Syrian Refugee Crisis:This Is Not The Answer

Refugees trying to get on a train in Budapest, Hungary.  Photo published by Freedom House.

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The war in Syria, ISIS and the Syrian refugee crisis has been eating at my heart and soul for quite some time now. For a long time I naively told myself it would be resolved before getting too much worse, and that it was their issue. However, unless I become deaf and blind (which I hope I don’t) that is an impossible, ignorant and selfish view to maintain, especially now. I have waited to write about it as I needed to do some more research, speak with people closer to the situation geographically than I am, and process exactly how I feel on the situation.  I have also been hesitant to address the issue as I have sadly seen and heard the angry, violent and downright vicious responses people have received for even pausing to show an ounce of sympathy and compassion for our fellow human beings.  I know that writing this piece is going to get the same response, and that many of those will even come from within my own family.  Before writing about it, I had to make sure I was ready to deal with that fallout.

While I have studied, read and educated myself in the affairs of the Middle East over the past 10 years, I am by all means not an expert on Islam, international affairs or helping refugees. Over the past few months I have poured through articles, videos and photographs of the situation in Syria and Europe trying to understand and wrap my brain around the crisis. I have laid awake at night thinking about the thousands of people fleeing their homes with no possessions, desperate to get their family to safety and solely dependent on the kindness of others. I wonder what I can do to help, as well as what my country should and can do to help. I don’t know the solution and won’t claim to, however I do know a few things for certain. 

I know that the way Americans are attacking each other on this issue (as well as many other issues) is not helpful at all.  Dividing ourselves into two artificial camps of “conservative” and “liberal” or “Christian” and “non-Christian” is even less helpful.Using insulting words, being blatantly disrespectful, calling each other names and attacking each other’s character accomplishes absolutely nothing.  Well, not “nothing”. It does create animosity, skewed perspective and further division. If this is your goal, then by all means tackle the argument in this manner.  However, if you are trying to reach out to people and really want to have a productive, constructive discussion do not start your argument by calling someone a “libtard”, “bigoted”, “bleeding heart liberal”, “hick”, or any other names or descriptions. Drop the labels.  The second you start in with this kind of dialogue, you lose the argument. Why? Because, at this point you aren’t trying to reach out to people with different beliefs and present your side, rather just appease the ones who think exactly as you do and make fun of those who don’t see it your way. You have stopped producing valid information on the topic and have instead resorted to a five year old’s level of arguing which is to throw a fit, call names, etc. Instead of attacking a person’s beliefs on the subject you could stop to consider why they feel the way they do. Just because someone has different beliefs than you do does not make them a bad person or ignorant. Maybe,just maybe,  they have more knowledge than you on the subject. Or a different life experience than you. Maybe, if we stopped calling each other names the smoke would clear enough for us to come to a compromise and solution.

I know that allowing fear and frenzied panic fed by the media, and those utilizing the atrocity to seek political gain to control us will also lead to disaster.  By people turning their backs on the crisis we are doing exactly what ISIS wants and sending a message that we will only help if it benefits us.  We will perpetuate a cycle by turning our backs and letting small children grow up in a war zone where they see ISIS utilizing weapons left behind by Americans. These people are running from ISIS as well as a tyrannical leader who has utilized chemical warfare and barrel bombs on its own people.  I know that poverty, desperation, isolation and traumatic events (like your brother’s head being mailed to your doorstep or your whole family wiped out) is the perfect breeding ground for creating a terrorist. The only side that Syrians may ever see is the side that turned their backs, closed their doors and treated them like criminals as they ran for their lives and their children’s lives, all the while providing drones and weapons. And that, my fellow Americans, is not our only side.

Syrian mother and child at the border in Greece

I know that among the Syrian refugees are mothers with anxious hearts desperate to get their children to a warm, safe place even if that means risking death to get on a boat with a smuggler who may or may not be doing the job out of kindness. Mothers who love their children the same as I love mine. Mothers who’s hearts break like mine. They are mother’s of children who’s lives are just as precious and fragile as the life of my American child’s. I know that if the tables were turned and I needed to get my children to safety I wouldn’t want to be turned away or sitting at a border while my children suffered because I am white and possibly a radical Christian. I know that I would be willing to endure whatever hardship it took to get them to safety.  I know that I can’t consciously turn my back on this knowledge. If you are able to, then I hope you never find yourself in a situation where your family is in need. Furthermore, if you are a pro-life activist, now is your chance to prove it and fight for life. These children are life.

