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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 15 December 2018

Compassion shown to a Syrian teenager could be catalyst for change

Donations pouring in for bullied 15-year-old restore faith in humanity

Almondbury Community School in Huddersfield where 15-year-old Syrian refugee Jamal was bullied. Danny Lawson / PA via AP
Almondbury Community School in Huddersfield where 15-year-old Syrian refugee Jamal was bullied. Danny Lawson / PA via AP

As Britons nervously anticipate the outcome of a Brexit process launched on a wave of anti-migrant scaremongering, they were yesterday forced to contemplate another consequence of incitement to hatred, played out in shameful scenes in a school playground. Footage of 15-year-old Jamal from Syria, who was bullied at a school in the north of England, cast a harsh spotlight on the reality of everyday life for refugees attempting to build new lives in strange lands. Social media is often castigated for the harm it causes but by putting a human face to the plight of refugees, the viral footage could prove to be a catalyst for a change in attitudes. Thousands responded with compassion, condemning the outrage and donating more than $36,000 in 24 hours to an online fundraising appeal for Jamal’s family.

In the footage, Jamal was sporting a broken arm in a case, apparently from a previous attack. His sister had her glasses smashed by bullies and had attempted to take her own life. Yet they are the “lucky” ones. Having escaped the nightmare of war and the squalor of refugee camps, they had to confront the ugly face of racism, fostered in teenagers barely older than themselves. Many of the 10,000 Syrians taken in by the UK – a fraction of the number resettled in other European countries – have found a welcome in their new communities. Among them are 24 Syrian families resettled in Bute, an archipelago off the west coast of Scotland in the Firth of Clyde. After an initially frosty reception, they have been embraced fully into the fold.

But resettlement has been uneven; so have attitudes. The moral culpability for this act does not lie with Jamal's tormentor alone. No child is born with hate in their souls. They learn it from their parents, their communities and their peers, who are, in turn, infected by the propaganda of politicians looking to demonise “the other”. Jamal said he was "ashamed" by the footage. It is those who seek to propagate such hatred who should feel shame when faced with the kindness of his benefactors.