There is No One Solution
An international affairs major, I have learned many different theories and perspectives on the ‘correct’ way to carry out U.S. foreign policy. Not often, however, have I heard academics cover the new perspective expressed by a Syrian refugee in a CNN interview.
In the interview, Kassem Eid praises President Trump for his Tomahawk missile strikes on the Syrian government’s air base from which the gas attack was likely launched. Though the purpose of his interview was to praise our president for his actions, which he believed to have sent a strong message to the Assad regime, his overall tone and message gave me a new perspective that I (and likely many others) believe should receive as much rumination as the idea deserves.
He asserted that Trump’s travel ban on Syria is not as devastating as many Americans believe, as the majority of Syrians would rather see their homeland made safe for them to live there rather than live as refugees in the United States. Coming from a Syrian, this opinion can be given more valence. Despite your thoughts on his opinion, the sentiment Mr. Eid brings to question is our tendency as Americans to assume that we can understand the situations of others by applying our own logic and cultural values to situations where those like Mr. Eid endure circumstances that we cannot possibly fathom.
Too often do we view complex worldly situations with an uninformed, overemotional, and often fleeting lens, and such presumption has become rampant in our foreign policy in attempts to satisfy oversensitive constituencies. Our politicians are guilty of this both on the right and the left; make no mistake about that.
How dare we presume to believe that we can empathize with Syrians who have been displaced from their homes due to brutal fighting in a war-torn country ruled by an iron-fisted, racist, and desperate Baathist dictator? How dare we believe ourselves to understand what it is like to see friends and relatives foaming at the mouth, slowly suffocating to death? The fact is that Americans, though we may try, cannot begin to imagine the horrors afflicting the Syrian people.
The American people’s assumption that our values can be transposed globally across all cultures and political situations is a dangerous one. This applies not only to Syria but to all such situations. The average American has an inherent ignorance of foreign cultural values and, as a result of this as well as of human nature, we endeavor to understand current events notwithstanding our lack of comparable experience. A common mistake in many societies is to believe that there is such a thing as moral absolutes, which can govern all peoples under their universal righteousness. When the people of a particular society which happens to be very powerful decide that their moral code should reign supreme, it can cause strife in other areas of the world as ideologies clash. Should we protect the sanctity of human life? Absolutely. But in our attempt to understand, we, on occasion, press our fingers much too firmly on the scale.
In the case of this Syrian, he brought up a common sense idea that is likely not given the weight that it should be given: the Syrian people would rather go home to a peaceful country and rebuild than move to the United States. Such a widespread truth sounds so logical, so common-sense when said out loud; yet too many fail to reach hear it.
Now, while this does not excuse the travel ban, it does indicate a severe miscalculation and misinterpretation on the part of the American people of the Syrian people’s situation and view.
We cannot, as Americans, presume to understand the plight of a Syrian refugee, or a starving child in Africa, or a woman forced to have an abortion simply because her child is not male in India. Opinions must be better informed, especially if we are to even attempt to understand our fellow humans in other situations rather than thinking of how we would feel in their situation. Consider this next time before you advocate for a cause about which you know little.
This article is adapted from an article of a similar name in the Summer, 2017 edition of The Arch Conservative in print.
— James Bartow is a sophomore studying international affairs. He is a regular contributor to The Arch Conservative.