After Spring

On Thursday, my wife and I had the opportunity to see a screening of “After Spring,” a documentary about the Za’atari refugee camp in Jordan. The camp itself was opened in 2012 and has grown significantly since that time. Currently, there are ca. 80,000 refugees at Za’atari, many of whom come from Da’ara and the surrounding territory in Syria. The camp is administered jointly by the Jordanian government and the UNHCR. As the documentary notes, the majority of the camp’s residents have been there for many years now. Indeed, the place has taken on the appearance of a small town, with markets, restaurants and so on–all accomplished through the initiative of the refugees themselves. Although Za’atari is but one of many sites of refuge for Syrians today–over 4.5 million have been displaced as a result of the country’s ongoing civil war–one can watch this documentary and, in a remarkably direct way, see the refugees as they really are. For this is the film’s greatest achievement: the portrayal of the refugees as at once displaced and longing for home (or for some future hope), but also quite resilient and adapting to their circumstances. We see, for example, the children of the camp scooped up into taekwondo classes led by a Korean volunteer who helped build an entire facility dedicated to this purpose; we see an entrepreneur making gorgeous flatbread “pizzas” in the camp’s central market; and we see children–the most vulnerable among us–confined to life in tents or trailers (the so-called “caravans”). In short, we see a human population–no different from those of us living comfortable western lives–hoping for many of the same things: safety, prosperity, and a fulfilling life with family. But we see, too, that these hopes are nowhere near being realized; we see, in fact, some acceptance among the refugees that the camp might be a long term rather than a short term situation.

All of which made the events of Friday all the more depressing and nauseating. As an American it was among the most deeply shameful days of my life to witness a sitting president suspend our refugee admission program in its entirety; to strand thousands of approved refugees–the most desperate among us, those fleeing violence, warfare, and death threats. This order dictates that ca. 20,000 refugees will be prevented from settling in the US–800 approved refugees in this week alone; that refugees awaiting medical care will be left to die, including children; and that America will abrogate one of its most central and essential promises–to be a beacon for those in need, to be an accepting nation to the world’s most desperate and endangered. Beyond the suspension of the refugee program, one must grapple with the overtly discriminatory travel ban imposed on citizens of 7 majority Muslim nations–a ban which makes quite clear that Muslims and only Muslims are the target (for there is no other way to read the exemptions for Christians built into the order). This ban was mistaken in conception, implemented poorly, and is causing–and will continue to cause–numerous problems. It tells our Iraqi partners, with whom we are currently partnering to retake Mosul from ISIS, that we care not for their sacrifices; it forced this Iraqi general–who has been fighting alongside American forces for 13 years–to cancel his trip to the US to visit his family, which had been relocated for its own safety; it tells the Muslim world collectively that, indeed, American is at war with Islam itself; in fact, the jihadis are praising the current president as the “best caller to Islam” and al-Baghdadi himself has declared it a “blessed ban“; our own security experts agree that the ban is counterproductive; and it weakens our standing among our allies, who find the entire episode reprehensible. And what to tell thousands of college students who are affected by this order? There’s no silver lining here. The order is at once morally abominable and serves no security purpose whatsoever. So, we need to ban travel from these seven countries to secure the country. Why is that again–because this data set reveal that not a single American was killed on US soil by anyone from these seven countries since 1975. And how many Syrian refugees have been implicated in terrorist plots? Zero. ZERO. From the link:

“In addition to the visa restrictions above, Drumpf’s executive order further cuts the refugee program to 50,000 annually, indefinitely blocks all refugees from Syria, and suspends all refugee admissions for 120 days.  This is a response to a phantom menace.  From 1975 to the end of 2015, 20 refugees have been convicted of attempting or committing terrorism on U.S. soil, and only three Americans have been killed in attacks committed by refugees—all in the 1970s.  Zero Americans have been killed by Syrian refugees in a terrorist attack on U.S. soil.  The annual chance of an American dying in a terrorist attack committed by a refugee is one in 3.6 billion.  The other 17 convictions have mainly been for aiding or attempting to join foreign terrorists.”  

No, the EO is purely discriminatory in intent–it’s very purpose is to make the lives of outsiders difficult, painful even, because this is what nativist regimes do. Anyone harboring notions about the potential of this regime to settle into a state of normalcy should, at this point, be disabused of these notions.

And so here we are after one week of an openly nativist, expressly Islamophobic regime. America’s standing in the world has been diminished in a serious way; our allies are wondering what type of partner we will be moving forward; thousands of refugees have been abandoned to their fate; and incompetence reigns in the White House, where the Insecure Leader and his cronies gather to plot their next assault on American values, norms, and the global order. This regime is a menace, and it will remain so for the remainder of this term. Resistance is essential; this is not normal.




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