All photos and captions are from Magnus Wennman’s series Where the Children Sleep in which he documents the experience of Syrians seeking refuge across the Middle East and Europe.
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Maram, 8, in Amman, Jordan
Eight-year-old Maram had just come home from school when the rocket hit her house. A piece of the roof landed right on top of her. Her mother took her to a field hospital, and from there she was airlifted across the border to Jordan. Head trauma caused a brain hemorrhage. For the first 11 days, Maram was in a coma. She is now conscious, but has a broken jaw and can’t speak.
In 1979 and 1980 alone, the United States allowed entry to over 300,000 Vietnamese refugees. Many saw this as the United States paying reparations for a bloody civil war we made far worse by arming and fighting with the faction whose ideology we agreed with while ignoring the geopolitical complexities of the situation. Sound familiar? Many of these refugees were not Christian, could not speak English, and have since successfully assimilated into the tapestry of the U. S. Obama’s current plan calls for the allowance of 65,000 Syrian immigrants over 2015 and 2016 – just over 20% the amount of Vietnamese offered refuge then. The population of the US in 1980 was 226.5 million. The most recent estimate of our population? 318.9 million. The differences here are staggering – yet we’re afraid these Syrians won’t assimilate? You can learn more about where refugees come from in this Pew Research Center study.
So let’s turn to how Muslim nations view the acts of Daesh (ISIS) and other extremists. Well, roughly 60% of all people polled strongly condemn ANY violence in the name of Islam. That number seems low, right? Especially since that takes into account that the phrasing of the question includes violence done in defense of the religion. Pretty shocking, don’t you think? Would 60% of Christians be willing to say “Even if I am under attack, I will not use violence to protect myself”? Heck, would 60% of anybody say that? Furthermore, when asked if they support suicide bombing or other acts of extremism, the percentage of condemnation jumps to over 85% in most cases. Finally, most Muslims view extremist groups like Hamas, Al Queda, etc. extremely unfavorably – the number is also around 60%. When interpreting these statistics, it is important to note that these groups, while having a militant wing, are also political parties in many countries that end up providing a lot of public services for the Muslim populace. But what about their view of ONLY militant groups, like Boko Haram? Only 2% of Muslims polled (hyperlink) have a favorable view of this organization. You can read more about the overwhelming condemnation of extremism preached by foreign Muslims here.
People would like to see these numbers closer to 100%. I get that. However, it is important to remember the complex socio-political pressures in these countries, just as in any country. We cannot overlook the ways these groups are entwined in some Muslim societies.
To further tease this apart, how often do Muslims commit acts of terrorism? Very, very rarely. In fact, less than 2% of all terrorist acts committed in the EU in the past five years have been committed by Muslims. Do you remember when two French police stations were attacked in a coordinated effort by men armed with assault weapons and ROCKET LAUNCHERS? That did happen, and in 2013 no less. at the hands of domestic terrorists, who carry out an overwhelming majority of terrorist attacks. Still, we disproportionately attribute terrorism to Muslim extremists.
If actions taken by Muslim extremists are so rare, how can we be constantly inundated with violence? Well, there’s presentation: the ever-breaking news cycle and sensational reporting has a lot to do with it. Violence in various forms is common in the United States and while we spend trillions of dollars on the “War on Terror”, we do surprisingly little against more statistically serious threats. In the 14 years since 9/11, roughly 7,000 American soldiers have died in the “War on Terror” and around 40 have been killed in acts of domestic terrorism committed by Muslim extremists. In that same timespan, well over 300,000 Americans have died due to gun violence. Various studies indicate that common-sense gun control legislation could potentially halve these trends. We have here a threat that takes over 4200% the amount of lives of the soldiers lost in Afghanistan and Iraq and over 7,500 times the amount of lives lost by victims of domestic terrorism perpetrated by Muslim extremists. And we’re doing nothing.
Abdul Karim, 17, in Athens, Greece
Abdul Karim Addo has no money left. He bought a ferry ticket to Athens with his last euros. Now he spends the night in Omonoia Square, where hundreds of refugees are arriving every day. Here smugglers are making big money arranging false passports as well as bus and plane tickets to people in flight — but Abdul Karin is not going anywhere. He is able to borrow a telephone and call home to his mother in Syria, but he is not able to tell her how bad things are. “She cries and is scared for my sake and I don’t want to worry her more,” he says. He unfolds his blanket in the middle of the square and curls up in the fetal position. “I dream of two things: to sleep in a bed again and to hug my younger sister.”
Some of you might say, “still, 40 lives is too much.” You’re right. So let’s refocus and look at the acts of domestic terrorism committed by refugees… except there aren’t any. Since 9/11, the US has admitted over 750,000 Middle Eastern refugees. None have committed any acts of domestic terrorism in the name of Islam. In fact, only 2 were found to have any connection to any Muslim extremist groups. They were sending aid to Al Queda operatives in Iraq – not planning attacks here. In fact, applying for refugee status is just about the last thing a potential terrorist would do. Its a long process that places candidates under far more scrutiny than other methods of entering this country – both legally or illegally. If you want to stop the gaps in our immigration security, look to visas, asylum seekers, and the borders – but do not shut the door to the refugees who need our help the most.
We’ve established that terrorists disguising themselves as Syrian refugees and attempting to sneak into this country to commit acts of violence is statistically highly unlikely, historically inaccurate, and misrepresentative of the facts. There may still remain one big nagging question, however: the cost. This is the good news. Studies indicate that taking in refugees, while a short-term expense, actually provides a boon to economies. At the end of the day, host nations receive more population which means more demand and more workers. Syrians are actually the best-suited Middle Eastern refugees for assimilation into the US culture and economy. Prior to the civil war, a large majority of the populace was in a middle-class analogous to our own. These people went to college, got a job, worked 40 hours a week and came home to their families. Furthermore, the Syrian nation stood out as a secularly-governed country in a predominantly theocratic Middle East; all of these are notions that would point to smooth assimilation. Syrians are largely skilled, educated persons that would be valuable assets to our society and want nothing more than to have a chance to provide for their families, yet we turn them away?
Sham, 1, in Horgos, Serbia
In the very front, just alongside the border between Serbia and Hungary by the 4-meter-high iron gate, Sham is laying in his mother’s arms. Just a few decimeters behind them is the Europe they so desperately are trying to reach. Only one day before the last refugees were allowed through and taken by train to Austria. But Sham and his mother arrived too late, along with thousands of other refugees who now wait outside the closed Hungarian border.
A multitude of articles – see former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright‘s comments – videos, and posts going around lead to the same conclusion: We should not be closing our doors to refugees when we are beyond the capability to provide for even more than the 65,000 we have committed to taking in. In times like these, it’s natural to feel afraid; these numbers are not meant to dissolve that fear. I do hope what I have shown you helps you to be brave, do your research, and think rationally about this very, very complex topic.