Dani Garavelli: Stop bigots blaming refugees for terror

THIS kind of extremism is exactly what refugees are trying to escape, writes Dani Garavelli

There are bigots here too who could easily be persuaded that the refugee families who will be arriving in Scotland from Syria next week jeopardise our security. Picture: AFP/Getty Images

When something as unspeakable as Friday’s mass terrorist attacks on Paris occurs, there are two ways you can react: you can stand shoulder to shoulder with people of all creeds and none against a terrifying ideology whose principal goal is to divide us; or you can exploit it to foment more hatred and perpetuate the cycle of violence.

As the City of Light – still reeling from the Charlie Hebdo massacre in January – was plunged once again into darkness, there were incredible displays of solidarity on the ground and across the world. In the bleakest of times, we human beings can still be dauntless; and so, with carnage on the streets, Paris on lockdown, the country in a state of emergency and the gunmen still at large, local citizens banded together to create #porteouverte, a social media movement to offer shelter to those stranded in one arrondissement or another. Porte ouverte. Think of the significance of those words. As national borders were being sealed in the face of the threat (and no-one knew where the terrorists might strike next), ordinary people were throwing their doors open to strangers. Perhaps this was, as some claimed, naive. Perhaps those involved were exposing themselves to unnecessary danger. But isn’t it reassuring to know that – in a climate of fear and paranoia – there are still those who are willing to put their lives on the line to help others? That humanity triumphs and the spirit of the Resistance endures?

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Further afield, the same drive for unity found other forms of expression. National buildings across the world were lit up in colours of the French flag and #Vivelafrance began trending. Call it “virtue signalling” if you’re that way inclined, but what other means do people hundreds of miles from the unfolding events 
have of communicating their love and sorrow?

Unfortunately, in the midst of this binding together, there were others who saw in the massacre an opportunity to point-score, whip up Islamophobia and drive a wedge between cultures which have hitherto co-existed. Though what exactly was happening in Paris was still lost in a fog of gunshots and panic, they couldn’t wait to propound their theory that the atrocity was caused by the failure to stem the flow of refugees from the Middle East and was therefore an inevitable consequence of the Schengen Agreement. These commentators weren’t impartial onlookers who lashed out in anguish, they were Ukip-ers and other right-wingers hoping to further pre-existing agendas. The type of people who wilfully conflate Islam and terrorism and brand anyone who refuses to fall into their trap, “scummy Jihad-lovers”. The type of people who refer to MSP Humza Yousaf as “you lot” and claim peaceable Scots Muslims “pose just as great a threat” as gun-toting maniacs. They chose to ignore the fact that many of the police officers and soldiers defending Paris (and – almost certainly – many of the victims) were also Muslim and that this kind of murderous extremism is exactly what refugees boarding overloaded boats from Turkey are trying to escape. Far from undermining the Jihadis they claim to despise, such people help to spread their propaganda: that this is a battle of Islam versus the west as opposed to a bunch of fanatics versus the rest of the world.

Late on Friday night, rumours swept the internet that the Calais refugee camp had been set on fire in retaliation. According to volunteers at the site, the blaze was real enough – with tents and other shelters burned out – but it is thought to have been caused by an electrical fault as opposed to arsonists. Still, the reason conclusions were jumped to is because we know only too well this is where incitement to racial hatred can lead. As reports are now suggesting one of the gunmen had a Syrian passport, it’s only likely to get worse. We need to stand firm against bigotry, to call it out and to highlight the crass stupidity of blaming those who have suffered the most at the hands of the Islamic State group for its actions.

This is particularly important in Scotland right now. Later this week, a flight with around 100 Syrian refugees brought in under the Vulnerable Persons Relocation Scheme will arrive in Glasgow before they are dispersed to five local authorities. We see ourselves as a welcoming nation, and for the most part that’s true, but there are bigots here too who could easily be persuaded that these newcomers jeopardise our security.

Last month I had the privilege of spending time with a family of Syrians who fled their country when president Bashar al-Assad cracked down on dissidents in 2011-12, and who built new lives in Scotland. The Hirhs – Ayman, Iman and their five-year-old twin sons Bishir and Bassil – have faced persecution and seen their home destroyed. All they want now is safety and the chance to live productive lives. Just like the rest of us.

Today, Paris is still in a state of shock. As I type, dozens of people are desperately tweeting pictures of loved ones who were at the Bataclan theatre in the hopes of finding them alive.

It is right to feel overwhelmed. It is right to feel angry. But, as we stand with the people of France, let’s make sure that our anger is pointed in the right direction: towards the enemies of freedom, not towards those who prize it so highly they are prepared to make hazardous journeys across a continent in the hope of securing it.