PRINCETON, NJ – While most other millennials spent Sunday afternoon at a movie, or shopping, Sara Ali, 21, had a different kind of date this week.
She was preparing to fight a battle of ideas with the establishment, calling out Gov. Chris Christie for comments made earlier in the week about not taking in Syrian refugees.
In a radio interview last Tuesday, Christie said that, as governor, he would not allow the refugees into New Jersey, even 3-year-old “orphans.”
"Gov. Chris Christie made some comments on the radio about not accepting Syrian refugees, and that was appalling," Ali, a 2012 South Brunswick High School graduate, said. "We want to get together and show people that he doesn't speak for us."
Her answer was to spend Sunday afternoon with around 45 other people demonstrating in front of the Governor’s Mansion, Drumthwacket, in Princeton.
Hundreds of thousands of Syrians have fled the bloodshed in that country’s civil war.
Many tens of thousands have reportedly been killed at the hands of either Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s troops or Islamic extremists from ISIS, a terrorist organization that gained a foothold in the war-torn nation due to the power vacuum created during the war with rebels seeking Assad’s ouster.
As the refugees flood the borders of European countries that will take them in, U.S. President Barack Obama has said America would accept some 10,000 over time.
Christie, a Republican, joined more than a dozen other GOP governors who said they would not accept any of the refugees in their respective states.
Part of the reason, Christie and others have said, is the fear that ISIS would “embed” terrorists among those fleeing Syria for other countries.
Obama, although not by name, chided Christie’s comments earlier in the week and said the governors would not have a choice because decisions regarding the number of refugees allowed in the country fall under federal purview.
Seeing the plight of these displaced people brought Ali, who volunteers with the Central New Jersey Democratic Socialists, to help organize Sunday’s rally.
"We can't stand by and let them get massacred in this way," she said. "It's not the right thing to do."
Ali and fellow organizer Russell Weiss-Irwin said that they realized that Christie, who is campaigning for President, would not be at the residence, but that it was important to have their voices heard.
"It's for publicity mostly," she said. "We want people to know this is not how the people of New Jersey (would handle this), it's not how we act."
Ali, who was brought up as a Muslim, but said she is now an atheist, said she realizes her fortune living in a town like Princeton and being able to pay her bills as compared to the refugees and the very different reality they fled from.
"It's not fair that I can live comfortably and have money for rent and food, while others don't have a home to live in or money to feed their children," she said. "I am privileged and do have a lot, and that's why I'm doing this."
When asked about the concerns of Christie and the other governors that ISIS could put terrorists in the midst of the refugees, Ali said it was probably not a large threat.
"It is a concern," Ali said. "But if you look at the facts and the numbers, (ISIS terrorists) are killing Muslims more than any other group."
She said that the technology used by ISIS makes it easier to carry out its attacks in other ways rather than relying on the difficult process faced by Syrian refugees trying to enter other countries in the world.
When asked if the administration of President Barack Obama had any culpability in the present Syrian refugee crisis, by not stepping in during the early part of that country's civil war, Ali said that it would have been hard to see the rise of ISIS at that time.
"I don't think anyone would have seen this coming on this big of a scale," Ali said. "The United States did have a role in the destabilization of the Middle East in general with the Iraq War."
She did say that other Arab nations should do more to help the refugees and take in a share of the fleeing masses.
"It's pathetic and disgusting that (other Arab nations) are not doing anything to help," Ali said. "They have the resources."
Ali said that Islam, as a religion, is not the cause of the terrorism extremist groups like ISIS carry out.
"Islam does not teach you to kill everyone who doesn't believe (as you do)," Ali said.
When asked if there is more Muslims throughout the world could do to combat the impression that they all harbor the same ideas as the extremists, Ali said there is only so much that can be done by condemning the violent acts, especially against an enemy that has more arms and resources than the average Muslim.
"People (that) have bombs and guns versus people who are just trying to get by in a world that is already trying to make them out as terrorists," she said. "It's very difficult."
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