On a flight from Philadelphia to Syracuse, a man with dark curly hair and olive skin sat next to a blonde 30-something. He kept to himself, engrossed in his notepad. The woman peered over and saw that he was scribbling nonsense—red flag number one. With every curious, unsolicited question the woman asked, he deflected it curtly, focusing his attention more on writing gibberish on his pad.
Soon, that man was escorted off the plane. His foreign accent and aloof behavior had troubled the poor woman, and the man was taken to the authorities before the flight departed.
But he wasn’t writing in Arabic like the woman thought, nor was he even Middle Eastern. That passenger was Guido Menzio, an Italian Ivy League professor who was merely writing a differential equation. Math.
It’s easy to think that that woman was a racist, and maybe she was. But it seems to me that she was more afraid of the unknown than of the exotic-looking passenger. And unfortunately, that fear of the unfamiliar is what’s driving Americans, Australians, and many European nations to blockade the massive influx of refugees.
In many developing nations like Jordan or Lebanon, welcoming and housing the refugees has become a problem. But to the more developed nations with much more room to share, studies have shown that refugee immigrants will not burden the economy. Even Germany—the main destination for millions of displaced Syrians—did not see its economy falter after accepting 200,000 refugees. Instead, economists predict that the refugees, which will increase by 800,000 this year, will be beneficial for the country of 81 million.
Even with the myriad of studies that prove how accepting refugees into developed countries will not make a negative impact on the economy, there are still rallies and communities that shun the asylum seekers from entering their nations.
But these people don’t despise refugees. Like the blonde woman on the plane, they are merely ignorant. Many countries are unaccustomed to the culture, religion, and society of these refugees. All they know about the Syrians is that they are Muslims, and that’s all the information they need.
People like Donald Trump revel in this insularity. He uses people’s lack of empathy and understanding to further his campaign. Trump wants to scare people, not enlighten them, because it’s easier to accept your own culture than other’s.
White people in America or Australia often forget that they were once illegal immigrants. The difference is, centuries ago they came bearing weapons with the intention of mass murdering an entire native culture, while these refugees come with nothing but the clothes on their backs fleeing from war. And yet, the Syrians are seen as savages.
If only the Swedes or the Brits were in war, then perhaps their fair-skinned, crucifix-bearing asylum seekers will have a comfortable chance in their neighboring countries, or even America and Australia. These developed nations will accept white refugees with open arms because they see themselves in them. They will look at the blue-eyed, blonde-haired émigrés with sympathy, but when thousands of brown-skinned men approach their shores begging for help, they are seen merely as pests. Aliens. Strangers.
Many countries don’t know anything about Syria or Islam, but that shouldn’t be a reason to leave them stranded between borders. There are many foreign things in this world that confuse us, may it be a differential equation or a boat full of Muslims. But violence comes in difference forms; one of which is leaving thousands of refugees to die instead of harboring them to safety. So before anyone points fingers at the Muslim extremists, maybe they should look at their own acts of violence.