Opinion and Politics

Don’t Blame Refugees for Paris

Islamic militants are responsible for what happened today in Paris, but remember that they are precisely what refugees arriving in Europe are running away from.

A refugee waiting to register in Berlin. Photo by Joseph Pearson.
A refugee waiting to register in Berlin. Photo by Joseph Pearson.

14 Nov 2015

One of the greatest disservices rendered to the refugees pouring into Europe from war zones is to say that they represent militant Islam. This means identifying the victims as perpetrators.

I’ve been working with Syrian refugees in Berlin since August. The stories they tell me are heartbreaking.

A young man from Aleppo, Ahmed, 25-years old (pictured below), tells me about how his city has been ripped apart by Islamic militants and the other armed factions of the civil war.

What does he think of ISIS?

“Look at me!” he says.

I look at him. He’s wearing jeans, a cream t-shirt, a tight leather jacket.

“I don’t want to be forced to grow a beard, to wear a robe, to be terrorized”.

I think he is amazed that I would even ask what he thinks of ISIS. His parents and his little sister are still trapped by them in the city.

Ahmed is a religious Muslim. He tells me he is concerned that people in Germany think Syrians and Muslims have a bad name. He laughs, ‘It will be my job! To convince Germans that Syrians and Muslims are good people!’

I’m so sorry that he thinks that is necessary.

Ahmed will do well in Germany if he is given a chance. After waiting outside, in the cold, every day, in indecent circumstances, just to get registered as a refugee in Berlin, he finally has his papers.  He wants to complete his university degree in Economics, which was interrupted by the war. His sister lives in Berlin, and he wants his parents to join them.

His sister told me when Ahmed first arrived in Germany: ‘When I look at my brother’s eyes, I see my father and my mother’s eyes too. I wish they were here with us’.

I wish they were too.

Today at noon ISIS claimed responsibility for the massacres in a Paris, for the more than a hundred dead.

But when I think of them, I do not think of people like Ahmed.

Nor should anyone else.


by Joseph PEARSON

Ahmed speaking at a demonstration for refugee rights in Berlin. Photo by Aki Naito.
Ahmed speaking at a demonstration for refugee rights in Berlin. Photo by Aki Naito.

*This is the fifth in a series of articles on The Needle about the refugee arrivals in Berlin. Read the others:

1. Why Germany Welcomes Refugees?

2. Razor Wire and Refugees: What’s Happening Now in Berlin.

3. How Long Will Germany Welcome Refugees?

4. Berlin’s Appalling Conditions at Refugee Registration Center LaGeSo




Joseph Pearson

Joseph Pearson (1975) is writer and historian based in Berlin. Born in Canada, he was educated at Cambridge University, UK, where he received his doctorate in history in 2001. Since 2008, he has written The Needle, which has become one of Berlin's most popular blogs. His portrait of the German capital, Berlin, for Reaktion Press was published in 2017. His second book, My Grandfather's Knife, was published by HarperCollins and the History Press in 2022. He is also the essayist and blogger of the Schaubühne Theatre, one of Berlin's best known state-funded institutions. His writing has appeared widely in the press, literary and academic journals, and has been translated into Italian, German, French, and Arabic. Having taught at Columbia University in New York City, he lectures in Berlin at New York University Berlin (since 2012) and the Barenboim-Said Academy.

One thought on “Don’t Blame Refugees for Paris

  • This is a nice story…I think children should be the first to be happy …we visit Berlin at least 2 times a year as my grand children my son and my german daughter in law live in Berlin…we are american…

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