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How to Talk Hope in Hard Times: The War in Syria, ISIS and the Refugee Crisis

We are facing the most severe refugee crisis of our generation. Millions of people — from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and beyond — have fled from wars that destroyed their homes and communities. These wars were waged or worsened by the US and other foreign powers. 

Despite the wars they’re escaping, most refugees would rather never have had to leave their homes, risking their lives and leaving behind everything they’ve known. Winter is setting in, and politicians in Europe and the US are shutting down borders, leaving refugees even more vulnerable and with no place to turn. 

Recent attacks carried out by the so-called Islamic State (ISIS) in places like Paris and Beirut have triggered a backlash against refugees and a rush toward militarized responses. These reactions are useful for making politicians sound tough and for enriching weapons contractors, but will only breed more violence. Instead, we must debunk myths and failed strategies, and turn to solutions rooted in peace and human rights. 

Myth: We can’t accept refugees because there might be ISIS fighters hiding among them. 

Reality: Refugees do not pose a threat, and we can’t allow fear and bigotry to set the terms of the debate. 

Myth: This is a clash of civilizations between Islam and the West. 

Reality: No one is predestined to be on one side or the other of some imagined divide by virtue of her culture, religion or nationality. We choose our position based on our principles and our actions. 

Myth: We need to ramp up military action, including US airstrikes, to defeat ISIS and end the war in Syria.

Reality: We need to stop fueling violence through military action and arms sales, and focus on real solutions for peace. 

  • What ISIS wants from the US and Europe is a military response and a security crackdown, and they’ve said as much. US and European leaders are walking into a trap by bombing ISIS-controlled areas, building security states at home and cracking down on Muslims. 

  • The US is fueling war and strengthening ISIS by flooding the region with weapons. The US has supplied weapons to Syria’s opposition and rebel groups, to the Iraqi Army, and to Kurdish fighters. Each time, arms have ended up in ISIS hands. The best way to avoid that outcome and promote peace is not to send weapons at all. 

  • Citizens of Saudi Arabia, Qatar and other US allies have been identified as primary sources of funding for ISIS. Turkey is ISIS’s most profitable market for oil. Instead of increasing pressure on these allies to end support for ISIS, the US just signed an arms deal with Saudi Arabia for over $1 billion in weaponry

  • We need policies that address root causes of support for ISIS, including poverty and the corrosive effects of racism and sectarianism. These are the policies that will weaken ISIS and prevent future outbreaks of extremism. 

  • The key to defeating ISIS is ending the war in Syria. A lasting peace depends on reinvigorated negotiations, where women and peace activists have a voice. So far, the faltering peace process has failed to include these vital participants, instead focusing on the belligerents and their backers. MADRE advocates for women activists and other community leaders to have a place at the table, to protect local populations, to address root causes of violent extremism and to help implement a lasting peace.

Myth: The problem is so big, there’s nothing I can do about it. 

Reality: Your action is necessary and effective to stand up for peace and human rights.

  • This holiday season, when you see your family and friends, talk to them about the need to reject Islamophobia and militarism and to embrace progressive solutions.

  • As the presidential candidates are on the campaign trail, call on them to reject false military solutions and to take a real stand for peace. Ask them, as president, will you demand a space for women peace activists at the negotiating table to end the Syrian war? Will you end arms sales to the region?

  • Call on your local governments to do the right thing, as many already have, and welcome refugees. 

  • Support vital efforts to end the war, protect women’s human rights, and sustain refugees. MADRE partners with grassroots women’s groups on the frontlines of these crises: providing shelter to women escaping ISIS, giving aid to refugee women and families, and demanding policy change for peace. Join us.

November 25, 2015  / Middle East / Building a Just Peace