Tuesday, November 17, 2015
My Syrian Relatives, Part 3 (edited with other links for clarity)
My Syrian Grandfather
My Syrian Relatives, Part Two
Wow. A lot has happened since I posted about my Syrian relatives in early September when the plight of the more than 3 million refugees from the fighting and chaos in Syria was underscored in a photo of a little boy drowned and washed up, face-down on some godforsaken stretch of water. Now we've got a bereaved country bombing the shit out of another in retaliation for the grossest and most cowardly of massacres last weekend. We ourselves as Americans are complicit in turning a blind eye toward our own leaders who've led the world in constant drone strikes against perceived enemies in a part of the world that other leaders helped to destabilize in false war. We've got governors of some of the most backward of states, crying out about sealed borders and denying refugee status to people based on their religion. I know people who send chain emails about the threat to America from Muslims, comparing my "complacency" to that of the Germans during World War II. The Muslims are coming! The Muslims are coming! a funny friend responded when I shared that email with him, and the image of a Paul Revere riding on the back of a horse through colonial streets came to mind.
What the hell?
My grandfather immigrated to the United States from Homs, Syria in 1907 when he was eight years old. Legend has it that he and his family were Christian refugees. I doubt he was asked what religion he practiced when he fled Syria and persecution, seeking refuge in the United States of America. Or maybe there was a blank on the form he had to fill out in Arabic for religion, but surely his welcome wasn't conditioned by his response. Given that he's Christian, I guess everything was a-ok. As I remember him, though, an often angry man of rants about those of different religions comes to mind. I think that's a sad legacy.
Honestly, I don't think we live in united states anymore. To tell you the truth, I don't want anything to do with people that think we should turn away refugees based on their religion and am grateful that I live in California whose arms appear to be open to all, both historically and at present. I know, though, that I will have to have everything to do with these people because -- well -- it's complex. I will choose to not engage with them on these topics and feel sick about that, about my own complicity.
Are the white robed men in the cone hats and black holes for eyes, holding flaming torches, burning crosses on lawns, lynching men and terrorizing families representative of Christians? Are the murderous fanatics who strap bombs onto themselves, load submachine guns with bullets and spray them into people sitting at Parisian cafes and concert halls or shopping in Lebanese markets representative of Muslims? Is there a difference?
I don't believe in bombing the shit out of anyone for retaliation or dropping bombs with planes or drones in targeted strikes. I don't believe in turning away displaced people who have traveled thousands of miles with nothing but rags on their backs, at least as long as I drive around in a sexy white Mazda, live in a million dollar bungalow, turn my grassy yard into a xeriscaped paradise, upholster my daughter's walls so that she doesn't hurt herself during a seizure, pay cash for cannabis and pay taxes that support the leaders who have contributed to that displacement and the soldiers who carry out those leaders' orders.
I don't know what to do or what not to do, what to think, how to respond or any of it. I do know that I can stand firm in my desire for peace and in my resistance to violence, and that violence includes the turning away of anyone who needs help. I will stand firm in that fully aware of my own complicity as a citizen of a country who is divided, now, even in the most basic of human impulses to help desperate human beings. I owe my Syrian relatives, some of whom might very well share the same blood as I. I want a different legacy for my own children's children than the one my angry Syrian grandfather left.