Monday, 13 July 2015

Integrating the Alien - Refugees

When people leave their country of residence due to oppression and/or a fear for their life, they become refugees. The Hebrews, in the book of Exodus, were refugees.

The story of the Exodus in the Bible doesn't actually deal with the refugee situation very well. After all, the Biblical account tells of the Hebrews forcing their way into a land occupied by others with blood-shed to claim the land of Canaan as their own, under God's guiding hand, reflecting refugees as a danger to any host country.

There's no archaeological evidence to confirm that an entire nation wandered the Sinai desert for 40 years and most scholars now except the story as a myth constructed purely to demonstrate God's guidance and action in Judaic history. I was even taught as much at college. It isn't disputed that there was some kind of 'leaving' Egypt. The detail in scripture, although not providing any definite names or dates, does correspond to facts drawn from history with regard to the slavery taking place. The account in Exodus would probably not have been important enough to add to scripture if there was absolutely no experience of those conditions. But, it's now generally accepted that there was no war to claim any land, the Hebrews purely slid into the area and became absorbed as part of the population.

Canaan was a fertile place, situated on the Levent, we now know as the Near East, where there were rivers to water the land and vegetation grew easily. Why would they want to settle anywhere else. This was a land of milk and honey. The Hebrews went where there was adequate safety and nourishment for them to thrive.

They didn't have to apply to any governments for permission to stay in Canaan, they just settled there. Of course, back then, there was no border protection and no passports. The main stay was agriculture, and the more there were to work the land, the more prosperous an area became.

How does that story reflect on modern life?

Events in and around the Mediterranean Sea, over the last few years, has brought the same old conversations about refugees back into the spotlight. It's a conversation that mainly concentrates on whether we should accept these people into our country or not. Most notable is the reaction to those who are willing to speak against bringing them onto British Soil. They are stigmatised as inhumane and racist. Without a doubt, there are some who fit both of those titles, but not all. They are prepared to face such accusatory verbal abuse to try and bring an awareness of the economic impact these people have on our society and our own lives. It's a real fear, and to ignore and suppress it only serves to send it under-ground and fester it into an anger that splits our society.

Back in March, the Daily Express ran a story with the head-line:
"Tackling immigration fears in UK only way Britain will support EU in future"
And although the article was mainly with regard to free movement in the EU, the fear of which it reported has been heightened by reports from countries on the north side of the Mediterranean Sea. The Refugees escaping from war and tyranny, cramming onto small, usually unseaworthy, boats is a worry and concern to an entire continent.

Last week, the Guardian reported:
"Italian authorities were dealing with the arrival of another 2,900 migrants at southern ports, after 21 boats were rescued in the space of 24 hours from water off Libya."
2,900 people in just 24 hours. These figures include children, even babies. It takes desperation for a mother to risk the life of her children unless she felt it was the only route of protection. These are people trying to find safety.

Last year, Italy took in 170,000 of these refugees and so far this year 68,000. That equals, in the space of a year and a half 238,000 people. That's more than the population of Rochdale. Greece has taken in even more than Italy, estimated at 80,000 so far this year.

We need to also remember that, 1,800 people have died attempting to make similar journeys, and that figure is only for the first six months of this year. The refugee situation is a major European emergency.

The point our media keep bringing to our attention is that many of these haven't ended their journey, they have hidden on lorries and trains trying to reach our shores, good old Blighty. Our benefits system, the NHS, our housing policies make this the preferred destination of many. It seems, we are the Canaan of our times.

It's often been quoted that refugees are supposed to seek refuge in the first safe country from their homeland, but that's not the case. Neither the Geneva Conventions, subsequent protocols, Human Rights acts or any other treaties state where a refugee MUST seek asylum. However, all of these treaties and the governments which have agreed to them have presumed, and even expected, that it will be the first country, meaning that, although Italy, Greece and other south European countries are providing safe haven, following their rescue, they don't have to stay there.

