I have written a response to the refugee crisis facing Europe, which has just been posted over on Reformation 21.
Over the past week, the refugee crisis facing Europe has been a matter of intense discussion here in the UK and around the world. While the facts, figures, and politics have long received attention on the news, pictures of the lifeless body of three-year-old Aylan Kurdi washed up on a Turkish beach pressed the tragic situation of Syrian refugees upon the public consciousness with a visceral intensity. Those images spread on social media, along with hashtags such as #refugeeswelcome, spurring popular outcry against the UK’s asylum policies and a call for us to follow the example of countries such as Germany.
Christians have been among the most vocal of those calling for action, the voices of church leaders being buoyed upon a vast swell of moral sentiment, especially online. People have appealed to the teaching of Jesus, expressed in such parables as the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) and the Sheep and the Goats (Matthew 25:31-46). In a widely shared piece, the left-wing cleric Giles Fraser castigated politicians who campaign on the basis of Christian morality for their supposed hypocritical response to the crisis, maintaining that only the most radical action would suffice:[W]hy not all of them? Surely that’s the biblical answer to the “how many can we take?” question. Every single last one. Let’s dig up the greenbelt, create new cities, turn our Downton Abbeys into flats and church halls into temporary dormitories, and reclaim all those empty penthouses being used as nothing more than investment vehicles. Yes, it may change the character of this country. Or maybe it won’t require anything like such drastic action – who knows? But let’s do whatever it takes to open the door of welcome.
Within it, I criticize many of the Christian arguments for an open doors policy and the posture of a number of European nations. I conclude with some pointers for an alternative response for us as Christian citizens and churches. Read the whole piece here.
Mass immigration: it’s all fun and games until somebody elects a fascist government.
It has to be noted that the young boys who drowned were perfectly safe in Turkey before being put on an unsafe boat. This was a case of economic migration not fleeing for one’s life.
I think Daniel Hannan’s piece, which I linked in my article, makes some perceptive points along these lines.
That piece really bothers me, because it indulges in many of the worst sorts of Conservative stereotyping of liberals, for instance: “We see here the habitual error of the Left: the elevation of motive over outcome.” Which describes leftists like Zizek and Chomsky to a T. (/sarcasm)
Additionally, the performative effect of those lines is to insulate his position from criticism, since it assumes that the liberal approach [really approaches] does not work, but really offers no substantitive argument that his solution does, save the sort of simplistic calculus you object to from the left. (It’s also a Bulverism.) (Not to mention that his piece is entirely structured on proving he has good motives, and using that to dodge the question of whether his policy proposal would actually work, and the liberal charges that it does not. “See, I really care and have good motives.”)
This sounds good, but it’s very wrong-headed. We should oppose the smugglers, since they are, like pimps, preying on people. But the proposal here is that we be hard on the prey, not that we be hard on the predator. We should attack trafficked persons no more than we should attack prostitued women, it’s the traffickers and the pimps and the johns that need resisted. Yes, the face of his natural body is a face of love and help for trafficked persons, but his left hand clearly knows what his right hand is doing, and he invites the reader to join him in seeing this good deed, done in his natural body, and so to leave aside questions of his attacks performed in his corporate body, and the face of inhospitality he turned to the hungry and naked, in his corporate body
Additionally, I think most liberals would agree that the human trafficking is a problem, and should be stopped. It’s his proposal for stopping it, and his rhetoric which blames the trafficked men and women rather than the traffickers, that is problematic.
If this is his suggestion for attacking the traffickers—round up people who, he admits, act as he does we’re the tables reversed, and send them to an island where the children are sexually abused and receive no education, and the adults go on hunger strike to protest the conditions—then this very much is a case of punishing the trafficked. That they are “free to go home” is hardly a consolation, unless free transportation, and help getting established at “home” is offered. There is a reason they were so desperate as to be trafficked from home, and that is not resolved magically by their return. Additionally, “wait to get their papers checked” (papers they may be completely incapable of procuring) is hardly freedom from the impersonal welfare state, but now the impersonal, paternalistic, welfare state is ensuring the welfare of well-to do white people, at the expense of poor dark people, rather than the other way around.
Nor is it at all clear to me that we can draw a hard line between refuge fleeing for their life and a desperate person, vulnerable to being trafficked or prostituted, as they hope for money to live off of. There is perhaps a legal distinction, but I highly doubt there is a hard and fast moral one, or that Christ will accept the answer “Lord, when we saw thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee, it was in our corporate existence as a community, you were the community’s neighbor, not mine, and it was our face, not mine that turned you aside. And anyway, you were an economic migrant, not a true refugee.”
