On that note I’d like to turn to one of the most irksome dilemmas, and here once again, my subjectivity will show its true colors. I know I will take a few bullets for this one but it’s something I feel desperately needs to be said.
Prior to this past weekend’s event there has been a huge pro-refugee absorption movement in many parts of Europe but particularly in Germany. I want to home in on this specific country because A. I’ve lived there and my list of contacts living in Germany continues to grow B. the history of Germany and its collective guilt plays an essential role in the refugee crisis. Unbeknownst the majority of the German public, they are partially repeating their mistakes, but backwards.
Let me explain:
Where did this whole refugee business start?
I can tell you at which point listening to the news broadcast on German radio became a Fluechtlinge (refugee) hoopla. Little else of any significant importance was happening apart from refugees as of summer 2015. No one thought it mildly suspicious that this became a particularly hot topic in the midst of disagreements over Greece’s bailouts, a subject already dividing Germany, both socially and politically. The refugee affair went into full swing when a photo of the body of a young Kurdish boy who passed away at sea while attempting to flee Syria had surfaced on the front page of newspapers worldwide. Before that Europe was still busy cutting funds for emergency rescue boats in the Mediterranean in a sort of impromptu human experiment, rationalizing that if there were no rescue boats, people would stop trying to access Europe by sea. While sitting on their plush sofas it was hard for them to comprehend that people who are starving and being slaughtered en masse don’t care about rescue boats, and as result hundreds died. Europe remained calm. In came this photo of a dead 4 year old and with it a life-shattering concept: while you’re complaining about your ski vacation package, elsewhere people are fighting to stay alive. While you’re bemoaning the deaths of children in Gaza, you’re killing hundreds by your own disregard. This should not have been anything new, but perhaps the shock factor of the photo jolted people out of their comfort zones. For years pictures of dead bodies of Syrian children circulated on the web, often times these photos were even misused in the social media warfare against Israel, yet it was this one boy who changed world politics for years to come.
From my limited lifelong experience, whenever the media raises a tragic story in the midst of political unrest (Greece’s bailout), you should be suspicious, yet for better or worse, no one was. The people immediately demanded compassion from their politicians. Rescuing and welcoming refugees became the new trend, which is all well and good as long as it’s easy. The truth of the matter is people will often be motivated to do things that make them look good, whether or not their intention and character is in fact “good”. To state it bluntly, the involvement and hype was directed at appearing to be good, rather than actually being good. Being “good” would entail systematic management, long term planning, evaluations, research, budgeting, and even personal interviews with refugees. It would require time, investment, brainstorming, money and effort. It’s much easier to take photos, and thus this trend took off quite quickly with comparatively little genuine good-will to support it.
But where did this all come from anyway? Did the Syrian war start this past summer? Of course not, this war has been developing for over 4 years, and far longer if you count Assad’s previous atrocities. Where was the European public when Assad used chemical weapons against his own civilians? Why did it take a blown up picture of a poor 4 year old boy, and 4+ years of slaughter to wake you up? What were you doing?
I know what you were doing. You were not caring. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t blame you; we all deal with the problems closest to us. There is an expression in Yiddish (thanks mom) that says that if the whole world threw all of their problems into one big pile, everyone would go back to dig in search of his/her own. It’s much easier to protest in favor of health insurance benefits than it is to wake up every morning knowing that millions of North Koreans are still enslaved and tortured by their own regime. It’s much easier to post selfies at a protest against censorship regulations than it is to admit that hundreds of people will die or have died as a result of your newest smart phone. It’s much easier to protest nuclear power than it is to help the child who walks five hours to get water every day, and it’s much easier to condemn prostitution than it is to combat the kidnappings, rape, and human trafficking that western tourism supports in Asia and Eastern Europe (for example). The same is true everywhere, not just in Germany or Europe, but face the facts; we’re not angels sweeping in to save the day just in time before things get bad. If I had to list all of the mass slaughter, violence, and unfairness in the world we’ve all peacefully ignored and continue to ignore daily, I’d be here all week.
And until a few months ago Syria was just one of them.
So when I ask my German friends, why the EU doesn’t pressure nearby Arab countries (apart from Lebanon and Jordan which have already absorbed hundreds of thousands of Syrians), to grant asylum to refugees, I really don’t want to hear “there’s no time”. They waited more than 4 years for you guys to get your game together. A few days of boycotting gulf oil won’t change much.
That’s right. Boycott. It’s ironic that I, as an Israeli, a few days post the EU West Bank-product labeling fiasco should use this term. However, I’m certain that the politicians behind these regulations are focusing their efforts on the wrong target. If the EU collectively boycotted Gulf States’ fuel for just one day, reason suggests that at least 1/3 of the refugees fleeing to Europe will be able to stay closer to home. Really, why on earth should refugees have to travel thousands of kilometers wrought with danger into the unfamiliar, bone-chilling cold and culturally bizarre European Union in order to settle somewhere reasonable? Make demands western world! If you were willing to go to war for oil for 10 years, you can go to war against oil for a day. If you were willing to fight for “democracy” in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Egypt and murder half a million civilians doing so, you can fight for it peacefully and economically as well.
I get it Germany, you screwed up pretty bad 70 years ago. If anyone gets it it’s someone like me. I understand that you’re trying to vindicate yourselves and do the right thing this time, to show compassion, to welcome refugees similar to the ones created in the late 1940’s. You feel you have a duty to humanity and you pursue it relentlessly, but I can’t help but feel too many people are feigning kindness. All of those who suddenly realized the world has bigger problems once their friends invited them to cheer at the train station as refugees arrive. The videos were uploaded, went viral, and I admit, they made me tear up with emotion. Helping others is often self-gratifying and there’s nothing wrong with that. But did they really realize the world has bigger problems? Is this really about the refugees or has it developed into a story about Germans and Germany’s self-righteousness? Are they aware that Syria is not the only country with refugees? Do they remember that those rescue boats were mainly sent to help refugees from North Africa? Do they care? No. They’re not welcoming North African refugees, because it’s not cool, or because the war in Africa isn’t anything special. I don’t know. I would actually like to have someone answer this one for me. Nobody is asking these questions, no one is talking about the bombings, murder, and atrocities elsewhere (unless Israel is involved), and so I have a hard time believing in your compassion. As with the aforementioned bias against Israel, the same ideology stands true here as well;
True compassion isn’t limited by borders.
(West vs. West Part II to be continued…)