Last Wednesday, our MPs decided whether we, as a nation, were to begin air strikes in Syria. Their decision was a big fat ‘yes we will’.
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David Cameron has labelled anybody that speaks out against joining the war efforts as ‘terrorist sympathisers’ – do you remember when they just used to be conscientious objectors? – and plenty of people have objected.
There have been mass protests across the nation over the past few weeks. Celebrities and notables alike have condemned intervention. The media couldn’t make its mind up one way or the other. But the decision has now been made and is effectively, out of our hands.
It’s easy to see why people might not be so keen to enter the fray. Particularly with the failures of the past in Iraq and Afghanistan still haunting us, even now.
For many, the most immediate concern is the rising death toll – innocent civilians are wiped out as though they never existed. Families are torn apart. Lives snuffed out with the drop of a bomb like the wind to a candle.
The people of Syria have ceased worrying about which bomb comes from which country nowadays. ISIS, Assad, America? They’re all the same when all is said and done. These are lives that are taken regardless and they no longer distinguish between who wielded the blade that struck them.
The problem is, none of us are there. None of us have seen the atrocities taking place in Syria. The recent Paris attacks were just a small drop in the ocean for what the average Syrian citizen sees each and every day.
It is so easy to sit in our relative western safety on our western moral high horse and form an opinion on the matter. But what right do we have to any sort of opinion on what needs to be done?
We’ve no idea what it’s truly like in Syria today. So we decided to speak to someone who does – a 16 year old boy who escaped the horrors of his homeland and found refuge in Europe.
His identity has been concealed to protect his friends and family who remain in grave danger.
The first thing that impressed me about Jacob is his remarkable trust. Even after the tragedies and the losses that he’s experienced, he still trusts.
I reached out to him to speak about his life and he was immediately on board. No questions asked, he just wanted to spread his words.
The next thing that impressed me was his grasp of English. It’s far from perfect, of course, but for someone who has spent the last year or so on the run and was taught only the most basic of the language in school, it’s pretty remarkable.
I tell him I think this and he responds with his thanks. He goes on to say that a lot of it comes from ‘watching English movies, English songs and so’.
I ask him his favourite genre of music, he tells me he likes pop. Then I ask whether he’s seen Harry Potter. ‘Yeah sure. He is a rapper.’
I try to make sense of where the miscommunication has occurred in our conversation. ‘I have seen a video for him while rapping,’ he elaborates, much to my amusement.
Jacob lives in Germany now, along with his family. They’re safe and they’re comfortable. It’s not a life of luxury, it’s a dependence on charity in a country where none of them speak the language.
Inability to speak the language is an inability to work and contribute to the society that they feel they owe so much. They’re in a small, cramped house with none of their own belongings – all of their cherished possessions were abandoned when they fled Syria.
But compared to where they come from, this is paradise:
Germans are cool people, most of them. I love them and I love Germany.
But my grandparents, some of my uncles, some of my cousins and their kids are still in Syria.
I really miss Syria. Almost everything there.
I’m not at a normal school, I’m at a school which is teaching me just the language.
[The language] is horrible.
I comment that it looks very hard to learn and he agrees with a laugh. His school is full of people like Jacob. Children wrenched from their homes by their parents (if their parents were lucky enough to survive, that is) and dragged across the continent in search of sanctuary. Other refugees just like him, all with their own story to tell and each as horrific as the next, sit with him in class everyday. All of these kids just trying to make a new life and forget about their old one.
I ask Jacob about Syria.
‘It’s hot in the summer and pretty cold in the winter,’ Jacob tells me. I ask how Germany compares, and whether it’s colder than what he is used to – ‘Well… yes its colder,’ he responds impatiently.
I’m interested to see how the conflict has changed the nation, Jacob says that he has pictures he can show me of his hometown, Damascus.
Damascus first made the news a few years ago, before things had really kicked off in Syria. Bashar Al-Assad attacked the city with chemical weapons in the early hours of 21 August 2013 and it has been a site of violence and death ever since. No place for a family to raise their children.
I’m astounded by the charm of what looks like a beautiful town. I ask Jacob what Damascus is like nowadays for the people living there:
It’s really bad. Everything is expensive and no-one is safe there.
They are fighting everywhere and they don’t give a shit about people.
