Refugee Advocates Should Leave Steve Jobs Alone

By Nayla Rush, December 1, 2015

Following ISIS's threats, the Paris terrorist attacks, and unreliable vetting measures, many in the United States have expressed their concerns about welcoming Syrian refugees into the country.

The Obama administration, in a gesture of appeasement, released a cartoon video for Americans to watch and "see exactly what a potential refugee goes through to resettle in the U.S."

Others call on Steve Jobs to do the job.

In a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in October that addressed the security implications of welcoming Syrian refugees, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill., in favor of resettling not just 10,000, but 65,000 Syrian refugees next year), referred to "Steve Jobs, the son of a Syrian immigrant" as another example of those who "turned out to be pretty successful."

More recently, at the 2015 American Music Awards, Jared Leto honored the victims of the Paris attacks and reminded the American people that: "Many of us here are the sons and the daughters of immigrants", adding that Steve Jobs was, himself, the son of a Syrian immigrant.

True, Steve Jobs's biological father, Abdulfattah Jandali, was born to a prominent Syrian family. Jandali grew up in Homs, Syria, and later immigrated to the United States to pursue a degree in political science at the University of Wisconsin. This is where he met Joanne Schieble, Jobs's biological mother. Joanne, of Swiss descent, grew up on a farm in Wisconsin. Her father did not approve of her relationship with Addulfattah and, when she became pregnant in 1954, she decided to put the baby up for adoption.

Steve Jobs was adopted at birth by an American couple, Paul and Clara Jobs of San Francisco. Paul Jobs, born and raised in Wisconsin, served in the Coast Guard during World War II. He moved to San Francisco after the war where he met and married Clara Hagopian in 1946. Clara, the daughter of an Armenian family who fled to the United States following the 1915 Turkish genocide of the Armenians, was born in New Jersey.

The Jobs family moved from San Francisco to Mountain View in the heart of Silicon Valley when Steve was five. He grew up surrounded by engineers. Jobs recalled, "It was really the most wonderful place in the world to grow up."

Clara, his mother, taught him how to read as a toddler. School was hard on him at the beginning: "When I got there I really just wanted to do two things. I wanted to read books because I loved reading books and I wanted to go outside and chase butterflies." Jobs did not like the type of authority exercised in school and became a troublemaker. His father did not reprimand him, blaming the school, instead, for failing to challenge his brilliant son.

It is Paul Jobs who passed on to his son his love of mechanics. Jobs explained: "My father, Paul, was a pretty remarkable man. ... He was a machinist by trade and worked very hard and was kind of a genius with his hands. He had a workbench out in his garage where, when I was about five or six, he sectioned off a little piece of it and said 'Steve, this is your workbench now.' It really was very good for me. He spent a lot of time with me, teaching me how to build things, how to take things apart, put things back together. ... He showed me the rudiments of electronics and I got very interested in that."

Jobs never wanted to meet his biological father: "I learned a little bit about him and I didn't like what I learned." He referred to his biological parents as "my sperm and egg bank" and became upset when people spoke about Paul and Clara as his "adoptive parents": "They were my parents 1,000 percent." Jandali himself gave full credit to Mr. and Mrs. Jobs. One can assume today, he too isn't buying into this newly attributed recognition.

So yes, Steve Jobs's biological father is a Syrian native. Does this mean we should accept Syrian refugees today because the biological son of Abdulfattah Jandali turned out to be a genius?

This line of thinking is inconclusive to say the least. First, Jandali was no refugee. He, the son of a Syrian millionaire, immigrated to the United States as a graduate student. Needless to say, vetting processes of refugees are different from those of legal immigrants. Second, Syria (not to mention the world) in the 1950s was different. Syria was not undergoing a devastating civil war and did not have half of its population displaced. Furthermore, ISIS did not exist; it was not spreading terror, recruiting soldiers from Western countries, or infiltrating refugee flows.

But let us look at the underlying serious implication here. What are some implying when using Steve Jobs as an example of a successful Syrian immigration? Is it that nature wins over nurture and that genes define a human being? Wait, isn't that deterministic assumption racist? And wasn't the race card used by Syrian refugee advocates to undermine those who are asking for more guarantees, those same advocates who conveniently forgot about Paul and Clara Jobs's parenting skills and reduced Steve Jobs to his Syrian roots?

Furthermore, if we're going to use the "genes card", why not account for the other half, the Swiss origin of Jobs's biological mother, Joanne? Then again, Swiss refugees are not in the headlines.

And even if we were to attribute Jobs's brilliant career (or part of it) to his Syrian genes, does this mean that all Syrians in the United States are to follow such an extraordinary path? Or is it just Syrian refugees?

It is a good thing Paul and Clara Jobs are no longer with us. One can only imagine how they would feel to learn about their supposedly negligible role in their beloved son's journey to success.

People are entitled to support or oppose the resettlement of Syrian refugees into the United States. But, please, leave Steve Jobs alone.

[This posting has been edited since it was first published.]