We're a little island, which, over the last century has increased in population by 40%, from just under 43 million in 1914 to just over 60 million by end of 2014 (approximately). How much money does our little island have to provide for all these people? How much work is there to distribute? How many houses will need to be built to provide a home for everyone? Can our NHS cope with the health needs of all these people. Our NHS is struggling, millions are in poverty and dependent on foodbanks, charities and good will to feed and clothe them, benefits and services have been cut. We, as a nation, are struggling to care for our own. That's the cry! These are the fears. "charity begins at home".

So, does being humanitarian have to start at home?
Which should we protect first, our current population and its desire for a more comfortable way to live, or should we protect those whose lives are threatened and need the safety of our shores?
Perhaps the question is
Charity ................ or love

Have we made money and possessions more important than the care of our own race?
Matthew 6:25
"do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?"
Do these words not tell us that our needs and nourishment will be there, naturally, if we all pull together?

And that great philosopher, John Lennon, wrote:
"Imagine there's no countries, it isn't hard to do, nothing to kill or die for, and no religion too."
Was he not telling us that the divisions we construct for our protection and stability become tools used to separate us as a race?

In reality the majority opposed to the influx of refugees ... and I'm not referring to racists, .... wouldn't dream of sending them back, they do understand that these are desperate people, they do understand that these people need safety, but they are fearful of the effects if we welcome them with open arms. It's a fear that is sharpened because we are still clawing ourselves out of one of the worst recessions in decades, a recession that placed many western countries, including our own, very close to Bankruptcy, a situation we wouldn't have dreamed possible ten years ago, and a sad reality for Greece. As to what they think the alternative is ........... that isn't the position they're standing in, and so most even admit they don't know, while others believe we should be intervening with the root problem of the terror the displaced are running from.

But, is there an economic problem to accepting refugees?
Many believe that refugees are an asset to the host country. Not only does it create jobs for those who need to care for them and retrain them, but, in the long run, those refugees will give back to society more than the initial cost.
The Forced Migration Review or FMR have tried to work out the cost a refugee has on the host country. They said:
"The problem to date has been the lack of a comprehensive framework with appropriate analytical tools and systematic methodologies to provide the evidence base by which to evaluate the 'winners' and 'losers', and to develop policies which respond to the actual or potential impacts."

There have been, in the past, many refugees that have not only been an asset to the economy but also given to our pool of wisdom, the arts, philosophy and science and many other areas of beauty and knowledge that we would never have known if there hadn't been a safe haven from oppression and fear. Imagine how much money the rock group 'Queen' generated, and yet, Freddie Mercury was a refugee, along with his family, when they had to flee from Zanzibar. Lord Maurice Saatchi and his brother Charles are the sons of an Iraqi refugee. Einstein was a German Jew who fled to America to escape the nazi's. It's true, that among the current influx into Europe, there will, undoubtedly, be much talent. Do these few, alone, offset the cost of thousands?

Charity begins at home!
Where and what is home?
Is it within the walls of our own place of residence?
Is it the community in which we live our lives?
Or is it something else?
A few months ago, during a service at my church on 'Beauty', a picture of our planet was put up on the screen ....... or more correctly, up on the wall. When I asked what word came to mind, one person said "Home". Does our understanding of where our boundaries lie, make the difference? Is our desire for Social Justice and care directed by where we sub-consciously perceive the boundaries of 'home' to be?

The Hebrews saw the earth as their home. All they had to do was find a spot to settle where they would be safe and could be self sufficient, a place with arable land where they could support themselves without new fears of drought or famine. That's what humans do, what 'we' would do if we found ourselves having to leave the land we knew to settle somewhere else.

