Outside military intervention prevents Syrians from solving their problems

Cole Harrison introduced Hayat Imam at Welcome Refugees - War is Not the Answer rally, Boston Common, Dec 10, 2015. Joseph Gerson photo

Remarks by Hayat Imam delivered at Welcome Refugees – War is Not the Answer vigil, December 10, 2015, Boston Common.  More photos

Hayat ImamFifty years ago, along with millions of other immigrants in our history, I too came to these shores as a young Muslim woman. Over the years, I learned, and I educated others; I worked, and I employed others; I trusted, and I was trusted; I loved you, and you loved me back; I made a home here, and I felt at home. But, today, I hear, if I go abroad, I will not be welcome to come back again to my country. I want to tell my fellow-American Donald Trump, that this is NOT OKAY!

It does not fit into the values you and I, and millions of others in this country, are committed to. We are not a nation that brands all Christians for the actions of some, nor all Jews for the actions of some, nor all atheists for the actions of some. We cannot do this to Muslims either. Like every other group, Muslims come in all stripes. Some manipulate the message of peace in Islam to suit their needs, and others practice compassion and truth.

At this very moment, anti-extremist efforts are rising strongly in the global Muslim community. In Indonesia, 50 million Muslims have started a peace campaign to counter extremists and denounce the self-proclaimed Islamic State (IS) in Syria. Hundreds of Muslims have gathered for peace rallies in Europe to oppose extremist groups. And all across the US, among the 7 million American Muslims, Muslim groups are rejecting and condemning extremist actions.

And sadly, speaking of extremist behavior, recent reports from New York tell us that non-Muslims are beating and attacking Muslims, men, and women as well as children. So-called leaders like Trump are only leading in one thing, and that is fomenting hatred. I reject this brand of intolerance.

Instead what we need is the kind of leadership that is represented here today. We have come out in large numbers today to welcome our Syrian brothers and sisters to this country. A refugee in Europe posed a moving question: “What do survivors of war have to do to live in peace?” First they need asylum, shelter, our love and welcome. They do not need rejection and hate.

The United Nations says there are 60 million people who have been forcibly displaced as a direct result of the wars in Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen and South Sudan. The largest single displaced community is comprised of Syrians. Syria is a small country that was once so beautiful, it was known as the “Paris of the East”. I was lucky enough to live in Syria for two years as a child and I have wonderful memories of it! Four million Syrians have fled for their lives with their children because they were caught in the middle of a bitter civil war. But the USA is implicated as well. The Syrians are also the victims of US bombing.  Syrians have experienced more than 7900 air strikes by US planes, which are now joined by Britain, France and Russia. The bombs are targeting IS, but civilian deaths are inevitable.

Let’s be really clear here. Bombings and war are not an answer. After we bombed Iraq to smithereens (remember “shock and awe”?), we proceeded to disband the Baath party civil servants, and to systematically destroy the institutions and civil structures of Iraq. The resulting vacuum was filled by competing factions, often leading to the rise of irrational forces, as in the emergence of IS. Having learned nothing, we later also carpet-bombed Libya, destroying their civil institutions too, and leading to a similar destabilization that will rock the region for years.

Bombings only cause suffering for innocent men, women and children. In the name of the millions of suffering Syrians who have lost everything, we ask for a complete ceasefire from all sides and diplomatic efforts to get every key group in Syria to the table for dialogue.  It may be hard for us to believe this, but Syrians have the right, and the means, to sort out their own problems. A good example of this is today’s news that the Syrian government and rebels in Homs have succeeded in negotiating a truce in the city of Homs. However, let’s keep in mind that outside military intervention makes internal solutions impossible.

In the meantime, those Syrians who have weathered so much and sacrificed everything to come to our country, we welcome you here!