- Associated Press - Sunday, December 6, 2015

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - Lamia Rustom Dabit has lived in the United States for more than half of her life, but she still longs for the Syrian home from her childhood.

However, that home is no longer there.

Sitting in her home in Jackson that she shares with her husband, Sam, surrounded by ornate treasures collected from all over the world, Dabit’s eyes lit up on Nov. 23 when she talked about the life she once knew.

Baklava stacked high in the market, Sunday mornings spent in church, visiting with family and friends until 2 o’clock in the morning; that life is nothing but a memory now for Dabit.

A young newlywed, Dabit moved to the United States in 1964 with her Lebanese husband.

While Sam Dabit had lived in the U.S. for 10 years, his 18-year-old bride missed her home. They planned to return but their country was soon engulfed in war and the couple, now parents, decided to stay in Mississippi.

“We thought that we would be here for like three or four years and then go back and live in Syria or Lebanon, so we came here,” Lamia Dabit said. “The civil war started in Lebanon and we just kept saying maybe in a year, two years, four years, and we just stayed and we couldn’t go back.

Sam Dabit, a Palestinian refugee who came to the United States through Ellis Island, had built a successful clothing store in downtown Jackson and the family of two soon began to grow. Lamia Dabit gave birth to the couple’s four children: Jean, Sandra, John and Sam, named after his father.

The children each have college degrees, one with a Ph.D. and another set to graduate medical school in May.

“We always bring them up to live the right way,” Sam Dabit said. “Treat people the way you want to be treated, and that’s the way we were all brought up.”

Lamia Dabit said Mississippi is home for her children.

“It’s their hometown, and they love it. And things weren’t too settled in our country, and we thought we had, for the children’s sake, a better future here, more opportunities, a better life for them. And we got stuck in this country, which is a good country. It’s the best country, where there’s freedom.”

Three years after leaving Syria, Dabit became a U.S. citizen. Still, she would go and visit her homeland as often as she could, taking her children every summer.

“Every time I go, I get more attached to my country,” she said. “I want to stay.”

But Dabit hasn’t been able to go home in four years. The country she longs for is a memory.

“Now I’m scared,” she said. “I don’t mind to go, but I wouldn’t because of my family’s sake, my kids. What if something happens?”

Dabit would like to travel to Lebanon with her grandchildren to show them the life she remembers but “nowhere is safe anymore.”

Once Saddam Hussein toppled from power in Iraq, Dabit said members of ISIS flooded into Syria.

“Thousands of ISIS moved to Syria to fight,” she said. “They’re killing good innocent people. When they bomb everywhere, where do you think people can go? They want to run away. Children are so afraid. I have friends and their children, they don’t want to go to school anymore. They’re afraid to leave the house. And even if they stay in their homes, they don’t know when they bomb will explode.”

Dabit’s best friend was still living in Syria when the bombing began. She died of a heart attack. While she wasn’t killed in an attack, Dabit believes her friend died as a result of the war.

“She was my best friend. She was a good Muslim woman, believed in God. The bombings had started around her neighborhood, around her home, and she just had a heart attack. The people who don’t die from bombing, they die from heart attack. A lot of people.”

“We lived together in peace,” Dabit said. “We never knew that this is Muslim or this is a Christian. We all lived together, my best friends are Muslim, I used to trust them with everything, even with my money. We never had any problems. We never discussed religion. We never fought. We loved each other, we lived all like family. Since that ISIS started, it changed everything. People are still the same, good people and it’s not fair to label the Syrian people as terrorists. We didn’t have terrorists in Syria. The ISIS didn’t come from Syria.

“They destroyed the country, they destroy Syria. Not the Syrian people, the ISIS. And now everybody is fighting to get rid of the ISIS. Do you think only the ISIS are getting killed? No. Lots of innocent people. Do they think that the ISIS are staying in one area? No. They’re spilling everywhere all over Syria.”

Dabit concedes that there are “rotten apples” in any group but that Syrians aren’t terrorists. Referencing the suicide bomber in Paris who was found with a Syrian passport, she said, “They are not Syrian people, the ones doing terror attacks. The person who is going to kill himself, the suicide bomber, is not going to take his passport with him. Why should he take it? To go to hell with it? To get in hell?”

Most Syrians are “good, hardworking people, good Christian, good Muslim people,” Dabit said.

“They’re like saints; they’ll give you anything they have,” she said. “You visit people. If they don’t have anything, dry piece of bread, they give it to you. They’d rather feed the people than eat themselves, even if they can’t afford. They love each other. They love to see there. You won’t see it anywhere else. If you be good to them, they will be extra nice for the rest of their lives trying to pay you back, to be nicer. They want a safe life for themselves and their children.

“Most of them, when they come here, they’re decent people. They only want to make a decent living for their family,” Sam Dabit said. “I’m sure there is always a bad element everywhere you go. Whether you are Christian, Muslim, Buddhist - don’t make no difference. We cannot judge the people because of their religion. You judge them because of their character, what they have in the past, their history. The majority, the Syrian people, we’ve never been involved with anybody but decent people, educated, never have any problem.

Dabit said she wishes Americans and other countries would see Syria as she sees it: a war-torn country full of loving people struggling to survive. However, she’d doubtful public opinion will change without one-on-one interaction.

“I don’t know if I can convince people because some people … they won’t change their mind about anything unless they see them and they socialize with them, then they will know what kind of people they are,” she said. “The majority of people are very goodhearted, sweet, believe in God, believe in helping each other, satisfied with their lives, easygoing, anything pleases them. If you’re nice to them, they try to be extra nice to you. They give and return. They show emotion by doing things, not just by talking.”

___

Information from: The Clarion-Ledger, http://www.clarionledger.com

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