Scraps from the Table

seat at the table

“Pity and what it offers are scraps from the table. Justice is a seat at the table.”*

Iraq, Lebanon, Jordan.

Three vastly different countries with different histories and different politics. They don’t even speak the same dialects of Arabic, but they are lumped together in the two-dimensional view that the Western world has of the Middle East.

I have a limited perspective, one that is confined to brief visits, cups of strong tea or Arabic coffee, and conversations of the heart. But in this limited perspective, I am reminded again that refugees are not to be objects of pity, hanging around like dogs to get scraps of charity. They are people of dignity and worth, people who have tenaciously clung to life and hope. Why would I pity someone who is so much stronger and more courageous than I am?

But this is not necessarily the attitude of others or of governments. An excellent article in Foreign Policy speaks to the danger of pity:

The Global North is building fences, deporting children, stymieing the progress to safety of war refugees from Syria, South Sudan, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Europe is paying Turkey to play bouncer and keep asylum-seekers outside its borders. The settled West is telling migrants: We pity you, but we don’t trust you, and we want to keep pitying you on your shores rather than welcoming you to ours.

The author goes on to say:

Rootlessness — the implied weakness of it — is treated as a failure. That is plainly schizophrenic: In a world where one in seven people is displaced, the failure must be of planetary scale. It belongs to all of us. This is a century of dislocation not merely of body and home, but also of empathy, dignity, compassion.

We in the West are tutored well in our attitudes toward refugees and migrants – tutored by a fear-mongering media, tutored by law makers and wanna be law makers who speak without facts and spread misinformation. As the author of the article I cited above says: “The West is telling migrants: We pity you, but we don’t trust you….”

Three years ago, I wrote an article called “You Can’t Empower Those you Pity.” I think about it today as I mull over how I want to portray the people I met and the stories I heard. Because if I create a narrative of pity, then I will have failed.

Pity reduces people to failures who somehow couldn’t hold it together enough to stay rooted. Pity is the enemy of compassion.

Pity insults. Pity humiliates. Pity sees others as ‘less than’ not ‘equal to’ or ‘above’. While compassion is a vital part of love and moves us to action, pity looks on as a superior bystander.

Pity is scraps from the table.

I don’t know a lot, but I do know that refugees need to be given a seat at the table. They need our partnership, our compassion, the best of what we can give. Otherwise we all lose. 

“Unless the world finds compassion for this new communality, learns to make sense of one another’s voices, its humanity will perish.”

“Dispossessed is an identity of disempowerment, but it is a powerful identity. Borders may temporarily hold back the flow of humans adrift, but in a world where we are so tightly and dizzyingly interwoven, physical boundaries are far less obstructive than the lasting confinement of imposed narratives.”

*paraphrased from a tweet by Lindsey Hunt at Harvard Medical School Primary Care Center.

Note: Would you consider donating to schools for Syrian refugee children in Lebanon? Read more here! 

2 thoughts on “Scraps from the Table

  1. This is a really complicated issue and it is hard to know how to live out our Christianity, while protecting the safety of our country. America was built on values that grew out of a Christian worldview of accepting people from all over the world who wanted to be a part of our country, but it was understood that they would become a part of the melting pot. They would to some extent give up their culture and language to become a part of the different culture that was being formed in America.

    But the newest immigrants, the illegals from Latin America and the Muslims, do not want to be assimilated into the melting pot. Many of the illegals are here for material rewards that they transfer to their families in Latin America and where they intend to return themselves, or worse are coming to live off the American welfare system. A few are militantly trying to recover territory for Mexico and are adamant about retaining their language and culture.

    Muslims are required by their religion to seek political hegemony over the entire world and subdue all non-Muslims to Sharia. I will admit that many of the Muslims who come do not have that as their purpose in coming to America (and Europe, incidentally), but many do, and it is impossible to tell by looking which are the ones who came with that purpose, or will go along with that purpose if others make it happen, or will fight for American culture and freedoms of expression and religion with the rest of us. There is no freedom of religion in truly Muslim countries (eg. Saudi Arabia) because Allah requires military and political conquest. Christianity, on the other hand, says that forced conversion is not true conversion, and that freedom of conscience and the right to make your own decisions about religion are fundamental. Hence why many people do not see how we can safely assimilate large numbers of Muslims into our country.

    As Christian individuals it is commanded for us to help the immigrants, the sojourners, the strangers, the poor, and our enemies. But our country has an obligation to protect our laws, our border, our culture, our safety. As citizens of our nation we must do the same. As I said, there are no easy answers, and I feel great shame for the way the U.S. conducts foreign and domestic policy sometimes, but I feel it would be a great mistake to allow hundreds of thousands of immigrants in unchecked and unvetted.

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