Seeking Refuge

With rising violence in the Middle East, many are fleeing their homes, their countries, and their lives in order to live in safety. In particular, civil war has ravaged the Syrian countryside, with Islamic State (ISIS) militants instituting mandatory military service in captured territory and establishing a conservative and violent form of Sharia law.

Since the start of 2015, more than 4.5 million Syrians fled the conflict to live in neighboring Islamic countries, such as Turkey, Lebanon, Iraq, and Jordan. Others even traveled to Europe and other Western nations in search of political refuge. And this is causing much controversy.

Several Western countries initially welcomed the migrants with open doors. Angela Merkel, Chancellor of the Republic of Germany, led the European Union to conduct a policy of open immigration. Since then, Germany has accepted more than 360,000 Syrians.

However, these migrants are certainly not welcome everywhere. Severe backlash came from right-wing opposition leaders who demanded that these groups be denied access to their countries.

With major ISIS terrorist attacks occurring in several of these countries, most notably France and Germany, these demagogues have been able to exploit xenophobic attitudes and gain support in elections.

The French far right “National Front” was able to gain significant traction in 2015 primary elections. Leader Marine le Pen, known for her anti-immigration stance, captured more than 40% of votes in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region of France.

In the United States, Republican candidate Donald Trump exploits the fear of immigrants in his many political speeches, calling the refugees “Trojan horses” in light of recent terrorist attacks. Since then, he, too, reached record-high levels of support at nearly 40% of Republican voters in an NBC poll.

Mr. Trump called for, on numerous occasions, a halt of all Islamic immigration to United States, not solely Syrian. Even Marco Rubio, a fellow frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination, believed the measure to be too extreme, pointing out that it further divides us from our allies in the Middle East. Yet, Trump continues to dominate the polls with his rhetoric and style.

These remarks and their popularity among voters reflect a rising anti-Islam attitude among Westerners. Many Westerners fundamentally misunderstand the situation. Islam is not an inherently violent religion.

In fact, Middle Eastern militants who try to spread their religion through violence and coercion actually contradict a value of the Quran that states: “There is no compulsion where religion is concerned.”

However, a small group of people choose to ignore these critical tenants and use less well-sourced Islamic texts to justify their actions. One such denomination is very violent and does support the ideas that oppressive regimes such as ISIS, al Qaeda, and Boko Haram follow: Wahhabism.

Wahhabism, only supported by a centuries-old Saudi alliance with a religious zealot, draws fewer than 5 million followers (less than 0.5% of the Islamic community), and most other Islamic groups criticize it for the conservative, sexist, and violent nature that it facilitates. Wahhabism supports values such as the “murder of infidels” that many politicians feel is representative of the entire Islamic community.

Ironically enough, the number of Wahhabis living in Syria prior to the Civil War was too small to be represented by percentage in a 2011 census. Despite this, far-right party leaders continue to argue that Syrian immigrants pose a terrorism threat to nations in which they settle. This doesn’t make much sense when looking at the record of terrorists in 2015.

The Charlie Hebdo attack was perpetrated by two French citizens, born and raised in Paris. All of the November Paris attackers were EU nationals. The ISIS attacker in Philadelphia who shot and injured a police officer was an American citizen. Surprisingly, we are finding that the threat is much more internal than external.

The Syrian migrants do not cause terrorism in Western countries—disillusioned Westerners do.

Syrian migrants pose much less of a threat to Western countries than the citizens already living there. For these reasons, immigration should not be limited to the United States or European Union, but rather opened further. A major humanitarian crisis is currently happening, and ignoring it will only demonstrate the failure of the global community as a whole.

The St. Louis was a boat filled with Jewish political refugees from Germany in 1939, on the eve of certain death. Political extremism had grasped Europe, and it was no longer safe for Jewish people to live in their own homes. The refugees traveled to Cuba and were denied asylum. They traveled to the United States and were denied asylum. They traveled to Canada and were denied asylum.

Many were unable to get asylum in other countries, and 254 died under the tyranny of the Nazi regime. Historians denounce this tragic mistake that demonstrated not only xenophobia and weakness but a lack of humanity.

Yet 70 years later, we are faced with the same issue: people asking for the right to live without persecution, the right to thrive without the fear of death, and the right to exist.

It would very easy to just surrender to fear. It would be very easy to close the gates and be blind to the problems that unfold in front of us. It would be very easy to deny the Syrians asylum and force them to solve “their own problems.”

But humanity is not about doing what is easy. Humanity is about helping others and doing righteous and just action.

So, it may not be a Western responsibility to help the Syrian refugees. But it sure is a human one.

Screen Shot 2016-01-31 at 11.56.25 AM