Morals not numbers

Simon Smart responds to the news coming out of Afghanistan, and advocates for a generous welcome of Afghani refugees.

All week I have been trying to imagine the level of desperation you would have to be experiencing to find yourself climbing onto the outside of an enormous taxiing jet and holding on while it takes off. What could you be hoping for? The scenes of men clinging to the side and clambering onto the landing gear of a C-17 US military aircraft as it lumbered towards take off from Kabul airport, and then apparently falling to their deaths after take-off, won’t be easily forgotten.

Early signs of the Taliban takeover aren’t good. The Wall Street Journal reports that Afghans fleeing to Kabul from Taliban-held areas are telling of executions of surrendering soldiers, attacks on civilians and communities being forced to hand over unmarried women to Taliban fighters. The scenes at Kabul airport begin to make sense within that context.

What could we offer in response?

The Archbishop of Canterbury speaking in the House of Lords this week, left no one in any doubt about where he stood in terms of Britain’s responsibilities:

“We owe an absolute, lavishly generous moral covenant to all those who are at risk because they served with us in Afghanistan or took seriously our frequently professed commitment to its future, women and girls included. … This is about morals not numbers.”

Morals not numbers.

A rapid and extravagant welcome and settling of Afghan refugees fleeing a truly terrible situation could become something we’d come to feel justly proud of.

Rational heads will tell me I’m getting all emotional. Well maybe I am. But I’m weary of pragmatic answers to challenging problems that immediately appeal to the head and not the heart. There is a cost to generosity. Risk as well. I know that. But there is also a cost that comes from looking away.