The difference between then and now is economic, Canaan gained from the Hebrew settlement, but then there weren't any Companies and corporations with power agendas, self sufficiency didn't depend on gaining work from an employer, it meant living only on what you could produce from the earth, along with handed down skills. What you couldn't produce yourself you gained from others in the bartering of your own surplus. And before I make it sound too fluffy, there were problems, there were disagreements, there was still a risk of failed crops and diseased livestock, as well as greed and war and other foes of a tranquil life. But population was sparse and the land itself was still a long way from any formal government or social structure. The land of Egypt, the land they fled from, was one of the first to form itself into a structured nation. The Hebrews ran from that structured life because they couldn't be part of it. Today's refugees run toward a structured life, in the hope of being part of it.

The dream of 'one world, one people, one loving race' is, no doubt, a vision we hope for our future, but it is when there is a human emergency that we test the water as to how far away we are from making that dream a reality.
Charity or love?

In our self review, we could ask the question:
If a stranger was in need outside our own front door, would we bring them into the house and care for them without counting the cost of the tea and bandages they use?
"Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?"

To believe that charity begins at home begs the question:
Where is 'your' front door?

Thursday, 15 January 2015

Freedom of Respect

The acts of terror that took place in Paris last week were, without any doubt, a disgusting and appalling action by those who have very extreme religious views. Such acts have come in continual flow since the horrors in the U.S. back in 2001.

Although I was never in agreement with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which emanated from the 9/11 attacks, I could see the necessity to try and eradicate the underlying danger. As both wars are apparently now finished, Al-Qaeda has continued, albeit, without Bin Laden, but a new Islamic threat has materialised in ISIS, which only goes to prove that the answer has to be more focused on dealing with 'frame of mind' and the educational understandings than on physical combat.

It is becoming evident that the behaviour of 'The West' has been a large factor in the aggressions.

Many of us, the majority I suspect, are thankful of living in a country which prides itself on 'Freedom of Speech', but, as the old saying goes, "Give 'em an inch and they'll take a yard". What 'The West' appears to have done is, with its pride of freedom, is to forget to ensure that respect is never allowed to dwindle or disappear.

Those who have bothered to investigate and educate themselves on the religion of Islam will, undoubtedly, know that its teachings are ultimately focused on care in the community, caring for the suffering, and on equality. Of course, its teachings are contextual as are those of Judaism and Christianity. We all have to appreciate that, as a society, we have built our own country's culture and judicial system around the scriptures of the faith which once ruled our land. And so it is with other nations. Whether or not we agree with the fundamental principles of another nation's expectations and laws, the people of each nation have, within their own history, chosen the book or teachings which they wished to build their nation on.

Most world religions do not require any respectful behaviour from outside the faith but there are exceptions. In the case of Islam it is well know that to make any attempt at depicting the prophet Muhammad (pbuh) is an insult to the entire religion and its community. Most decent people, outside of the faith, wouldn't dream of doing such a thing and causing such a distress because we understand the principles of respect.

In the U.K. and other western nations, there has been a continual slip towards individualism. The result of mixing 'freedom of speech' with individualism is that it becomes far too easy to ignore how other people feel about the things we say and do.

I have no doubt that the staff at Charlie Hebdo feel hurt and angry about what happened to their colleagues last week, but when we want to make a stand against the tyrant we need to think about how we aim our stand at the terrorist and ensure we don't insult or hurt the innocent in the process.

Charlie Hebdo's form of satire reflects 'Freedom of Speech' in print form, and therefore, encourages it's opinion on others, as does any writing, painting, drawing or anything which turns the individual thought, feeling or opinion into visual state. By satirising the Prophet, as means of revenge, they have managed to insult the entire Muslim faith and not just the terrorists. As Al-Qaeda and ISIS see 'The West' as disrespectful and sinful, drawing this as the basis for their crusade, Charlie Hebdo's actions have not just confirmed that opinion but also heightened it. In turn, Charlie Hebdo's actions will, undoubtedly, affect us all in 'The West' in the months and years to come. Alienating a faith which leads over 20% of the world population is naive and encourages the terrorist rather than deter them.

It's time we all started analysing our freedoms and using them responsibly. True Freedom is that which flows with care for our fellow human beings. Instead of focusing on our 'Freedom of Speech' we should be driving the importance of Freedom of Respect.