Mother and child waiting at the border to Macedonia

I know that the situation in Syria and Iraq is complicated at best. I have seen a lot of comments from people wondering why Syrian men are not staying behind and fighting. First, this isn’t exactly the American Revolution  where the lines are so clearly drawn. Who do they fight for? Or against? Who supports them? In the meantime, where do their families live? Their homes have been destroyed and their lives at risk should they remain.  Second, do you realize how dangerous it is for these refugees to make the journey out of Syria and into a refugee camp? Snipers shoot at them, children have to walk miles upon miles, go a long time without food and water as well as sleep wherever they can find a safe zone. If they are small children they will need to be carried from time to time. They may fall ill and need to be carried the whole time.  If you are a father with young children you would be risking your children and wife’s lives by sending them off on this journey on their own. I challenge you to ask yourself if you were in the same situation would YOU stay behind to fight for a cause that seems pretty hopeless or help your wife increase the chances of getting your children to safety? Regardless of the decision, both are acts of courage.

Syrian men pulling children from rubble after an explosion.

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I know for certain that spreading hate and feeding the fear train by posting and spreading false information about Islam is not only unhelpful but also damaging. Take a minute and think about how you would feel or maybe have felt when you see or hear information falsely representing your life, beliefs and culture. If you don’t want anything to do with Islam, that is fine, but if you are going to post information on social media about it, then do some research to make sure that what you are posting is really true. Otherwise, you are doing a disservice to your fellow Americans and to the rest of the world by spreading inaccurate, hateful information that is literally making the situation worse. Additionally, it is not a requirement to accept or understand Islam in order to be a compassionate human being and lend a hand where it is needed.

I know that, like many of my fellow Americans, I am scared of the unknown. There is always a risk when helping another human being. And in this situation we do have to be cautious and I am most certainly not saying that we shouldn’t be approaching the situation carefully.  I would be lying if  I said I wasn’t scared, nervous or anxious about the future of America helping refugees from a war torn area where our nation has a scarred and controversial history. But I am more afraid of letting ISIS win by turning away the people they are torturing. I am more afraid of what the future holds for the world, our country and our children should we choose to follow through on this xenophobic, hateful path.

I know that we can’t control what other nations do to help others. That is their shame, not ours and it is pointless to dwell on what they should be doing.

Migrant family being arrested in Hungary

I know that addressing human misery isn’t about being labeled a conservative, a liberal, a Christian, a Muslim or an atheist.

I know that it is about being a human being and relating to another human being in need.

I know that, should we continue on this path, one day my children will ask me why Americans didn’t help the Syrian refugees and that I am going to need a better answer than: “We were afraid.”

I know that as of right now that what we are doing is unacceptable.

Refugee children sleeping wherever they can

This. This is completely unacceptable and I know we can do better.

These children deserve better.

Stop fighting with each other America.

Start helping.

Smoke

Smoke. Smoking. Lungs filling up with smoke. Smoke curling out of the end of the nasty, white stick that so many desire despite the dire consequences. The “smoke” takes lives. Changes lives. And leaves hearts sad.

Disease. It makes me think of disease. It makes me think of what could have been. It is smoke who took one of the most important people in my life. Whose voice I hear in my head as I encounter a life struggle. She was strong, a fighter and knocked any barrier that stood in her way. But she couldn’t beat the disease that the “smoke” brought. It beat her. And yet I still hear her.

She left a legacy behind. A trail of tears from people who still needed her and desired her guidance. At this time every year, I think of her. My stomach gets heavy, my mind wanders to her face and memory. I hear her voice. I think about how she would have enjoyed conversations with my husband, whom she never met but who shares her birthday.

I think about how much she would have enjoyed my daughters. How much she would have loved Facetiming them, buying them cute clothes and helping me decorate their rooms. But these are just thoughts of the what if’s. What if she had never smoked? What if she had never gotten lung cancer? Would she still be here? All just what if’s.

Smoke. It is all just smoke. All because of the smoke.