“Those Countries” and the Man in the Bagel Shop

(CN: violence, death, death of children, torture, rape, religious extremism, Islamophobia – all content notes are doubled and trebled if you click the links)

The morning after the attacks in Paris, one of my husband’s long-time customers took the opportunity to complain about “those people” and their terrorism.  “We’ve put up with it for too long,” he grumbled.  “We should just bomb their entire country and be done with it.”

SpouseMan gave him a puzzled look.  “France?”

“No, not France,” the man said, as if this were obvious.  “The country they came from!”

The look of puzzlement deepened.  “Belgium?”

Because of course, the ringleader of the attacks was a native-born Belgian citizen, and at least four of the attackers were French.  But that’s not what the man in the bagel shop meant, was it?  We know what he meant.  Insofar as he was capable of understanding that the Middle East is in fact made up of several different countries, each of which are, well, different, he meant Syria and Iraq.

Syria and Iraq are, after all, where Daesh* is currently operating out of.  Syria and Iraq are where European-born young men like Abdelhamid Abaaoud go to be transformed from disaffected, dissatisfied youth into zealous terrorists.  And Syria and Iraq are where Daesh carries out massacres against minority populations, tortures teenage boys, murders innocent civilians (including small children), uses horrific violence to impose their own interpretation of religious law on others, recruits and kidnaps children to brainwash into child soldiers, rapes captive women and girls with impunity…

…huh.  Y’know, the more I read about it, the more the people of Iraq and Syria start to look like the victims of this hate group, not evil masterminds who need to be bombed to rubble.

Here’s the thing.  When the terrorists attacked in Paris, the city responded in beautiful, humbling ways, ways that remind us what it is to be human and to rely on each other.  Parisians came together to help each other – taxi drivers gave rides for free to those stranded, total strangers opened their doors to one another.  Most of us would not normally invite strangers to stay in our homes, for fear of theft or violence; in the wake of horrific atrocities, however, human compassion and the need to help the victims (and protect others who might otherwise become victims) prevailed over fear.  It was beautiful, and we knew it was beautiful.  We celebrated it as beautiful.  The messages were clear: love triumphs over fear.  We will not give in to bullies or let their victims go undefended.

Now contrast that with how we talk about “those countries.”  Contrast that with how we talk about the Syrian refugees.

Let’s talk about how French victims of violence are given open doors, while Syrian victims of even worse and longer-lasting violence are turned away.  Let’s talk about how people from “those countries” are automatically viewed with more suspicion than Europeans – even though most of the attackers were from Europe!  Let’s talk about how Parisians overcame fear to let total strangers into their home, but we’re too cowardly to help refugee children for fear that there might – might – be wolves in sheep’s clothing among them.

These rejections – US citizens and the governors of US states trying to keep out the victims of Daesh’s violence and tyranny – are happening in the wake of the Paris attacks.  Think about that.  With one hand we praise Paris’s Open Doors; with the other we slam our own shut.  Our governors use excuses; they cite the one attacker in Paris who came to Europe on a passport, likely posing as a migrant.  This narrative conveniently ignores, again, that the other attackers were European citizens – will we also be closing our doors to visitors from France and Belgium?

No, of course we won’t.  We’re singling out Syria.  We’re singling out people from “those countries,” those countries that aren’t like us, those countries where Islam is the primary religion, those countries where everything is strange and foreign.  Those countries where everyone is clearly suspect and the victims’ lives and safety don’t “count,” and we should have just bombed them a long time ago.  Why on earth should we stick our neck out to help people from those countries?  It’s not like they’re real people.

We are playing into the terrorists’ hands.  We are supporting their bullying; we are telling their victims “there is no safe space.”  Daesh doesn’t want us to take in refugees; it doesn’t want the people it’s currently terrorizing to think that things will be any better for them if they leave.  They want their victims to feel helpless; bullies always do.  And we are helping it happen.

And here in the West, our callous lack of concern for Syrian children, our stated belief that their lives don’t matter as long as we avoid any possibility of risk, is part and parcel of the very attitudes that drove Europe-born terrorists like Abaaoud to join Daesh in the first place.


*Much like the Friendly Atheist, I’m considering using Daesh exclusively instead of ISIS or other terms, because fuck them that’s why**

**SpouseMan, upon hearing the threat to “cut out the tongues” of those who refer to it as Daesh, immediately began chanting “too many tongues!  Too many tongues!  There’s too many tongues on the internet!”