Refugees and Fear

Spend some time googling images of Syrian refugees and you may expect to find people in foreign looking clothing, rail thin with bony, dirty faces, but you'll be surprised. You'll find western-looking outfits on families assembled together, in make-shift tents or boats... somewhere... but families remaining together. I think for some people it would be harder to see the "Western-looking" images than that of a perceived third-world nation, which Syria is not. It's not expected.

(Photo from the Guardian editorial

Four million Syrian refugees have fled their country (roughly the population of Connecticut and Western Massachusetts). These people, some not Muslim (some not religious at all, certainly) were stuck in the middle between a repressive dictatorship that used chemical weapons on its own people and the deadly-horrible terrorist Islamic State. These people didn't leave for jobs (that's a migrant labor), these people left because it was not safe for them to live where they lived. Some of their houses are gone. Some of their towns are gone. Some of them are safer sailing in a raft in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea than in their cities. Consider that for a moment. Your family in a raft at sea because your town had hundreds of mines around it, or soldiers, or shrapnel. It's hard for Americans to imagine that because it never happened here. The worst of the worse did not happen here. Katrina affected nearly 2 million people (as much as our government botched that on every level, there was some support). The Haitian Earthquake destroyed the capital city of Haiti and may have affected 5 million lives. In Syria, 12 million people have been uprooted in someway. That's New England's population and New Jersey.

This video does a much better job of explaining the scope of this crisis than can I.

Which brings me to the sad response to the refugee crisis after the bombing in Paris (which now appears to be carried out mostly by people born in Europe). As of writing, 27 governors have announced their states will not be accepting refugees, and xenophobia is dominating social media, despite the fact we've had a pretty smooth path with refugees and terror since 9/11 (no refugee on US soil has been arrested for terrorism). It's the mix of foreigners and Islam and a media that is like caffeine to the part of the American mind that controls the terror sensors. We are getting some horrific "logic" arguments that "we should help our veterans" (since when has anyone cared about that, sadly) rather than refugees. In my home state of Connecticut, a recent article in the Hartford Courant sourced that there are 41 chronically homeless veterans in the state (vs. the 4,000,000 refugees from Syria). It's sad that we didn't take care of our veterans, but homeless people in Connecticut have a lot longer life expectancy than Syrian refugees because, frankly, it's safer to be homeless in Connecticut than to be Syrian right now. And on the question of "radical Islam" (whatever that means), thousands of more Muslims have died by the hands of ISIS than have "Westerners".

Maybe I'm missing the "fear gene" or logic is a deeper thing with me, but when I read the comments on social media, when someone writes "Sign this petition to stop refugees from entering the US" on their Facebook page, it translates to me "I'm irrationally afraid of not-white non-American people" or "I respond more to fear than logic". It's clear as day to me, as if I'm the only one who sees it and everyone who writes these things has a behavior disorder and doesn't realize they are advertising their fear and prejudice. It's like a "kick me" sign on the back of a school kid that they think says something else. Even my wife, who never talks about social media, complained to me today about these people who post "awful things about refugees".

I think some people need to google the images of Syrian refugees. Look up a picture of Steve Jobs as his father was Syrian. See pictures of people, not in turbans or robes, but Adidas soccer pants and logo tee-shirts, sitting in tents, massed in open fields or in store-bought rafts. I think people will find it harder to turn refugees away when they see how much they look like us Westerners.  They are humans, like us. We could be them, we just happened to be born in the West. These aren't terrorist people. They aren't people looking for a place to start a better career. These are desperate people, desperate people by no fault of their own. Just where and when they happened to be born. They don't want to blow you up. They want to sleep and not worry about dying over night. You have the chance to save someone's life. Or, you can choose to be afraid for the sake of being afraid.

Treat desperate people well. This is how you are judged by fellow men and higher-powers than men.

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