Donald Trump, meet a Syrian refugee named Heba

Nicholas Kristof writes: Ben Carson has compared Syrian refugees to rabid dogs. Donald Trump says that he would send them back.

Who are these Syrian refugee monsters who terrify American politicians?

Meet Heba, a frightened, desperate 20-year-old woman who dreams of being an artist and has just made a perilous escape from territory controlled by the Islamic State in northern Syria.

She was detained two months ago with her sister by Islamic State enforcers because her sister’s baby girl had too short a skirt — even though the baby was just 3 months old.

“That was crazy,” Heba said, shaking her head. “This was an infant!”

Heba says she and her sister argued that infant girls should have a little leeway in showing skin, and eventually the family was let off with a warning.

But Heba, strong-willed and self-confident, perhaps had been too outspoken or too sarcastic, and the police then cast a critical eye on her clothing. She was covering even her hands and face, but the authorities complained that her abaya cloak wasn’t loose enough to turn her into a black puff that concealed her form. The police detained her for hours until her family bailed her out by paying a $10 fine.

Heba was lucky, for other women have been flogged for violating clothing rules. Her sister saw a woman stoned to death after being accused of adultery.

“If I were wearing this,” Heba told me, pointing down at the tight jeans she was wearing as we spoke, “my head would come off.” She offered a hollow laugh.

I spoke to her after she left her mother and siblings behind in Syria (her father died years ago of natural causes) and fled with a handful of relatives on a perilous journey to Turkey, then on a dangerously overcrowded boat to this Greek island. I took Heba and her relatives to a dinner of pizza — Western food is banned by the Islamic State — and as we walked to the pizzeria she made a game of pointing out all the passers-by who would be decapitated by ISIS for improper dress, consorting with the opposite sex or sundry other offenses.

“It’s a million percent difference,” she exulted of life in the West. “Once you leave that area, you feel so good. Your whole body relaxes.”

Americans are understandably afraid of terrorism after the Paris attacks, and that fear is channeled at Syrian refugees. So pandering politicians portray the refugees as menaces whom the vetting process is unable to screen out, and Americans by nearly two to one oppose President Obama’s plan to admit 10,000 Syrians over a year.

In fact, despite the impressions left by American politicians and by the Islamic State, Syrians are in general more educated and middle class than many other people in the region, and the women more empowered. Heba’s aspirations to be an artist aren’t unusual. [Continue reading…]

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