I worked with refugees for ten years. Every one of the hundreds of people coming through my classroom had lived in a war-torn country. Every single person I met there had seen people they loved killed.
the women who'd watched all the men and boys over 12 marched to the village green and shot to death. Every. Single. Male.
the woman who had her baby taken from her and thrown over and over against a wall
the man who had both his hands and feet lopped off
the man who cried every day at the back of the classroom and whose hands were permanently bent because they'd been tied for over a year.
the kids who wore that thousand yard stare no matter what you said to them or showed them
Their stories seem so far removed from our world that it doesn't seem possible it could happen here.
I learned three things from working with them:
1. No country inhabited by humans is safe from the terror created by that kind of hatred.
2. People you think you know can turn unbelievably horrible overnight. It's as if a switch is turned on, but really there are signs. Watch for the signs.
3. The war and killing ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS starts with information from reliable sources (the government and/or news) dehumanizing people--the ones who end up dead or driven from their homes.
When men who pass as reliable (wearing neckties and good haircuts) tell stories based on fear and lies turning fellow citizens* into something as less than human, their lies must be uncovered. They shouldn't be vilified either (mocked maybe) but their exaggerations and dehumanizing lies MUST be revealed. Not doing so risks lives.**
I didn't believe that before I met all those refugees--I would have thought it was comical to believe our country and culture could ever start one of those horrible wars based on hatred of fellow citizens' color or religion.
After meeting those refugees, I take those threats very seriously. I am very jumpy, as in I feel the urgent need to jump on any story by anyone that seems to have the goal of making my fellow citizens afraid of a particular race or belief system (And major world religions**** do NOT promote violence. Only extremist wings of them do and please, please yes go ahead and denounce the extremists looking for violence. I don't want the Timothy McVeighs or bin Laden walking the streets).
Collective guilt is a myth created by people looking for trouble.
*or people in other countries, duh.
**no, I don't think minnesota is in imminent danger of exploding with race wars. But once you wake up to this kind of awareness, it's impossible to let even small shit pass.
**** When I see Muslims tarnished with the brush of extremism, I think of my friends, the Bosnian refugees, and hope they never have to see a repeat of what destroyed their old lives happen in their new country.