“One minute, people are going about their day. The next minute, people are running for their lives,” remarked Speaker of the House Rep. Paul Ryan, in response to the horrific attacks in Brussels this week. Upon hearing this acknowledgement, from the same politician who called for, and helped pass the pause on the U.S refugee resettlement program, I was immediately struck by the cognitive dissonance of Ryan’s momentary (but selective) empathy. As I recently reflected on in the aftermath of the Paris attacks, it’s easy to understand why Americans and Europeans relate to each other with ease in these moments, when from one minute to the next, our seemingly safe homes become war-zones.
Each time our safety-bubbles are burst by violence, we have the opportunity to briefly comprehend the fear that forces refugees from their homes.
However, a demagogue, or two, or three later, and this terrifying rupture of our presumed security can lead to fear-driven opinions and actions that demonize refugees fleeing the very phenomena we fear most.
That phenomena– extremism, terrorism, and the resulting violence – are real threats, that deserve real and extensive solutions. However, these solutions must arise from a nuanced understanding of the type of beast we’re dealing with: one with a heightened sense and use of propaganda. U.S politicians and media are directly playing into, and disseminating this propaganda when they omit the daily atrocities that ISIS and other terrorist entities unleash on Muslims and non-westerners.
When only the western casualties of this terror are heavily publicized, and related to, we end up with a very distorted picture of the threat itself, but more importantly, we lose sight of those who face the greatest threat.
As a result, those who can best relate to Ryan’s words are scapegoated and denied a chance to seek refuge.
At RIF, we’ve been working with asylum seekers very intimately for the last decade. We hear their stories of persecution and terror everyday, and we witness the lengths they go to escape the scary realities that make life in their native homes impossible. We know all too well how difficult the choice to flee may be, no matter how grave the danger, as many people are often forced to leave behind the people they love most. We know that these people are fleeing terror, not inducing it, and most importantly, we know that a helping hand goes a long way when they first arrive here on the other side.
By Ellie Alter