This is not to say that your objections to the neo-liberal response, a response which abstracts people from kin and ancestors and children and place and land, and reduces all to a common denominator, that is, reduces them to idealized European bodies, and to cash, and reduces “our Sister Mother Earth who sustains and governs us”, to a mere resource, are not on point. And your proposals at the end are excellent. (Though, I am worried earlier in the article you indulge too much in Conservative fears of (cultural) death, fears which, like the fears of personal death, are the root of slavery to death, and a manifestation of a lack of faith in the God who keeps faith with those who sleep in the dust, even those peoples—since, in the Scripture, resurrection is, first, a corporate resurrection of the dying people, not the dying person.) We need, as peoples, to learn to have just communion and fellowship with other peoples, making our homes and churches points of joining with the corporate bodies of our neighbors—even if that corporate body is represented in just one of its members.
Thanks for the comment.
I think that anyone who has been following the responses to the crisis on social media and in commentary will know exactly what Hannan is referring to when he speaks about the ‘habitual error of the Left’. An error doesn’t have to be universal to be profoundly habitual and characteristic. Besides, these are exactly the sorts of dynamics that someone like Žižek will comment on, often in no less apparently generalizing terms.
What Hannan has in his targets is the sort of sentimental humanitarianism that has been sweeping the UK over the past week or so, something which has yielded its policy proposals through kneejerk reaction and virtue signalling, rather than through careful deliberation. I definitely think we should criticize Hannan’s precise policy proposals—I was concerned that he brought up the example of Australia as one of good policy, for instance—but with Hannan at least that conversation could be had. With the sentimental humanitarianism he is criticizing, such a conversation doesn’t even exist. Hannan’s ‘proving he has good motives’ is both a protective move in anticipation of the inevitable criticisms from many sentimental humanitarians of non-open door policies. It is also a demonstration that this debate really can’t be settled by motives either way. Hannan’s piece is primarily a prolegomena to policy debates, rather than a carrying out of such debates (although he does touch on the debates at various points). While there are plenty of objections that could be raised against Hannan’s specific proposals, it would require a movement beyond sentimental humanitarianism for us to have a sensible public discussion of this.
I think that you are very unhelpfully conflating two very different things in your comments: the importance of showing concern and hospitality and the importance of showing concern and hospitality in this particular way. Hannan is not saying that we personally, nor our countries corporately, should not show concern and hospitality. Rather, he is challenging the idea that it is our moral duty to show this particular form of hospitality.
Incentivizing people-smuggling is a serious danger and it is difficult to avoid doing so if we are going to give special treatment to the refugees who make it to our shores. It also accentuates patterns of injustice, which strikes me as something that you are possibly missing here. Giving people who have been smuggled in such a manner our best and primary help is often a privileging of the people with the most resources and agency in the affected communities. The overwhelming majority of these people are able-bodied adult males. They are also people with the financial resources to pay the heavy fares for the trip (typically thousands of pounds) and with the physical strength to make it. If you allow such persistent individuals to push to the front of the queue, you will be in danger of a policy towards the crisis that privileges the most agentic and resourceful, to the neglect and obscuring of those with the greatest and most pressing need. Britain’s policy, which, in contrast to Germany’s, focuses upon giving its refuge to the weakest and most dependent persons in the regions affected, rather than to the persons that reach our shores, seems to me to be a better approach here. There are other options available to those with the agency and resources to make it to our shores, although perhaps not as attractive as a European welfare state.
What is required here is a clearer sense of the duties of both hospitality and its reception. I have had extensive experience of living in a home that welcomed homeless persons, immigrants and asylum seekers, recovering alcoholics and drug addicts, battered women, needy children, new age and Irish travellers, etc. and provided them with refuge and a place to live in times of need. A number of issues came into sharper relief through this. Here are a few:
1. If you open your door to people in need, more people will come to you for help, a number of whom will be bypassing more immediate sources of help to get to you. Not all of these people are in as much need of help as others.
2. Your resources are limited, and you must prioritize. This means that you will have to turn some people away.
3. Quite a number of people will abuse your help in various ways, or have a sense of entitlement to it, taking from you what could be given to others with greater need and willingness to be helped.
4. There are occasions when extending help is subsidizing the reluctance of other parties who have far more immediate responsibility and even capacity to do so. In such situations, advocacy for the needy party may do a lot more good than taking them in.
5. Some people will be more helped by limiting the help that you provide to them and learning to say ‘no’, as your help is a way of their avoiding both the responsibility for and the consequences of their actions. Some people have the agency and resources to address their own problems either partially or completely and your ‘help’ is coddling their unwillingness to do so. Some such people are black holes for the concern and resources thrown at them and need, more than anything else, people to close their doors to them.
6. There are people who want to dictate the shape that your help of them must take and will turn down genuine help that doesn’t meet their preferences. Learning how to resist such people is very important.
7. For the most part, such help is a temporary band-aid on a problem, not a true solution. As such, it is often important to place limits on the duration of your hospitality. More attention is needed to addressing the systemic and underlying problems, rather than just picking up the pieces of the damage they cause. If you aren’t careful, people can transform your temporary relief provided in extreme situations into a means of avoiding addressing their real problems in the longer term.
