As the eight of us sat around a beautifully-decorated table, our plates heaped with homemade food, our lives all on track — employed, healthy, happy — we spontaneously paused to reflect on our good fortune. Some of it, of course, was due to hard work, but much of it was luck, the well-dealt hand of fate that had spared us so much suffering.
“We could be Syrian refugees,” I said, and everyone laughed, and then grew quiet, as we pondered what it would mean to be traveling the Mediterranean in a small, overcrowded, leaky boat; seeing people drown; awaiting processing in a holding center; sleeping in the streets; homeless, afraid, with a very uncertain future.
Or worse, being turned back at the border, forced to retrace a long, arduous journey to a war zone that none of us would ever wish to inhabit.
“We are humans, we have feelings, so please help us,” said one young girl on a CNN video, brushing the hair from her eyes.
For that reason alone, the United States needs to do much more to assist and accommodate the Syrian refugees. Yes, I know what people are afraid terrorists will slip in, but do you let that fear stop you from doing what is right by millions more? Haven't the terrorists won if we allow them to strip us of our compassion and humanity?
Consider this: 50% of the 7.6 million people displaced within Syria are children. They clearly aren't terrorists. They're innocent kids.
Others say we should “take care of our own first,” though I don't see any measures being set forth to do that in lieu of taking in refugees. Besides, we can do both. We're one of the wealthiest nations in the world, our luxurious standard of living supported in part by our number one export — the weapons that have wreaked so much havoc in the Middle East and elsewhere.
Our policies and practices have contributed to the strife in Syria, the chaos in Iraq, the instability of the entire region. We bear responsibility for cleaning up the mess. Under Bush, we sent some $12 billion in cash to Iraq, with much of it pilfered and unaccounted for. Surely we can now kick down some super serious kala to help the largest migration of people in Europe since WWII.
Some American veterans, in a Facebook post, said the young men fleeing Syria should be ashamed of themselves, and return home to fight for their country. Yeah, that sounds great on principle, but exactly which of the estimated 1,000 opposition groups do you join? Who is the good guy in that fight? Can you blame people for sending their sons away to avoid having them senselessly slaughtered in this conflict? And maybe some of them already have fought, and managed to escape with their lives.
According to the White House website:
Since 2011, almost 12 million people, equivalent to half of the Syrian population, have been displaced by the conflict, including 7.6 million displaced inside Syria. Their homes and schools have been bombed out of existence by Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad's merciless regime. Their lives have been imperiled by ISIL and terrorism. Many have been forced to flee to other parts of Syria or seek refuge in neighboring countries.
It is as if every student in the 45 largest U.S. school districts -- including New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles -- had been uprooted by violence, hunger, or disease all at once.
It's hard to even fathom such a plight.
Though America toots its own horn — the U.S. is currently the largest bilateral donor of humanitarian assistance in the world; in this fiscal year alone, the U.S. expects to admit 70,000 refugees from all over the world; the President has asked his team to make preparations to accept at least 10,000 Syrian refugees in the next fiscal year — we can do more as a nation, and as individuals.
This page offers a few ideas and suggestions on how we can help, and I'm sure there are many more opportunities to assist.
With Black Friday and Cyber Monday now upon us, it's a great time to think about what we who have so much can do without, so that those who have nothing might get at least a little something.
A Facebook friend dared me to blog my opinion of the Syrian refugees, and then commented, "Strap your helmet on."
OK. Here it is. Call me naive, but there shouldn't be any flak associated with calling upon people to do what is just and right. And humanizing and helping others in great need is both.
Photos by David Maurice Smith from a Mother Jones photo essay.