Why It All Matters: The Story Behind Our Campaign. My Story.
When we want to discuss refugees, the biggest question in our mind is: where do we begin? It’s a topic, a story, an identity, a condition, and an issue, we understand very personally. In the middle of planning this campaign, and putting it together, I was asked to take a step back and really contemplate: why does this topic matter so much to me? Well, here’s my answer.
Refugees were never anything new to me. In fact, I already likened the word refugee to “Afghan” since my parents and all the adults in my family had been refugees. It was somehow so normal to our culture, heritage, and identity. It shouldn't have been, but it was and it is.
When I set out to launch this campaign idea, I had some background knowledge about the EU Crisis of 2015. My family crossed to Europe during the migration crisis, using the same dangerous routes,the same makeshift, unsecure boats, and hoping for the same outcomes as the thousands who crossed with them. My cousins, a brother and sister, were separated in Turkey, and it didn't dawn on me till later that the reason I kept hearing about Amid’s continuous failed attempts to “go to Greece'' was because Greece failed to recognize him as an asylum seeker, and kept pushing him back, a violation of international law. This meant he risked his life over and over again, losing contact with my family weeks and months at a time. In the meantime, my female cousin crossed her journey alone, and I can't begin to think what a lone female can face in the hands of smugglers, as she was reliant on those services to get across.
At the time of writing this post, I came to find out that my cousin Amid finally made it to Germany as of late February, 2021. You read that right, 2021. His journey as a refugee seeking asylum in the EU took over 6 years. Imagine that.
When I say it’s personal, it really is personal. I see my cousins, my family, as humans, as everyone else does. But the word refugee makes them seem un-human, likened to vermins, nuisances in society that “need dealing with”. I know them enough to know, and like I know from my mom and dad, that if things “didn't go wrong” they’d never dreamed of leaving home. My dad left during the Soviet War, thinking he’d linger in Pakistan till the end of the war, and same for my mom. 30 years later, they haven't stepped foot back in their homeland. No one ever wants to be put in the position to leave everything behind in search of safety and a new life. Refugees have no choice, but it’s so hard to drive that point when there's such disgusting rhetoric out there that marginalizes them.
Moments of Self Reckoning
When I decided to study International Relations, I had an idea of what I'd get into. But wow is it so hard to sit in a class, and think politically, and not from a standpoint of humanitarian, ethical, and moral interests, if the class has something to do with US/Western politics to foreign regions. That may seem like a bold statement, but understanding values and principles, are vastly different than studying actual foreign policy strategies.
Imagine a young Afghan American like me, someone who’s shared her story over and over again about how our identity as Afghans can empower us for greatness to sit there and listen to a former US State Dept career diplomat, who was sent in the 1970’s to conspire with Pakistan to train Mujahideens, provide them weapons, and indoctrinate them with extreme Islamic views, to fight across the border in Afghanistan, setting the catalyst for 4 decades of instability. Then, to hear that the same man is the one on the ground in the SWANA region in 2011, firsthand witnessing the protests, supporting a US intervention in Libya, refusing to confirm or deny whether the US ever intended to kill Gadafi, but also failing to admit the US didn't understand Libyan rebel groups enough to trust them, all for him to come home to his safe soil, while citizens toiled from the fallout of the events of the revolutions. And to be expected to not feel personally appalled by this white man’s nonchalant attitude about US policy, like it was set in scripture and stone. That was an eye opening day.
And you might think “well duh where the hell have you been, Mursel. Haven't you seen the real picture?”. Yes, I have. I wasn't ignorant to it, but I felt like if I couldn't directly tell the old white guy in my class why I hated him for his role in western democracies placating instability, then maybe I could do it in a better, productive, eloquent way. I knew that it wasn’t the right environment for me to express myself without backlash but I was sick of seeing through every flaw this man, and so many men and women represent in the West, with just glimpses of his tall tales of moral crimes. In that moment in class, I began to wish others would see what I saw and heard in people like him. His story came from the other side of the aisle, the side that the world purports on a loudspeaker, while this side, my side, has long been silenced and shunned.
I reached out to Full Potential, our partners in this campaign, because I felt this conversation, passion, anger, and hatred for manipulators, wouldn't be safe in the hands of hegemony. It needed to begin and be felt by those with ties to a region, like me. Full Potential is a transnational, anti colonial/anti-imperialist SWANA movement led by some of the most badass womxn I’ve come to know. As a team, I felt we would be the best to implore our audiences, of all backgrounds and nationalities, to take a stand against what is unfolding in Europe.
