Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams visited the Nizip refugee camp during his visit in Turkey. Pointing to the need for trans-Atlantic solidarity, he highlighted an interfaith call for global peace and tolerance
Last week, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams visited the Nizip refugee camp in southern Gaziantep province, 40 miles from the Syrian border, to spread the message that refugees should be welcomed into the United States instead of shutting them out like the Republican polls have demanded. Adams made a visit to the refugee families living in tents and school girls living in classrooms to donate clothing items as well as deliver holiday greetings from students at the PS 133 William A. Butler in Park Slope. Adams and the students held up one finger to symbolize the philosophy of one world in the pursuit of peace.
Adams previously met with the mayors of two districts of Istanbul, Beşiktaş and Üsküdar, to sign a sister city agreement with Brooklyn. The discussions included efforts on educational collaboration and the fight against radicalization, as well as the concept of developing relationships between young people of different cultures through digital platforms. This week on Monday, Adams issued an interfaith call for global peace and tolerance at the lighting of Brooklyn Borough Hall's Christmas tree. Joined by dozens of local clergy members and caring Brooklynites, he reflected on his overseas experience and the shared responsibility for embracing the victims of war, particularly during the holiday season. Adams also offered words of celebration for the season with Brooklyn Parks Commissioner Kevin Jeffrey and members of the Brooklyn Conservatory Chorale, who are expected to perform a selection of holiday songs. Daily Sabah sat down in an interview with Adams to talk about his experience in refugee camps.
Daily Sabah: You visited the Nizip refugee camp in Turkey. What made you want to make this visit to the refugee schools and families?
Eric Adams: I think there were two purposes. The first one being that Nizip was the closest refugee camp we could have visited near the border. The second was to really send a message that we're not going to allow fear to drive us. We wanted to see as up-close as possible the transition that the families were making. I have one of the largest Turkish populations in the U.S. living in Brooklyn and it is important to me that they understand the reason why I was willing to come back to Turkey just a few months after my previous visit, to really understand the crisis this country is facing. This visit has far exceeded my expectations and I saw during my time there that Turkey has gone beyond the call of duty to ensure that families receive as much humanitarian assistance as possible regarding education of children while also ensuring that the families are in a clean environment and making a smooth transition into the Turkish lifestyle. The best sentence to explain the reason we came would be, "did they get it?" And we found that yes, they get it. They understand that we cannot leave a large number of people wandering in the wilderness to be embraced by radical thinking and we cannot just kick this problem down the road. I wanted to see this problem first hand and to articulate it in America. It is one thing for the president of the United States and the prime minister to say it and a whole other thing for local leaders to embrace it and convey it to their constituents on a local level. Local leaders set the tone that moves national conversation. You cannot be a global changer if you are a domestic traveler. This is why I went beyond the boundaries of Brooklyn, the fourth largest city in the most important country called America.
DS: What were your expectations for this visit? Were these expectations met? What are some of the things you encountered during the visit?
EA: It was a life-changing visit. To be honest, I really didn't know what to expect. When I think of a refugee camp, I think of some of the places I saw in South Africa where the people live in shanty towns, or the incidents I witnessed when I was in Lebanon where the Hezbollah camps are, or down in Israel where the Palestinians where living. These were the images that came into my mind before my visit but it was so much more different. I saw here a very caring compassionate body of people that identified with the Syrian refugees - or visitors, as they prefer to call them - treating them as their fellow mankind. I really think they are sending a message of what the European countries should be doing as well as America. Turkey cannot continue to carry this burden on its own, it's not fair. I don't think history will be kind to us if it shows that during this great forced migration that we stood back and ignored the humanity that was needed and said "let Turkey handle this." This is not a Turkish issue, this is an American issue, a European issue, a humankind issue. We all need to make our mark, so that when history looks back on this we can see that we had a role and not just sit on the sideline and watch someone else play a role. This issue can bankrupt this country if other countries do not play a more aggressive role. In general the trip far exceeded my expectations. If I were thrown out of America, I would like that type of condition to live in to rebuild my country and my life. We cannot ignore this problem and sit in the comfort of our homes while so many people are in discomfort. I am extremely proud, as it is my fourth time in Turkey and I have played an active role in the Turkish community because I live in a diverse borough. I have long called the Turkish people my friends and rarely do you get an opportunity to see if you're friends are who they say they are. During this trip I was able to see who my friends say they are; they're kind, caring and compassionate.
