As a volunteer returning from a two-week stint helping Syrian refugees on the island of Lesvos in Greece, I find Donald Trump’s recent call to ban all Muslims (even American citizens) from entering the United States, arguably the most outrageous response to the Hydra of catastrophe erupting from the Syrian Civil War yet.
And it’s terrible news for the 12 million+ Syrians who are refugees or displaced within their country, who are looking to the West for any kind of future.
Sadly, even without Trump’s endorsement of intolerance, this isn’t my first brush with an America demonstrating a fatal indifference to those seeking to escape from a Middle East destabilized, in large part, by the American-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.
Four years after the invasion, I was hired to write a film for Fox Studios tentatively titled, “The Girls of The Green Zone.”
It was the true story of the friendship between a young, female American war correspondent and an Iraqi woman whom I’ll call Z.
Z was hired to work as a translator for the Americans at the outset of the Iraq War.
When she walked into the Green Zone (formerly Saddam’s enclave of palaces and villas) and saw the opulence for the first time, she told me she thought:
“Iraqis were like camels beneath Saddam. Carrying gold and eating thorns.”
Z was thrilled the Americans had come to end Saddam’s bloody reign.
Highly educated and secular, she was quickly promoted to field reporter for the Iraqi Media Network, which was covertly funded by America.
She spent much of her time with Paul Bremer, then head of the Coalition Provisional Authority, and conducted interviews with people like UN leader Kofi Annan.
But Sunni and Shia death squads began targeting Iraqis working for the coalition.
Z survived one kidnapping and one assassination attempt in which a man with a machete tried to behead her right in front of the Green Zone.
Despite her service to the United States, despite her commitment to the CPA, despite the certainty of violent death, Z was unable to acquire the refugee status that would save her life.
The State Department, she was told, just didn’t have the infrastructure in place to deal with Iraqi refugees.
Desperate for help, Z turned to the War Correspondent who pulled every string she could find until a sympathetic Senator stepped in with a possible solution.
“Apply for a tourist visa,” the Senator advised. “Tell the State Department you want to go to Disneyland.”
That’s how Z’s life was spared. She was one of only 1,608 Iraqis accepted by the USA at a time when an estimated 4.5 million Iraqis were displaced by the war.
Ten years later, I am returning from my volunteer trip to discover that Lesvos, an island of about 80,000 residents, has hosted, at last count, 500,000+ Syrian refugees while the United States (on date of this publication), with a population of 320 million, has only accepted 2,290 refugees since the Syrian civil war began in 2011.
2,290 – of an estimated 12 million Syrians displaced by war.
Of course, America isn’t 100% responsible for the region’s volatility, given the region’s warring tribal and religious factions, but our share should certainly be more than .0005% of refugees fleeing Syria.
My experience in Lesvos confirmed for me that it’s time to set our fear that Syrian refugees harbor terrorists aside.
- Partly, because the U.S. vetting process is extremely rigorous and a bill that will make it even more rigorous might soon be veto-proof.
- Partly, because all of the terrorists in the Paris attack were European nationals who’d been radicalized in their own country, save for one who may have had a fake Syrian passport.
- Partly, because ISIS has radicalized supporters in countries all over the world, including the U.S., simply by proselytizing on the internet.
- Partly, because using the refugee crisis to infiltrate western countries is ineffective, considering more than close to 4,000 Syrian refugees have drowned or gone missing just this year while trying to get to Europe.
But mostly because all of the refugees I met were gracious, kind and doing their best to maintain their dignity during perhaps one of the worst moments of their lives.
I met civil engineers, physical therapists, classical guitarists, elementary school teachers, fathers, mothers, daughters and sons, just like the ones we have here in the United States.
We need to stop focusing on the handful of Muslims who’ve committed heinous crimes and work on aiding the vast majority of Muslims who simply want peace and to be able to raise their families in the country that shares responsibility for forcing them to flee their own.