Paris - Following three-year old Aylan Kurdi's drowning in the Mediterranean Sea and the worldwide uproar that followed, the number of debates on the Syrian refugee crisis hit through the roof. At the same time, such debates, in terms of moral and intellectual qualities, sometimes hit rock bottom.
Paris – Following three-year old Aylan Kurdi’s drowning in the Mediterranean Sea and the worldwide uproar that followed, the number of debates on the Syrian refugee crisis hit through the roof. At the same time, such debates, in terms of moral and intellectual qualities, sometimes hit rock bottom.
This is not to dismiss the honest citizens and individuals – and sometimes even officials- in the Western world and the Middle East who have demonstrated comforting human behavior, but to confront certain reactions that are part of today’s tragedy of Syrian refugees.
To address the issue, we need to go back to an event that preceded the tragic death of the Syrian toddler (as well as the drowning of his brother and mother). Two weeks ago, major media outlets reported that Slovakia had officially agreed to take in 200 Syrian refugees, but under one condition, they had to be Christians.
Slovakia’s decision coupled with other European countries’ feelings of rejection towards Muslim refugees, pushed many people to deem the general European attitude as one motivated by Islamophobia. Based on the nature of “right-wingers” and “far-right” politicians and their long ferocious speeches, the idea is not far-fetched.
But not only is this factually wrong, it has huge consequences on the current humanitarian crisis that the Syrian people have to face.
First, let this be clear: those who claim to care about Middle East Christians actually do not, and their attitude is not as much islamophobic as it is purely xenophobic.
Let us not engage in theological and philosophical debates on how Christians should behave towards other human beings. Whether Christians or not, if they honor or not their religion by holding speeches like those or not: the point here is not to judge but to observe. And one example is extremely on point for that observation: France.
France is one of the most atheist countries on Earth, but with a right-wing and far-right that often insist on the Christian character and history of France, which of course claims solidarity with fellow Christians. Yet, France tends to forget its past waves of immigration in the 20th century, that were at times made up of refugees coming from Russia, Poland, Italy and Spain. Thus, these were mainly white and Christian immigrants (devout Christians, especially Polish). Christian solidarity seemed inexistent back then, seeing how much discrimination and abuse these immigrants faced.
For a more recent well-known European example, one can look at the situation of the people of Rome. Fleeing persecution, ostracism and juridical segregation from countries like Romania, they come to Western and Central European countries for a dignified life, being mostly Christians. Again, Christian solidarity seems non-existent, witnessing how European countries constantly mistreat them through security forces, legal exclusion and attempts of deportation.
Going back to the Syrian refugee crisis, if all of those who claim to care about Middle East Christians really cared about them, they would not impose a restriction on the number of allowances. They could potentially declare that all Syrian Christians could seek refuge in Europe, out of Christian solidarity, and not just 200 as is the case of Slovakia.
What seems obvious in this case is that even though we can agree islamophobia is a form of xenophobia, the deep-rooted issue is not that Europe is islamophobic, but the fundamental issue is xenophobia. A Muslim refugee is just another disapproved category. The main problem is that they are foreigners, regardless of their religion. Just like a Middle East Christian could be the most Christian of all, it will not change the fact that he remains a foreigner in their eyes.
This also points out to a bigger issue, even if done unintentional. Describing Middle East Christians as forming a single entity with Europeans is the continuation of the European mindset that considers European Muslims as forming a single entity with Middle East Muslim countries. This in addition to echoing the so-called clash of civilization, it robs both Middle East Christians and European Muslims of their present, future, identity, and legitimate origin.
It also leads to a crisis of humanism, which is exactly one of the reasons why the Syrian crisis turned to such a daily tragedy. Europe is now being accused of complicity of the tragic death of Aylan Kurdi and the hundreds of refugees who have drowned trying to reach European lands. All because of its alleged restrictive migration process and lack of goodwill in its refugee policy. Now all we hear from Europe is “What are Arab and Muslim countries doing? Why aren’t they helping them?” Real meaning of these questions is the idea that if refugees are Muslims, then the issue should be Muslim people’s problem.
First of all, it seems particularly important to note that Arab and Muslim countries are already helping. Turkey currently hosts 2 million refugees, Lebanon 1.5 million, more than a half-million are in Jordan and a quarter million in Iraq.
