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The case for the humanity of Syrian children

January 18, 2017

Earlier this month, terrorist group ISIS released a video showing a Syrian toddler executing one of their prisoners. The prisoner was a member of the PKK, a group operating in Turkey and Iraq for the independence of Kurdistan in southern Turkey and northern Iraq. The child is one of many caught up in the brutal conflict in Syria that have not received the love and support they deserve right now, not just from Syrians, but from the world in general.

As the Syrian Civil War progresses, Western opinions of Syrians grow more and more negative as migrants flee their turbulent homeland and enter Europe, in one of the largest migrations in recent history. Europeans, especially those in the Eastern region, expressed this sentiment throughout the past year in many ways. The mayor of Asotthalom, Hungary, Laszlo Toroczkai, released a video showing off the small town’s (relatively feeble) police force on patrol as a warning to refugees, telling them to stay away from the town, and Hungary in general, or face consequences. Another Hungarian, camerawoman Petra Laszlo, was caught on video kicking a refugee girl and tripping a man carrying a child as they ran away from police at the Hungarian-Serbian border near Roszke, Hungary. Laszlo claims she simply panicked in the frenzy of the moment, however she plans on suing the man she tripped after she was faced with a criminal investigation for her actions.

However, these hateful actions towards children do not end at the Hungarian border (much like Laszlo’s job at N1TV, a Hungarian internet news channel, did). When scrolling through the comments section of the Daily Mail article under which the video of the Syrian toddler was posted, one can find multiple examples of how racism and Islamophobia are not reserved only for use against adults. These comments advocate for the death of all Syrians “no matter their age,” oppose Syrian refugees seeking asylum in Western nations and, in a truly heartbreaking fashion, refer to Syrian children as “the enemy.”

Few things express better the danger of Islamophobia and stereotyping in general than these comments. When did we resort to blaming pre-pubescent children for violent crimes instead of blaming the people that forced them to commit these violent crimes? When did we lose sight of the humanity of Syrian children?

When we place certain groups into an “other” category and begin to describe them in enormously broad generalizations, we stop seeing them as people. These hateful commenters assume, like so many others in Western society, that Muslims are not people but simply evil and therefore cannot understand how a child can be coerced into violent crimes by adults. They do not see Syrian children as people. They see them as Muslims, a term which to them implies no trace of humanity. These children are “the enemy” even if they may not know what the war is about.

Many may think these are just internet trolls that can be ignored, but in reality they represent the majority of U.S. popular opinion. According to a poll by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, only 36 percent of Americans support accepting refugees from Syria. Not to mention, our president-elect has proposed banning immigration from Syria and received widespread support for this plan.

Nearly 14,000 Syrian children have died since the Syrian Civil War began in 2011. We cannot say we care about these children when we continue to support and uphold a man in our highest office whose only plan concerning the safety of these children is to block them from reaching it in the U.S. and continue to support the Russian airstrikes that bombard their cities like Aleppo.

To answer a question posed by one commenter asking if I can imagine one of these kids sitting in an American classroom, yes I can because I know that children, especially toddlers, cannot be held accountable for violent actions while under the control of an oppressive terrorist organization. We must see Syrian children as what they are: children, not “the enemy.”

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