I have a confession: I’m afraid.
I live in Iraq with my family working at the headwaters of the Syrian and Iraqi refugee crisis, moving among Sunni jihadist sniper fire, suicide bombers, sleeper cells and Iranian-backed militia. I’ve received death threats, had mobs incited against me, and had friends kidnapped and killed by Sunnis and Shia, Arabs and Kurds. And I’m afraid.
Even on the ground here in Iraq, I hear the zero-sum conversation in the U.S. right now: “Be wise, close the borders, protect our own” on the one hand, or “be loving, welcome refugees, stop being afraid” on the other. If you’re not afraid, you’re either braver than I am or significantly less informed.
Terrorism, kidnappings and beheadings are not political talking points for us. I often think first about my American colleagues and what might happen to us and our families if we are captured or killed. Will someone care for my wife and kids? Will I care for my colleagues’ families if they don’t make it home alive?
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But I always end up most afraid for my local friends.
When you swim in the headwaters of the refugee crisis, you don’t see Muslims or Christians, Arabs, Yazidis or Kurds. At least, you don’t see those things first unless you are already sectarian and insist on labeling people before you help them.
Smart people are working on the refugee crisis and are neither naive imbeciles nor war-mongering scaredy cats. So I do not think it is new lenses or “perspectives” that are needed at all. What is needed above all, is the one thing we cannot attain by force of will: brand new eyes to see.
We absolutely need to be wise, to protect our own and to screen all refugee applicants. And we absolutely must care for those who are on the run for their lives.
“Hell on Earth” is often how people displaced by the Islamic State, militia and dictatorial regimes describe their existence. Hell on Earth is what the carnage looked like after terrorist attacks in Paris, Beirut, Baghdad, Ankara and on 9/11 as well.
It is not right or reasonable to tell anyone, “Do not be afraid.” Terrorism is terrifying. But we should aim to not be ruled by fear. In the face of ISIS, Iran and countless other nemesis neighbors, we commit to love anyway. Punching fear in the face does not give birth to love. It’s just another way of continuing to fight.
Yes, the world is scary as hell. Love anyway.