After the Paris terrorist attack, 31 governors said that they wanted no more Syrians admitted to their states. In the months since, Syrian refugees across the country had the opportunity to respond. Their message is simple: get to know us.
Nidal Alhayak was resettled outside of Detroit last year after he was tortured by the Assad regime. "I totally understand their fear," he told NPR last year. "We're not like that. We went through terror ourselves." Hasni, a Syrian refugee in Raleigh, still fears for his life. "If [ISIS militants] catch me," he told his local station, "absolutely, they kill me."
Linda, a Syrian who is living in Maryland, responded to her governor's decision to oppose Syrians in the Washington Post. "We, too, were appalled by the Islamic State's terrorist attacks in Paris and condemn them wholeheartedly. My family and I lived through horrific acts like these," she wrote after describing her own son's killing.
"What happened in Paris is just as unsettling to us as it is to anyone else," Walid Abu Aliess, a Syrian refugee who lives in Orlando, told his local paper. "These are criminals," Radwan Mughrbel, another Syrian refugee resettled here after the start of the civil war, told the New York Times. "You can't just walk and kill somebody in the street. God won't forgive you."
Another Syrian living in Michigan said of learning about the attack, "God, please don't let it be another terror attack or another Muslim." She said that she's just as invested in America's security as anyone else now. "We do have vested interest in the safety of America from terror, you know, having family here."
"We have left our countries because of ISIS and Assad," Marwan Batman, a refugee living in Indianapolis, told the Indy Star. He recalls his response to a Homeland Security officer when he asked if Marwan was a Muslim from ISIS: "That's not Muslim. I'm not from ISIS, and I don't like ISIS."
Other Syrian Muslims also find the idea that ISIS is Islam's ambassador ridiculous. "It's really sad," Alaa Alderie, a Syrian living in St. Louis said of being compared to the terrorists who ruined his life. "I lived in a Muslim country. All the people I was raised with, everyone, they were just like me. I've never seen anyone like ISIS."
Nour Alkunuss, a Syrian refugee in Kentucky, puts it simply in broken English: "The Islam means peace, not means war."
Like almost all Muslims in the United States, Fadi Lababidi, a Syrian refugee in Indiana, holds the same interpretation. "People who commit all these horrible acts in the name of Islam, don't know Islam at all. Islam does not order killing," Lababidi argued to Voice of America. "Those people don't represent Muslims at all." Labadidi has a standing invitation for his governor to come to his family's home for a cup of tasty Arabian coffee and "learn firsthand that terror and Islam do not go together."
The Syrian family that was diverted to Connecticut after Indiana's Governor rejected them wants the chance to change his mind, as well. "He's going to recognize that people come from Syria all the way here to live securely and not to commit violence," the mother told the New York Times.
One Syrian Christian woman in Nebraska whose family was targeted said that she still wanted the United States to accept Syrian Muslim refugees. "I am a Christian, but this is very wrong to say," she told the Omaha World Herald, "that we are going to welcome you as long as we prove that you are Christian.... When you are turning your back to them, you are marginalizing them and telling them that ISIS was right about us, we don't like Muslims after all."
Another theme is the culture of the average Syrian. "The people of Syria are moderate and educated. They have no room for ISIS," Hisham Naji who now lives in Virginia told the Washington Post. Ismael Alrifai agrees. "The Syrians are a peace-loving people. We are not terrorists," Alrifai told the Chicago Tribune. "Syrians... fear terror... the same kind of terror that was behind the Paris attacks."
"We, the Syrian people, are very peaceful," Amal Saleh who escaped Syria to Florida told USA Today. "These are children, women and elderly who have no blame for what's happening." A Syrian refugee who owns a business in Tennessee says he wants to "spread love and peace between Americans and Syrian refugees."
This desire for peace was on the minds of many Syrian. "We are people who don't like trouble," one Syrian refugee told his local station in St. Louis. "We left a country that was full of trouble and war and crime and we came here seeking peace." When the governor of Kentucky came out against Syrians, one Syrian boy made a sign for him, "We're coming for peace."
Farhan Alqadri, a Syrian in Pennsylvania, told the Philadelphia Inquirer the same thing. "We escaped war to live in peace," he said. "We hate the ones that are causing all the trouble, all the bloodshed, and all the violence.... We are all against what happened in France."
Alqadri believes that he can change the minds of skeptical Americans. Just like a single terrorist "spoils it for a million," he said, "I hope I can be the one person on the opposite side who changes millions of minds."
Let's hope so.