This is a thinkpiece, and perhaps inevitably something of an opinion piece as well, about the current challenges faced by people fleeing for whatever reason from the Middle East.
These people, for whatever other label we choose to apply to them they are all people – mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, neighbours, friends – have all chosen to travel thousands of miles, often in appalling circumstances and at risk to both lives and future financial capacity, to escape a regime that dehumanises them in so many ways. Ethnic cleansing, oppression of women, forced combat status, simply being in the wrong place when an oppressive (and yes I reaise that is MY values surfacing) regime decides to start shelling or gassing or raping and pillaging or abducting women/children/men – add your own reasons for wanting to escape ISIS/ISIL/DAISH. As an aside, why do so many politicians insist on using a label – DAISH or DA’ESH – that is known to be offensive? It would certainly piss me off if every time someone referred to me I was called “tosspot” and I would not be likely to engage with them on neutral terms – here is one explanation from The Deconstructed Globe:
In all of the Arabic countries, ISIS is referred to as DAISH, which is short for ‘Dawlat al-Islamiyah f’al-Iraq wa al-Sham’, Arabic for the Islamic State of Iraq and al Sham (Syria). What makes the Arabic acronym interesting is that the Arabic word ‘دعس‘ , or daish, which means to ‘tread under foot‘ or ‘crush‘. I’ve been meaning to look this up for a while, and I’m glad I finally did. The Arabic acronym is pejorative and clearly hostile, unlike the English word Isis, which is the name of a powerful Egyptian goddess.
But back to the people massing on the shores of Europe. One might argue how great it is that we have created a culture/economy that is so successful and, by and large, accommodating that people want to live here. Does it have to be a culture/economy that is restricted to those of us living here now? Let’s be honest, much of Europe’s success has been built on the Imperial past of the UK, France, Germany, Austria. An Imperial past that, to be very polite, ‘drew on’ the resources to be found in those far-flung lands where we managed to impose our will. We cannot deny our implicit connection to the oilfields of the Middle East, any more than we can dismiss our earlier pillaging of India, Western Africa, the Caribbean etc.
It was us that drew the lines on a map delineating most of the Middle East. Lines that crossed traditional tribal or other groupings, just as the lines dividing India from Pakistan led to discontent that remains today.
It was us that armed and supported regimes that turned tyrannical and now we find ourselves on the horns of a dilemma about how to support whom in the mess that we helped create.
It is us who, if we believe the conflicts to be religious in catalysis, refuse to remember the death and destruction wielded in the name of Christianity. Crikey, if we think the Sunni/Shia division is baffling then how do we account for the Cathars driven to extinction by ethnic cleansing by a Pope who did not like their particular form of Catholicism.
But back to today’s people and ‘our’ response to the reality that so many hundreds of thousands see themselves living a better life in Europe. Can you imagine yourself so dissatisfied with what is happening where you live that you set off to walk thousands of miles across countries you have never visited, across desert with little water or food, carrying your life possessions on your back with your wife, children, mother, grandmother in your company. The when you get somewhere near your destination – Europe – you find it necessary to pay mmore than your life savings to an unscrupulous human trafficker who packs you so tight in an unseaworthy vessel that your mother slips overboard never to be seen again, your child dies of the crush in a locked below-decks compartment and your wife is raped in front of your eyes by those traffickers who you so hoped would lead you to a better life? Go on, imagine it. I have tears in my eyes as I just write these sentences. These people are HUMANS like you or I, with desires and dreams like you or I, but without the ability to make them happen.
You finally make it to your destination, only to find that instead of the dream you are living in the open air or under a plastic sheet with thousands of others who made it. You are treated as criminals by regimes who you believed were more compassionate than the one you escape. You are held in detention centres while some bureaucrat driven by Political will, decides whether HE thinks it was worth all your sacrifice to get here.
We were happy to accept, even encourage the inhabitants of many of our former colonies to come to our textile factories, our buses, our shipyards, our hospitals. We were even magnificent, albeit probably not magnificent enough, in helping thousands escape the Nazis. Yet here we are making it difficult, and more difficult by the day, for those who look up to us, who value our freedoms to share in them. How selfish. How uncaring that we pay for fences and razor wire to stop a few thousand desperate migrants/refugees/whatever coming over from France. How petty-minded that when Germany has accepted over 800,000 such people we are resisting a few tens of thousands. How ridiculous that we spend millions on arming and training and even bombing one or other regime in the Middle East while we refuse to help those fleeing from the carnage.
Let’s find a way out of this situation that treats these poor people as human beings, that shares our wealth with them (maybe the oil companies could ‘repatriate’ some of the profits they make out of ‘their’ oil to the people in such dire straits) and that positions us as a beacon of human responses to human challenges. We need to address both the cause and the effect, we focus on the effect because it is here in our backyard whereas the cause is thousands of miles away in foreign lands so many of us do not understand.
And what a shame on us that 67% of the population think that sending the Army to France to restore order is an answer!
And one final question. How much is it costing us to resist the few thousand in Calais, compared to how much it would cost to treat them as deserving humans and find room for them in our so-called compassionate society?