17. November 2015 · Comments Off on Understanding the Syrian Refugee Crisis: A Collection of Links · Categories: Current News · Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

As debates rage on social media, at dinner parties, and in official government offices about what to do (or not do) regarding Syrian refugees in the wake of attacks in Paris and Beirut, a lot of misinformation, bias, fear, and ignorance clouds the discussion. While a lot of the back-and-forth is largely pointless, I believe there’s some potential for people to correct misconceptions. I really have to believe that, as a journalist and a teacher, or I might as well quit my life’s work. So in that spirit, I’ve compiled a collection of links that are helpful to understanding the situation and clearing up misinformation — and hopefully cutting through the fear that blinds many people. Especially if you’ve been sent here from someone else, please try to read all these articles and to do so with an open mind. If you have other suggestions of articles to add, leave them in the comments and I’ll update the post.

First, to understand why I’m writing this post, the Washington Post reports on the US state governors stating they will not accept refugees (although the legality of those statements is in question — it doesn’t seem they can refuse refugees): Governors rush to slam door on Syrian refugees.

This screenshot of a WSJ story about the famous image of the drowned Syrian toddler has been edited to remove the advertisements and the other stories featured below the masthead.

This screenshot of a WSJ story about the famous image of the drowned Syrian toddler has been edited to remove the advertisements and the other stories featured below the masthead.

Next, given how much misinformation is out there about Syrian refugees, FactCheck has done an excellent and thorough job of clarifying any misconceptions: Stretching Facts on Syrian Refugees.

For those who have forgotten about current reality for Syrian refugees, here’s a refresher from the Guardian: Shocking images of drowned Syrian boy show tragic plight of refugees. It’s worth taking note, as the Washington Post reports, that the image is already being used as propaganda among terrorists: Islamic State uses image of drowned Syrian toddler as warning to would-be refugees.

If that image is insufficient, or you’ve already become desensitized to it, check out these arresting images of Syrian children at BuzzFeed: Powerful Images Showing Where Young Syrian Refugees Sleep.

A lot of people are concerned about how much — if at all — Syrian refugees and other refugees are vetted before being allowed to arrive or remain in the US, CNN has a great explainer on the process. The Week has a brief blurb on it, drawing from the Politifact post that assessed Jeb Bush’s statement, “It takes almost a year for a refugee to be processed in the United States.”

Also, have you heard the argument that the Boston Marathon bombers, Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, were refugees? That’s incorrect: The Boston Bombers Were Not Refugees — Neither Was the Paris Attacker. If you want to better understand what the terrorism risks in the US actually are, this piece from BuzzFeed does a great job of compiling the data: 5 Charts That Show What Terrorism In America Looks Like.

If you have concerns about US national security, especially regarding Syrians’ presence in the US, this link will help familiarize you with the risks. From the Niskanen Center: Six Reasons to Welcome Syrian Refugees After Paris.

Along the same vein, overreacting to the terror attacks could actually hasten success for ISIS/Daesh, as Ezra Klein discusses in Vox: ISIS can only succeed if we overreact — so we shouldn’t.

Relatedly, some people have claimed that the attacks in Paris were Syrian refugees or were posing as them. In reality, all the attackers have been found to be European Union nationals, mostly French or Belgian. There was a Syrian passport found near one of the suicide bombers, which leads to the question of why a suicide bomber who believes in the Islamic “State” would carry a Syrian passport unless he wanted it to be found. Regardless, the same passport was found on a different man in Turkey, impliying that both are probably fake.

If Westerners turn their fear of terrorism into hatred or simply rejection of refugees, that pretty much delivers what the terrorists want, as discussed in this from the Washington Post: The Islamic State wants you to hate refugees.

Many individuals have drawn comparisons between turning away Syrian refugees and turning away European Jewish refugees in the mid- and late 1930s, during the lead-up to World War II. David Bier, the Director of Immigration Policy at Niskanen Center, discussed exactly that comparison — last month, before the Paris attacks: What the Holocaust Can Teach Us About the Syrian Refugee Crisis.

If you’re concerned about terrorists already in the US — and you should be since their existence is more likely — then you might want to be concerned about how easy it is for them to get firearms too. At the Washington Post: From 2004 to 2014, over 2,000 terror suspects legally purchased guns in the United States. You can also get some stats on the risk of terrorism here.

Meanwhile, a college friend of mine in Paris writes about the very real danger that the fear and PTSD in Paris can provoke: Panic in Paris: Variety Journalists, Nearly Trampled, Describe Their Ordeal.

And what does all this fear get us? Perfectly ordinary people on planes here in the US getting kicked off… for reading the news: Police: ‘Suspicious activity’ on Chicago-bound plane was just someone watching news on phone.

Finally, the Twitter account Historical Opinion has provided several former polls of attitudes toward Jewish refugees leading up to and during World War II. The science of polling was not nearly as precise then as it is now, so it’s uncertain how representative these are, but their general sentiment matches up with historical accounts of the attitudes of the times and with editorials and editorial cartoons. I’ve posted screenshots to two tweets below.

Screenshot 2015-11-17 14.47.42

Screenshot 2015-11-17 14.48.28


27. May 2014 · Comments Off on The non-links involving mental illness, autism and violence · Categories: Current News, Mental Health and Illness · Tags: , , , , , , ,

Learn. Repeat. Share.

1) Asperger’s is not a mental illness. It is a developmental disability.

2) Asperger’s is not associated with violence. At all. In any way. In fact, someone with Asperger’s is far *less* likely to commit a violent crime than someone without it.

3) A person who commits mass murder is not automatically/by default mentally ill (much as some might wish it so).

4) The mentally ill are many times more likely to be a victim of a violent crime than a perpetrator.

