It has been a few days since Aylan Kurdi and others drowned while trying to make it to safety in Europe. Seeing a three year old toddler wash up on the shores of Bodrum, Turkey (a holiday resort no less) has brought the refugee crisis in Europe into sharp focus. The image of Aylan Kurdi’s lifeless body on the beach of Turkey besides unleashing profound waves of grief from all corners of the globe, it has finally galvanized European leaders to act or at least provide a more decisive approach on how to handle the refugee crisis. Some countries such as Hungary doubled down on their anti-immigration rhetoric and policy, fearing that allowing so many Muslims into their country would change the Christian culture of their country (and I am still confused on when Hungary decided that it was a ‘Christian’ country with Christian values and culture). The government of Hungary has convinced itself, with its population of 9.89 million people, most of whom are Christian, and if they accept Muslim refugees which wouldn’t number more than tens of thousands given the size of their economy, would significantly change the Christian culture of their country, they are not giving their Christian heritage enough credit. Austria and Germany joined in solidarity to offer relief to refugees. Slovakia will consider taking only Christian refugees as they’ve no mosques in Slovakia and don’t intend to build any therefore they cannot accommodate Muslim refugees (how charming, do people hear themselves speak?). Britain was shamed into ‘accepting thousands more’ people after saying that it wouldn’t take anymore migrants or refugees into its already crowded isles as it upsets the locals seeing so many black and brown faces all at once. Lastly, the US having contributed so much havoc in the Middle East which led to its destabilization, have so far taken in just 1,800 Syrian refugees but they plan on taking many more by the end of 2016.
Two well respected writers and columnists Max Hastings and Peter Hitchens (brother of Christopher Hitchens) from the UK wrote two separate columns about the refugee crisis and to my disappointment (due to my respect for them), they were tinged with xenophobia and an ‘us v. them’ tone to it. I’ve never been a bleeding heart liberal or a ‘lefty luuvie’ as the British so condescendingly describe their fellow lefty friends. Though I lean liberal on most social issues, I do not believe that affluent West (which, by the way, is no longer so affluent when taken everything into account) is a free for all for the developing and third world to help themselves to especially when their countries are mismanaged and corrupt.
The West is affluent, secure and has basic human rights is because we fought for them, our ancestors died for them, people suffered for them. They didn’t come about overnight. And I have no problem saying that governments from the developing and third world have a responsibility to get their own house and government in order and be held accountable for their crimes and actions. Robert Mugabe and his ilk cannot plunder the resources of their own country, while blindly (and stupidly) thinking the West will rescue their people from poverty in which they created. It doesn’t work that way. Nor do I subscribe to the belief that the West is responsible for all of the problems that plague the third world today, which then makes us responsible for their poverty. All of the things the West inflicted on Africa are detestable and deplorable and no one was held accountable for them, but those actions have nothing to do with how Robert Mugabe has drove his country into a ditch and Zimbabweans are forced to migrate to South Africa (already with an unemployment rate of 25%) to look for work because the unemployment rate in Zimbabwe is either 4%, 11%, 60% or 90% depending on who you ask. The West is also not responsible for the South African President Jacob Zuma’s corruption of using $15 million of public funds to build an addition onto his house which he claims were for security and they include a pool, chicken run and enclosure. He was under pressure to pay some of it back but the police ‘investigated’ and ruled that his additions were for his personal security so the use of public funds are permitted. And just for comparison purposes, when a new first family is elected to the US presidency, upon moving into the White House, the government gives the new first family a $200,000 budget to redecorate the private living quarters. Anything more would have come out of the pocket of the first family.
However, the same cannot be said of Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, which form the majority of refugees seeking asylum in Europe today. The US destabilized Afghanistan, supposedly drove out (or underground) the Taliban but didn’t commit to totally dismantling them, so now as US forces are leaving, they are back as every expert had predicted. The US, under the lies of President George W. Bush, invaded Iraq under false pretenses, which then led to sectarian conflict and now has metastasized to Syria. Syrians have lost Syria. For any Western government to tell Syrians to stay and fight for their own country is ridiculous. For whom are they fighting for? ISIS? Al-Assad? Free Syrian Army? Any other Al-Qaeda affiliated group? The Al-Assads’ are fighting for their own survival now. The stream of refugees coming from Damascus is very telling of the fact that Al-Assad is losing his grip in Syria. Damascus, the capital of Syria was his stronghold, that area should be safe from the civil war but it’s not. Currently in Syria and to some extent Iraq, there are too many hands in the pot, too many interested parties who are not Syrian. Iran and its proxies have an interest in the outcome of the civil war. Russia has an interest as well though not a sectarian one. And on the other extreme, ISIS and its affiliates have an interest too and are butchering its way through Iraq and Syria to achieve its means. All this leaves innocent civilians stuck in the middle. Their lives have been devastated by bombing, fighting, killing and there is no choice but to leave. Many refugees fled to other places in Syria first before deciding to take the final step of leaving Syria all together. No one takes a decision like that likely, especially if they they will be leaving behind their homes, family members and most of their worldly possessions. And it is with this backdrop Mr. Peter Hitchens begins his column by saying:
Actually we can’t do what we like with this country. We inherited it from our parents and grandparents and we have a duty to hand it on to our children and grandchildren, preferably improved and certainly undamaged.
