Monday, 7 September 2015

In treating needy refugees like invaders, we risk losing our humanity

Robert Fisk                      International/UK                 30 August 2015

The Great Wall of China, the walls of Rome and every medieval city, the Siegfried Line, the Maginot Line, the Atlantic Wall; nations – empires, dictatorships, democracies – have used every mountain chain and river to keep out foreign armies. And now we Europeans treat the poor and huddled masses, the truly innocent of Syria and Iraq, Afghanistan and Ethiopia, as if they are foreign invaders determined to subjugate our green and pleasant land. Have we lost the one victory which we Europeans learned from the Second World War – compassion?

Since our latest cliché-rag is to tell the world that the refugee “crisis” is the greatest since that war, I was reminded of how Winston Churchill responded to the German refugee columns fleeing through the snows of eastern Europe in 1945 before the advance of the avenging Soviet Army. These, remember, were the civilians of the Third Reich – those who had brought Hitler to power, who had rejoiced at Nazi Germany’s barbaric genocides and military victories over peaceful nations.

It was years since I read the letter Churchill wrote to his wife, Clementine, on his way to the Yalta conference in February of 1945. But I looked it up this weekend, and here is the key section: “I am free to confess to you that my heart is saddened by the tales of the masses of German women and children flying along the roads everywhere in 40-mile long columns to the West before the advancing armies. I am clearly convinced that they deserve it; but that does not remove it from one’s gaze. The misery of the whole world appals me and I fear increasingly that new struggles may arise out of those we are successfully ending.” Churchill would have called his sentiment “magnanimity”. It was compassion.

Incredibly, it is Germany – the nation from which tens of thousands of refugees fled before the Second World War, and from whose armies they would flee in their millions after the conflict began – which is now the destination of choice for the hundreds of thousands of huddled masses trekking across Europe. Germany’s generosity flares like a beacon beside the response of PR Dave and his chums.

More than 30 years ago, in Jerusalem, I met that prince of journalists, James Cameron. He had defended my reporting of Northern Ireland – and so, of course, was a hero of mine – but he, like Churchill, was a man of great compassion. I thought of him not long ago when I was complaining about another group of feral Syrian boy refugees who had been following me down a Beirut street. Almost 40 years ago Cameron was reporting for the BBC on another fleet of refugees seeking salvation on unseaworthy vessels.

“It was a dishonest journalistic compromise to call the Vietnamese refugees the ‘boat people’,” he wrote in his script, “which has an almost comfortable sound, like people on a holiday cruise. Refugees… are fugitives, escapers, victims, the lost and the lonely… Jewish refugees, Arab refugees, German refugees, Indian refugees, Pakistani refugees, Russian, Bangladeshi and Korean refugees.” Cameron recalled the 17th-century Huguenots who fled to Britain, the persecuted Jews who fled from eastern Europe to America in the 1900s. Syrian refugees passing on the Syrian side of the border crossing Akcakale, in Sanliurfa province, southeastern Turkey

And then Cameron came close to a “PR Dave” moment. “In those days the world was a pretty empty place; there was room almost everywhere for the homeless stranger. Everywhere to which an alien might wish to take refuge is now overpopulated, and already with problems of its own.” And some refugees “are avaricious, some are saving their skin, some are on a bandwagon. But I have yet to meet a refugee baby who left home other than because he had to”. Were the followers of Moses not refugees, as they continued to be for 2,000 years, “until they replaced their exodus with someone else’s?”

A unique irony of our modern-day tragedy is that an Irish naval vessel has been saving the lives of thousands of shipwrecked refugees a few miles from the Libyan coast. A century and a half ago the Irish famine exodus was washing its refugees up on the coast of Canada, the vessels filled with men, women and children dying or dead of typhus, received with compassion – but also with fear that their plague would contaminate the people of the Canadian Maritimes.

Yes, “something should be done” about the refugees. As they say, necessity knows no law. Nor does compassion. 

[This is an abbreviated first page of a long article by Robert Fisk. ]

Wednesday, 2 September 2015

Refugees are human

Owen Jones                         Guardian/UK                 28 August 2015

It is horrific that people are drowning and suffocating to reach safety. These stories should be a reminder that migrants are not just statistics

They’re not people: nobody would tolerate hearing about the drowning of human beings over and over again. At best they are bleak but intangible statistics, the object of a bit of tutting before mundane everyday life takes over. For others, they are an unwanted and uninvited swarm that Fortress Europe must keep out: full of undeserving would-be leeches who have no place in the west. In the hierarchy of death, anyone labelled “migrant” must take their place somewhere near the bottom. It is a dehumanised word: for all too many people, it is somewhere down with “petty criminal”, and who mourns petty criminals?

