History is replete with great migrations.
In modern times, they have included Blacks from the rural South to the urban North and West in the United States (1915-60); Jews from Europe to Palestine (1931-39); Muslims from east to west and Hindus and Sikhs from west to east in the Punjab (1947); Cubans from Mariel to Miami (1980); Mexicans from all over Mexico to all over the United States (1960-present); Rohingyas from Myanmar to Malaysia/Indonesia (2014-present).
Yet, given media coverage of and political reaction to the ongoing migration of refugees from Syria to Germany, you’d think it’s the first of its kind since the migration of the Israelites from Egypt to the Promised Land during the Bible days (also known as the Exodus).
To be fair, the current migrant crisis seems different. With war, instability and poverty spreading through Africa and the Middle East, a prosperous and peaceful Europe is proving a powerful attraction to potentially millions of people who have wearied of the constant turmoil and day-to-day struggles for survival. There is little sign the flow will soon subside.
What seems different about this migrant crisis has more to do with the extraordinary media coverage – and politically motivated reaction to that coverage – than with the all-too-ordinary human tragedy involved. In fact, even though it has been unfolding for years, this migration did not become a “crisis” until this month when the image of a drowned, 3-year-old Syrian boy, who washed up on shore in Turkey, went viral.
Granted, equally heartrending for many were looping videos of displaced, desperate and despairing Syrians being corralled at train stations in Hungary, only to be taken to refugee camps. After all, this evoked very unsettling memories of Jews being corralled in similar fashion in Germany, only to be taken to concentration camps.
Which might explain German Chancellor Angela Merkel making quite a show of pledging to resettle as many Syrians as can make the trek through Turkey, across the Mediterranean Sea, through Greece, Macedonia, Serbia, Hungary, and Austria, to what she has proclaimed as their promised land. It’s not quite the wilderness the Israelites wandered in for 40 years, but no less harrowing, I’m sure.
Other world leaders became suddenly seized by a crisis of conscience too, affecting emotions to reflect the viral sentiment of their respective constituents.
To varying degrees, they aped Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny’s humanitarian concerns: “Is there anybody on the planet who could not be moved by what they saw in the papers – anybody with a sense of humanity – who saw the body of a young boy washed up on a beach like driftwood.
This is a human catastrophe.”
There were and are notable exceptions, however.
Here is how Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán vented his xenophobic fears: “Irresponsibility is the mark of every European politician who holds out the promise of a better life to immigrants and encourages them to leave everything behind and risk their lives in setting out for Europe. If Europe does not return to the path of common sense, it will find itself laid low in a battle for its fate.”
Far more interesting, for obvious reasons, is how Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu invoked his existential imperative: “We will not allow Israel to be submerged by a wave of illegal migrants and terrorist activists. Israel is not indifferent to the human tragedy of Syrian and African refugees…but Israel is a small country – very small – without demographic or geographic depth.
That is why we must control our borders.”
Emotional and rational
I suspect many of you would condemn Orbán and Netanyahu (to a lesser degree) as readily as you’d commend Kenny and other belated do-gooders in this context. But I am convinced that, no matter how nationalistic and/or anti-Islamic their motives, Orbán’s fears and Netanyahu’s imperative are as rational as Kenny’s concerns are emotional.
In fact, instead of rushing to one-up each other’s pledge to resettle Syrians, European leaders should be joining forces to do whatever is necessary to redress conditions in Syria that are forcing them to leave.
Failure to do so, in triage fashion, means that millions could be wandering through Europe, in migrant formation, before the end of the year. At that rate, Europe might end up with a majority non-White population before the United States.
With apologies to Shakespeare’s Sonnet 60, I paraphrase: “Like as waves make towards the pebbled shore, so too will Syrians take to the sea, All changing place with those who went before, in droves migrants will continue to flee.”
I’m on record empathizing with Kenny’s humanitarian concerns. I fear, however, that conscience-assuaging measures pursuant to them might only end up vindicating Orbán’s xenophobic fears.
I am acutely mindful of the social upheaval dispossessed, destitute, disenfranchised, disassociated and disillusioned immigrants (most of whom happened to be young Muslims) caused when they erupted in riots all over Europe just years ago. I duly wrote a series of commentaries from 2005 through 2014 on that subject.
And frankly, I have no reason to believe that, no matter how well-intentioned, Europeans will do a better job assimilating these migrants than they did assimilating those immigrants.
There are all manner of White nationalists, like the neo-Nazis, lying in wait to terrorize resettled migrants. And I would not be the least bit surprised if the Germans greeting this first wave of migrants with banners, cheers, and food are among those hurling xenophobic epithets at sequent waves of them a few months from now – as predictable strains and conflicts with respect to gainful employment and welfare benefits become manifestly untenable.
Hell, even the United States is no longer welcoming unyielding waves of huddled masses yearning to breathe free. Therefore, as Orbán warns, it seems irresponsible for Europe to be doing so.
Accordingly, European leaders should coordinate comprehensive humanitarian interventions, enabled and protected by NATO (not United Nations) forces, to contain would-be migrants within their borders. It’s clearly far better to provide local safe havens than for migrants to continue risking life and limb – only to end up in splendid desolation in Europe or in fetid isolation in internment camps, where millions are being detained today in Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, and increasingly in Hungary.
Meanwhile, Western pundits accused Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of taking political cheap shots last week when they not only blamed this migrant crisis on U.S. foreign policies – which Europe helped execute in lapdog fashion – but also claimed that they warned it would be thus.
