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
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.