Refugees — the real antiwar activists

For those of us living in countries where our daily lives are not impacted by the effects of war, there’s not much sacrifice involved in opposing war.

It was different during the Vietnam war. At that time, those who refused to fight might end up going to prison or fleeing the country.

Nowadays, it’s easier to declare one’s opposition to war than it is to go on a gluten-free diet.

For millions of refugees, however, this isn’t so much a moral or political question; it’s a question of life or death.

(Click the speaker icon, bottom right, to hear the simple message from this Syrian boy in Budapest.)

From the impoverished mindset of an anti-immigrant bigot like Peter Bucklitsch — a UKIP member and parliamentary candidate in Britain’s 2015 election — refugees are greedy people seeking “the good life” and their suffering is the result of their unwillingness to patiently wait in line.


This perspective mirrors a commonly-held view of the separation between the rich and the poor: that the poor, driven by envy, want to deprive the rich of the profits of their hard work.

What this separation actually represents is the psychological insulation provided by wealth: that it diminishes the individual’s capacity to empathize.

If the refugee is the archetypal outsider — the person who now belongs nowhere — perhaps the reason the images of Aylan Kurdi have had a wide impact after so many other images of human misery inside Syria have seemed easy to ignore, was because this innocent child, neatly dressed and still wearing his tiny shoes, looked like he could have belonged to anyone.

We didn’t see him as other; we saw him as ours.

And this signals what marks our world cleaved as it is by so many conflicting identities: a lack of solidarity.

The call to respond to the refugee crisis, is not just a call to take pity on those whose lives have been torn apart by war, but also to recognize that our lives are just as fragile as theirs.

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Just stop the war — easier said than done.

Aylan Kurdi’s family were originally from Kobane. Even though Kurdish fighters with U.S. air support were able to militarily reclaim the city from ISIS, it has since been left in ruins.

Turkey’s effort to prevent a Kurdish state emerge in northern Syria is likely to mean that Kobane has little prospect of reconstruction.

The Assad regime, propped up by Iran, Hezbollah, and Russia, will continue fighting for its survival for as long as it retains outside support.

And thus the tide of refugees will continue to flow.


The lack of response from the wealthiest Arab states is worth noting, but it doesn’t absolve Europe from the need to craft a coherent policy for confronting a collective crisis.

As Dr Françoise Sivignon and Janice Hughes underline:

Seeking asylum is not a crime. Migrants are not a security risk. They have not come to occupy Europe or to get medical care. They are simply, desperately, seeking a dignified life. In fact, migration drives economic prosperity and social and cultural diversity. It is an asset not a threat.

Likewise, the U.S., given its instrumental role in destabilizing the Middle East, and given its history as a nation of immigrants, should play a leading role in providing refuge for those who have fled from the wide-ranging effects of America’s wars.

For that to happen, pro-immigrant voices in the U.S. need to become louder than the anti-immigrant and xenophobic currents that exert an over-sized influence on America’s dealings with the rest of the world.

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1 thought on “Refugees — the real antiwar activists

  1. Chet Roman

    All nice words but it’s the people and websites like this that supported the use of foreign jihadists to destabilize Syria and overthrow the government that are resposible for the humanitarian crisis. Now, they spew their bleeding heart rhetoric to disguise their own responsibililty for the suffering.

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