I was flying home from London last week and was sitting in an exit row. It’s funny how you can see those seats as access to more room to stretch out when really they are an emergency exit. In any case, the flight attendant came by and I was ready for her spiel: read the card, say that you agree to help, etc. Instead, she looked me in the eye and said, “You are going to need to do this. We are not going to get to you in time. We will be in the back opening those doors and helping people. People will be on you quickly and need your help.” Then she paused and said, “Most people think that we really are going to run up here and help, but we really can’t. We won’t get here in time. It’s your responsibility.”
According to the United Nations, “every minute 20 people leave everything behind to escape war, persecution, or terror.” People also flee natural disasters. That’s 28,300 people in a day. Currently, more than 65 million people are refugees or internally displaced. This is the largest figure ever recorded. World Refugee Day provides us with the opportunity to pause, learn more and reflect on our individual, local, national, and global commitments as citizens and as human beings.
Here are three stories to commemorate World Refugee Day. We hope these inspire you to consider and discuss what responsibilities individuals have to respond to the needs of refugees today.
Topics: Refugee Crisis
Over the past few years, there have been many times when we've awakened to news of terrorism—close to home or far away. In late 2016, a list of things more common than being a victim of a terrorist attack in America was published. This list included shark attacks, lightning strikes, and car accidents and was intended, in part, to create a sense of perspective. Indeed, terrorist attacks are rare, and they directly affect only a small number of people. But their impact and consequences are widespread. In countries around the world, terrorism has shaped security and policing, civil liberties, and the ways that people in diverse societies perceive and interact with each other.
Topics: global terrorism
Topics: Genocide/Collective Violence
The stories are heartbreaking and chilling. In the first few weeks of 2017, identity-based hatred appears to be pervasive and on the rise. Two immigrants from India were shot in Kansas allegedly by a man who confronted them about their visa status; historical Jewish cemeteries were vandalized in St. Louis and Philadelphia; and, in Rockville, Maryland, a Jewish couple, who put up a Black Lives Matter banner outside their home, received a threatening note with the word “Jew” written in German and the ominous promise of “mayhem.” On January 29th, six people were killed and 19 were injured in a mass-shooting at a mosque in Quebec City. The victims included fathers, an academic, and local businessmen. They were in the midst of evening prayers.
The epitaphs for 2016 are coming out by the hour. It was the worst of years, some are saying, in the midst of uncertain times. Of course, at midnight on the 31st, the challenges we face won’t go away. The only way that 2017 will be better is if we make it so.
This was a particularly difficult election for the United States. It exposed deep divisions and it was a year of ugly rhetoric and angry, sometimes violent, exchanges among people. Racism, misogyny, sexual assault, xenophobia, antisemitism, and just plain cruelty headlined news stories and became trending topics across social media. Many Americans could not wait for November 9th to arrive just so it would be over and they could move on. But “moving on” isn’t going to help Americans to address the tensions and issues raised by the long campaign season and the election itself. The election was a mirror held up to Americans, exposing deep damage and it created more at the same time.
It is impossible to imagine what Raphael Lemkin would be thinking and doing if he were alive today. He dedicated his life to stopping mass violence against people based on their identities and to holding those who were responsible accountable for their crimes. As a young man, he studied past slaughters, including pogroms against Jews, and he immersed himself in understanding the mass murder of the Armenians by the Turkish state, the failure to stop it, and to punish those who were responsible for it. In the midst of his efforts to draw attention to these issues, he lost 49 family members, including his parents, in the Holocaust. They died in the Warsaw ghetto, in concentration camps, and in the death marches.
On Easter Sunday, a splinter group of the Taliban killed more than 70 people, including children, in Lahore, Pakistan. The group said they were targeting Christians who had gone to Gulshan-e-Iqbal Park to celebrate the holiday with their families. It was mostly Muslims who were killed.
On Tuesday, March 22nd, at least 35 people were killed and hundreds more were injured in Brussels, Belgium. Victims came from across Belgium as well as from the US, the Netherlands, Sweden, Germany, France, the UK, Italy, and China. The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack on Brussels' airport and a subway station in the center of the city. There have also been attacks in Turkey, Nigeria, Kenya, the Ivory Coast, Syria, and Iraq.
Life was pretty happy and full. Now on December 13, there came change that turned our world upside down. - Mr. Chen Deshou, a survivor of the Nanjing Atrocities
December 13th marks the 78th anniversary of the Nanjing Atrocities, when the lives of thousands of women, men, and children were turned upside down. This assault by the Japanese Imperial Army took place from December 13, 1937, through the end of March 1938. During this time soldiers ran riot in the captured Chinese capital, unleashing a spree of violence, murder, and rape on the population.