8. You need a very strong set of boundaries and a very strong sense of self when helping people as many people will prey upon the weak boundaries of people overwhelmingly driven by guilt and pity, or with messiah complexes.
9. Helping too many people often leaves you unable to make a real difference to anyone.
10. The power of a home and family truly to help is in large measure proportional to its capacity to retain its character as a home and a family. If hospitality is not accompanied by the boundaries and the privileging of the core dynamics and persons of the home that maintain this character, the host community will have its life-giving power leeched away.
11. The people who primarily extend hospitality may not be the ones who will potentially bear the greatest burden of the hospitality (although in our situation it was). It is very easy for the ‘hospitality’ of the leaders of a community to come at the expense of the weakest within their communities. It is imperative that the hospitality of a community be extended justly, in a manner peculiarly attentive to and protective of the interests and needs of those who are most vulnerable and dependent within the community.
12. Knowing a number of cases of children of such hospitable families who were sexually or otherwise abused by people their parents sought to help, we must be prepared to close our doors to or expel people who pose a real threat to the most vulnerable in our communities. For instance, as a young teen, I once had to intervene in the heat of a situation where a grown man who was staying with us was beating up his girlfriend. He later threatened me with violence. I am thankful that my parents had the backbone and moral courage to put him back out on the street.
Scripture gives a number of guidelines for both our giving and our reception of charity. Care is primarily due to those who are most proximate to us, especially our own families and churches. To abandon or seriously compromise this duty of care for the sake of people further afield is sinful and shameful. Charity is principally to be directed towards dependent persons without structures to provide for them, to orphans and to widows especially. If someone refuses to exercise their existing agency to provide for themselves, they should experience the consequences of their improvidence and be socially shamed (2 Thessalonians 3:10). The poor are not to be universally fetishized as innocent victims, as they are not uncommonly—though certainly not always—suffering effects of their own injustice and improvidence, not just systemic injustice and the mistreatment of others. We should be discriminating in our giving of charity, recognizing the existence of those who abuse charity and take advantage of charity to the detriment of others. We should privilege the righteous over the wicked and those with most immediate need over others without such immediate need (1 Timothy 5:3ff.). We should not subsidize the improvidence of existing support structures (1 Timothy 5:4, 16) and should impose serious sanctions upon those who do not perform their responsibility (1 Timothy 5:8). Our charity shouldn’t be driven by guilt and we are able to enjoy the wealth that God has given us without feeling that all of our enjoyment of the fruits of our wise stewardship of God’s gifts is an injustice to others. Charity to strangers is our duty, but not a totalizing one.
In the reception of charity and hospitality, other guidelines existed. We should, as much as is within our power, avoid being an undue burden or imposing ourselves on people’s hospitality. The state of being in need on account of our previous failure to be disciplined and quiet workers is spoken against (1 Thessalonians 4:11-12). We shouldn’t ‘shop around’ for charity, but should accept what is first offered to us (cf. Luke 10:7). We shouldn’t be those who complain about or are demanding in the charity and hospitality we receive, but should receive whatever is given to us with thankfulness.
Taking these sorts of considerations into account, I think there are some important implications for our policy on asylum-seekers. Our responsibility of care begins with those who are in need and poverty and who are vulnerable in our own countries. The communities that bear the primary burden of our welcome are not the communities of ‘well-to-do white people’, but the communities of the poor, among whom ‘dark people’ are most highly represented. Our relatively undiscriminating ‘welcome’ to certain asylum-seeking and immigrant groups over the years has chiefly come at their expense, producing all sorts of pathologies, abuses, and social breakdown in their communities, pathologies to which we have turned the blind eye of enlightened multiculturalism, accusing the poor for their xenophobia. The girls and women who have been abused in places such as Rotherham are highly unlikely to be the daughters of wealthy professionals.
The principles of charity focus the duty of care upon those who are the most immediate neighbours and warn us against subsidizing such parties in their refusal to take responsibility. They focus the duty and the provision of care upon the local. They discourage against the development of structures of dependency and would seem to encourage temporary and focused regional relief over permanent resettlement in far distant countries where possible (we should beware of the very real danger of our asylum policies fostering a sort of benevolent colonialism). They make clear that hospitality and charity are not open-ended duties that enable other people to prey upon us. They teach us to distinguish between the charity and hospitality that people seek from us and the hospitality that we are responsible to give to them. They encourage us to facilitate and support the needy in the exercise of their own agency, rather than to make them dependent on ours. Importing the manpower and the richest and most resourceful people of Syria into Europe for permanent resettlement to help alleviate the looming consequences of our demographic time bomb does Syria itself no long term favours. Nor does our facilitating of the indifference of the rich Gulf states, who have done next to nothing to provide relief to a situation that they helped create. We need to impose sanctions upon them for not performing their neighbourly duty. Perhaps we could start by boycotting the forthcoming World Cup in Qatar (like Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and the UAE, Qatar hasn’t allowed in any refugees), which is projected to come at the cost of sixty deaths per match.
