Several people have asked me to write my thoughts on the current refugee crisis in terms of people fleeing the Middle East and Africa. I’ve hesitated about writing anything, as the situation is so complex, I find it impossible to give a simple two paragraph analysis. Seemingly every point or personal judgement has an equally valid counterpoint, yet somehow, our world has to find a solution and I believe we all have a duty to be involved, after all, many of our countries contributed to the problems. Two things are certain, to be a politician dealing with the situation must be the stuff of nightmares and to be an unwelcome refugee must be a nightmare. My thoughts, for what it’s worth:
The exodus of people fleeing poverty, or violent religious and political persecution from the Middle East and the African continent, has, as we are all aware, become not only a humanitarian crisis, the like of which has not been seen since WW11, but also a trigger point for heated, increasingly xenophobic debate on migration, poverty, religion and compassion. At the core of the crisis are the barbaric lunatic groups such as ISIS, Al Qaida, Boko Haram and Jemaah Islamiyah, not to mention oppressive regimes such as that of Assad in Syria.
Somehow, the very people who are fleeing from the horror of Islamist terror organisations, are being branded as the terrorists they’re fleeing from, simply because the majority of them are Muslims, although many are Christians. If we go back to the barbaric IRA days of the 1970s, did we brand all Catholics as terrorists because the IRA professed themselves to be Catholic, or all Protestants as terrorists because the dreadful Ian Paisley was a Protestant? Of course not.
Unfortunately the current refugees, for the most part, don’t look like us – ‘us’ usually being of white Anglo Saxon / Northern European ancestry. They wear different clothing, their lifestyles seem very different and their religion appears totally alien to our expectation of a modern civilisation based on Judeo-Christian ethics. Not so long ago, seeing a woman wearing a burqa meant you were visiting an exotic destination somewhere in the cradle of civilisation, nowadays you’re likely to see a woman in a burqa at the local shopping centre and it can be confronting. I personally feel very uncomfortable with it (in Australia), primarily as I believe it represents a misogynist affront to every woman and our sense of freedom and values. I am however, untroubled with the hijab (or a sikh’s turban, or a nun’s habit for that matter) – I can’t see a reason to flaunt a religious belief in public, but hey, to each his or her own and to be fair, the question begs – shouldn’t we be free to wear what we like? For all I know, many Muslim women may feel safe and comfortable in a burqa. Having said that, the only women I’ve seen quoted in the media as favouring and liking the burqa, appear to be woman who have converted to Islam and my life experience of people who have converted to any belief system, is they are often far more fanatical than people born into a faith. There is a very telling site on the internet of women from Islamic nations who wish they weren’t forced to wear burqas, or hijabs.
My point in discussing the burqa, is that generally most of us have very little understanding of the Muslim faith, we haven’t needed or wanted to and I think if we’re honest, there is a subconscious hangover from the days of colonialism and the British Raj, deep down, we believe we’re superior. It’s very comfortable and terribly easy to be a condescending tourist, you know the sort of thing –“Oh how lovely”, “how quaint,” “It’s just so beautiful and old world the way they carry goods on their heads” and so on. In Bali, we gasp laughingly in disbelief and take photos of incredibly overloaded motorcycles, not for one minute caring that those people have very little and are desperately trying to eke out a living. But we’re suddenly very uncomfortable when the same people arrive in Australia, or New Zealand, or the UK, or the USA, or Germany, or France etc, desperate to make a new life for themselves and don’t forget the USA’s long-standing horrendous attitude to Mexican people.
My first experience with a person of the Muslim faith in Australia was in the late 1980s, when, as a Greyhound driver out on the Nullarbor heading east towards the South Australian border, a passenger came up to me and asked me to stop the coach so he could pray. I was stunned and told him politely I couldn’t do it. He became very agitated and it was an uncomfortable trip for everyone from then on. My next experience with a person of the Muslim faith was in the mid 1990s, when I was fortunate enough to meet and be invited to the Perth home of Professor Samina Yasmeen, surely one of the most gentle, educated, thoughtful and delightful people on this Earth, light years away from the ISIS terrorists who profess to share her faith. In recent days, I’ve had several brief chance encounters with Muslim refugees in Germany and I couldn’t wish to have spent time with better people.
