Here’s a confession from Sweden: despite working in Syria and Iraq during the civil wars, the collective trauma of the wars has hit me the most when being in Sweden.
I am happy I have friends and colleagues from different countries also in Sweden. I’ve shared my views on my female friendships on this site before, several times. I’m happy I have a job where I get to offer some support to the refugees in Sweden. But the secondary traumas are creeping up on me from time to time, as well as the high cost of trying to be neutral in the midst of relationship chaos that comes from internalised conflicts.
There is one thing, according to me, that people who suffered a war have in common: distrust. And distrust can take many forms. People can become shattered. Or angry. Or hostile. Or traumatised. Or depressed. The good things lies underneath, still there; people can be still be wonderful friends, colleagues, human beings; but the reaction to war rarely leaves a person without a trace.
On the outskirts of these conflicts, here in Sweden, I’m trying to manage the Assad supporters disbelieving in the activists from the opposition. The opposition activists suspecting the Assad supporters for being in liaison with the intelligence. People blaming Iranians for messing up Syria. People blaming Iraqis for Daesh. People blaming each other for not caring about the others. Trying to remain neutral in this is a battlefield on its own.
Taking part of people’s experiences made things to me as well. All the stories I have heard are sometimes blurring in my mind, if I ever am to retell them. Was it the Iraqi boy I knew who was forced, as a teenager, to watch a gang rape of an Iraqi girl? Was it the Syrian woman I knew who couldn’t sleep through the night so she chose the day instead, terrified of the dark? Was it the Palestinian man who had covered his child’s ears from hearing the bombings at night in Gaza, who still was in anguish, because despite being outside of the country, his child still heard the bombs? Or was it someone else?
I just now recalled a morning that I spent some time back with a Syrian friend in the Swedish Migration Board, when she was about to apply for asylum. I had gone with her as she didn’t want to be on her own. She hadn’t slept all night but she was still composed. In the Migration Board, the queue system had broken down and people were fighting in order to get to the desk to have their application handed in before closing time. The scene somehow reminded of the situation at the Syrian border. There were no pens to fill in the applications. There was no one to explain anything. People were pulling at me, a Swede, to explain the system to them (I only could somehow), to ask for water (there was none), to ask if they would be allowed somewhere to sleep during the night (I didn’t know). There were too many people in the room that became unbearably hot. I started to yell at the woman behind the desk when she said she was out of pens. I started to yell when she refused to come out and organise the queue. I became increasingly irritated with the asylum seekers begging me for help.
My friend told me to come out and sit down at one of the benches in the waiting room, and surprisingly enough, a man left his place so that here was room for me. A Syrian family that my friend had befriended in the waiting room came up, and their 8-year-old daughter placed herself in my knee, so that she could watch music videos on my iPhone. But before so, she folded my jacket and placed it behind my head. Why did the girl do that? Her mom gave the girl’s brother a KitKat and a soft drink to give to me, him resolutely pressing the items in my hands, urging me to open the chocolate bar. Then a few minutes later, I heard the children’s father speak to his bench neighbour next to us. The neighbour had asked him something about Sweden, and the man answered:
“I don’t know… there is a Swedish girl over there who speaks a little bit of Arabic, that I could ask. But I don’t want to do it right now. As you can see, she is very tired.”
IS are being pushed further and further, and many are already celebrating the victory over one of the worst terrorist organisations – at least one of the worst who’s been able to show it off so cleverly online – this decade.
What will happen after IS might finally succumb in Iraq and its scattered members go on the run to avoid being tortured by the general army’s forces? What will happen after its European members will go back to their respective countries and plan terrorist attacks back home?
This is what needs to happen:
Iraqi government needs to include minorities in their politics. They need to take safety measures so that minorities can live under the same conditions as the majority population.
Public schools needs to receive sufficient funding and teachers so that all children get a substantial education.
The national army and police needs to be trained so that they don’t repeat the human rights abuses that has been conducted towards civilians.
Otherwise, the same constellation, or a new one, will pop up sooner or later. And the celebrations will be silenced for good.
Another, as expected, terrorist attack, another round of tensions getting high in all directions.
One of my friends wrote that he won’t add the Belgian flag because of the previous oppression of Congo, and that Belgium had brought this on to themselves.
Some friends were upset that the bombings in Belgium received more attention than the ones in Istanbul.
Some blamed the uncontrolled influx of refugees with terrorist sympathies; the failure of the European intelligence services; the failure of the social policies for integration in Europe.
A Kurdish friend of mine nailed it down like this:
“The existing ‘us vs. them’ dichotomy has recently gotten extremely ugly and inhumane.”
Heartbroken, as always, I scrolled though all these comments on social media. Then suddenly, this popped up. My Muslim Syrian friend who I gotten to know in Syria in 2013, a colleague whom I worked with, who has since gone to Belgium as a refugee, still struggling to rebuild his life, posted a public post on Facebook:
That for me, at least, became my own light in this darkness.
Salah Abdeslam is arrested, according to the Belgian authorities. One of the presumed terrorists behind the horrific Bartaclan-massacre is captured, he will be put to trial, will face justice for what he did. This is good. This is how justice should work. I hope that he speaks up in court, give people an explanation to why he did what he did, face the charges he will be on trial for, like a man.
Still – the underlying issue remain at large: there are many other young men like him in the grip of hateful terrorist groups. Marginalised young men, and sometimes women, of immigrant origin in the suburbs of European cities, feeling like they are, and being, looked down upon by many of the Europeans that they meet in their everyday life. Young men and women who will build up an alienation and hate towards the country they reside in, maybe even was born in. Young men and women who will cling to conspiracy theories, conservative/religious values (more conservative than in their countries of origin), alienation, and in worst case, terrorism – because they are not and don’t feel welcome in the country where they reside with a permanent residency or even citizenship.
Us Europeans still seem unable to welcome these people to a full extent in our countries. We still don’t let them have the same rights as us whites: we still don’t accept their qualifications; we still frown upon mixed couples; we still are not interested in making friends with them, citing “we’re different” if someone would ask us.
It’s our fault, the fault of all of us. One terrorist down doesn’t solve the underlying problem: that we still need to learn how to coexist. All of us.
After the Paris massacre a photo popped up in my Facebook news feed, signed the Kurdish security forces, Peshmerga, that I follow. A photo of a murdered young man, clearly shot dead while on the move, probably fleeing for his life. His face is frozen in a frightened expression, his hands curled up in spasms, his face covered in blood.
In front of him another young man is peeking in to the camera and cheekily sticking out his tongue. The photo caption reads “Gift of the Peshmerga heroes to French people“.
The comments are almost exclusively overwhelmingly joyous and sarcastic:
“He’s throwing ISIS gang signs LOL”
I didn’t hit the like button for this photo. I didn’t share it. I did consider potentially stop liking Peshmerga forces, despite the information the page provides me.
It might be obvious to you why I reacted like this, but to sum it up, here’s the comment from the one follower of the page, a young man too and I believe he is Kurdish, who did not agree:
“By posting this you bring shame on the Kurdish people.
We should not be driven by hate, but by humanity and our love to freedom.”
If only more young men were thinking like him.
I have never and will never share photos of murdered or injured or caged IS terrorists. We might be approaching the third world war, we might be in the middle of it, but at one point, this still needs to end. And peace will not come faster by seeking revenge and mocking the dead ones.
I will not be the person to prolong the wait.
The fighting over flags is ridiculous.
The fighting over who suffers the most is ridiculous.
The fighting over where people come from is ridiculous.
The fighting over refugees is ridiculous.
We are all tired, afraid.
We all want to live.
Photo credit: Wikipedia.org