After the mass murder of 129 innocent people in Paris by ISIS terrorists, are you surprised that many countries—including the US—are reluctant to allow Syrian refugees entrance? Paul Ryan and other conservative politicians are rightly worried about the wolf in sheep’s clothing: what if 1 out of 100 Syrians fleeing ISIS violence turns out to be a jihad perpetrator instead of a victim? The governors of 27 states, including Alabama, Georgia, Texas, Michigan, Illinois, New Hampshire and Maine have already declared their unwillingness to take to accept any of the 10,000 Syrian refugees President Obama agreed to allow into the US next year. Hatred, fear and the misunderstanding that all Muslims are potential jihadists has created an even wider gulf between what we now perceive as them and us.
The unwelcome mats have been thrown down in front of doors, multiplying as the world becomes an ever more hostile and terrifying place. Gone are the carefree days of leisure activities for Americans and Europeans both. Going out for drinks, attending a sporting event or a concert— and especially going on vacation— are all overshadowed with worry today. Now we have to wonder: what if some crazy psychopaths show up with machine guns and suicide vests while we’re listening to our favorite band at Madison Square Garden? What if there’s a bomb on the plane taking your whole family to Florida for some sun? Can you blame the average person for being afraid?
On the other hand, succumbing to fear (and hatred) is what keeps making conditions worse for everyone. Xenophobia didn’t work out so well for us in World War II, and it’s not a viable or moral solution now either. Why don’t we work together with other countries to eliminate ISIS, before we have World War III? Beyond bombs, drones, and “boots on the ground,” we need to invest in the young, disenfranchised Muslims who are tired of living in abject poverty (while watching Americans live it up on TV.) Any group of disenfranchised youth is at risk when they are unable to get the training and jobs they need to improve their lives and develop a mature sense of self-worth. Instead of treating our fellow humans across the globe like second class citizens, let’s help them become productive members of society BEFORE they morph into enraged fanatics. Suicide is a desperate and (presumably) preventable act. Desperate people do desperate things; we all know that. Unfortunately, most of us who have reasonably happy and productive lives don’t pay enough attention to the “have-nots.” But terrorists have made sure those ignorance-is-bliss days are over…forever. (And wasn’t that their goal, after all?) We must focus on these long-ignored and disenfranchised groups of people—NOW.
What do I know about marginalized people, the way they suffer, and how they lash out in pain when their most basic needs are ignored? Glad you asked! Not only am I an American citizen born and raised in NYC who lived through 9/11, but I am also the mother of a young adult on the autistic spectrum. How does being a parent of a special needs child give me a deeper understanding of global terrorism? Children with disabilities like autism are marginalized and abandoned by society the moment they become young adults. My daughter Sarah has had the benefit of the best therapy and education available, along with parents who are ferocious advocates – yet still there are few to no jobs or opportunities for her here in New York City, one of the world’s richest cities in the wealthiest of nations.
Appropriate housing options are almost non-existent for Sarah and others with disabilities like hers. My daughter is on a waiting list that I’m told could take TEN years. In that case, Sarah will be 34 when she moves out of the family nest. Of course it would be ridiculous to suggest that my daughter is a potential jihad recruit for ISIS, but she has always dreamed of living independently, and we have done everything in our power to help her—along with many other parents who are struggling to help their sons and daughters lead productive lives. Shouldn’t Sarah be able to move forward toward an adult life (the way her neurotypical twin brother has done) instead of waiting on the sidelines for who-knows-how-long?
Thousands of frustrated parents like me are filling out mountains of paperwork, attending autism conferences, and town hall meetings. How could we NOT be angry and disappointed at the woefully inadequate resources that reflect the lack of compassion and understanding offered to the most vulnerable of all unemployed millennials? The unwelcome mat is everywhere we turn. Obviously I’m not planning to strap on a suicide vest, but I can’t help empathizing with the rage of the “have-nots” in ways I wouldn’t if I wasn’t Sarah’s mother. Special needs parents like me have a unique perspective. I’m one of the “haves.” Having a career, a home and a comfortable life for me and my family were never in doubt—until now. Henry and I are not going to live forever, and even if we were immortal, don’t the Sarahs of the world deserve to lead productive and independent lives? How long must young adults with disabilities wait to take their legitimate place in society and escape from being a “have-not?”
Sadly, the problem of marginalized adults on the autistic spectrum is about to increase exponentially. According to the most recent research results, the CDC just announced that 1 in 45 children—instead of 1 in 68—are being born on the autistic spectrum. Hopefully, bureaucrats and thought leaders will stop wasting time arguing over whether these frightening statistics are exaggerated, (due to better screening or changing criteria) and start thinking about how to accommodate all of these young people reaching adulthood. If we don’t invest in these young adults and find meaningful ways to include them in our society NOW, the disabled homeless population will continue to grow until one day a hopeless (and expensive) caliphate is scattered on our street corners as well as in (tax payer funded) institutions. Let’s remove the unwelcome mat for victims of violence, terror AND those born with an autistic spectrum disorder. Isn’t it time to exercise some compassion? Or would you rather consider the alternative? It’s never too late for the George Orwell world of 1984.