Finally, on the ‘cultural death’ issue, it is neither an unchristian nor an unjustified concern. While the faithful need not fear death, those without faith have genuine reason to. Those who hate wisdom love death. Indeed, they have a suicidal yet typically unwitting attraction to it. This is our problem in European society: not the fear of death by faithful people, but the attraction of cultural suicide to those who have lost their faith. As a great deal of accumulated cultural capital of two millennia of Christian history will be jeopardized by this suicide, even those of us who are faithful have good reason for concern too. Death has no final power over us—a power possessed only by the resurrecting God who has defeated Death—but it can cause a great deal of damage nonetheless and should not be treated lightly, but with the respect due to a power, which although decisively defeated, is still very much and very destructively active in our world.
We cross-posted. I’ll read this, but my longer post below was posted in ignorance of this.
I want to note that guest-host relationships in the Ancient NE placed strong obligations on the guest, as well as the host. We live in a culture which places very few obligations on those who are seen as weak and vulnerable.
This really is a crucial point. There can also be unreasonable demands and expectations from guests that hosts have no duty to fulfil and unreasonable behaviour from the guest that effectively negates the guest-host relationship. Behind many of these debates lie flawed modern accounts of the pure and disinterested gift and the notion that there is no onus of gratitude placed upon the gift’s recipient.
I think we read the Hannan piece very differently, perhaps because of different US v England contexts. Here, I’ve heard the sort if claims he makes all too often presented not as prolegomena for debate, but as an argument in the debate, and as a means of closing down the debate, and bringing through a Conservative policy by means of a sentimental reaction to sentimental humanitarianism. So I don’t think I’m conflating the duty to show hospitality with a duty to show hospitality a particular way, but responding to what strikes me as an attempt to prove we (in our corporate persons) should show “hospitality” a particular way. But perhaps that’s because of a difference between English and US political discourse.
I find your comments on policy very interesting, and though I disagree in a few points, very helpful. My concern however, isn’t to defend certain policies, but to keep debate over the shape of policy from being shut down, in the opposite direction you are: To the objection as a replacement for argumentation, and as a means of reducing those policies we disagree with to their worst representatives, rather than steel-manning their positions. Perhaps in England that isn’t as much of a problem, but here, right wing debate has a tendency to use that sort of claim as the chief means of advocacy for a position.
On cultural death: Perhaps this is also a difference between England and the US. Here there’s a real tendency to appeal to fears of the death of a culture to advocate for very troubling positions; whereas the suicidal attitude is more of a specter that haunts our discourse, but isn’t as large a problem. Also, we need to remember that a culture that is alive is one that risks death to help the neighbor, and that, as peoples, if we seek to save our lives, we loose them. And that part of the continued life of a people is contrition for our sins—or at the least, not celebrating them, as we too often insist on doing in the US. That may not be as pressing a concern in Europe—though many of the greatest atrocities of the 20th c., including the Holocaust, were caused in large part by an attempt to grasp and posses our own life—but now, in the US, it is. (Also, I first saw your piece after seeing a number of disturbing tweets about cuckservatives and the duty of real conservatives to defend America, and keep the west strong.)
Yes, the European situation is very different in some key respects. I read Hannan’s piece firmly in the context of the treatment of the refugee crisis within the UK media and on online social media, where sentiment has overwhelmed any sort of reasonable discourse. That, it seems to me, is what Hannan is pushing back against. For those reading this discussion within the US, I am not surprised that its connotations may occasionally seem to strike some jarringly discordant notes. I would just advise such persons—and persons who resonate with it on the other side of the Atlantic too—to attend closely to the particularity of the context I am—and figures like Hannan are—addressing.
I missed Thursday’s comment on obligations incumbent on guests. Yes, I strongly agree.
Though I would be concerned with applying that too quickly. First, what looks like a failure of the guest may in fact be a failure of the guest to satisfy the host’s inhospitable demands. Second, when we are hosts, we need to keep Christ’s command to “Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away.” (No, I’m not rushing to application.) Third, those of us in the US need to remember that we are all guests and very poor ones, who presumed to speak as lords giving hospitality, not as children learning from hosts, and who then took the homes from our hosts; and as hosts to Africans we have hardly been better—including in living memory. And yet we have a history of accusing others—Irish, Catholics, Italians (some Italian children had to go to colored schools), Mexicans, Chinese, Japanese, etc. of being poor guests. Since we are more than individuals, these deep injustices are, in a very real sense ours.
