If politicians want to tackle a threat to our safety, they might cast an eye not far off on desperate refugees but closer to home — on potential terrorists and also on guns.
LESBOS, Greece — For three weeks American politicians have been fulminating about the peril posed by Syrian refugees, even though in the last dozen years no refugee in America has killed a single person in a terror attack.
In the same three weeks as this hysteria about refugees, guns have claimed 2,000 lives in America. The terror attacks in San Bernardino, Calif., and at the Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs were the most dramatic, but there’s an unrelenting average of 92 gun deaths every day in America, including suicides, murders and accidents.
So if politicians want to tackle a threat, how about developing a serious policy to reduce gun deaths — yes, including counterterrorism measures, but not simply making scapegoats of the world’s most vulnerable people.
The caricatures of Syrian refugees as jihadis who “want to kill us,” as one reader named Josh tweeted me, are unrecognizable to anyone who spends time with these refugees. I think some of the harshness might melt if readers could stand with me on a beach here in Lesbos and meet the refugees as they arrive on overloaded rubber rafts after a perilous journey. The critics would see that Syrian refugees are people like us, only wet, cold, hungry and exhausted.
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If you think me naive, meet a 16-year-old Syrian boy here whom I’ll call Ahmed. He lived in a part of Syria controlled by the Islamic State and decided to flee to the West after, he says, he was flogged by ISIS bullies.
Ahmed had to leave his family behind, and he can’t contact them directly for fear of getting them in trouble. I’m not sharing his real name or hometown, to avoid harming his family, but his relatives who have also fled confirmed his account.
Schools have been suspended since ISIS moved into the area, so Ahmed found a job in a pharmacy. When he ran out of a medicine one day, he went to borrow some from another pharmacy — but that was run by a woman, allowed to serve female customers only. Ahmed was arrested.
“They wanted to chop my head off because I spoke to a woman,” Ahmed explained.
If politicians want to tackle a threat to our safety, they might cast an eye not far off on desperate refugees but closer to home — on potential terrorists and also on guns.”
Eventually, he was released, but Ahmed has seen more beheadings then he can count. The executions take place every Friday in the town square, and all the people are summoned to watch the swordsman do his work. The bodies are left on public display, sometime in a crucifixion position.
“If someone didn’t fast during Ramadan, they put him in a cage in public to starve for up to three days,” Ahmed added. Ahmed himself was accused of skipping prayers and sentenced to 20 lashes. A Saudi man administered the flogging with a horsewhip.
After that, Ahmed’s family members gave their blessing to his flight because they feared that he might be forced into the ISIS army.
So what should I tell this 16-year-old boy who risked his life to flee extremism? That many Americans are now afraid of him? That the San Bernardino murders may only add to the suspicion of Syrian refugees? That in an election year, politicians pander and magnify voter fears?
If politicians want to tackle a threat to our safety, they might cast an eye not far off on desperate refugees but closer to home — on potential terrorists and also on guns. It’s absurd that the Senate refused to block people on the terror watch list from buying guns; suspected terrorists can’t easily board planes but can buy assault rifles? Presidential candidates and governors should stop fear-mongering about refugees: After all, 785,000 refugees have been admitted to the United States since 9/11, and not one has been convicted of killing a person in a terrorist act in America.
“We, too, are human, and we have a right to live,” an 18-year-old woman named Rahaf, who wants to be a lawyer, told me on a drizzly day in a camp here in Greece. “We’re not terrorists. We’re running away from war. I just want to have children who can grow up in peace.”