First we walked through a beaten muddy path to get to the border of San Diego, Calif., and Tijuana, Mexico, then suddenly the path opened up to this beautiful, vast ocean. An ocean that bears witness to the lie that the earth hasn’t enough resources for the people of this world to sufficiently share. It captures your eye with its beauty and a sign that reads Friendship Park.
But just as you are taken aback by its beauty, you are internally antagonized by the stories of the migrants who drowned in those waters or were shot down at its shores. You turn left toward Tijuana to be confronted with a horrific, rusty wall and barbed wire fences. In front of it are heavily armed troops, and behind it are desperate populations of people who have had their lives destroyed and are constantly dehumanized.
As we confronted the troops at the border, a young man from the Mexico side, seemingly moved by the outpouring of love from our side, picked up a stone and threw it. The troops responded by shouting through their walkie-talkies as if an army had just attacked them from Mexico requiring immediate action. We wondered if these troops might take out their frustration with our protest on the people we were protesting for, and blame us for the aftermath. The people on the other side had already been tear-gassed before. And before the tear gas hit them, they were already suffocating. Not by bullets or weapons, but by a world unwilling to hear them.
With all the news coverage of the caravan, when’s the last time you’ve heard from the asylum-seekers themselves? The stories of desperation that led them to risk their lives to make it to the door of a nation unwilling to hear them, though this nation has in many ways contributed to the conditions that led to them to this point.
And yes, throwing tear gas grenades on crowds of largely peaceful migrants in response to four agents supposedly being hit by rocks is disproportionate. The response is in violation of international human rights law, and it shows disregard for the humanity of those people. But we rarely hear firsthand accounts from the people in those images who horrify our conscience.
And when the images depart from our screens, the conditions that forced those people to become part of those images will remain. Unless we resist. Not just the clouds of tear gas or the rusty walls. But the clouds of suspicion that hover over them, and the walls of hate that trap them.
Last week, AP writer Todd Pitman published the names and stirring images of some of the 10,000 Palestinian protesters wounded in the Gaza march. Brett Gundlock, a Canadian documentary photographer, has been regularly publishing personal photos and stories of the migrants who eventually formed the much-demonized caravan. It’s efforts like these that lift the most important voices that need to be heard in these conversations.
While the shouting of President Donald Trump in the Oval Office at Sen. Chuck Schumer is what will garner the most attention, the shouting of the children at the border must not be drowned out. Their stories, their faces, their horror, and their voices. And while we lift those voices, we need to continue soul-searching, as a country and as a world, about how dangerous our divisions have become to us all.
Imam Omar Suleiman is an American Muslim scholar and human rights activist. He is the founder and president of the Yaqeen Institute for Islamic Research and a professor of Islamic Studies at Southern Methodist University. He wrote this column for The Dallas Morning News.