Of Middle Eastern Appearance: Innocent Unless Born Guilty


There’s never been a worse time to be of Middle Eastern appearance. I should know; I carry all the physical trademarks of the region — black hair, brown eyes, olive skin, and the heartbreak of a region swamped in blood and mired in conflict.

My features are those of ancient civilizations who built awe-inspiring structures and who travelled the seas on remarkable vessels. My features are those of a pitiful race now reduced to living amidst rubble and drowning horrifically in boats.

My features are those of a people who mourn the loss of their homes, their historical artifacts, their family’s lives, their hope for a good future.

My features are those of Assyrians, Syrians, Iraqis, Yazidis, Kurds, Afghanis, Egyptians, Libyans. The list of our nationalities is long. The list of our dead is longer.

My features are those of the undesirables. In the global community, we have become the unwanted. Very few people want us; nobody wants to be us.

Thousands of our people are leaving their homes daily, undertaking perilous journeys in an attempt to seek shelter and refuge in European nations. Borders are being shut and desperate refugees being turned away.

At the time of writing, the UNHCR has estimated that over 180, 000 people have arrived by boat in Greece and Italy alone. 1,261 people are either dead or missing.

My own country, Australia, has agreed to take in only 12,000 additional refugees. So far, only slightly more than 100 refugees have been settled.

The contributions of other Asia-Pacific countries are more pitiful. In 2014, Japan accepted 11 out of 5,000 refugee applications made to its country.

For the West, it is a ‘migrant crisis’. For the Middle East, it is living hell.

Our language, spoken innocently on an airplane, strikes fear in the hearts of those nearby and conjures images of gruesome terrorist attacks. It was apparently a justification for having 26-year old Khairuldeen Makhzoomi removed off a flight from Los Angeles.

Our hair, whether covered or uncovered, is enough to warrant a second concerned glance in public.

Our travel is now being subject to more stringent visa applications. Earlier this year, the US implemented policies that would see dual citizens, or the children of dual citizens from the countries of Iran, Iraq, Syria and Sudan fail to qualify for the US ESTA visa waiver program.

To the US, you are innocent unless born guilty. And we are guilty.

We have become severed from the land on which we have built our homes, and are being denied the opportunity to build others elsewhere. Our presence makes other nationalities uneasy, regardless of the fact that we ourselves have suffered more at the hands of fundamentalist terrorists than any Western nations.

We have become nomads — our country behind us, and unwelcoming countries ahead.

Perhaps it is better just to die. In death at least, our people will have found somewhere permanent to sleep.

I fear there will never be a good time to be of Middle Eastern appearance again.


Bernadette Anvia is currently studying her Masters of Media at the University of Sydney, and holds a Bachelor of International and Global Studies (Honours). She is a politics and pop culture nerd, and can be found on Twitter @BAnvia.