DS: You said, "If we allow them [the refugees] in and allow them to learn our standard of living, instead of hating Americans they will embrace Americans." In this context, how do you think this plan will proceed with the current situation faced by Muslims in the U.S. and refugees in general?
One of the most important things we have to do in America is always set the narrative, the conversation. The narrative is impacted not only by what people say but what people see. The narrative in America is now a very dangerous one. You have the dangerous buffoonery of Donald Trump and many people who are running for president. They are running for president in one of the most diverse countries on the globe, with an historic track record of taking people in. We are great in America because of our hyphen. The hyphen is what makes us great. When you come to America you don't become an American, you become an Irish-American, an African-American, a Chinese-American. When you take away that hyphen you lose your individuality and respect for your traditions and your culture. The Donald Trumps of America, and the 35 percent of people who support the campaign, have forgotten the fact that all of us are, in fact, hyphened. There is no true, blue-blooded American except for our indigenous Indians. Everyone else, including Donald Trump, is a hyphen. For him to state that certain hyphens are unacceptable for our Muslims and Syrians, he is going against the tradition of America. His verbal language is extremely harmful and dangerous, and then we have the visual. This could not have come at a worst time, when you have the assault in California. The visual of woman in hijab is now becoming the symbol of hate. In a country that there is a tradition of disgarding your principles in the face of fear, if we don't get in and change that narrative and have real conversations about how one woman is not a representative of Islam just as Timothy McVeigh is not a representative of Christianity, we are in a very dangerous place and we will see very dangerous things happen to very innocent people. I want to be a part of changing this narrative and bringing people to the understanding that this is an extremely important pivotal period for our generation. Each generation has symbolized courage, but courage has been known to skip a generation and I do not want it to skip my own generation.
DS: Earlier this year you met with the mayors of the Beşiktaş and Üsküdar districts of Istanbul to sign a sister city agreement with Brooklyn. What do you think agreements like this represent and what kinds of ties do these agreements create between the cities?
I think it is appropriate to use the word sister city because brothers are always fighting. Sisters have the ability to heal. My team and I realized when we went to the refugee camp, that if you were to close your eyes and listen to the children talking you would be able to hear the shy child, the outward child and the playful child. You would be able to see that these children are no different than the children in Brooklyn, Belgium or Paris because children are the same all over the globe. Children leave their mother's womb with the desire to be a part of the world and find their purpose on the planet. I believe that the sister cities should use their relationships to continue to encourage this theme that I call, "One Brooklyn," but it is actually One Globe. We want to be citizens of the globe. By using sister cities we can use technology to allow children in classrooms to see each other and to realize that they both like Jay-Z, that they both hate going to school early in the morning and to realize that they both like fast food. Then, you begin to see that we are all the same and because we live in these physical and emotional silos and face these imaginary walls because we speak different languages, we are in fact the same. We all want the same thing, to create a healthy environment where we can raise healthy children and families. I could not have had a better group of partners than the mayors of both Beşiktaş and Üsküdar. We have developed a very strong relationship and they understand my passion and I understand theirs. We want to use these sister city agreements to do what national governments are unable to do and that is to create relationships.
DS: You visited Antalya for the World Tourism Forum this past week and talked about the growing tourism industry. How was your trip? Do you think Antalya has the potential to be one of the crucial tourism centers of the Middle East?
Antalya is a beautiful city, I was extremely impressed and I look forward to visiting the city again. The accommodations were great and I see great potential for Antalya. Again, we see national politics getting in the way of local opportunities, with the incident that took place with the airplane and the pilot. In my opinion, two wrongs were committed; the first being, we should never violate the air space of a sovereign country and the second being, we should exhaust all measures before we decide to take down a plane. I think both sides can learn from this experience but we should not allow the Russian tourists who enjoy being at Antalya to be denied that privilege because of national policies. We should not allow the economy of Antalya to be impacted by a national decision. This goes back to my belief that local governments must be part of the policies of national governments. Antalya is a beautiful location, the hotel was beautiful and it was the right city to choose for the recent visit of Obama. I'm glad that the president of the United States wanted to use the same location as the president of Brooklyn.
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