Let Me Tell You Something: It’s All Bullshit (Excuse My French)
What this campaign is about, is really a pushback against everything we’re taught to believe in. The rhetorics we’re sold, it's all BS. We are used every day by government powers, who struggle to maintain control from their own doings. We, the civilians, are casualties caught in the crossfires of greater power interests that act independent of our bidding. We are the products of domestic and foreign policies that pit us against one another, the policies that breed ignorant populism, nationalism, and racism in this country and Europe.
The migration crisis should make us wake up, and realize, we think our leaders could never do us wrong; that the situation is so seriously a crisis in the first place that Europe is doing everything it can, in the best interests of everyone affected. That's not true, and I can’t wait to show our audiences why. Protecting human rights, international law, it's all bullshit ideas touted by the West, with very little substance to practice. The old liberal internationalism order is bullshit. Until we unveil the curtains of the West, the ones who play important roles as “keepers of peace and democracy” but lay low while authoritarian regimes squash their people, picking and choosing allies and adversaries to support, we will never truly understand that we are all affected by these powers. One look at the Arab Spring, and you‘ll see what I’m talking about. Just look at how the region erupted in revolutions, the populous of nations fighting for their civil rights. How could the world simply stay so silent as thousands and thousands were killed by government forces for believing in ideas that have long been supported by the west? Our friends and families have all in one way or another been affected by powerful revolutions, and yet, the successes and demises of these movements have become dependent on the reactions by the hegemony. Take that energy over to the EU, a symbol of multinational unity, that utterly fails and allows for its nations to be infiltrated by the kinds of rhetorics that the post WW2 avowed would never reach the continent, rhetorics emboldened by its ‘handling’ the refugee crisis. Would you believe me if I said that was bullshit too?
The campaign is about making the argument, the one that I want everyone to see. It is based on the central idea of power in the hands of governance, from left to right of the spectrum, that over and over again fails its people. It is the powers of governance that perpetuate the fleeing of millions of people, crossing from the belly of one beast into the belly of another. The campaign drives the point that the big bad monster (the refugees you may or may not see, but are surely out to get you) are just pawns to the new narratives of Europe. It is about how the EU justified mismanagement through this rhetoric, and garners support from the optimists, but also fuels domestic pushback from right wing groups that are emboldening hateful ideologies against refugees and migrants. And though there are many that are using EU policy to advocate for human rights and pro refugees, I think Europe needs to be discussed in terms of its crimes, wrongdoings, and mistakes since the crisis.
This crisis isn’t over, and I fear we’ll only see it get worse, as new political parties shift dynamics in European parliaments, with the rise of right wing groups that have gained power over the duration of the crisis. I believe people will remain ignorant and unmotivated to question authority if all they are fed is propaganda, and though we aren’t headed to another facist state like hitler’s WW2, I fear the new age populism will be extremely divisive and damaging, and those who will hurt the most are refugees and minorities. It’s time to see it now than 10 years later, and see it in action as it happens so that we don't make the kinds of mistakes that are irreversible, with damages that are irreparable.
The revolutions of the SWANA region, irregular migration, the handling of asylum seekers in Europe, all must stay alive in our conversations. We cant let the distractions of the 21st century fool us into thinking we humans are beyond such terrible things such as human rights and international law abuses, facism, xenophobia, coups, war crimes, genocide, etc. as it is all happening all around us. Maybe by just talking about it, we’d inspire the next resistance leader of our future, a person who’d later carry on the campaign we began, and turn it into a movement that’ll be written in the history books.
One day there might be more individuals like me that can sit in a class, listen to a career diplomat tout his side of the aisle’s narrative, and truly see it for what it is. Then take that self reckoning, and talk about it, push others to talk about it, like I have. Then maybe, we wouldn’t simply carry on as the ills of the world, the West particularly, unfold in front of us.
If you can sit for just one moment, and truly think about what I’ve written, what I’ve poured out for motivation of this campaign, then I implore you to join us in this conversation, and help us reframe the events and outcomes that continue to affect refugees in Europe and the SWANA region.
(All opinions/experiences are views of my own, and do not represent the views of other members in this campaign)