Yesterday I attended the event ‘A Helping Hand: How to Support Syrians’ organized by the Middle Eastern Student Center. The event was a presentation by the UCR Ph.D. candidate and activist Loubna Qutami as a part of the ‘In the Spirit of Syria Week’. Qutami was speaking about some of her experiences when she was working in the Greek refugee camp Moria and started with a couple anecdotes to warm up the audience. After this she did an interesting and thorough presentation on some of the struggles refugees and refugee camps in Europe are facing right now.
When I was listening to Qutami I couldn’t help but to think about Müller and his focus on language as something that drives and forms human beings. Qutami speaks Arabic, which meant that one of her most important jobs at Moria was as a translator. In the situations she told us about, language – both body and verbal – was the one component that made the whole difference. If a service worker and a refugee didn’t understand each other, in the end, this could be a question of life or death. This exemplifies how tremendous the role of language is to people and how important it is for us to try and understand and communicate with each other in difficult situations like the ones occurring on a daily basis in refugee camps around the world.
If I were to study the life or ‘science’ of refugees in European refugee camps, I would find it necessary to learn the languages of the people I would encounter. Unlike contemporary scholars like Tylor, this was exactly what Müller did when he was studying and comparing religions, and I think his example is one to follow. I don’t, however, think that we should try to apply methods of historical- and empirical science to the study of refugees and refugee camps. Religion is already a sensitive matter to many and, in my opinion, it would be taking it to the extreme if we were to study the lives of refugees with all the trauma and distress it involves just to develop universal theories ‘in the name of science’ – like Müller wanted to accomplish with the origin of religions.