With much of the debate today raging around how Syrian refugees will be properly and equitably placed (in Europe), or whether they should even be allowed into the country at all (in the United States), few seem willing to ask the question, “What happens after the war?”
Currently, the physical safety and provision of basic public services to war refugees should be a chief priority of foreign and international aid budgets. I believe that the West’s knee-jerk reaction to this crisis—in essence, you are fleeing a foe, come and become legal residents in our nations–carries long-term implications that are incredibly destabilizing to a region that gravely needs a middle class.
I make this claim not, as many might believe, to create a premise by which to deny refugees a place in this country. Nor do I hold that this nation will be better off by holding at bay those in dire need of assistance. In fact, if our interests are solely aligned with the long-term prosperity of the United States, we should unquestionably be taking in as many moderate and well-educated Syrians as we can get our hands on.
However, I for one believe that the role of this nation goes far beyond simply ensuring domestic prosperity. We are the wealthiest and most powerful country in the world, and with that power comes the ability to mold and shape the futures of countless billions of people. It saddens me that, for some reason, many of us have written off Syria as a failed state, one whose own citizens would be better served by permanently emigrating to the West than by pursuing a more local solution to their and their countrymen’s problems.
I refuse to accept that. If we are to have peace and have, eventually, some sort of representative democracy emerge in Syria, we must protect and assist the moderates who are fleeing in the millions, not, as some suggest, in such a way as to assimilate them into our culture, but to ensure them an easy transition back to Syria. This is, for obvious reasons, not an easy task. The practical barriers are high and imposing; Jordan and Lebanon have accepted so many refugees that they now represent about a fifth of the total population, and they are crimping public services.
Turkey, whose refugees are primarily situated in the already-volatile eastern regions of the country, is engaged in a delicate balancing act between behaving humanely enough to gain entrance to the EU, while still engaging in an ever widening crack down on the HKK (an ethnic Kurdish terrorist group), opposition journalists, policemen and military officers. Alternative options seem sparse. The UAE and Saudi Arabia have taken in, by some estimates, close to 3 million refugees. Hundreds of thousands have fled to Europe, and by some estimates, more than a million and a half Syrians will soon be in Europe, fundamentally changing the future of many locales.
The difficulty of the Western powers and Gulf States will primarily be in determining a way to provide for a safe and reasonably productive life for refugees whilst at the same time balancing domestic pressures regarding resource allocation, job competition and, more critically for the Western nations, values realignment and religious diversification. This last topic is perhaps the most pressing. While sectarian strife between Sunni and Shia is limited in Turkey, Jordan and the Gulf States primarily due to strong centralized governments, it is easier for refugees to acclimate religiously in these heavily majority Muslim countries.
This is not the case in Western powers, where a strong, Christian value-set, particularly in the United States, Poland, Hungry, Romania, Slovakia, England and significant parts of the EU, informs not only regional culture and tradition, but has played a significant role in the creation of law and a common value system that respects women, racial diversity and secular thought. This is not to say that emigrants from Syria could not be successfully integrated culturally and religiously.
The United States has the best record of Muslim assimilation, with a recent Pew Opinion poll stating that approximately nine in 10 American Muslims are not remotely supportive of suicide bombings. Obviously, a radicalized 10 percent is a significant issue, but the domestic security apparatus of the United States is far better equipped than European powers, who are only as strong as their lowest common denominator due to Schengen open-border policy, at dealing with both homegrown radicalization and Islamic extremists trying to enter the country.
However, I digress. What is critical for this and other societies to decide is whether we will give up on Syria ever becoming a nation again. Are we relegating Syria to the Yemen or Somalia status of “failed-states”? Is the once-flourishing land of 27 million better off surrendered to radical Islamic Jihadism or totalitarian Alawite rule? Can we not do better?