Is this America?


The children we turn our backs to today will go grow up tomorrow. And they’ll hate us.

I’m thinking of an object…

Before I get to that object, I’d like to introduce you to Lindsay Toi-Bourseau, a Parisian girl who couldn’t be older than 16. Out of the chaos, the utter nightmare, of the terrorist attacks on Paris surfaced Lindsay’s lonely voice, stopping me in my tracks and, giving me one of those “holy shit” moments that provide a sense of clarity, some light in a sea of darkness, even some hope. She was interviewed in a Mashable article by Tim Chester called Voices from Paris: Parisians reflect on whether the attacks will dim the City of Light.

Lindsay: “I’m not sure that bombings [in Syria] are the best way to react. Those people did it because they didn’t feel part of our society. They feel rejected. So we have to include them in our environment to avoid another attack like this. We have to integrate them.”

We have to read Toi-Bourseau’s quote in its proper context. For years there has been a serious rift between Muslims of Algerian decent living in France and the greater French community. Muslims have felt disenfranchised, on the fringe and never truly a part of French society partly due to a principle called laïcité, or secularism, according to a recent NPR article. Laws designed to separate church and state as a way for different faiths to co-exist, according to the article, has alienating effects for the nearly 5 million Muslims living in France, including laws that prevent them from practicing their religion (from mandating pork in school in lunches to preventing religious headgear in public schools). Such laws are in direct conflict to what Toi-Bourseau is talking about when she calls for inclusion and integration.

Back in the United States it was only natural to be outraged after such a tragedy, myself included. For Americans watching on television and refreshing their social media feeds, these attacks on innocent people of this magnitude peeled back the scab of 9/11. And while we showed our support for the French by changing our profile pictures, writing messages about love and peace and prayers, many Americans have made the mistake of equating refugees with terrorists. While French President Francois Hollande justifiably turned it up a notch in Syria, ordering bombing campaigns and combing through every neighborhood in the country in widespread raids to find anyone remotely responsible for these attacks, we turned up our rhetoric against terrorism by turning our backs on thousands of innocent women and children in dire need of our help.

That object I refer to comes in different shapes and sizes, it helps us gain perspective and gives us a dose of reality when we really need it…

Last Monday, the same day the Mashable story was posted featuring Toi-Bourseau’s quote, 31 U.S. Governors stated that they would not accept refugees from Syria, vowing to slow down any effort the Obama Administration is making to allow 10,000 Syrians into the United States. In turning our backs on them, we have to consider what the long-term effects could mean. Because the children we turn our backs on today will grow up tomorrow. And they’ll hate us. But someone will be there to lend them a hand, make no mistake about it. The question is, whose hand will that be? History has shown us that terrorist recruiters go after the young, the impressionable, the disenfranchised, the people living in the fringe. People who seem to equate the helping of innocent men, women and children live a better life in the United States to fostering terrorism on our own soil suffer from a clouded sense of reality in the same way Donald Trump thinks he can relate to the common voter. The fact that he’s even hinted at the creation of a Muslim identification system should be as alarming to us as Jews forced to identify themselves with a Star of David patch during Nazi Germany.

And while a great many of Americans in support of this buffoon and people like him have trouble finding the difference between reality television, entertainment and politics, while our politicians continue to debate over how to proceed (although I have to applaud U.S. Congressman Beto O’Rourke for his progressive steps in trying to assist those in need), the rest of the world is already taking action.

Less than a week after the attacks on its very own soil, France agreed to allow roughly 10,000 Syrians inside its borders so that it may provide them with refuge from constant shelling and warfare. On Saturday, Canada pledged to allow 25,000 refugees over a 6-week period. More countries are opening their doors.

In the United States we have prided ourselves on such inclusion. But it’s pretty obvious we still have a looong way to go. And while many feel that the United States has a tendency to stick its nose in the world’s problems (even though some feel that Obama has not done enough in the effort to suppress ISIS), we are also missing out on an incredible opportunity to correct some of our own wrongs.

We have a tendency to oversimplify the state of world affairs. We like to tell the story about how the West is fighting the good fight between terrorist groups like ISIS, the Taliban and al-Qaeda to name a few. But we never like to discuss what role we may have played in how these groups were formed – and why they hate us so much. We pride ourselves on being the melting pot, where ideas, hopes and dreams are shared and realized.

So what happened to that United States? In the book, Hot, Flat and Crowded, Thhomas Friedman suggests that America lost its “groove” after 9/11. “An America living in a defensive crouch cannot fully tap the vast rivers of idealism, innovation, volunteerism, and philanthropy that still flow through our nation.”

The object I’m thinking about doesn’t lie…

Since when was it considered a weakness to want peace, to want to help people in need, not as Americans leading some global charge or taking on the world’s problems but from a humanistic standpoint? Where is our humanity when we’re willing to let innocents die because it’s not in our economic or political interests?

Is this America?

I know it’s only human to want justice. ISIS and all terrorists need to be punished for their crimes. It’s also human nature to want peace, to find an alternative, albeit in our world today, a less popular, more difficult alternative, to war. And that’s why this girl’s quote from 11.16 was so striking to me.

At some point we have to consider the fact that the path we have been taking for generations has not worked. Maybe it’s time we at least consider this audacious notion of peace brought about by a kid from Paris. Or that we consider another view on striving for peace from Malala Yousafzai: “With guns you can fight terrorists, with education you can fight terrorism.”

It all starts with that object I was talking about, though. It’s called a mirror. Maybe we should first begin by looking into it?

Special thanks to Zeyad Maasarani, who writes for, for contributing to this piece. And to Nevine Zaki, an Egyptian who grew up in Paris, for offering her insight.