The waves toss the boat from one side to the other. I know within the boat are many more people, much more weight, than the boat was designed to hold. My eyes scan the endless water on all sides in hopes of seeing land across its expanse. My three young children huddle beside me. None of us can swim. I’ve chosen to put my children and myself in this place, because my homeland has been destroyed, family killed, nothing is left of our home, but rubble, blood, the dreams it once held, and the memories of what once was and will never be. I have no money, no idea where we’re going other than the hope of a safe place, something now impossible in my homeland.
Back in my own kitchen, I read of the Syrian refugees and try to imagine the horror necessary to drive people make this choice. I sit surrounded by easy to reach food, family photos, electricity and water, walls and windows between me and the elements and try to imagine a life so desperate to force people to leave behind homes, bank accounts, warmth, family treasures, roots, their entire world and walk to the edge of a sea, often with their children, to climb aboard a small boat to head out across the sea.
Half of all the pre-war population of Syria—11 million people—have been killed or forced to flee their homes. More than half are children. We have all seen the photo of young Aylan Kurdi’s body on the beach, drowned along with his mother and brother. In the month following Aylan’s death, 77 more children that we know of, drowned.
It is impossible to read of the tragedy in Paris, to look at the photos of those killed and those left behind, and not weep and experience a visceral response. The terrorists who inflicted theses horrors on Paris and the world deserve to be caught and held responsible. ISIS must be eliminated. The pain, suffering, and deaths created by this organization must be stopped.
Yet, to imagine that the terrorists who committed the horrors in Paris somehow reflect the whole of Syrian refugees supports the terrorists’ wishes and perpetuates the tragedy. This notion extends terrorists’ reach beyond Syria’s borders to victimize the refugees, already casualties of war and terrorism in their homeland, again. In the calls for war, the fact that ISIS grew in direct response from the US invasion of Iraq has been lost.
Around the US, officials announce the closing of their borders to Syrian refugees in response to the terrorist acts in Paris. One wonders if these officials truly believe the terrorists in Paris to be a reflection of all Syrians, or if the tragedy is now being exploited to cloak xenophobia. To imagine that the terrorist cells reflect the Syrian population as a whole is the equivalent of holding American Timothy McVeigh, responsible for the Oklahoma City bombing and 168 deaths, as a reflection of all Americans.
Syrian refugees are desperate for and deserve the chance to create a new life for their children. If we close our doors, not only do we grant victory to the terrorists, we aid them in their cause.
The waves toss the boat from one side to the other…
Dawn Wink is an educator and writer whose work explores the tensions and beauty of language, culture, and place. Her latest book, Meadowlark.