No American Dream for the Syrian Refugees

Atlas World map with rusty barbed wire.
Atlas World map with rusty barbed wire.

Following the November attacks in Paris, the compassion previously seen in the U.S regarding the drama of thousands of Syrian refugees marching across Europe was replaced overnight by a xenophobic attitude and terrorist hysteria.

This new discourse fails to find viable solutions to prevent Daesh terrorist threats and identify appropriate strategies to fight what seems to be its hard-to-curb influence in the region. Its main target is to satisfy an ill-informed public whose misconceptions and fears are easily exploitable by a political class ready to capitalize on the momentum. Meanwhile, it makes the American society more fearful and suspicious rather than responsive to these desperate displaced people's tragedy.

Turning the refugees into public enemy number one was not a difficult task especially amid such an emotional context and since the attribution of blame is a typical reaction of fearful citizens. 9/11, the killing of the American Ambassador in Benghazi in 2012 and the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings increased the panic and fears of the American average public. According to recent polls, 70 percent of them rank Daesh as the biggest threat to the country. This ongoing backlash movement against the refugees has increased the average Americans' fears and worries about their comfort zone being spoiled. The refugees deserve sympathy only as long as they are an ocean apart. Yet, the possibility of having them next door unveils feelings of racial prejudice, white male Christian supremacy and religious bigotry.

It is hard to believe that the American democracy of 2015 is the place where ideas like the National Guard rounding up the already existing Syrian refugees, deporting them back to Syria in a concentration camp, described as "a big beautiful safe zone", tracking the Muslims and including them in a database are even publicly verbalized. Accepting the refugees based on their religion by banning the Muslims from entering the U.S. while Christians show "no meaningful risk of committing acts of terror" encourages an insane ideology and paranoia. Earlier this year signs of these feelings' latent existence have been brought to surface in the case of Ahmad Muhammad, the clock-making teen arrested for bringing to school his invention in a suitcase.

Both House Republicans and Democrats joined forces to pass a bill aimed at stopping the admission of Syrian and Iraqi refugees -- a saddening reflection of the general public mood in America. This is especially troubling since it is the same audience that cheers every time politicians talk about the need to make America great again and rebuild the Americans' trust in their country. While this hysteria may afford short-term electoral success, this attitude will have damaging effects in the long-term for a society supposedly built on equality, diversity and inclusiveness.

Turning the refugee drama into hysteria is not a big surprise especially since the U.S. is caught up in the presidential race and almost everything candidates say on this matter has proven to work so far. What is really worrying is how easily recent history is forgotten. There has been little discussion about the parrallelism between the measures meant to stop the refugees and the internment camps where U.S. citizens of Japanese ancestry were relocated and incarcerated following the Pearl Harbor bombing, the not-so-distant racial segregation, the intolerance against Muslims, and the ongoing discrimination against LGBTI communities. These episodes are of a recent date and should discourage the development of similar tendencies.

This propensity for hysteria also goes hand-in-hand with the lack of information and the deep-rooted misconceptions about the reality on the ground. Shifting the perception of the refugees from a defenseless group to perpetrators of terrorist attacks ignores the fact that they are fleeing Syria because of Daesh and the war. They are the primary targets and victims of those involved in the conflict. Since the beginning of the Syrian war in 2011, only 2,200 refugees have been admitted to the U.S., out of which only 2 percent are single men of combat age the rest are women and orphans.

Although having terrorists among the Syrian refugees has been a concern from the moment they started crossing the Mediterranean Sea to Europe, this fear is largely unfounded. The reality shows that the Paris terrorist attacks were orchestrated exclusively by EU citizens, including Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the alleged mastermind behind the attacks. Less attention is paid to the fact that the passport found at the bombing site next to one of the suicide bombers might have been planted on purpose by the attacker, as the German Minister of Interior suggested. Moreover, the screening process of the refugees seeking relocation in the U.S. is extremely laborious and takes 18-24 months and it continues an UNHCR previous vetting process.

Hauling up the drawbridge to the refugees is not going to stop Daesh from threatening America or change the government in Syria. Nor will it create a safer place for Americans. Instead this proclivity for panic will only heighten suspicions of the alien other (in this case, Muslim and Middle Eastern). It will generate a general fear of the one living next door or standing next in line at the casher. As for the refugees, the racist and xenophobic discourse will not stop them from fleeing the war. It will just increase the agony they have been going through since the war started.