The cartoonish conflation of all things Muslim, Arab, and violently radical is a project which has been operating for centuries.
The news tells me that the Za’atari refugee camp opened on July 28, 2012 to host Syrians fleeing the civil war that erupted in 2011. It says that Jordan has taken in nearly 1.5 million refugees since the start of the war, and that some 80,000 people now live in this camp, making it the 4th largest city in this small desert kingdom.
But while these numbers provide some sense of scale for the massive displacement of human lives, they tell us nothing about what it feels like to be one of those human lives.
To achieve that, we need something more compelling than facts and figures. We need the stories of the refugees themselves.
“I laid cement under my house not because I’m staying here for good, but to improve my current situation,” explains Samer, a barber who came here with his wife and infant son after a bomb landed in their neighborhood back in Syria. “Most people here would rather fix things up to live a comfortable life than keep living on rocks and dirt.”
We need the stories of the refugees themselves.
Samer is the protagonist of Growing Home, a short documentary by Syrian-American director Faisal Attrache. When we meet Samer, his mood is wistful and optimistic. He spends his days working in a barbershop in the camp — joking, laughing, and making his clients feel good — but all he wants to do is take his family home. By the end of the film, shot seven months later, his mood has visibly shifted. His eagerness to return to Syria is giving way to a quiet resignation that his expatriation might, in fact, be permanent.