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I'm Raising Kids Among Syrians and Want You To Know This

Photograph by Getty Images

People are understandably shaken, angry and afraid following the attacks in Paris last weekend. Raising three small children in Europe, I also sense the violence inching closer, broadening its reach. We are in a crucial moment now and how we respond will have major impact.

More than 14,000 of the 4.1 million Syrian refugees have chosen to resettle in the Netherlands, where we live. I'm not soothed by news of air strikes or U.S. governors banning Syrian refugees from their states. But I am hopeful when I overhear, as I did yesterday, a Dutch lesson taught by local volunteers in the public library to refugees from Syria. They were talking about Paris: "We feel incredibly sad about it."

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Today in a Dutch newspaper I read a letter from two young Syrian men who have been living here for 61 days. "We are speechless over what happened in Paris on Friday, just as speechless as you," they wrote. "We are shocked and saddened, just like you."

They said they can't thank the Dutch enough for their hospitality and for the respect with which they've been treated here. "Now is the time for us to join together in the fight against terrorism and against a barbaric ideology," they wrote. "We are with you."

I was motivated by only one thing: there would be Russians there, and I wanted to kiss one.

As a teenager in the early '90s, I signed up to attend the Luxembourg Model Supreme Soviet, a simulation government conference for high school students. I was motivated by only one thing: there would be Russians there, and I wanted to kiss one.

I grew up during the Cold War, when Russia was our biggest threat. But even as the '80s became the '90s and a period of glasnost and perestroika led to the fall of the Soviet Union, I was fascinated by Russians, who seemed so completely far from anything in my own life. And I learned that having actual contact with each other is what alleviates fear.

When Dutch friends of mine drove the Silk Road from Leiden, the Netherlands, to China during the Bush era, they were very surprised to find Iranians reminded them most of Americans—they were friendly, they were open, and they wanted my friends to know that they didn't like their government, either.

Living in the Netherlands has given me many opportunities to engage with people from countries I'd only otherwise know from the news. I once took a Dutch class in which a majority of people in the class were from Syria, Iraq and Iran.

I want my children to understand that peace and security and dignity should not be reserved for a select few.

In one session, we had to go around the room and say what we missed about our home country and what we didn't. People talked about missing their community, the way people cared for each other. They missed the food, the customs. But they didn't miss the wars or politics.

I'm raising children in a world that can be horrifically violent and scary, but in my experience there are more good people than evil ones. Most of us want to be able to live our lives peacefully and securely.

I want my children to understand that peace and security and dignity should not be reserved for a select few. I'm hoping they will grow up interested in and connected to people who on the surface may seem quite different from them. I want to raise them to be empathic, rational, kind.

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Not to judge an entire people based on the worst among them.

It may sound naïve as foreign policy, but it feels like the best thing I can do to bring positive change.

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