It is one of the heaviest responsibilities we will ever have. We cannot just give it away to complete strangers on an impulse because it makes us feel good about ourselves.
This sounds like a line straight out of Downton Abbey, this notion that all of ‘this’ isn’t ours, we are just custodians until the next generation comes along and we’ve no right to give it away or do what we please with it is a classic aristocratic sentiment. And if Mr. Hitchens was talking about his family home, I would totally agree. No arguments there. His family home is given to him by his grandparents and parents and he does not have the right to give it away. He must give the utmost care and pass it onto his children and grandchildren in tact. Except he isn’t talking about his family home, he’s talking about the United Kingdom and its collective islands and dominions. The United Kingdom and its government with the consent of its peoples along with certain executive measures that’s allowed by the state do get to decide what happens to the UK.
Hitchens goes on to say:
Every one of the posturing notables simpering ‘refugees welcome’ should be asked if he or she will take a refugee family into his or her home for an indefinite period, and pay for their food, medical treatment and education.
In case he’s forgotten, countries including the UK have taken in refugees and housed them, fed them, clothed them, educated them and they became productive citizens of those countries. This last happened just over 70 years ago when the Nazis overran Europe, with one notable exception, the refugees then where Jewish/Christian and white, not brown or black and Muslim. I am not trying to play the race card, but as these columnists and self-appointed experts love to point out, ‘they’ (brown and black people) are not like us, do not subscribe to our ‘values’ (democracy, freedom of expression etc) and do not wish to assimilate to us and we must assimilate to them so we don’t offend them and we are not called bigots and racists.
Our advantages depend very much on our shared past, our inherited traditions, habits and memories. Newcomers can learn them, but only if they come in small enough numbers. Mass immigration means we adapt to them, when they should be adapting to us.
So now, on the basis of an emotional spasm, dressed up as civilisation and generosity, are we going to say that we abandon this legacy and decline our obligation to pass it on, like the enfeebled, wastrel heirs of an ancient inheritance letting the great house and the estate go to ruin?
Again, the collective UK isn’t a ‘house’ or ‘estate’, for someone normally so articulate, this is a real mismatch of metaphors.
Now, to be fair to his point of view, the previous Labour governments have thrown open the borders of UK to allow Eastern European migrants, the Polish in particular to come to UK and work. The Labour Party says Eastern Europeans contributed greatly to British society and economy, the other side of the argument is the Poles drove down the wages of low wage-working class British people and decimated what’s left of their wages and jobs. Many other British complained about a sudden huge influx foreigners which forced the local population to cope with them instead of the other way around. And any time anyone brought up their concern about huge influx of foreigners, they were charged by the Labour government with being bigoted or racist. So effectively, they shut down all debate on the subject by threatening to label anyone who questions this policy as racists. So I understand the frustration people have regarding immigration and asylum seekers. And by opening their borders in the earlier part of the 2000s to every Tom, Dick and Harry, they feel that they’ve done their ‘bit’ in that department. And of all these European migrants that entered Britain, many have obtained British citizenship as well, so the UK feels rightfully smug about doing their ‘bit’ for Europe.
The reason that Mr. Hitchens cites that everyone wants to go live in the UK (besides the generous benefit payments and free healthcare on the NHS) is the following:
Thanks to a thousand years of uninvaded peace, we have developed astonishing levels of trust, safety and freedom. I have visited nearly 60 countries and lived in the USSR, Russia and the USA, and I have never experienced anything as good as what we have. Only in the Anglosphere countries – the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand – is there anything comparable. I am amazed at how relaxed we are about giving this away.