Specifically, they gloated that but for America’s shortsighted yet cocksure attempt to change regimes across the Middle East and Northern Africa, countries like Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Somalia, Egypt, Yemen, and Syria would still be bedrocks of political stability – even if ruled by reprehensible dictators.
I’m on record saying as much in previous commentaries. And not to put too fine a point on it, but only a warmongering fool like former U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney could deny that:
•Iraq would be better off today if the United States had not deposed Saddam Hussein.
•ISIS/ISIL would not be the regional menace it is today if the United States had not used the attacks of 9/11 as a pretext to launch a neocon Christian crusade to remake the Middle East in America’s image.
•Egypt would be better off today if the United States had not championed the ouster of Hosni Mubarak.
•Libya would be better off today if the United States had not triggered the assassination of Muammar Gaddafi.
•Syria would be better off today if the United States had not called for Bashar al-Assad “to go,” then left it to a fractious group of opposition forces to undermine his regime. To be sure, there would have been the usual trickle of asylum seekers, but not the millions of refugees who have already fled for their lives.
More to the point, though, nobody can deny that, for all its promises, the Arab Spring has harvested nothing but turmoil and strife; and this migrant crisis is just the latest in its slew of unintended, but all too foreseeable, consequences.
No ‘defining image’
That said, I am profoundly dismayed that it took Syrians drowning and being corralled like cattle to prick the conscience of Europeans. Nothing irked my consciousness in this respect quite like watching internationally acclaimed actress and activist Emma Thompson, during a September 3 BBC interview, and confess shame as she decried the UK’s failure to provide refuge to more Syrians.
She insisted that only racial (and religious?) bigotry could explain this failure. She obviously forgot that thousands of African migrants – including untold numbers of children even younger than three – had already drowned at sea and washed up on European shores long before the media declared the picture of one drowned Syrian boy the “defining image of this migrant crisis.”
Here is how I decried the forsaken plight of African migrants on October 7, 2013 in a post entitled, “Lampedusa Tragedy Highlights Europe’s ‘Haitian’ Problem”:
As tragic as this event was, political dysfunction, economic stagnation, and civil strife on the Dark Continent are such that Africans will continue to risk life and limb to seek a better life. For, just as no legal barrier or risk of drowning in the Caribbean Sea has stemmed the tide of Haitian migrants setting off for America, no legal barrier or risk of drowning in the Mediterranean Sea will stem the tide of African migrants setting off for Europe.
Images and videos of their tragedy were sufficiently available to prick the conscience of anyone who cared, even though none ever went viral.
This raises questions about racism that should prick the conscience of Europeans even more than the picture of that drowned Syrian boy did. I alluded to those questions – and offered the only possible answer to them all – in a post entitled, “Europeans Erecting High Fences to Maintain Good Relations with African Neighbors” on October 8, 2005, which includes this prescient equally prescient observation:
There’s no denying that America has an arbitrary, even mercenary, immigration policy – highlighted by a racist ‘Wet Foot, Dry Foot’ system that grants Cuban migrants an EZ pass but repatriates Haitian migrants summarily. Yet, compared with that of other countries, America has by far the most inviting and humane policy of them all.
Africans, Haitians similar
This fact is finally coming into stark relief for Europeans who once chided Americans with righteous indignation for their treatment of [undesirable] migrants. Because African migrants are now posing the same challenges for Europe that Haitian migrants have been posing for the United States for decades.
In a bit of perverse symmetry, it’s arguable that Europeans accepting Syrians but rejecting Africans in this context is analogous to Americans accepting Cubans but rejecting Haitians.
In both cases, Whites betray a clear preference for migrants who appear higher on the de facto racial totem pole the way Whites in Apartheid South Africa assigned Brown (or colored people) to a caste above Black ones. Only divide-and-marginalize racism explains this disparate treatment of Brown and Black refugees.
Arabians, Africans uninterested
Finally, I cannot overstate this observation on the pathological refusal of Africans to assume any responsibility for resolving humanitarian crises in their midst, as I wrote earlier this year in a post entitled, “African Migrants Turning Mediterranean Sea into Vast Cemetery,” on February 12, 2015:
I just hope the damning irony is not lost on any proud African that, 50 years after decolonization, hundreds of Africans (men, women, and children) are risking their lives, practically every day, to subjugate themselves to the paternal mercies of their former colonial masters in Europe.
In a similar vein, I hope the equally damning irony is not lost on any proud Arab that, despite their profligate wealth, the royal rulers of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, UAE, and Bahrain are reportedly showing no interest in resettling any of these Syrian refugees. For surely this makes a mockery of any claim to religious and/or cultural pride in the Muslim world.
It’s shameful enough that they’re sitting on their thrones and expecting the United States to protect their respective kingdoms from ISIS the way it protected them from al-Qaeda. But the least these regal bastards can do is fund the UN food program for hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees now living in Jordan – given the SOS the UN recently sent out for $236 million just to continue this program through November.
This is why imperious Arab and unscrupulous African leaders are as worthy of condemnation for willfully leaving it to European leaders to deal with this migrant crisis, as presumptuous American leaders are for triggering (so much of) it in the first place.
Anthony L. Hall is a Bahamian native with an international law practice in Washington, D.C. Read his columns and daily weblog at www.theipinionsjournal.com.