5) Drawing spurious armchair-diagnosing conclusions about a person’s mental health and his or her violent acts, without evidence, harms the mentally ill.

Added, per Liz Ditz‘s edits: Persons with developmental disabilities are more likely to be the VICTIM of a crime than a perpetrator. And drawing spurious armchair-diagnosing conclusions about a person’s developmental status and his or her violent acts harms those with developmental disabilities.

“All features that characterize Asperger’s syndrome can be found in varying degrees in normal population.” – Lorna Wing, 1981, a quote provided by Steve Silberman


In addition to worrying about our children’s health and making the right decisions with regards to ear infections and vaccines and sleep and the such, we parents obviously have a pretty hefty responsibility in teaching our children how to think about the world and other people in it. That includes helping them understand, interact with and think about people who are different from them, including differences in physical health, mental health and developmental disabilities, such as having autism.

When tragedies occur, we must also help children process the event and provide them with the appropriate lenses through which to see the incident, if not understand it since such things are rarely truly “understood.” It is absolutely essential that in doing these two things, we do not allow our children to absorb inaccurate and damaging ideas, propagated by an irresponsible media machine and blogosphere as well as countless Internet comments, about links between those disabilities and such violent acts when no evidence exists for such a link.

Following the Newtown shootings, and now following this most recent shooting in Santa Barbara, the news has been contaminated with spurious connections between the shootings and the mental and/or developmental status of the shooter. The former can certainly be relevant when kept in context and when confirmed (rather than springing from dozens of online amateur armchair-diagnosing). The latter is irrelevant.

There were reports that Adam Lanza, the Newtown shooter, had Asperger’s, which no longer “officially” exists in the new DSM-5 but is considered on the spectrum of autism disorders. That diagnosis has since been legitimately questioned, but even if true, it is not relevant to his committing a crime. Now the Santa Barbara shooter has been supposedly labeled with Asperger’s by his family’s attorney, who then retracted the statement and then clarified in an LA Times story: “Astaire said Elliot had not been diagnosed with Asperger’s but the family suspected he was on the spectrum, and had been in therapy for years. He said he knew of no other mental illnesses, but Elliot truly had no friends, as he said in his videos and writings.”

1010592_495724187166238_435361941_nNote that the writer here erroneously wrote “no other mental illnesses,” as though Asperger’s were a mental illness. It’s not. Further, any news articles which speculate on Elliot Rodger’s mental health history would be violating the new guidelines issued by the Associated Press following the Newtown shooting. Such speculation, as that link explains, is further stigmatizing and damaging to those with mental illness, who happen to commit only about 4% of all violent crimes. That speculation is also damaging and stigmatizing to those with developmental disabilities, such as autism, when the developmental disorder is inappropriately linked to violent crimes.

As I wrote above and on my Facebook timeline, Asperger’s and/or autism spectrum disorders are NOT mental illnesses. They are also NOT linked to violence. Mental illness itself is NOT linked to violent crime in and of itself. That does not mean we should ignore the mental health status of mass shooters, nor does it mean we do not need better mental health services in this country (we do), but we should also pay attention to the only common denominator that IS evident in these incidents – that they are carried out with the same instruments. For example, the presence of a gun in the home greatly increases the risk of a violent death in that home. Hence my involvement with Parents Against Gun Violence.

Folks with much more knowledge and information that I have on this topic have already written about it at length, so I’ve provided below some essential reading when it comes to the intersection (or lack thereof) of mental illness, autism and violence. Emily Willingham, in particular, has written some of the best pieces on this, including this, just days before the Santa Barbara shooting:

“Evidence-based studies examining established commonalities among people who commit crimes like this can be enlightening, but wild speculation and retrospective diagnosing do nothing useful and can cause considerable harm to law-abiding people who carry any of these labels, whether autism, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or others that have been suggested. Autistic people are people, and like other people, some tiny percentage of them can engage in violent behaviors, although overall, they “almost never” target anyone outside their families, plan the violence, or use weapons. There is no single or even group of diagnoses that explains or predicts the horrific behavior of mass murderers. And some unsupported assumptions about autism–such as the continued canard that autistic people lack empathy (they do not)–help no one and certainly don’t guide us to way to prevent such tragedies.”

A similar piece about the same irresponsible study is by an autistic disability rights activist.

The same activist also discusses the inappropriateness of linking the Santa Barbara shooting with Asperger’s or autism.

Dr. Willingham discusses the inaccurate beliefs that autistics do not have empathy and that they are dangerous.

An excellent piece from a father about many of the misunderstandings about Asperger’s.



The disabled, including autistics, are more likely to be the victim of sexual assault than the non-disabled.

This study shows that those with autism spectrum disorders and/or obsessive compulsive disorder are less likely to commit a violent crime than typically developing individuals.

A statement from the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee at the US Department of Health and Human Services: “There is no scientific evidence linking ASD with homicides or other violent crimes. In fact, studies of court records suggest that people with autism are less likely to engage in criminal behavior of any kind compared with the general population, and people with Asperger syndrome, specifically, are not convicted of crimes at higher rates than the general population (Ghaziuddin et al., 1991, Mouridsen et al., 2008, Mouridsen, 2012).”

This excellent fact sheet provides the evidence for the following statements:

  • The vast majority of people with mental illness are not violent.
  • The public is misinformed about the link between mental illness and violence.
  • Inaccurate beliefs about mental illness and violence lead to widespread stigma and discrimination
  • The link between mental illness and violence is promoted by the entertainment and news media.

Other facts available at the Twitter hashtag #autismfacts.

A version of this post also appears at Red Wine & Apple Sauce and on the Parents Against Gun Violence blog.