As the news of up to
200 dead refugees, drowned off the coast of Libya, filters fleetingly into news coverage, the only guarantee is that more will drown. And with news of more than 70 refugees found dead in a truck in Austria – to try to imagine their last living moments triggers a horrible feeling in the pit of the stomach – we know that more bodies will be found in more trucks. Those of us who want more sympathetic treatment of people fleeing desperate situations have failed to win over public opinion, and the cost of that is death. Other than a tiny proportion of sociopaths, our species is naturally empathetic

For those who believe that hostility to human beings from other countries who lost the lottery of life is somehow hardwired into us, there is evidence to the contrary. Germany takes in around four times as many refugees as Britain does; and for
every Syrian asylum seeker received by Britain, Germany gets 27. And despite German generosity comparing starkly with our own, half of Germans polled support letting in even more refugees.

This is a debate that cannot be won by statistics. We can tell people that those reaching Europe represent a tiny fraction of the world’s refugee population; that while developing countries housed 70% of refugees a decade or so ago, that has now leapt to 86%. Far smaller and poorer countries take in far more than us, such as Lebanon, with its
population of around 4.5 million including 1.3 million Syrian refugees. But it won’t shift people’s attitudes. We have to do it with stories, humanising otherwise faceless refugees.

The Guardian view on Britain’s response to the Syrian refugee crisis: morally bankrupt

Editorial: Fortress Britain is no answer to the political and economic challenge of Syrian refugees, let alone a moral one

Other than a tiny proportion of sociopaths, our species is naturally empathetic. It is only when we strip the humanity from people – when we stop imagining them as being quite human like us – that our empathetic nature is eroded. That allows us either to accept the misery of others, or even to inflict it on them. Right-wing newspapers hunt down extreme and unsympathetic stories of refugees, and we fight back with statistics. Instead, we need to show the reality of refugees: their names, their faces, their ambitions and their fears, their loves, what they fled.

Yes, the solution to global human misery is not to extricate a tiny lucky number and parachute them into richer countries. We need the west to take responsibility for disaster zones it helped create, like Libya and Iraq. We should pressure our governments to do more to solve situations that compel human beings to flee. At home, communities with higher levels of both migrants and refugees should be given extra resources and support. But as long as there is misery, people will flee it, and a tiny proportion will come this far. If we want to help them, we need to change public attitudes by humanising refugees. If we fail, then more and more women, men and children will spend their last few hours drowning in seas or suffocating in lorries. It is as bleak as that. 


Thomas Merton on Nonviolence
Very often people object that nonviolence seems to imply passive acceptance of injustice and evil and therefore that it is a kind of cooperation with evil. Not at all. The genuine concept of nonviolence implies not only active and effective resistance to evil but in fact a more effective resistance... But the resistance which is taught in the Gospel is aimed not at the evil-doer but at evil in its source.

Soldier Suicides: Counting the Forgotten Casualties of War (by Logan Laituri)
Days ago, another article, from AlterNet, described a recent CBS investigation that found an alarming trend in those who have served our country. I would never have believed the finding had it not been for the devastating news Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) received last Tuesday. One of our active members had taken their own life. Their spouse, another IVAW member who suffers from PTSD, had found the body the night prior. In 2005, an average of 17 vets committed suicide every day. No, that is not a typo: 17 every day. Reported by SOJOURNERS Dec. 2007

New Priority
The costs of servicing the RAF’s Tornado planes will be subsidised by the Conflict Prevention Fund, a confidential memo shows. Money set aside to clear landmines and remove arms from conflict zones is to be raided to pay a private defence contractor to keep Tornado jets flying in Iraq, according to a confidential memo seen by the Guardian. The Ministry of Defence plans to pay BAE Systems from the multimillion-pound Conflict Prevention Fund - which covers projects such as destroying weapons in Bosnia and landmines in Mozambique - to subsidise the £5m-£10m cost of servicing each of the six planes. The move follows a cost-cutting plan which has backfired for the MoD because of increased military action in Iraq. Guardian/UK 10 March, 2008

“Even victors are by victories undone.” John Dryden

Holy Mischief: On May 17, 1968, nine men and women entered the Selective Service Offices in Catonsville, Maryland, removed several hundred draft records, and burned them with homemade napalm in protest against the war in Vietnam. The nine were arrested and, in a highly publicized trial, sentenced to jail. Listen to the words spoken by Father Daniel Berrigan on that day:

"Our apologies, good friends, for the fracture of good order, the burning of paper instead of children,  the angering of the orderlies in the front parlor of the charnel house. We could not, so help us God, do otherwise."

This love of God for the world does not withdraw from a reality into noble souls detached from the world, but experiences and suffers the reality of the world in the harshest possible fashion. The world takes out its rage on the body of Jesus Christ. But he, tormented, forgives the world its sins. Thus does reconciliation come about.
- Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Meditations on the Cross