I think also there’s an important difference between arguing against open borders; and various degrees of actively supporting actions against people who are in the water trying to come. I’m sympathetic to the claim that open borders are a bad idea, and some support them for very bad reasons (even if they don’t make those reasons known to themselves), other people support them because they’ve read they are good and charitable, and others support them because they’re virtue signaling. (As I said below, I’d be far more likely to believe Germany’s open borders were hospitality, not neo-liberal attacks on people, if had they been hospitable to Greece.) But I’m not terribly at all sympathetic to the claim that we should actively oppose the people who are in the water now. (How to have a form of border security, while also working to help the people who are currently in need because they are currently in transit is beyond me.) I think your claim was the first, whereas Hannan’s–through his invocation of Australia–was the second.
I’m also not opposed to the claim that people supported open borders as a form of virtue signaling. (I can’t read the other piece you linked to to support the claim since it’s behind a pay wall.) But to the claim that this is a typical liberal action–when it is in fact, characteristic of everyone, across the political spectrum. To selectively apply it to liberals seems, to me, to be itself a form of virtue signaling.
Originally I decided not to comment on this because I just don’t know enough about it, but I have now decided to comment briefly about Germany’s leadership role in this crisis – because it has been on my mind, and because I have just come across the article ‘Why Germany Welcomes the Refugees’ by Leonid Bershidsky (Bloomberg View) Bershidsky opens with a focus on ‘German moral leadership’ and ends with this:
‘… if the current charitable sentiment lasts. it may be because Germans have become keenly aware of the leadership role their country has taken in Europe lately. Germany, says Gloede of Borderline Europe, “has become the focus of international attention, it says what has to be done and is therefore obliged to be the first to do something.”
This resolve of Germans to give refugees the best welcome they can isn’t just an example. It’s a challenge to the rest of Europe and even to the US: Come on, match this if you can.’
I don’t want to think that the German people might have dreams of world supremacy for Germany. but I find that I am thinking this thought anyway.
I don’t want to think that enmeshed in the spirit of the German people is the thought that they are the greatest (‘Deutschland, Deutschland ueber alles, ueber alles in der Welt’), but I find myself thinking this thought anyway. Those words were sung by some at the World Cup, despite the fact that the words were made illegal a while back. I did not want to attach to much significance to it at the time, but now I am wondering about it.
Had they given the Greek people a strong welcome, I would be far more inclined to trust their gestures here.
Perhaps I should write a slightly more direct response. I agree that neoliberalism is very destructive, as I said, it abstracts people from land, people, ancestors, progeny, family, religion, etc. and thus reduces them to as it were white bodies, mechanically useful for the production of money, but without a lived body, especially a lived corporate body, but also a living individual body with real ends and hopes.
But my fundamental concern is threefold:
First, the crisis of migrants (and in the States of immigration) is a crisis of the face the nation turns toward the poor and naked who are coming to her seeking hope, whereas, it seems that your recommendations at the end ask instead about the face the Churches and families turn toward the poor and naked who have come into the nation. While those recommendations are indeed very good, I think they miss the point, in the first case because they address the wrong corporate person, and because they get the tense wrong: The nation presents them a face in their entry, and the speech about what sort of persons they are, whereas once they have entered, except through policing–and Conservative proposals like Hannan’s are often allied with calls for stronger policing for those who have entered–they encounter the face of the nation itself less, and instead face the many smaller bodies which make up the nation. The suggestions you offer, while important and correct, touch on the face they are presented with after they have entered the nation, and are no longer faced by the nation, and so do not quite touch on the issue at hand (though again, the issue you address is indeed a very important issue).
The question of the refugee crisis, in its public character, touches more on the sort of face we present to a different people–through the mediation of persons who are members of those people–through the rhetoric about the people, and the policy proposals we call for. (This is also why Hannan’s salutary help of the refugees is aside from the point, and inasmuch as he calls it as a witness to his advocacy for policy, is an instance of doing his good deeds to be seen by man; and indeed, an instance of the fetishizing of sentiment to the neglect of the task of prudence.)