They would take any guy to fight in the Syrian army if they could.
Syria now is like some countries in Africa – you can find people who dies because of being hungry and thirst!
We hear a lot about the violence in Syria. The majority reading this will know already that if people aren’t trying to escape the country, they are living in large refugee camps with very few resources.
But to think that people are actually dying from starvation and dehydration brings another element of barbarity to my consideration that is so rarely mentioned of Syria. Perhaps because the more sickening tragedies that take place regularly drown out such minor concerns as a lack of food and water.
The morbid reality of death is something that most Syrians have come to accept as a normality in daily life. It concerns me that a boy just 4 years younger than myself has seen such ghastly sights.
I reluctantly ask him if he can tell be about the worst thing that he ever saw in Syria, he solemnly obliges:
A Syrian jet plane dropped a bomb on a football pitch where kids were playing.
Almost all of them died.
I saw many of them by my eyes while some people were packing their bodies in cars to take them to the hospital.
They were suffering and drowning in their own blood.
I’m not for one moment embarrassed to admit that I shed a few tears when Jacob told me this story. I don’t doubt that those events will haunt him for the rest of his life. They’ll be there ready and waiting to play in his mind every night when he shuts his eyes to sleep.
I wish, so deeply, with every fibre of my being that I could help him un-see those things. Or better yet, stop them from happening in the first place. But I can’t. No-one can.
And Jacob isn’t alone, in fact – and it’s dreadful to say – he’s probably fortunate that this is the worst he saw in his time in Syria.
Cold-blooded murder isn’t the only way that terrorists ruin lives, though. They create a stigma. A stigma that those with less open-minds will willingly adopt.
Islamophobia is as alive and kicking now as it was in the wake of 9/11, and the events in Paris have only served to intensify racial tensions. We’ve probably all got that moronic friend who thinks that Muslims are to blame for every act of terror, but Jacob’s a Muslim, and I don’t see a shred of anger, hate or bloodlust in him. Particularly not to anybody in the western world, at any rate. All I see is love. Strange that, isn’t it?
He has just as passionate feelings about ISIS, not dissimilar to those that you or I might have, in fact:
ISIS is bad as hell, they are just pretending that they are Muslims and [pretending] they are following Islam.
ISIS aren’t Muslims!
It’s just like KKK who were pretending to be Christains but they are not!
We Syrians were living in peace together [before them], Muslims, Christians and many other religions in one country.
This gets me thinking about the response that Jacob and his family have received since they got to Germany. I wonder whether they’ve faced any negativity or ever felt unwanted.
Again he reiterates that the majority of Germans have been a delight – both supportive and welcoming. To those who do think that ‘those refugees should go back to where they came from’ however, he had this to say:
Put yourselves in the same situation before talking!
What would you do? What would you do when you see your son/daughter scared? Hungry? Not safe?
We will shower your country with love, we will give your favor back. Double fold. We will never forget that favour!
And honestly, I think he means that.
But he shouldn’t have to. Syrian refugees do not owe us anything. They never will. It is not a ‘favour’ to take them out of the violence. Out of the torture and the suffering that they endure 24/7. As far as I understand it, that is merely basic human compassion.
Everyone deserves the right to safety. If someone is scared enough to leave their home and their belongings and their life behind; to run to a strange country where they don’t speak the language; to pray that they will be welcomed with open arms, the least that we can do is answer those prayers.
I comment that I’m a few years older than Jacob and he seems surprised. I ask if he thinks I look older and he laughs, ‘maybe… I thought like 10 years older than me, at least’. For the second time in our conversation I begin to feel tearful, so I decide to move briskly on.
I ask Jacob his plans for the future and he speaks about his dreams of going to university.
I want to become a dentist, or study electric engineering or [become] a pilot.
For what he has already been through, I don’t doubt that to achieve any of those dreams would be a walk in the park for him. He’s clearly a bright kid with incredible bravery and determination.
I hope that the future holds happiness for Jacob. I hope that one day he can return to his homeland and he can be reunited with his friends and family that he was forced to leave behind. In other words, I sincerely hope that one day he doesn’t need refuge.
But in the meantime? Well, Germany are damn lucky to have him. And hey, if all of ISIS are as stupid as this guy, Jacob won’t be waiting too long before he can go home anyway.