last few days in Texas have been both sad and almost satirical.

One Texas House Republican from Austin, Rep. Tony Dale, said it’s not safe to send refugees to Texas — it’s just way too easy to get guns here.

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz and others argued for rescuing Syrian Christians. (But for a wall to keep out Latino Christians.)

And Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, a bestselling Christian author, cited “our Judeo-Christian principles” to claim “our own people” are more important than mercy for others.

(On GetReligion.org, prominent Christian Chronicle writer Bobby Ross Jr. was among evangelicals asking exactly which Bible version Patrick reads.)

Fortunately, nearly every genuine religious leader across faiths and denominations denounced new or stricter limits on refugees.

“We cannot allow the violence … to overshadow our values as Americans and as Reform Jews,” said Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner of the Washington-based Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism.

Bishop Michael F. Olson of the Catholic Diocese of Fort Worth is a 25-year Abbott friend who gave the invocation at his inauguration.

In a statement, Olson said Roman Catholics should not “succumb to fear and anger” in place of “a reasonable response that both protects the security of our community and also places the safety of refugees as most important because of their dire situation.”

That sounds more like the Texas I know.

Bud Kennedy: 817-390-7538, bud@star-telegram.com, @BudKennedy. His column appears Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays.