“Refugee” is a politically-charged word these days. On November 28, 2016, a young man named Abdul Razak Ali Artan ran over students at Ohio State University with a car and then attacked them with a knife. Fortunately, no one was killed, and the rampage ended when the police fatally shot Artan. But the media has reported that Artan was a Somali refugee and that the attack may have been related to terrorism. The tragedy plays into the narrative that refugees are dangerous to Americans.
Now, when some people hear the word “refugee,” they don’t think of “people fleeing conflict or persecution” (the definition used by the UN.) They think of potential terrorists. The current president-elect shares that view. He said during his campaign that Syrian refugees have the potential to be “a Trojan horse.” His words reflect the climate of fear surrounding Muslim migrants that is growing in the United States.
But a climate of fear is not what we need. In fact, the climate of fear may have inspired Artan to do what he did. On August 23, he told Ohio State’s The Lantern newspaper that “I wanted to pray in the open, but I was scared with everything going on in the media I'm a Muslim,. . .. If people look at me, a Muslim praying, I don't know what they're going to think, what's going to happen. . . It's the media that put that picture in their heads so they're just going to have it and it's going to make them feel uncomfortable." His interview is indicative of what a lot of young Muslims in the U.S. and around the world feel. And these feelings of alienation and anger often lead to self-radicalization among young Muslim men. Professor Arie Kruglanski, who teaches psychology at the University of Maryland, tells The Washington Post that says that a ban on Muslim refugees is “precisely what ISIS was aiming for. Then ISIS will be able to say, ‘I told you so. These are your enemies, and the enemies of Islam”. Abdul Rashid Moten of Southeast Asia Regional Centre for Counterterroism says, “Islamophobia and extremism reinforce each other and the terms are alike in their hatred of the ‘other.’“ and explains that Muslims are more prone to terrorism when they feel that they’ve been singled out as a group for discrimination and persecution. Our nation seems to be struck in a vicious cycle of hate, fear, and violence. Someone from a group we distrust commits and atrocity, and we distrust that group even more.
But there is a better way. When I hear the word “refugee,” I don’t think about terrorists. Instead, I think about the women I’ve written about on this blog: Noor, Anisa, Elizabeth ect. I’ve built friendships with them, however slight. I would suggest other Americans build friendships with refugees too. It’s impossible to think of a people group as a group of monsters once you’ve gotten to know some of them.
Refugees aren’t monsters. They are people fleeing unimaginable circumstances who just want to make a better life here. Times are scary, but we need to keep our hearts open and not give into fear, anger, or hate. I beg you, don’t form your opinions of refugees from the media. Get to know people instead. Refuse to think of the world in terms of “us” and “the other.”
Gambino, Lauren. “Trump and the Syrian Refugees in the U.S.: Separating Fact From Fiction.” The Guardian 2 September 2016 https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/sep/02/donald-trump-syria-refugees-us-immigration-security-terrorism
Li, David K. and Yaron Steinbuch. “Rampage at Ohio State: Somali Refugee With Knife Attacks Students.” New York Post 28 November 2016. http://nypost.com/2016/11/28/active-shooter-reported-at-ohio-state-university/
“Ohio Attack: Possible Terror Link Being Investigated, Say Police.” BBC. 29 November 2016. http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-38136658
UN Refugee Agency. http://www.unhcr.org/pages/49c3646c125.html accessed 30 December 2016.