Second, and on that front, I think some of the rhetoric you appeal to abstracts from our existence as members of a people who are encountering a different people, and reducing the question to our personal encounter with migrants and refugees, present a very problematic face of the people to the other people we are encountering here. Again, my objection is not that we should reduce the migrants to individuals, and thus to money, and I share the objections to the neoliberal policies. Indeed, as Levenson argues, in Scripture, “the self of an individual…was entwined with the self of his or her family [or people].”, so that, for instance, childlessness is equivalent to death, and Moses died a good death because the people survived, and came into the Promised Land. This means that the question Irigaray raises in Sharing the World, of how different subjectivities, and different histories–and different wombs–can build common thresholds between them is central. While, again, neoliberalism usually works on a forgetting of self, and thus a failure to really hear–a failure which, Jennings argues, reproduces white-supremacy–we need to hear the command to “in humility consider others better than yourself” as addressed not only to members of one community facing members of the same community, but to persons embeded in one family, history, subjectivity, nation, etc. facing persons embedded in another family, religion, culture, etc. Which means that we have a real duty to approach other peoples as students, learning from them, rather than pathologizing them–because when we pathologize them, we treat ourselves–ourselves not as individuals, but as members of a culture and people–as superior. That is, we need to resist claims that peoples we have never met, and which we have no real ability to judge, are “manifesting an attitude of angry entitlement and hostility.” Not because this judgment is known to be false, but because it cannot be known to be true. And anyway, even if they are hostile, we need to respond to hostility as we would in person, not with more hostility–with turning them away, etc.–but with grace and mercy, “when our homes are reviled, reviling not again; we are threatened with suffering, threatening not” trusting the God who raises the dead–that is, in the first instance, preserves the people from mortal threat–to raise us, in our particularity.
This point is particularly pressing because, at least in the US, pathologization of non–whites has habitually been used to discredit calls for justice (sorry, I don’t know how to link to that twitter essay–the aren’t linked tweets), and outlandish, racist comments and policy proposals have become an issue in US politics–together with the cry to protect America from death (to make America great again–Ted Cruz is Doug Wilson’s preferred candidate, so this isn’t a non-Chrisitan candidate). (Though I know you agree with Jake Meander here.)
Finally, while you rightly critique the liberal Christian response that, were your conservative readers to reject Conservative answers would be tempted to take up, I don’t think you offer nearly the same depth of critique of the Conservative responses, that your US readers likely already give, or are tempted to.
I hope that doesn’t come off as too hostile. For the most part, I enjoyed reading the piece, and found it made an important critique, and offered important, and good, recommendations.
I have rather a lot of work on my plate right now, so can’t afford to get into a longer discussion of this: I expressed most of my concerns in my lengthy response to your earlier remarks. After making some responses to this one, I probably ought to bow out of the discussion for now.
First, my post was a treatment of the very specific situation of the European refugee crisis and, although it highlights some principles that apply to other situations of mass immigration, were I dealing with another context, I would handle it differently. One of the central points of my post concerns the importance of recognizing the particularity of places. Some places can effectively retain their character in a far more cosmopolitan manner than others. Immigration also takes many different forms. The fact that refugees face such extreme risks to their lives in making the journey to Europe definitely colours the particularity of our present situation, for instance, as does the cultural and geographical non-proximity of the source of the particular groups coming here.
Second, I very strongly believe that the face of the nation should be directed in concern and relief towards asylum seekers and those displaced by the war in Syria and elsewhere. I made occasional points along this line in my post (e.g. ‘our primary moral course lies in restoring the refugees’ own places and assisting their neighbours in providing for them’). My objection is to the idea that our duty of concern and aid must take the form of admitting large numbers of refugees to our country, especially the predominantly better off able-bodied males who dominate among those smuggled into Europe. I have expressed my desire in various contexts that the UK do more as a country in response to the crisis. My objection is not at all to the provision of extensive relief, but to having the form of that relief dictated to us and to the idea that permanent resettlement of Syrian refugees in this country is either required of us or a just and wise course of action for all parties involved. This really isn’t a choice between concern and no concern, but between different forms our concern should take.
Third, I purposefully avoided laying out a specific set of proposals for government policy. My primary purpose was to clear the ground for a Christian discourse on that matter driven by prudence, but any attempt to provide proposals within the constraints of the article’s brief would have been half-baked.
Fourth, you emphasize racial dimensions, which are important here. However, I don’t think you give enough attention to the more immediate and important distinction between citizens and non-citizens of a particular nation. The situation we are currently facing is not that of a large group of persons seeking temporary refuge in or passage through our countries, but of a large group of persons who expect to become members of our nations. This poses rather different sorts of questions than you seem to be thinking of. This isn’t just a matter of providing the temporary refuge of law and order for a displaced group of persons who will return in a decade’s time, for instance. The supposed duties of charity and hospitality are rather different in such cases.
Fifth, the negative judgments I made about the refugees weren’t generalized, but about certain tendencies that have been witnessed in many situations, not least violent Islamic fanaticism (without even getting into the real threat of terrorism). They have also been informed by friends and acquaintances of mine who have had extensive first-hand experiences of the cultures in question. For instance, my girlfriend spent a few months in Syria a while back and has never encountered a place with more rampant and pervasive—in her experience—sexual assault and molestation, which she was peculiarly exposed to as a white woman (certain cultures of Muslim males preying upon young white women is an unpleasant recurring ‘trope’ of multicultural reality). It was everywhere she went and extreme. She had men groping her, putting their hands up her skirt, a taxi driver putting money into her lap for a sexual favour while travelling at 80mph, a man selling her a Muslim headscarf offering 20% off in exchange for a sex act, etc., etc. Just as one has a duty of care for the vulnerable members of one’s family that should inform the way you provide help to the known sex offender, so our leaders have a duty of care to our own societies in preventing certain poisonous and violent cultural dynamics from taking root in our communities. There are points at which we have to be prepared to cast negative cultural judgments and to take steps to protect ourselves. Kneejerk prejudice is profoundly unhealthy, but informed negative judgment is a different matter.