Sadly with so many people fleeing to the sanctuary of western democracies, many people in western countries are understandably worried about a perceived clash of cultures. Quite apart from the shocking reality of home-grown terrorism, what most of us have witnessed through the media in the last thirty or so years, is that many of the hard-line Islam based countries are run on brutal barbaric lines. If one takes a country such as Saudi Arabia, where daily beheadings and public viewings over coffee are an accepted norm, why should we expect an Islamic terrorist organisation to behave any differently? Brutality is what the leaders of these organisations have grown up with, it’s normal to them and the West has sanctioned, helped, financed and accepted brutal dictatorships throughout the region for a long while and still does. Bashar Al-Assad stands as testimony to this, if his own people don’t get to him first, you can guarantee some country – probably Russia, will offer him sanctuary, given that the end-game for Putin in supporting Assad, is surely the establishment of a Russian military base in Syria. ISIS is said to fund its operations with the production and sale of oil and the madness of this trade means they’re even selling oil to the people fighting them.
Since the British were so arrogantly stupid as to ignore the knowledge and advice of T.E. Lawrence re tribal lands, groups and allegiances and simply drew territorial lines in the sand to divide up the Middle East as spoils for allies, (they did exactly the same with Pakistan and Bangladesh), the region has been simmering with tension and tribal hatreds, add to that the establishment of the state of Israel and the simmering hatred has magnified a thousand times. I don’t know why, but for some reason many left wing people these days seem to have a hatred of Israel and anything “Jewish”, the anti-Semitism is frightening, the current British Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn is a startling case. I don’t know what it is that people don’t understand about being attacked every day, surrounded by hostile nations and organisations who have always openly declared their aim is to exterminate Israel – if you fly on an Arab owned aircraft, Israel doesn’t even appear on the flight path maps. All I would say to Corbyn, is “Mate, if you were PM and we were being attacked every day, I’d want you to not only defend us, but take pre-emptive moves.” It’s just possible that the best thing that could happen with ISIS, is for them to follow up their newly stated aim of attacking Israel, the Israelis won’t stuff around! France has just as much dirt on its hands as England in terms of colonisation on the African continent and places such as Syria and although we quickly blame the USA for every fire in the Middle East, the reality is in recent years we’ve left the USA to deal with the arrogant mistakes of the British and the French.
This is not to deny that past USA policies have created nightmare situations, but the facts is it was France and England that led the push to oust Gadhafi and England and the USA, plus Australia, led the push into the lie that was Iraq. George Bush, Tony Blair and John Howard have got off lightly considering the insanity they’ve created and left us to deal with. And people wonder why Barrack Obama is leery of putting troops on the ground in Syria, it’s never worked before in the region and there’s no reason to believe it will again, besides, I don’t think he has the taste for what would inevitably be the death of millions of Syrian civilians and the death and maiming of many US soldiers. Putin is another story – he’s possibly more dangerous to ISIS than Israel, where Israel does care but would have to act in self-defensive, pre-emptive or not, Putin doesn’t care, he’s looking for revenge, a military base and an ego boost on both his home and world stages.
The world is lurching to the right, seemingly moving inexorably to totalitarian governments, ordinary people such as you and me are under surveillance in a way that would have brought about absolute outrage and the fall of governments 20 years ago. Australians will remember when the Labor Hawke government wanted to introduce the Australia Card for every citizen to carry, Labor still bears the scars and there isn’t a politician in Canberra who isn’t aware of that debacle. Poland is the latest example of this insidious creep – the Polish government is acting more and more like the old Soviet Union, with a virtual take-over of the judiciary and a crackdown on journalistic freedom of expression. Democratic EU governments across Europe are calling for, or already putting razor wire border barriers in place, even Germany is now calling for border protection. The UK is better off than most other EU countries – the Channel is a natural barrier, the buck stops with France and the English are very happy about that. I’ve lost a long friendship with somebody in England, who although married to a wonderful woman of African heritage, is frightened and stridently outspoken at what he perceives as the Islamisation of England, unstoppable migration from Africa and the inability of the UK to look after its current population.
It’s entirely possible that this refugee crisis will destroy the EU in its current form, France, Germany and England cannot realistically expect Turkey and Greece to retain, shelter and feed the millions of people pouring in to their countries, yet the barriers are going up. It’s a growing crisis that will inevitably reach an explosive point in the near future. The poorer East European countries cannot and will not support the millions of people either, the temptation to send the refugees on to the wealthy West European countries will become politically irresistible. It would be a fair bet to imagine that sometime in 2016, everyone will need a passport to enter or leave any EU country.
