Our Fear Will Not Protect Us – Make Connections

We are not in search of a solution we are in search of a conscience; if we are able to find a conscience we will find a solution.

Akbar Waseem, donated 500 arabic books to Words of Hope, the refugee book drive for Calais, by Melanie Gow

I am afraid too. I am not naive, and I am afraid. But I know fear is a bad decision maker and I don’t shy away.

If we think our fear will protect us we are wrong.

Yes, I have read the stories of New Year’s eve 2015 in Cologne, yes I saw what you saw in Paris too, and yes I have watched as aggression has flared up across an incendiary world. I am more afraid that our uneasiness will create exactly the problem we’re afraid of.

We are not in search of a solution we are in search of a conscience; if we are able to find a conscience we will find a solution.

This incredible outpouring of human despair, the refugee crisis, is happening whether we want it to or not. It threatens Europe precisely because we are catastrophically failing in our responsibility to respond to the urgent humanitarian needs of assistance, and the protection of hundreds of thousands of vulnerable people.

It threatens Europe precisely because our policies of deterrence, border control and security have abjectly failed, resulting in cultural clashes and fuelling fear and hate on both sides. Our policies give space to a violence that deliberately exploits the underlying tensions.

A part of me wants to tell you I have more reason to be afraid than many people. I have travelled all over parts of the Middle East, I have lived in the nexus of unrest, as a young woman, alone. Do you think I didn’t encounter the dark underbelly of the culture?

I have personally been the casualty of sexual violence, physical threat, verbal abuse, and harassment. I have had stones thrown at me in hatred, I know that I have more direct reason to fear than most.

But, I didn’t blame a religion. I didn’t blame a nation. I didn’t blame a gender. Most importantly, I didn’t blame me. I stood back up, and watched the sunrise on another day, and here I am.

I learnt to look for the similarities; it is possible to have similar bad experiences almost anywhere in the world, from the ivy league campuses of America through to the river banks of India. It is also possible to find hard working, respectful, peaceful, generous, kind, compassionate, simple human similarities everywhere. It is, in fact, far more possible to find these similarities; these individuals of any religion, nation, gender or colour are the norm.

We need to seek the connections between people, to seek connections between beliefs. If we don’t it is so much more dangerous.

I am also a migrant, and we live in a pluralistic world and this is not going to change; we need to look for the similarities and accept our differences. Whatever our belief systems there are connections between us all, because underneath it all we are human beings – and that is where we are the same.

We most certainly have more in common with the people our governments are bombing than the people we’re bombing them for.

People think the smart thing is to change how you behave, or remove yourself. People think you protect yourself by building a wall, but it’s not true. All that happens is that you shrink to fit behind walls that keep you in, rather than keep others out.

The crowd rages on outside while you sit behind your defences, and one day it turns and swarms towards you because you did nothing to find the connections, to build on similarities; you did nothing to discover what you had in common or what everyone had to bring to the table. You chose to protect and not to grow.

What we are facing today is a policy led humanitarian crisis. Politically we have to listen when those we appoint to advice us, MSF and UNHCR and many other respected bodies, say we have to move away from a fortress mentality to a reception approach; proper processing centres at the point of departure, legal, safe passage, intra-EU relocation schemes and constructive integration and facilities into the host culture.

Morally we have to ask one simple question; “do we believe it is right to leave hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing from war and terror to die. To drown, to freeze, to starve, to wander stateless, shelterless, useless, worthless and hopeless?” My answer is no. So I have no choice but to walk the talk.

That’s how Akbar Waseem and I found ourselves in a carpark outside the gym where he is a trainer, in Birmingham. Akbar answered the call of a stranger, and reached across the divide to fill my car with 500 books in arabic for Words of Hope, the refugee book drive for the Calais Jungle SineadJon and I started. Adding to the several efforts of other individuals who have collected educational books and stationary from their cupboards and communities, and brought them to add to the collection. Each and every one is following their conscience, reaching out, finding the connection, and being part of a solution.

Thank you today to you Akbar, and your community, for donating so much but, more importantly, for building the connection. Evidence in the comments sections of most articles and posts on the internet aside, my daily experience is that there are more Good People – on both sides – willing to find our similarities.

We may not have much control over the world but sometimes it’s simply about us, which side of history do we stand? How we respond defines us…

Meet Akbar, everyday modern hero!

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