So this is the proud Brit nationalist in him talking, but as for the ‘a thousand years of uninvaded peace’, while that’s factually true, the Nazis caused serious destruction in the Blitz during World War II and significant loss of life was inflicted on these supposedly unassailable islands. The defeat of Nazis on the British Islands wasn’t so guaranteed at one point during the Blitz. And it is with this event of history I’d like to play the Devil’s Advocate.
Suppose the Nazis were successful in invasion and a humanitarian and refugee crisis ensued as a result of that success. The first place these refugees would go would probably be the United States, Canada, Australia or New Zealand (the ‘Anglosphere’) and how would the formerly proud British citizens feel, citizens which belonged to an Empire that at one time controlled one-third of the world’s land mass be told the following:
You really think these crowds of tough young men chanting ‘Germany!’ in the heart of Budapest are ‘asylum-seekers’ or ‘refugees’?
Refugees don’t confront the police of the countries in which they seek sanctuary. They don’t chant orchestrated slogans or lie across the train tracks.
And why, by the way, do they use the English name for Germany when they chant? In Arabic and Turkish, that country is called ‘Almanya’, in Kurdish something similar. The Germans themselves call it ‘Deutschland’. In Hungarian, it’s ‘Nemetorszag’.
Did someone hope that British and American TV would be there? I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: spontaneous demonstrations take a lot of organising.
Refugees don’t demand or choose their refuge. They ask and they hope. When we become refugees one day (as we may well do), we will discover this.
I am going to ignore the choice of language chant portion of his rant (but most Syrians speak a smattering of English which is why most want to go to the UK so it’s not too difficult to start over). Next, when did Peter Hitchens become an expert on the behaviors of refugees? Was there a standard of behavior for displaced and persecuted persons that they must abide by in order to get any sort of assistance? Must all persons who consider themselves to be refugees lower themselves to begging for any assistance and relief to be considered as refugees? When someone is made a refugee must they lose all their pride too on top of all their other losses?
‘Refugees don’t demand or choose their refuge. They ask and they hope. When we become refugees one day (as we may well do), we will discover this.’ So in the hypothetical event that the Nazis were successful in invading the UK and millions of people were made refugees and had to be relocated to the Anglosphere, would the British refugees be grateful with just the crumbs that the US or Canada has to offer? If the British refugees were placed in Nebraska or some other boring flat middle America state with nothing to do and nowhere to go but miles and miles of corn fields, would they be ‘grateful’ or frustrated and angry? As for the ‘demands’ of the Syrian refugees, they were being caged like animals in the Kelati station in Hungary, by this time Angela Merkel has already suspended the Dublin rule of asylum seekers and has agreed to take 800,000 asylum seekers and refugees, all the Hungarian authorities had to do was put them on the train and let them go to Austria then to Germany, heck, send the bill to Merkel if they want, but they decided to antagonize these weary travelers, these people fled the bombs of Al-Assad, the menace that is ISIS, so breaking through the police barrier is nothing.
As for Max Hastings column, his views are more temperate. Hastings is a renowned World War II scholar and historian, but there seems to be this irrational fear of the brown and black people will transform Europe beyond recognition:
Neither the people nor the governments of Europe should be in any doubt about the historic nature of this vast migration, nor about the gravity of the challenge that it presents to the stability and very nature of our societies.
If anything like the numbers of people attempting to become citizens of Europe are successful in doing so, our homelands will be transformed in ways few of their existing inhabitants want.
This type of sentiment is no more than coded language of we don’t want black and brown people swarming our lily white land and culture. While it’s right and fair to demand that immigrants assimilate to Western society and not the other way around but for this to successfully happen, the hosts have to assist immigrants in integrating into Western society as well and not make them feel like outsiders who don’t belong.
My grandparents were once refugees fleeing Communist China. Had it not been for the kindness of strangers and host families in Taiwan, where they eventually settled, I would not be here. My grandparents never saw their homeland again, even after the borders with the Mainland China opened. My grandfather was blacklisted by the Mao regime and was a political refugee (his parents, my great grandparents were tortured to death during the Cultural Revolution for their connection to my grandfather) and he made the decision to not visit his homeland even when could have had the chance. He was also afraid of what he might see as he was sure his hometown had transformed beyond his recognition. He was not prepared for that type of sadness and would rather remember his homeland the way he left it.
Given the way events are unfolding in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan, the refugees that left will most likely not see their homeland again. It will take decades for peace to be restored to that region. And even if peace is restored, it will be beyond the recognition of the refugees that left.
The follies of Western governments are resulting in a serious case of ‘I told you so’. Like Max Hasting says, this current wave of refugees is largest mass movement of peoples since 1945 and the Western governments have no choice but to own it.