Finally, knowing, for instance, a number of people who were sexually abused by people their parents sought to help, I have little patience for any faith in our good intentions in God’s service approach. Well-intentioned, faithful Christians’ daughters can and do get raped too. Even though God can raise the dead, there are real lives at stake here and people who aren’t as wise as serpents—and even some that are—will get badly hurt or, more likely, allow others to get badly hurt. God may have raised Israel from the death of slavery in Egypt, for instance, but that didn’t change the fact that many of their baby boys had been drowned. Resurrection isn’t just a matter of kissing our boo-boos better. We face the real threat of tragedy in history. The fact that history is not finally nor ultimately a tragedy doesn’t undermine this fact.
Yes, my comments may be the result of me being far more concerned with the US situation, and so reading your comments on the European situation through the US situation, or with the US situation occupying a far larger part of my field of vision than yours when we try to focus on the European situation.
Yes, I know you aren’t setting out proposal, and though I don’t have the same experiences, I also object to “good intentions.” My concern, perhaps because of my US perspective and field of vision, is with articulated reasons for particular proposals (the articulation itself, not the “motive” it reveals), the rhetorical description of our neighbors, and our approach to the passage of time. We are pulled on the cross if reality, and our concerns with our own home, our concerns with our relations with our neighbors, our concerns for our past, and our concerns for our future are all in tension, and in this contradictory position, we must work for justice on all fronts; and on the other hand, a form of disease can affect our life on all fronts: Europe may be facing a disease of the past oriented front and the inner oriented front, whereas here, many are suffering from a disease of the future orientation (an unwillingness to age, or repent, but a grasping for youth and vigor, and a past “golden age”) and the external front.
mnpeterson37, as an American who has also lived in Europe, I do believe that part of the difficulty you and Alastair are experienceing has to do with the differences in the situational contexts you are writing about. I lived in Croatia during the war there and was involved in humanitarian aid for refugees then. And now I live in Memphis, where race problems are an ongoing daily reality. I have worked here in more than one agency that reaches out primarily to the poor and unemployed (or less employed), and that has meant seeing a lot of the racial issues up close. While of course there are some similarities, as there always are among human beings, there are some real and significant differences between the two situations.
By the way, I’m not familiar with the resources you are referring to, but I recently completed a class in social justice and the civil rights movement. One of our texts was Welcoming Justice, by John M. Perkins and Charles Marsh. It was one of the most hope-giving things in the whole class, along with getting to meet him. If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend it. (I don’t know how to do links in a comment…..? or I would have…..)
And I should add that my experiences with the refugees in Croatia were quite different from this current situation of migrants and refugees coming to Europe. Even though both situations involved a primary Muslim-non-Muslim contrast, the situations are different enough that I’m not sure many parallels could be found. In all these situations the Christian love for the “other” is foundational, but how it is expressed practically varies because of the context.
Thanks for the book recommendation! That looks interesting. I’ve added it to my Amazon wish-list.
I have been following this conversation with interest – much food for thought. I think that US and UK/European perspectives on this are inevitably different and I have found it helpful to read comments here which highlight these differences. I must confess that I became quite exasperated with some Twitter comments on this issue from some people in the US – in the UK we have this situation on our doorstep, so to speak, with some instances of refugees walking along the Chunnel in an attempt to enter the UK. There’s an immediacy about this that tends to focus the mind! My heart goes out to the refugees and especially to the children, and I have no criticism of the heartfelt response of so many to this crisis. However I also think that Alastair’s words of caution and wisdom are timely and relevant. We need an ‘amber light’.
Alastair, great article.
I wondered about your attention to the power of images in the cult of humanitarian sentimentalism. The problem with images on social media is the lack of context.
The ability of the image-makers to manipulate images to tell a certain story is well-known, but I wonder what one is to do with the images set before him or her by others, without the ability to really check it out (we can’t fly over to see the situation on the ground themselves). I see two options, given the lack of information and context we have while being confronted with the image: sympathize but realize that this is all far away and not feasible to help. There was no internet to show me this a century ago, and the same things have always happened
Alternatively, to see that the internet is here, and that this enables us to do something – share the image, electronically donate to humanitarian aide, or advocate for allowing asylum.
Advocating for something with so little context is a risk that people don’t often think about. These are different civilizations (the plural is on purpose – Muslim Arab, Assyrian Christians, Kurds, etc.), people groups with highly organized societies, social mores, and ideas. Their mindset is very different from ours. One has to weigh the risks, because in democracies the voice of the people matters, and for every voice added there is more likehood that something will be done.
