What This Meme Gets Completely Wrong About the Syrian War

April 15th 2017

Lita Martinez

A right-wing meme has been circulating in some corners of the internet that makes an unusual comparison between the Syrian conflict and one of the European theaters of World War II.

It shows a woman drinking tea in the rubble of a collapsed building — presumably in London — after a Nazi air strike during the Blitz.

The "drinking tea" part of the image is an apparent play on the Kermit drinking tea meme, which became popular in 2014.

The meme has already made the rounds on image boards like 4chan and Twitter, though it appears to have gotten its start from an Australian right-wing page called Free Speech Productions, which has posted many more blatantly Islamophobic and anti-refugee memes.

But when a British Twitter user reposted it last week, others quickly jumped in to point out what was wrong with the comparison:

The meme plays on a common historical narrative that celebrates the resiliency of those who lived through the onslaught, which is evoked in a similar meme:

However, as some historians argue, that trope doesn't tell the full story about the people who survived a devastating act of war. According to observers with the anthropological project known as Mass-Observation, scores of people in blitzed areas actually reported feeling despondent and hopeless — a far stretch from the propaganda campaign imploring them to "Keep Calm and Carry On." 

And it's not hard to imagine why, considering that the Nazi air campaign killed over 40,000 people, destroyed countless homes, and caused tremendous damage to British infrastructure. Millions of Britons were evacuated from urban areas, starting with Operation Pied Piper — though the majority of evacuees were children, which tore many families apart. The United Nations would classify them today as  internally displaced people.

Some British children were sent overseas to other parts of the British Empire in the early days of the war, but international travel became increasingly prohibitive — and dangerous — as the war progressed. 

Other users weighed in to point out another double standard: 

According to data from the United Nations High Council on Refugees, most Syrian refugees end up in other countries throughout the Middle East, with nearly half of them going to Turkey, while Germany has resettled 450,000 of them — the most of out of any other country in Europe. The United Kingdom pledged to bring in 20,000 Syrians by 2020, but there are currently fewer than 3,000 of them living there now.

It's also worth noting that Syria, shortly after it became independent from the French mandate during the 1940s, hosted thousands of European refugees displaced by World War II.