Would he make up something which resembles the truth because he doesn’t know the past? – Plato
One of the most concerning things to me about the Syrian refugee crisis is that many children are being denied the education they need and deserve in order to become productive global citizens. Rather than learn from past mistakes, Western nations are foolishly responding to the crisis with xenophobic and Islamophobic policies that may result in more global violence.
This subject is of particular interest to me, not simply because I advocated for Oklahoma to become a welcoming home to Syrian refugees in September and November of 2015, but because a significant number of my own students are refugees. I have seen the faces of children affected by war, and believe it is the duty of educators and the global polity to devise a solution so that young minds are not preyed upon by extremists who cite the West’s deference as a reason to radicalize.
I’ll be drawing primarily from Karen Armstrong’s groundbreaking work, Fields of Blood: Religion and the History of Violence. Karen Armstrong’s Fields of Blood asserts that “religious violence” is oftentimes misrepresented as the product of a group’s religion, rather than as the permutation of industrialization, forced modernization, and the destabilizing forces of post-colonialism. Armstrong notes Alastair Crooke’s argument from Resistance: The Essence of the Islamist Revolution that “[t]errorism has often cropped up in the Muslim world when the nation’s boundaries do not accord with those set up by the colonial powers for the state” (Armstrong 349). When colonial powers have withdrawn or dissolved their control of foreign lands, they have often left chaos and all the ingredients for mass bloodshed in their wake: a failed society, structural inequality, and a history of wrongdoing.
One of the final genocides of the 20th century occurred during the Bosnian War (1992-95), and “[u]nlike the Armenian genocide and the Holocaust, this mass killing was conducted on the basis of religious rather than ethnic identity” (373). Upon the death of Yugoslavia’s communist leader, Josip Broz, Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic and Croatian President Franjo Tudjman divided the country, with Bosnia left in the crossfire; when Bosnia, a majority-Muslim country declared its independence as a secular state, Serb and Croat nationalists herded Bosnian Muslims into concentration camps. When a peace agreement was finally signed in 1995, “…the world was left with a troubling memory. Once again there had been concentration camps in Europe, this time with Muslims in them. After the Holocaust, the cry had been ‘Never again,’ but this did not seem to apply to Europe’s Muslim population” (375).
Robert Fisk opines in a 2014 Independent article, “After the Atrocities Committed Against Muslims in Bosnia, It Is No Wonder Jihadis Have Set Out On the Path To War in Syria” that the West’s weak response during the Muslim genocide in Bosnia demonstrates a legacy of inaction that has led to radicalization.
The question we should be asking is whether our refusal to harbor Syrian refugees will lead to an even greater threat by ISIS and other like-minded groups? Are we creating even more opportunities for a generation of young people to be radicalized rather than educate them in our schools and incorporate them into our communities?
Fortunately, there are havens in Seattle and Toronto where Syrian families are being integrated successfully into Western communities. However, this simply is not enough. We have a duty to the well-being of our country and to our world to expand our hospitality and humanity to ensure that all children–regardless of religion or creed–receive an excellent education in a safe space.
Will we have the courage to do so?