In the USA, Donald Trump, might actually become President – how far from the humanity and fundamental decency of the Kennedy era would that be? Possibly he’d only last a year or so before they’d have to impeach him as a maverick making his own rules, however the damage he could wreak upon the world, let alone his own country is frightening. Sadly the strident xenophobes are having an effect, President Obama has signalled he’s rounding up illegal Mexican families and sending them back, regardless of individual or family circumstance, not to mention that Uncle Sam’s economy is built in part on the virtual slave labour of Mexican people. In Australia, people on social media and in demonstrations are openly campaigning to “Take Back Australia!” From whom? As far as I know, nobody’s taken the joint!
We’ve recently become aware the Australian government has been towing back boats overloaded with refugees to Indonesian waters, if the boats are too unseaworthy, (read slowly sinking), the Australian navy gives them lifeboats and supplies, then pays the Indonesian crews cash to take the people back to Indonesia. And don’t we love it – “Fuck off, we’re full” declare the stickers on car windows and on Facebook. Governments also love it, they feed off this fear, consequently we’re giving tacit approval for ever tighter restrictions on citizens, more surveillance and more totalitarian power to the police. Pushing back boats overloaded with refugees is nothing new, there’s a startling similarity with packet steamers overcrowded to the point of insanity with Jewish people fleeing Europe at the start of WW11 hostilities, being turned away from North African ports, nor were these people welcomed with compassion and joy to most of our countries. What in the name of anybody’s God have the Jewish people ever done to deserve this treatment? I am constantly ashamed of how Jewish people are currently being treated and Israel is demonised.
Time and time again, I read and hear comments about the refugees from people, along the lines of “Yeah! They’re all young men, the bastards should stay and fight ISIS in their own countries if they think it’s a problem!” or “The pricks are just trying to save themselves, they’ve abandoned the women” and so on. Obviously people choose to ignore history, since time immemorial, men have gone away to find new homelands and forge a new life for their families, once established they send for their wives and children. Think of the Chinese and Afghan men who came to Australia during the gold rush times of the late 1890s, the Greek and Italian men who came out in the early days of the 20th century, or after the end of WW11. German men came out after WW11 as well, there was nothing for them back home, indeed German refugees returning to Germany at the end of the war were not exactly welcome – there was no food or work for them, they weren’t wanted back in their own country.
These men worked in whatever country would take them, sending money home for their families, gradually establishing themselves to the point where they could bring out their families. I can’t be certain, however I suspect it would be culturally unacceptable for most of these families to send the women and children out on a perilous journey, while the men stayed at home. How many Australian blokes would think it was fine to stay home and send ‘the missus’ out with the kids, a suitcase and a mobile phone to establish a new life?
So now we’re all terrified, believing the millions of refugees streaming into Europe are all terrorists. Yes, it would be naïve to think that there are no terrorist sleepers amongst the refugees, there must be, but the reality is 99.999% of all these people are fleeing terrorism, brutal regimes and total destruction. Of course they’ve got mobile phones etc, the majority are educated, normal working people just like us! They’ll be an asset to any country providing sanctuary – unless they are marginalised and either don’t or can’t assimilate into the culture of their host country.
And that really does get right to the heart of the terrorist acts we’ve been witnessing. To the horror of governments across the world, the people committing these acts are almost inevitably home-grown, for the most part, they are the sons or daughters of refugees, who are shocked and mortified when they discover the path their children have secretly chosen. France in particular doesn’t want to talk about it, but the fact is their colonial activities in Africa and the middle east meant they’ve had to accept people as French citizens, but they haven’t accepted them socially – they’re not really French, or Belgium for that matter, with the consequence that ghettos of unemployed young people, shunned by mainstream society, with no hope of jobs or a tangible future, have become restless, ripe for the picking by radical Imans. Belatedly the authorities are reaching out, but it may be a little too late.
Australia stands out as possibly the most successful nation in terms of multi-cultural blending, perhaps because we’re young, still shaking off the shackles of British rule and as yet, we don’t have a really strong national identity, language and culture in the way countries such as England, France and Germany do. Germany is particularly interesting, in that while she was never much of a colonial power, her past aggressive culture of waging war, racism and aggressive territory annexation, has meant these days, the country can be seen as being deliberately far more enlightened than many others, Germans are terrified of their early 20th century history – witness Angela Merkel’s initial offer to accept as many refugees as possible.
Back to Australia, and here the Aboriginal people must, like the Maori people of New Zealand, be somewhat bemused at people of European descent demanding their country back! Apart from initial white convict settlement, Australia has had several great waves of migration – the goldrush days of the 1880s and 1890s, on a smaller scale, the pearling industry boom from the 1880s through to the early 20th century, then huge migration from Europe, including England, after WW11 and on a smaller scale, Asian peoples coming after the Vietnam and Cambodian wars.
