Following the tragic ISIS-led carnage in Paris and Beirut, we now hear the cacophony of political opportunism and fear in which some politicians in the U.S. are actively working against America's support of refugees, specifically Muslim refugees.
In my work with Syrian refugee youth, there are a few discoveries that give me hope in this time of fear and confusion.
For those 54 percent of Americans who -- out of fear -- do not want America to accept Syrian refugees, it is worth remembering that what makes Syrian youth the refugees they are today is what actually unites "us and them."
Some of Syria's youth are today refugees because they are paying a heavy price for having expressed a desire for the right to representation and free expression -- values which many Western nations claims to be founded upon. Whereas we Americans live in the land of choices, Syrians and many Arab youth live in the land of consequences. Today, some of Syria's youth are paying the consequence of exile for yearning for freedom of expression and freedom of religion... values we in America claim to hold dear.
Just the same, some Syrian refugees were not involved in protests at all, and were simply trying to provide for their families and quietly pursue their academic dreams, just like any student in the U.S. or Europe.
Resistance... real resistance is "lighting a candle instead of cursing the dark," as I have been taught by Syrian youth in the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan. No matter how you look at it, Syrian refugee youth are the solution, not the problem because refugee youth are fighting to hold on to hope, empathy, creativity and peace in the darkest of places...every hour of every day. But you likely do not see it, or hear it. These monuments of resilience are hidden from the lens of cameras and social media posts.
See below a #MeWeSyria video where Syrian refugees inside the Zataari refugee camp wrote, directed and produced their own short film exploring the concepts of home and hope:
What many refugees hope for...
Europe and America are not the end game for refugees. Syrians' first choice is to return to a peaceful mother Syria.
Several months ago, I had asked young Syrian change-makers from the #MeWeSyria project what they see and think as they hear the word 'homeland' and 'refugees'.
"Currently, we are refugees. I have an idea, a thought that the homeland and the exile are like the mother and the stepmother," one youth mentor in the Zaatari refugee camps says. "It is right that she embraces the person but it does not have the affection of the mother," he adds.
Another young Syrian refugee from #MeWeSyria, an aspiring photographer and artist, responded:
We feel sorrow and sadness. We ran away from the war, killing and destruction in order to live in peace away from the scenes of murder and bloodshed. Everyone flees with his family and his children in order to build a beautiful future for them. I did not have any country to protect our rights. We are human beings and we have the right to live in peace. We want peace and nothing else.
An extraordinary young teenage Syrian girl who is mentoring younger Syrian refugees says:
"I don't want the world to open the doors for us. I want them to open Syria for us so we can go back home and live again."
What shakes enemies of peace...
The images of Germans, Austrians and others opening their homes and welcoming Syrians fleeing war was a devastating blow for ISIS and extremists. Such global acts of solidarity and peace are for terrorists the equivalent of what 9/11 was for citizens across the world. It shakes terrorists' world view to the core.
To retreat from refugees by building literal and figurative walls would be a win for extremists who maintain their power by eradicating spaces for pluralism, diversity and hope.
Past, present, future
Yes, Syria's nightmare knocks on the doors of Western nations. But as soon as we abandon the ingredients of peace, pluralism and hope then we lose our past, present and future. Every day, refugee youth are not abandoning peace and hope. So, why should we, as America, not demonstrate such resilience?
For America and other nations that champion freedom of religion and expression, the sustainability of ideologies -- the victory of ideologies -- is determined in the resilience and pluralism of our values... values we must dare to live by in the face of darkness and insecurity.
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