By Michael Hernandez
WASHINGTON (AA) - He may be better known as a plotting CIA spymaster, but F. Murray Abraham hopes he can also be known as the son of a refugee who fled Syria nearly a century ago.
“I’d like the people of America to wake up to the idea that Syrians are not their enemies,” Abraham told Anadolu Agency. “They are human beings who need some help.”
Abraham, who drew acclaim for his Academy Award-winning role in the 1984 film Amadeus and now stars in Homeland on the cable television station Showtime, can all too well identify with the misery that those living through Syria’s more than five-year-old conflict are going through.
His father, Frederick Abraham, an Orthodox Christian Syrian, fled the country during the famine of the 1920s and settled in the U.S. While he shirked away from sharing the details that led to his exodus, Abraham's father consistently voiced his appreciation for the country that gave him refuge -- a sentiment Abraham believes would be replicated in those who the U.S. admits.
While the U.S. leads the world in refugee resettlement, its response to Syria’s humanitarian catastrophe has lagged behind the country's saddening realities.
For nearly two years, Syria has been the largest source country for refugees, outpacing Afghanistan, which held the title for more than three decades, according to the UN’s refugee agency.
Roughly one in four refugees now come from Syria.
President Barack Obama pledged last year to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees by the start of October, but so far only about 2,000 have been accepted, casting doubts on the U.S.’s ability to meet that pledge.
“I’d like the U.S. to open its doors to these people, because the vetting system in America is tougher than any in the world,” Abraham said.
While the Obama administration may be seeking to increase its response to the crisis, however uncertainly, this year’s race for the White House has laid bare opposition to such efforts.
In fact, it is the presumptive Republican presidential nominee who proposed that the U.S. should bar all Muslims from U.S. entry, in part, because of the Syrian exodus and terrorism fears following attacks in California, and Paris.
Donald Trump may have backtracked on his plan, recently saying it was “just a suggestion”, but 31 governors have vowed to fight efforts to resettle Syrian refugees in their states.
“Syrians are not terrorists. My relatives are not terrorists,” Abraham said, stressing that institutions and individuals across the U.S., including the Orthodox Church and his family, are ready to receive those fleeing the conflict and help them make new lives in the U.S.
Refugees “would not be a burden”, Abraham insists.
That’s a far cry from those governors and presidential candidates who have not only said refugees would be an economic burden, but would pose security risks.
For the actor, communications with his relatives still in Syria has been inconsistent, often consisting of messages that make their way to Abraham through other individuals.
That hasn’t been easy.
“If it would make any difference, I would do anything,” he says when asked if he would go to Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan, which are hosting the bulk of Syria’s asylum seekers, to highlight the suffering of those fleeing the war-torn nation.
Still, he maintains that “you don’t have to be a little famous because of some television show to be able to open your mouth and say ‘this is the right thing to do -- everyone can do it.’”
There’s no doubt that his father’s legacy, and his Syrian heritage, play prominently in the actor’s desire to see the U.S., and the world, change their approach to those fleeing violence, poverty and suffering.
“I think the whole world has to rethink their sense of humanity, their idea of what it is that we are on this Earth for,” he said. “I think they’ve forgotten that we really are all human beings. It sounds like an old impossible chore, a dream really, but that’s the truth,” he added.