Charlie Hebdo, the apparently unstoppable rise of ISIS, refugees dying in European waters and now Paris.
Trying to make some sense of it all and attempt an opinion based on head and not heart is the hardest thing. The current trend of relying on the rhetoric of those who (albeit with the best of intentions) insist on turning the grey tones of reality into a feel-good monochrome of good vs evil and right vs wrong, is as harmful to the freedom of thought and expression as everything they believe they are taking a stand against.
Maybe some people sleep more easily at night if they have spent their day championing their chosen unfortunates through social media memes and surprisingly vitriolic attacks on those whose opinions they consider less altruistic – I am sure the certainty of their place on the moral high ground is some comfort to them in an increasingly chaotic world. But I am not convinced that their positions, as loudly as they proclaim them, are thought through with any real honesty.
I previously addressed the apologist “It’s not Islam” argument here, and although I am not going to bore you all with it again, I have to reiterate that although most Muslims are not extremist terrorists, most extremist terrorists are Muslim. And they ARE Muslim. It is dangerously naive to declare otherwise. Islam, like all Abrahamic religions, can be interpreted pretty much any way suits an adherent’s lifestyle. An extremist Muslim is just as much a Muslim as a moderate Muslim, they just take different messages from their holy book. And as long as Allah continues to resist making a personal appearance in order to mediate and clarify, that will remain the case.
It is not ‘racist’, it is not ‘discriminatory’, it is not ‘Islamophobia’. It is simply fact.
A few months after Charlie Hebdo the mass arrival by sea began and after that the heartbreaking images of Aylan Kurdi, sparking a massive response from an aghast European audience who were quick to assure the struggling refugees that they would be welcomed in Europe: an understandable reaction to the sight of a tiny body – victim of his family’s attempts to give him a more stable future, but was it really the solution?
Surely the prospect of a relatively indiscriminate welcome in Europe would (and indeed has) only serve to propel yet more people into the arms of utterly inhumane people smugglers and their unseaworthy vessels?
Surely the prospect of a relatively indiscriminate welcome in Europe would (and indeed has) encourage economic migrants to try to pass as legitimate refugees in order to take advantage of the situation?
Where is this huge influx of migrants going to live?
What are they going to survive on?
Where are they going to work?
How is Europe going to ensure that such large numbers of people are able to fully integrate into European life, and assimilate the European values that have made this the relatively successful group of countries people wish to flee to?
What explanation is there for the fact that there are children of previous Muslim immigrants – young adults born in Europe and brought up surrounded by European life and values – now taking part in murderous attacks on their countries of birth?
Who is going to rebuild countries like Syria if the brightest and best (or at least those with the funds to pay the immoral people smugglers) have been encouraged to attempt new lives for themselves in Europe?
The West has demonstrated time and again its total incomprehension of the cultural and historical mindset of Islamic countries – intervention by Western leaders is partly to blame for the spreading Jihadist mess the world finds itself in today – but is there another way in which the general populations of these countries can be given support other than the minefield (excuse the pun) of military intervention, or mass emigration?
Sadly I don’t have the answers I am only consumed by the questions, and perturbed by the attempts of some to simplify a highly complex situation by whitewashing many of the most pertinent issues, whilst allowing knee-jerk sentiment to drive their social judgements and political demands.
While the voices that appear to be shouting the loudest on the UK platform are those mentioned in the first two paragraphs of this post, the story in Italy is a very different one, partly (amongst a host of other reasons) due to the fact that Italy has long been obeying Europe’s orders to rescue and offer safe haven to boatloads of illegal immigrants, with very little back-up. Most of the memes I have seen circling here depict variations on a theme of happy immigrants living off obscenely generous government hand-outs, whilst Italian grannies hunt through the bins for scraps. No more factual than the mock-up of David Cameron, surfboard under his arm, stepping over Aylan’s corpse, but just as inflammatory – the savaging I got for taking one Italian social media commentator to task still boils my blood whenever I pass the man on the street.
So I was curious to see what would happen when a group of illegal immigrants arrived to be housed in the village. Dad, mum and small son from Ghana, two women in their early twenties from Nigeria, and two sisters of a similar age from Senegal.
The muttering from some quarters can probably be heard in Brussels (the village further up the hill got a large consignment of young African men, and the weight of the villagers’ displeasure led to the Mayor submitting his resignation) but a surprising number have been supportive of this development. And whilst the Ghanaian parents are so reserved I cannot quite see how they are going to begin making their way here, their six-year old son is already the life and soul of the party and as for the two Senegalese sisters, well they have brought with them an almost tangible sense of joie de vivre.
This, I think, has the potential to be a successful immigration story: a drip drip drip of people making it through the net in small enough numbers that the local community, rather than feeling overwhelmed, instead is able to welcome the newcomers; help them to find their feet and to integrate, whilst at the same time being able to enjoy the richness that the introduction of other cultures brings to all our lives.
And now Paris.
Disaffected young men whose apparent inability to find a sense of purpose in their everyday lives made them the ideal target for some particularly amoral puppet masters whose task is made even simpler by the ease with which religion can be interpreted to justify even the most heinous actions. It defies the imagination of normal people, as well it should.
But Paris wasn’t the first, and it won’t be the last – that much is certain. And whilst we should not play into the Jihadists’ hands with unjustifiable hatred towards all Muslims (another ‘Holy War’ – Islam against the world, is exactly what they are hoping for), we owe it to ourselves and to the innocent lives lost to be brutally honest about the causes, because only then have we any hope at all of tackling them.
So think about Paris, cry for Paris and mourn with Paris, just don’t pray for Paris – more religion is the last thing they need.
(DISCLAIMER: This jumble of thoughts and ideas masquerading as a blog post is the result of my own difficulty in trying to understand what is currently occurring in the world. I am still very far from understanding much at all, but in a way I’m rather glad to be aware of that…)
*Edited with this message to the posters of this morning’s overly dramatic meme: While it is of course unforgivable on the part of the world’s press to have neglected to report on the terrorist attack in Beirut, claims that the world ‘only cares about white lives’ is another patently over-simplistic response. The Middle East has been in chaos for a long long time – the loss of life there as tragic as it is pointless – and many Westerners struggle even to begin to comprehend how people’s everyday lives play out against such a backdrop. But France was a country at peace, and we know France. We know Paris. Many of us have walked its streets, spoken to its people. They may speak a different language, dress slightly better, eat slightly differently; but their everyday lives are almost as familiar to us as our own, and if it happened to them, it could happen to us. Just as we are all horrified by cancer, by stillbirths, by death in general – the emotional impact is always greater when these things strike the people we know.
That does not in any way mean that we do not care about the Middle East, or about its long-suffering inhabitants, but their struggle is so complicated so apparently lacking in solutions, and so far removed from our own experiences that we no longer know how to react to it.
Childishly dramatic denunciations of a cruel and heartless ‘world’ (I presume the meme posters do not include themselves in this) are not only divisive, they serve no purpose whatsoever.