11 December, 2015

Refugee crisis: we all need to be a bit more “jihadists” to ourselves

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Category: Human Rights, Islamophobia, Refugees
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Written by Jana Minochkina

The wave of atrocities in Paris and increase of ISIS activities across Europe and beyond paved the way for some media professionals and individuals to believe that “refugee = Muslim = terrorist”. When reading the news headlines from various corners of Europe, including in my native country Russia I face rhetoric of hate and the mobilization for aggressive “protective” measures. For example, an American, Muslim girl was forced off a Lufthansa plane to be interrogated by the FBI, as well as violent attacks against British, French and Belgian Muslims that are happening on a daily basis since the tragic events in Paris. As well as this there has been frequent hate speech on social media, TV and radio edits. As a global community we need to understand that violence does not stop violence, and terrorism is not a justification for hate speech and hate crimes.

I am resisting to quote the very true phrase that has been cited thousands of times these days, but yet, it does not help to change the wave of aggression merged with fear. ISIS is not a religion and has nothing to do with Islam. No religion stands for bloodshed, while it  may be used for political manipulations. Another fertile soil for political manipulations is fear – it does not come by surprise that nowadays right-wing groups and radical nationalists are growing in popularity and their parties are attracting more followers than before. As a global community we have, unfortunately, already passed the threshold, when violence becomes normal. While facing the alarming numbers of those who have drowned in the Mediterranean, fell victim to street attacks, or have been imprisoned in degrading conditions in refugee camps at the outskirts of the Fortress of Europe, we need to ask ourselves if we have got too comfortable and cynical under the safe haven label of being a developed country? How many times did you close the article / changed the channel, when you heard about refugees being violently pushed back by the police, because “this news is too old anyway” and promised to yourself to stay far from “the troublemakers”. Tragedies often do not start from an action, but from the lack of it.

I will tell a short story of mine and my friends’ visit to the refugee site next to the Belgrade train station in the start of September this year, and allow you to make your own conclusions. It was at a conference on prevention of youth radicalization and violent extremism with young people from all countries from Vancouver to Vladivostok and we spoke a lot about the refugee crisis and security threats. Somehow in a vague line it was spinning around the same “trinity” – “refugees, Muslims, terrorism”. And the more we spoke, the more obvious it was that very few of us had a deep understanding, based not on media, but on any sort of personal understanding or experience.

On the last day a few of us bought some cookies, bread and bottled water and went to face the reality – to visit the refugee camp around Belgrade Train Station, which serves as a hub on the way to Europe. We were prepared for the worst and, to my shame, I remember how we decided to remove our phones and valuables from being seen. I remember, we were not scared, but very much alert. There was a small park on both sides of the Belgrade Train Station, packed with people in different shelter simulations and there were very young children with adult eyes. First impression – the conditions of (no, not life) survival of those people were miserable – it was already getting cold and so many of them, after travelling thousands of kilometers did not have any warm clothes or tents. Since we didn’t have much, we wanted to give cookies to kids – and the first reaction that we faced from a young lady, speaking with good English – “we are not in need”. She was happy to show us the poorest families that happily accepted our modest food packages. One moment is stuck in my memory – we gave a box of cookies to a child with a broken leg in a bandage – he thanked us and immediately limped to share the dainty with his family. These people travelled from Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan… They lived through the most degrading conditions, being treated worse than animals. What they preserved is a strong sense of community and care for each other. Sadly enough, because nobody else will.

That day and several times afterwards I had a chance to speak to different young men and women, escaping from the conflict areas seeking for any place, where they, at least, will not be under constant fear of their families being murdered; any place, where their kids will be able to learn other words except “war, danger, hide, death”. Many of them spoke English well, they told me about the jobs they had before, and some showed the pictures of their families, houses, pets… debris of their previous lives. In their “new” lives they face only walls, aggression, fear, disgust and blaming for being the reason for all problems in Europe.

It is not fair to compare, but I saw the same level of suffering, when I met internally displaced persons from Donbass, the conflict area in Ukraine. These people lost everything, but they were not wanted anymore even in their own country, being seen as an extra burden for local authorities, and traitors (especially if they did not leave the the conflict area in the beginning) – for many of their country-mates.

Being forced to lose your roots, your family, yourself – is a human tragedy, it does not differ for a Muslim, a Christian, a Catholic, a Jew… Being labeled as a criminal and a suspect – and seeing it every time in the gazes of strangers on the street, while you have already lost everything, denies the whole idea of humanity. We cannot proudly speak about European values, when violence – verbal or physical – towards the whole groups of population is seen as normal. After Paris attacks we all live under fear. One of the most common reactions of the human species is aggression – and we see its reflections everywhere. Being a civilized person means struggling with primary instincts through knowledge and sense of social responsibility. Ironically enough, this will be very close to the original meaning of “jihad” in Islam, which literally means “struggling with your inner demons” – and one can see, how far it is from what is written in the media. Oh, I foresee, how my next quote can be misinterpreted, but in the current times we all should be a bit more of “jihadists” to ourselves – in its original meaning – by struggling with our fears, by not allowing hate to become our rhetoric and by not judging all Muslims for the deeds of those from ISIS, who are so far from the real meaning of Islam.

By not doing so, we create a trap for ourselves – a trap, that diminishes every single hope for humanity. We observe a creation of “perfectly” functioning mechanism “Physical violence, terror, fear, hate, hate speech against “the ones to be blamed”, hate crimes against innocents”. It is in our power to stop the vicious circle – online and offline – and each one of us has the responsibility to do so, if we do not want to live in the world, where violence is a daily reality.


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