This phrase was left as a comment on a refugee’s picture in a piece of news on social media. This comment was not the only one. It was among other hateful comments asking refugees crossing EU illegally to go back from where they came from. Why? I will tell you the story.
Lately, the world was shocked by an image of a small kid, drowned in the sea and thrown by the waves to the shore, while trying to run away from Syria with his family. This image haunted people and raised a big wave of anger, sympathy and sadness among humanity. I saw this picture on Facebook. It took me one second to look at it before moving normally to the next post. The next day I noticed how this picture is getting more attention and spreading more and more on social media. I started to read into the story to see what’s the big deal. For some reason, this image was more popular than the others. This image reached the shores of international media, unlike the rest of harsh images that only spread on my media. Aylan, the Kurdish kid that sadly drowned with his brother and mother, was NOT the first kid to die like this. But he managed to capture the media interest, this industry that I will never understand how it works.
Four years of war in Syria generated thousand of photos. Dead bodies, destroyed cities and villages, devastated families, drowned bodies on shores, innocent kids playing in the camps, bloody scenes, weapons and destruction. Aylan’s photo was just one more, to me at least.
Back in 2013, I was at some point considering illegal immigration, but I was lucky enough to be offered a job in Ireland. I still feel guilty for all those who had to go through smugglers or stayed back in Syria. I just need to explain that either way, it was and still NOT an option for them, for most of them at least.
When someone naive post a comment saying “Go Home” to a refugee who left everything behind, running away from war with all its complications and went on an old crowded risky boat just to reach to a place where he can breathe safely, it’s not an option for him/her to go back home. There is simply no home to go back to. Whoever chose to put their kids, their flesh and blood on a boat in water believed that this water is still a safer option than staying back “home”.
Living in Ireland- EU, and being from Arab origins – Syrian in particular, gives me the privilege to monitor the refugee crisis from both sides. I believe that the real journalism is taken directly from people in the situation not from television or newspapers which is mostly bias or limited with some restrictions. Freedom of speech can be found in social media, where people talk freely about their opinion on a piece of news, their real opinion, not censored, not polished. Just what they have in mind and heart. While I am not interested much in social media and I believe it ruined the way we socialise, I still believe in its way of reflecting an honest unbiased point of view, and I was able to summarise it into two main categories.
People in Syria mostly have two opinions regarding immigration. First group are willing to do whatever it takes in order to reach Europe, the safe haven, and find a better place to start a life. They believe that EU guarantee a good environment for a person to grow, learn and live in freedom as long as they are not hurting someone else. Second part have a fear of Europe and its open culture. They believe if they went there, they will be forced to change their life style and beliefs, especially religious ones. Parents in particular don’t want their kids to be raised in Catholic or Atheist environments where they might drink wine, have sex before marriage and live in “freedom”. Many people spread through social media how police can take away your kids if you slap them, shout at them or in anyway treat them badly. Which is weird for Arab parents as it is normal to do these things when you want your kids to behave and it never means that you don’t love them. It’s just the old fashion way of raising them and forcing them to behave. Some people even went to the extreme describing this as part of the big conspiracy-Zionist movement that aims to reduce the number of Muslims in the world and make them a minority then easily destroy them. Which -in my opinion- is stupid but basically leads to more stubborn extremists Muslims and overly attached to their religion in order to keep it from vanishing one day.
On the other side, people in EU have also two opinions regarding immigration. First group are overwhelmed with what happening in Syria. They are willing to give everything they can or own to host a refugee or help in any possible way. They are acting based on humanity backgrounds and the fact that this could happen to anyone, any country. In contrast, the second group believe refugees or most of them are terrorists in disguise. They are going to spread in Europe, build their cells and start their terror attacks from the inside. They have an agenda and it is one mission: Kill Everyone!
Whenever I surf social media I feel I am standing on thin ice. I try to argue with people, explain the situation, draw a clear picture, but so far it’s useless. Both sides are not willing to take a step towards the other. It’s like meeting with aliens. It’s that weird for them. Different culture, different clothes, different food, festivals, and the most important thing is different beliefs. Both sides are scared of each other’s intentions. Every side think they are superior in some way and this is the main issue. If we start to accept each other’s differences thing will definitely change but someone has to take the first step. Both sides need to accept the other side choice and stop acting against it. If you get drunk you are not a bad person, and if you don’t you are also not a bad person. If you cover your hair, it’s your choice, if you wear a bikini it’s also your choice. It is that simple!
I used to live in the Middle East for 27 years. I only knew the outside world from media, ignorant media. I believed in the importance of sticking to my religion. I confess how I used to judge people based on their religious background. And then I travelled, I lived abroad, and I saw the real narrative. People are not bad. They are in fact very good. They respect me and my beliefs. They talk to my mind not to my looks. They drink Alcohol with a meal like we drink tea. They are normal nice people. How come?! It took me long months of confusion and deep thinking to start to open up. I started researching religions and history. I wanted to know what other stereotypes I was raised believing, and the more I read the more I discovered. I felt like going crazy, and every time I try to raise questions among my family or friends I feel a barrier standing between us. I am now on the other side. I am the one that left her beliefs behind to “blind with the western society”. I was accused of many bad manners, but I just couldn’t care any more. I can see clearly now.
Nevertheless, I still get few racist behaviours from some EU citizens every now and then. I remember when I was at some friends gathering the other day, and one friend offered us, my husband and I a beverage. He knew we didn’t drink Alcohol so he said directly when he saw us looking at it trying to figure out its content, “It’s not Alcoholic”. We took a sip, I didn’t enjoy it much unlike my husband. Days later, He was talking about different methods of making Alcoholic drinks and he mentioned that the drink we had the other day contained a small percentage of Alcohol. I wasn’t annoyed by the fact that I had Alcohol. This thing could happen by mistake and it’s not a big deal, but I was annoyed that he couldn’t care less about what happened. He kept insisting that it’s a small percentage to worry about. You don’t put meat in a vegetarian meal and claim it’s only a small chunk! it’s not an allergy. It’s a choice you have to respect. and while people world wide respect vegans and vegetarians, they tend to act weird when people don’t drink Alcohol or eat pork. When I was in florence in my last holidays, an Italian friend recommended the best sandwiches place there. I went to try it and as soon as I asked about an option other than pork the waiter was insulted, and that went worse when he asked if I want wine and I replied “No, thanks I don’t drink”. He was almost going to kick me out. I still don’t get why this would insult people and trigger hatred from their side.
Fearing people’s religion is becoming the new racism of the century, and an excuse to justify not welcoming refugees fleeing war. And the truth has to be said, you will find some refugees behaving in an ignorant naive way, but it’s not because of their religious background. It’s mostly because of what they have been through and the shape of their cultural life before. I understand people’s fear of them but they are announcing a death sentence for a whole nation based on stereotypes and few bad people. I ask for reasonable conditions and laws for refugees. They have to follow it if they intend to live happily in a better country. They have to be educated first. The culture barrier is enormous for most of them but they should get a chance to learn and prove themselves. If they refused to obey these laws after a certain period of time, then you can tell them “Go Home” with a relieved conscience.
Just remember, you could easily be in their shoes, their boat.