Chickens Come Home To Roost
Several months ago, in the course of an otherwise unremarkable conversation, someone I know remarked that watching the news had become so depressing they no longer wished to indulge in the habit. They then went on to say that to their great amazement when they looked at the state of the world today they often found themselves longingly and to their great surprise looking back on the good old days of when Saddam Hussein and Gadhafi were still around. It’s a sentiment I often find myself sharing as well.
When the gods wish to punish us they answer our prayers. That certainly seems to be what has happened in the Middle East. For decades liberal internationalists of all stripes from both the left and the right lamented the existence of the old strongmen who governed the region and dreamed longingly of the day when they would be gone. Unsurprisingly, when the Arab Spring came these same people greeted the event with jubilation. “At last!” They proclaimed. “The spirit of democracy has awakened in the Arab world. The chains shall be broken and all shall be free!” So went the refrain (my own somewhat more glum predictions were widely derided as the usual cynical pessimism of a perennial pessimistic cynic).
To my sheer and utter lack of amazement, things turned out somewhat differently. One by one the tyrants fell, but as the chains fell away with them what was released was not the spirit of democracy and liberalism but something far nastier; something older and almost primeval. Now from Tunisia to Syria to Yemen we see a region engulfed in war and conflict, as the proverbial Tiber flows red with blood. Liberalism’s advocates once again fell victim to their great weakness of being unable to conceptualize the possibility that other people might be driven by motivations and desires different than those of their own. For all the belated realization of this, one will note that when the Egyptian military chose to slam the barn door shut again before the horses had bolted there was nary a whisper of protest, we must all now live with the fallout.
One area of this that has received considerable press of late is the refugee crisis. Not since the Second World War has there been such a displacement of human life, as literally millions of people have been uprooted from their homes. By now I am sure everyone has familiarized themselves with the details, and doubtlessly seen that now famous picture of the drowned boy in the red shirt on a beach. The vast majority of them have descended upon Europe, most unfortunately on some of the nations hardest hit by the current economic crisis; Greece, Italy, and an assortment of other Balkan nations.
Now, I have considerable sympathy for the refugees in this scenario. These are people who have been uprooted from their homes by terror and turmoil. I most emphatically do not subscribe to the school of thought that blames the West for all the woes of the world, but I also believe that first one must always speak the truth and never shy away from it. The truth in this case is that the West is partially to blame for the current situation in the Middle East. There is certainly room for debate on who is most at fault, but at the bare minimum our own foibles and misadventures in the region have exacerbated the mess that was already there. Moreover, I am a Christian who ascribes to the view that means doing more than just showing up to Church on Sunday and getting a bit sentimental at Christmas and Easter. I would not call myself a tremendous altruist and I believe in the school of thought that elevates pragmatism and realpolitik over impulsive emotion, but I do also believe there is a level of sheer suffering by other human beings that I cannot sit by silently and abide as a fellow human being. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me. There are certainly limits on the demands for charity one can impose upon another certainly, but there are also limits to what we can close our eyes and harden are hearts too.
Indeed, there is a certain nasty undercurrent to some of the pushback to the refugee crisis that I most certainly have no time for. It seems very similar to the sentiments that motivated Mackenzie King’s infamous declaration of “None is too many” on the question of giving refuge to my father’s ancestors when they sought refuge here in Canada from the barbarity of Hitler’s Germany. A much as I dislike political correctness and tend to lend an ear to those on the margins who chip away at the Cathedral’s dominance of this sad state we call modernity I will say without hesitation that when it descends into blatant racism I will quite happily tell those who speak so to go to the Devil.
Especially so in this case where many of those seeking refuge here in the West are actually Arab Christians driven from the ancient heartland of the faith by the genocidal madness of ISIS; there has also been some very interesting report on hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of Muslim refugees to Europe converting to Christianity and in doing so breathing new life into the continent’s emptying houses of worship (now isn’t that an interesting twist).
Ultimately, we helped to create this disaster and now we have an obligation to help mitigate the fallout. Even were that not so as human beings we would still be obliged to do something. Now, that does not mean there are not perfectly valid concerns being expressed by the other side of this issue. I happen to have deep sympathy for the point of view there as well. On a purely practical level there is a physical limit to how many people can be accommodated without putting unfair strain on the original inhabitants. In legal terms, a sovereign nation also has the right to control of its borders, which includes the right to decide who is allowed to come and who is allowed to stay. Europe has also been grappling with a very real problem of integrating the existing population of newcomers it has, and there is a genuine fear that the migrant crisis will only accelerate the creation of parallel societies within the nations of Europe.
More to the point, people do not like to feel that they are not in control of events around them; the few minutes of news footage a few weeks ago of hundreds of refugees running wildly past helpless border guards and police likely did more to strengthen the anti-migrants hand than hours of speeches or policy statements could. People dislike chaos and anarchy and when the perception is created that their own stability and security is at risk they tend to turn to those promising the preservation of both.
These concerns are most emphatically not helped by the tendency of some of the more passionate advocates for the refugees to, quite bluntly, engage in guilt tripping and shaming against those expressing them. If, like me, you’re moved by the plight of people displaced from their homes and seeking refuge elsewhere, chances are you’re already supportive of doing more. Those in opposition are unlikely to be moved by such arguments at this point, and very likely this will further feed the perception that they are simply being told to be quiet and go away because their concerns just don’t matter. What is needed is a comprehensive plan to both address the needs of the dispossessed and the concerns of the indigenous.
Such a plan would need to involve the implementation of an actual process for screening out economic migrants of opportunity and genuine security risks (both of whom do exist) from the genuinely needy, done in a manner that gives the nations of the West the ability to exert an actual degree of control over the flow and number of refugees, so the burden does not disproportionately fall on any one nation due to the simply misfortunes of geography or ease of passage. This would need to be coupled with an actual set of policies to deal with people once they have been admitted that will see them integrated both economically and culturally into their host countries. Make sure help goes to those who need it. Make sure the burden is shared fairly. Make sure those are admitted don’t go permanently onto the welfare rolls and will be expected to show some respect for the basic principles and beliefs of those who were there before. These three principles, if implemented into a broader plan, would likely address the concerns of all but the most hard-core nativists (who honestly will never be happy).
Of course, such a plan would be complicated, multifaceted and require the harnessing of a great deal of public resources over a very long period of time. Therefore it is highly unlikely that our modern democratic process will be up to the task. Politicians like answers that are simple, easy, popular and cheap, and sadly there are none in this instance that fit the bill. Moreover, the real unfortunate truth here is that the entire refugee question is really just a matter of palliative care to a terminal ill cancer patient. We do not have the resources or the will to resettle the entire population of Syria and Iraq. Any real solution will therefore require us to get serious about solve the root problem itself, and that is highly unlikely given that the West has simply grown weary of the demands such intervention would require and that any true solution would likely involve the revaluation of the basic liberal mythology that has come to dominate modern day politics (not to mention involve solutions many would find implantable). Just as the great migrations of Germanic and Easterly peoples began the eventual toppling of Rome, perhaps this will be the beginning of the great unravelling of our age. Only time will tell.