Monday, November 16, 2015

The Little Boy in the Tigger Suit

The World Summit of Nobel peace laureates meets this week in Barcelona this week. The events in Paris
and the plight of the refugees will be considered as discussions center on finding ways to further peace.
I am weeks behind with the blog, but events have caught up with me. The recent terrorist attacks in Paris prompt me to comment now. This blog post touches on political views, which I mostly try to avoid in the blog, but I feel deeply about this and cannot be silent.

When I heard about the terrorist attacks in Paris on Friday, November 13, I, like most people, felt great sorrow for those who had lost their lives, and for the city of Paris, a beautiful city which I love even more after spending two-and-a-half months there last year. Tributes have poured in from around the world, as they should, and I was pleased to see that the Space Needle, back home in Seattle, flew the French flag in solidarity. I can’t emphasize enough my sympathy for the families of those who lost their lives or who are wounded—some with psychological wounds that will probably never heal. But I also thought of someone else.

A few days before the attacks, I saw a news story on CNN while we were in Vienna.  It was the story of a little two-year-old boy, the son of some young Syrian refugees in a camp in Central Europe. The family had been through quite an ordeal.  They had paid most of their life savings to a man who put them in a rubber boat overloaded with other refugees, to get across the sea. They had walked for weeks, had gone hungry, and had slept out in the cold. The family had to leave everything behind, including the little boy’s toys. The only thing he had from home to comfort him was his pajamas with bright tiger stripes, just like his favorite Winne-the-Pooh character, Tigger.

When I heard what happened in Paris, I thought of that little boy.  His Tigger pajamas weren’t too different from the fuzzy-footed pajamas my own son loved to wear as a child.  His Tigger pajamas were also a lot like the Halloween costumes my grandchildren wear for trick-or-treating.

Later, I heard they found a passport near one of the suicide bombers in Paris that indicated he was a refugee who had entered the European Union through Greece. My stomach constricted.  Now, all the far right politicians in Europe and the US are starting to rail again about Muslim refugees, implying they are all terrorists. And I want to cry out, “Stop! Before you start those accusations, think a minute!”

Think about what it takes to leave your country and your family behind. No one does that lightly. Think about how bad things have to get before you put your life, and your family’s life, at risk. Imagine the choices you have to face before you give your life savings to someone who puts you in an unseaworthy boat—just so your children will have a chance—not a guarantee, just a chance—to have a normal life.  So the little boy in Tigger pajamas can grow up away from war and devastation. The parents knew that others, including small children have died on this journey before, but still, they want that one chance.  What kind of person sits in a warm, comfortable house every day, never worrying where their next meal will come from, and equates all these desperate people with terrorists?

The vast majority of Muslims are peace-loving people. I was privileged to live awhile in Singapore and work with colleagues who were Muslim—people who were kind, who were smart, who had a good sense of humor, and who were really not much different from my friends at home. ISIS and Al Qaeda no more represent most Muslims than the Nazis or Timothy McVeigh (who was raised Catholic) represent Christians. The terrorists represent a perverted form of Islam, not the mainstream, but you wouldn’t know that listening to some political commentary.

So I worry. I worry that once again, demagogues will rile people up, deny refuge to those who need it, and take away the civil liberties of their citizens. Because if there is something I have learned in traveling the world, it is that there are good people and bad people in every country and in every religion.  And then there is one thing above all: Most people everywhere only want a better life for themselves, but especially for their children and grandchildren. That’s it. That’s really it

Of course we should fight terrorism. But we should fight it in many ways—including by education, by example, and by welcoming good people into our society—people of all religions.

So I worry about the little boy in the Tigger pajamas.  What kind of life will he have? Because he really is all our children and grandchildren. More even then the acts of terrorists, his future—and theirs—depends on us.

I don’t know if this is the same little boy I saw on TV (click to view), but it may well be. He’s wearing tiger-striped pajamas and this story is also from CNN.

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