Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Refugee to Terrorist: The True Cost of Islamophobia

Photo by Magnus Wennman: Where Do Syrian Children Sleep?
The attacks in Paris left the world awestruck, downcast, and angry. Three teams claiming to be members of the terrorist organization ISIL/ISIS launched a massive attack of suicide bombings, mass shootings, and hostage stand-offs throughout the capital of France on November 13, 2015. Nearly 150 innocent civilians lost their lives in restaurant shootings, suicide and car bombings, and a massacre at a local concert hall where a California band was playing. Quick to claim responsibility, quick to cheer and celebrate, the Islamic State had plotted for much more than a one night attack.

As with any terrorist attack in the west, what followed the tragedy of 11/13/15 was a tidal wave of Islamophobia: perpetual fear of the predominant religion the IS claims to represent. Citizens and politicians began calling for the deportation of middle easterners, many demanded that borders be closed to the refugees fleeing from Syria and the IS that have taken over their land. Muslims throughout Europe and America were physically attacked and beaten. One woman in Canada was assaulted while picking her children up from school; another Uber driver was hit by a passenger who assumed he was Muslim. Racist slurs were spray-painted on the walls of mosques, many threats have been called in, and some mosques have been burned down. Social media has circulated doctored videos claiming to show Muslims celebrating the attacks (they were celebrating a soccer match). Right wing news stations have been running rampant as well, asking why we continue to tolerate such a violent religion in our land, overgeneralizing the acts of a few crazed extremists to an entire religion of mostly peace loving families. Of course the typical "facts" of Islam come out as well: they beat their women, they engage in female genital mutilation, they want to take over the world, they want their 72 virgins so they blow themselves up, and they do it because it's Allah's will. It's almost as if it's 2001, 2002, 2003 playing on repeat, as if we learned nothing from the last 14 years.

Years ago I was part of Queen Rania's YouTube channel, created 7 years after the brutal attacks on the World Trade Centers and the Pentagon in America. Islamophobia was still surging in most of the westernized world and QR (along with her hate fighting minions) worked tirelessly to bring an education, to bring compassion, to bring understanding between the east and west, between Muslims and Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, and Atheists. We battled it out, we discussed and debated, we fought and argued, and we created videos hoping to spread the word, the truth about Islam, about the east, and stop the senseless attacks on the victims of these terrorist organizations, both us and them. I felt it was successful in some respects, and a useless battle in others; some listened, some learned, and some stuck their heads in the sand and refused to even acknowledge the points made, maintaining that there was no passage, no statistics, no facts, no infallible logic that could convince them that Islam was a peaceful religion. Eventually I realized these were the morons that we had to simply give up on and expend our energy elsewhere. As Islamophobia calmed somewhat in America over the years, it seemed the tide might have been shifting. Perhaps cooler, more educated heads would prevail. Perhaps they already were prevailing, and this may be why ISIL attacked Paris.

ISIL was doing their best to conquer the Middle East, battling in Libya and staking footholds in Afghanistan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and Nigeria. But the biggest war front right now is the showdown in Syria. In a civil war that has left 250,000 dead, this 4.5 year battle has raged on, and the majority of civilians have fled the country in a desperate attempt to save their own lives, to save their families. Many have escaped to Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey, but the countries have struggled to keep afloat with the influx of refugees that have scrambled to the safety of their borders. Though the world was vaguely aware of the struggle, the reality of this humanitarian crisis slapped us in the face with the death of Alan Kurdi. Alan was a young Syrian refugee who drowned after his family's boat capsized crossing the Mediterranean sea, seeking a safe haven in Turkey. Once the tragedy made front page news, countries throughout Europe were opening their borders to accept the refugees.

Undoubtedly, this was counterproductive to the IS's plan. In their plan, there were only two options for civilians: either join IS and their war against the west, or die. Many refugees had lost their homes and their families, many were weakened, angered, and hopeless with nothing to lose, which is the perfect recipe for an extremist. But hundreds of thousands refused to join, and they refused to die. They escaped. Perhaps this was exactly what ISIL feared: unity in the face of the adversity they bore, support for the Muslim community in the west, the western countries disproving the propaganda IS had fed their supporters for years, propaganda that painted us as soulless, immoral, intolerant capitalistic pigs. In helping these refugees, we were no longer the monster they claimed us to be, and this became a threat to their enlistment process. We provided the refugees hope.

Since they had tried and failed to destroy these refugees themselves, the IS realized the next step would be to destroy the west's trust in them and their trust in the west, to force them to turn back to their desolate, war-torn motherland; to death, or to surrender. This was their plan, and we played beautifully into it. With borders closing, with fear and suspicion filling the hearts of westerners, and with abuse and harassment, shame and humiliation, we are sending these refugees back to the IS in utter rejection, and we are sending them back hurt and angry. The mythical beast of the west has reared its ugly head, we have realized the image ISIL/ISIS has created of us. These poor wretches have lost their homes, have lost their families and friends, have witnessed horrific crimes against humanity, have been traumatized and shaken, and have bounced back and forth between countries and borders, sleeping in forests and gutters, starving and freezing. They are in that perfect, fragile state of mind to join the ranks of other scorned, rage-filled, gun toting, west-hating extremists. If we continue this abuse and suspicion, if we send them packing, we ourselves are helping build a new generation of terrorists and we will only have ourselves to blame.

The ignorance continues to flourish, the morons I met on YouTube back in 2008 have bred, and their little brainless seeds have spawned onto Facebook and Twitter; others made their way into politics. One Facebook user noted that he was Mexican and since Mexicans immigrated to the US and "took over" the country, we should be leery of Syrian refugees because when they come they too will take over, so we need to close the borders (perhaps we should've closed them about the time you came over). Sounds like he and and the Tennessee GOP are good buddies. Others have warned of terrorists bound to blow us all up. Some (Jeb Bush) have maintained we should allow refugees in, but only if they're Christian. Obama called them all a bunch of wusses scared of three year old orphans. He too acknowledged that these anti-refugee sentiments will only be recruitment tools for ISIL that we have forged and handed to them ourselves.

There is never a guarantee of safety; we don't know who is coming in with the refugees, or if anyone dangerous is coming in at all (so far a number of the Paris terrorists were shown to be citizens of the country), but what we do know is that if the world shuts its doors and turns its back on them, they will die, or they will join the ranks of our enemies. Not because they're inherently bad, but simply because in a world as cruel as that, what else have you got to lose? Terrorism is a real threat, there is no argument of that, but this will only provide a false sense of security and condemn thousands of innocent people to die. Closed borders or not, they will find a way in if they truly want one. The question is can you live with yourself if another three year old washes ashore on your beach?