I’m lucky to have more context than most, as I’ve actually been able to talk to refugees from Syria. When I was living in Iraq as a teacher, the falafel shops often had young Syrian Kurds working there. They shared a disillusionment with the US – why not stop the war? The US is powerful and this is a horrific crisis, the worst in the world at the time (and still is).
They didn’t want to flee. Syria is home. But the situation there is so bad, the West having made every possible mistake. I agree with observation of the knee-jerk guilt that Europeans and liberal westerners in general experience, but this is a case where we are actually complicit, not in the distant past but in our foreign policies as they stand now and in the past five years.
That said, my answer to the refugee crisis is uncertainty. I believe the world should have gotten into Syria to stop the war at the beginning when it would have been easier, years ago, but with every passing day it’s more and more difficult to do that. But stopping the Syrian war and helping that nation rebuild would solve the entire problem.
Given that we’re not doing that, we ought to do something else – make the camps they wait in more comfortable or better so that they are not as immediately desperate to make the dangerous crossing. I’m in full agreement in your suggestions on what the church can do, but I remain unsure of what to advocate.
Thanks for the thoughtful remarks, Paul; I had been hoping that you would comment.
On your image question, I believe we need to treat images with caution, but to be prepared to do further research when we see things that spark our concern. We should also, recognizing the dangers of depending on images to bring matters to our attention, foster a greater awareness to situations in our world more generally.
While questioning the prudence of the political responses that many have proposed on the basis of the kneejerk of sympathy, I purposefully left the question of what action our governments should take largely unaddressed. I didn’t want my principal points—about the pathologies of certain modes of political reasoning, the problems with a popular line of response, and the duty of Christians with their churches—to be obscured by far more tentative remarks on my preferred course of action.
That said, my instinct would be to focus on the following, more or less in this order:
1. Considerably increasing our aid budget. Establishing secure and well-provided refugee camps in the region and send aid to all those affected, making sure that Christians, for instance, who might avoid some of the Muslim-dominated refugee camps, aren’t left out.
2. Providing support to the governments that are taking in the most refugees in the region.
3. Committing ourselves to resettling a greater number of refugees in the UK, selecting especially at risk and dependent persons in refugee camps and in the affected regions, rather than those who travel to Europe.
4. Invest our time, effort, and resources in local efforts to welcome and incorporate refugees that come to our areas into our neighbourhoods.
As for political solutions, I think there is little hope of successfully intervening against both sides in a civil war. On that front, one wonders whether favouring Assad may, at this point, be the least worst option. Whatever course is wisest on that front, I support action against ISIL, with a commitment to reconstruct the region. I also think we need to be stronger in opposing future interventionism in such situations, given our horrific track record of destabilizing countries, often like lines of dominoes.
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This is old, and perhaps good left old, but I came across a quote that helped crystallize my understanding of something that I think is missing from the article, and a helped me articulate a trouble I have had about the distinction between “economic migration [and] fleeing for one’s life.”
The quote comes from Adichie’s excellent Americanah. One of the two main characters, Obinze, who has always dreamed of being American, has, as a second resort, legally entered England, with the intent of finding illegal work, and staying. At this point in the novel, he has overstayed his visa, found, and lost, work, and is on the brink of getting a fake marriage, and so EU citizenship. Just before the wedding, he is forced to attend a dinner party among upper-middle class English.
My concern with the distinction between economic migration, and fleeing for one’s life is that it may assume a modern understanding of bodily needs, rather than understanding the human person as soulful, with soulful needs. The economic migrants do not enter because the material life of their body is in need of substance, but rather, because their ensouled, enfleshed body cries out for something to live for–and this is as deep a human need, perhaps even deeper, than the need for food. (Deeper, since people will often deprive themselves of food, and even of life, in order to reach after a goal.)
The mention of a soul–which I take in roughly Henry’s sense of a soulish flesh, not in the Cartesian sense–and desire, raises another issue that I haven’t seen analyzed here or elsewhere: The question of disciplinary power. Whiteness and Europe function as a sort of disciplinary power, molding the sort of humans we will aspire to; while race and geography cut people off from the true practice of that life–the life lived not merely in imitation of America, and Europe, but in America or Europe, and with white skin. And the enforcement of borders, and especially, of racialized borders, is itself an exercise of disciplinary power. And any sort of internment camp, intercepting of the boats, or deportation, is also an exercise of disciplinary power.
While it would be impossibly difficult to disentangle all the threads of biopower in the various political proposals, and because of that your proposals at the end are, I believe, the sort of thing we should be working toward; and while an open-door policy is not the way of the cross, but merely a different form of power; it seems that a discussion of the various ways both sides are problematically exercising power over people could have been helpful.