Beirut — The attack in Brussels Tuesday has once again hurt many people far from the targeted areas in Europe, namely refugees, principally Syrian refugees. Not often in recent history have individuals facing mass trauma and extreme violence at home found themselves so rapidly transformed into pariahs abroad.
The Syrians are hardly alone in going through such an experience. Refugees have always been regarded as intruders by host communities, and coexistence is frequently very difficult. Worse, refugee crises have a tendency to become permanent fixtures, as the victors at home block a return of the refugees to their country. The destiny of the Palestinians, like that of the Rwandan Hutus in the Democratic Republic of the Congo or even the German minorities in the former Soviet Union, are all examples of unresolved refugee catastrophes.
However, the conditions of Syrian refugees has been exacerbated by the fact that their fate has been largely defined by Islamophobia in response to terrorist attacks by Islamist extremists as well as a feeling of cultural alienation. There is little sense of compassion in the West for Syrian refugees because they are perceived as both threatening and strange.
In many regards this signals the death knell, albeit perhaps only momentarily, of the internationalist impulses that characterized the period immediately after the end of the Cold War. At the time such norms as the Responsibility to Protect and humanitarian intervention were given far greater credibility.
It is instructive to observe the fortunes of Samantha Power to see where we stand today. In 2002, Power published a Pulitzer Prize-winning book defending humanitarian intervention, titled “A Problem From Hell: America and the Age of Genocide.” Today, Power works for a president who, in a recent interview with Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic, declared himself “proud” not to have conducted airstrikes against Bashar Assad’s regime after it had used chemical weapons against its own population – a “red line” that Barack Obama himself had set.
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