Under any examination, these migrations have been an enormous success for Australia, migrants arrive to better themselves, they work long and hard and they enrich our society, bringing their cultures with them, in terms of food, lifestyle and yes, religious belief. Certainly they have communities of their own, whether it’s Hungarian clubs, Italian clubs, Greek Clubs, Chinese business associations and so on, but there is no threat, perceived or otherwise, so why are we so terrified of Muslim people from the Middle East?
I have to be honest, the thought of a future Australia becoming a quasi Islamic nation does not appeal to me. There have been some wonderful more or less democratic Islamic nations such as Iran, Turkey, Pakistan, Egypt, Malaysia and Indonesia, but with the exception of Indonesia and Malaysia, although they both have strict Sharia law courts and in the case of Indonesia, in Aceh Province, Sharia Law applies to non-Muslims, they have either fallen to hard line Islamists, or appear to be in the process of becoming hard line. We are told things such as Sharia Law are quite harmless, but that’s not the evidence I see and to discover in the last week, that Sharia Law is being practiced with a degree of government approval in Sydney, to me is both frightening and unacceptable, I don’t want that for my children’s children. And let’s not forget the abominations of forced female circumcision and the arranged marriages of young girls.
I’m best described as an Agnostic lapsed Church of England bloke and I am a firm believer in the absolute separation of State and Religion, but Religion interests me and everyone should have the right to follow their own chosen faith, or non-belief if it comes to that, however I also believe it is a private matter for individuals, nobody should ever have the right to impose their religious belief system on anybody else and the rule of law must take precedence over any belief in a god. That appears to be a real issue with Islam. I can only rely on what I’ve read and heard in the media, but continually we are told by Muslim leaders and their people, that Muslims answer to their god (and therefore the Imans rulings) first and their country second. Now that’s OK in principle, potentially it could even be argued that it’s ethically and morally right for an individual, but if the God you believe in is being forcefully interpreted by an Iman preaching intolerance and hate, then there is a terrible and totally unacceptable problem. As yet, I have not seen an Iman preaching love and tolerance in the way Church of England, Catholic, Buddhist and the Orthodox ministers and priests do and that worries me.
Reflecting on the above, it occurs that try as I might to avoid it, much of what I think must be affected by my own sub-conscious prejudice and I acknowledge my paucity of knowledge and interaction with the Muslim faith, perhaps my fears are groundless, but maybe they’re not, I simply don’t know.
One thing is certain, this is one of those enormously significant periods in history when there is a seismic change in terms of human migration, nothing is going to stop the millions of people fleeing these ravaged areas into western democratic countries. They don’t seem remotely interested in going to Arab countries, such as Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar etc, nor do any of these autocratic states show any interest in taking in the refugees – the quality of mercy sure as hell isn’t strained, indeed a number of credible commentators believe some of the above states are actually encouraging and helping finance the terrorist organisations. Whatever the truth, it’s telling that the predominantly Muslim refugees don’t want anything to do with these Islamic-based states, western democracies are obviously seen as far safer, better havens. Which also tells us we have nothing to fear from people who don’t want anything to do with the crushing brutality of hard-line Islamic states.
What we do have to fear, is offering sanctuary, without acceptance and reluctant grudging acceptance of unacceptable religious practice and dogma. There has never been a more urgent need for dialogue and mutual understanding, whether it’s England, France, Germany, Australia, the USA, or any other country and although we are hardly flooded with Muslim refugees, Australia does have the world’s largest Islamic nation on its doorstep. I am convinced we are in a period of profound social change and the Western world has been caught unaware.
I’m not for one minute suggesting capitulation, or a ‘She’ll be right’ attitude, events are proving ‘she’ won’t be unless we become involved on every possible level. Meanwhile, we have no choice other than to be vigilant, as far as I’m concerned if somebody has consciously become a terrorist, planning, or carrying out an act of barbaric terrorism and then cops a bullet, too bad and if some mad cow decides to rush off and offer herself in support of a terrorist organisation in the Middle East, don’t let the bitch back into Australia and sadly, if children are dragged into the parents depraved insanity, even participating, as we’ve seen in some horrifying cases, then those children cannot be allowed to return to Australia either. Who amongst us would want them mixing with our children or grandchildren? These are admittedly dreadful decisions, but they are forced on us by these terrorist butchers, yet we somehow we have to find a path through the murky quicksand, putting an end to these terror organisations, but at the same time, not losing our humanity, decency and sense of what is right, or we risk becoming exactly what the terrorists try to tell their followers we are.