European countries, when asked to take in 800,000 refugees, which is less than 1% of all of its 27 countries’ population, is crying injustice and asking why the refugees do not turn to their fellows. In comparison, Lebanon, in which one out of four inhabitants is a refugee, has not uttered a word about the matter. Also, unlike Western countries, none of those countries claimed they “couldn’t welcome all the world’s poverty.” This is interesting when one knows that during the past decade Western countries were far behind countries like Pakistan who despite being extremely poor, ranked among the top countries in terms of hosting of refugees.
The other thing that all of a sudden is denounced is the Gulf countries’ inaction. The generally skewed view Western people tend to have of those countries deserves an entire article in itself, but a few things are important to point out regarding the Syrian refugee crisis.
Those countries are accused of having zero refugees, which is true but only partly.
The Gulf countries don’t have anything close to a refugee status in their legislative, juridical and administrative powers. You’re either a national or a foreigner with a residency permit. So officially, there are no “refugees” in those countries. Unofficially, the story is slightly different. Many Syrian refugees reach those countries and manage to get a residency permit under the condition of finding work (which is easier found in countries like U.A.E compared to some European countries). Of course, there are conditions to obtain the residency permit, which means they are not treated like refugees who are welcomed “as is”. But then again, that status doesn’t legally exist.
In comparison, European countries – who actually invented that status and are supposed to uphold refugees’ rights – provide very little asylum or refugee status. Therefore, most of the refugees who reach those lands live as illegal immigrants, making it hard to find work or any legal move, thus making it extremely difficult to move forward in their lives.
In both cases, the situation is terrible for Syrians fleeing Al-Assad’s systematic bombings or Daesh persecution, while trying to live with dignity.
But there is a difference between those two parts of the world: the Gulf countries, unlike Europe, have never claimed to be human right champions. And Europe has consistently done so, all while systematically violating those rights.
Moreover, Europe claiming to be a hero of democracy and human rights is the main reason why it attracts so many of these unwanted refugees. Someone running away from dictatorship, oppression and lack of freedom is more likely to go to countries boasting of freedom than Gulf countries, who aren’t exactly a good destination in terms of political freedom or freedom of expression to say the least.
Ironically, those same Europeans who reject foreigners (whether immigrants or refugees) claiming they come only for the social benefits, are actually the ones who are interested in their countries only for financial reasons. Refugees, as well, need financial wellbeing, but are mainly searching for dignity, something only democracy and freedom can provide.
Accusing those countries of total inaction is only partially fair. There is no use in denying that many countries, welcoming so many refugees like Lebanon and Jordan, would have been incapable of doing so without the millions in aid provided by Gulf countries, which allowed them to organize a somewhat sustainable support system and efficient organization.
This is not to say Middle East countries are perfect and don’t deserve criticism: it’s actually quite the opposite. The Gulf countries, despite giving out millions for Syrian refugees’ relief, should immediately start involving themselves, humanly and socially, and not just financially. They should also change their national laws, because if a global humanitarian crisis like the Syrian one isn’t enough to push them towards change, then what will?
Jordan and Lebanon should find a way to open up more opportunities to their refugees and provide them with better infrastructures. Turkey, despite being a local refugee leader, should also stop its blurry game at the Syrian border and get serious about Kurdish refugees.
Noticeably, all the Western criticism of Arab and Muslim countries comes right after Europe has been criticized worldwide for the way it deals with the crisis. Where were all the critics when honest and dedicated Middle East activists were criticizing their countries for failing to fully help out Syrians?
Where was European criticism when the Old continent wasn’t yet facing a massive wave of incoming refugees? It is quite baffling that some Westerners applaud the many Arabs calling on their countries to change their refugee policy through social media, congratulating them for taking responsibility while at the same time evading their own. Other people taking the blame and taking action accordingly, doesn’t make us less guilty and doesn’t free us from our responsibility of acting for change as well.
The humanitarian crisis we face is too much of a serious matter to let it be a hypocrites’ game where we blame “the other” in order to wash our hands of our complicity in the deaths of Syrians.
It is too much of a serious matter to be the sole responsibility of “Christians,” “Muslims,” “Westerners,” “Middle Easterners,” “Arabs,” “Europeans” or what not.
It has become urgent that both civil societies and governments regain a humanist approach for this dramatic issue, instead of throwing the blame on each other like a ball game. And if they want to do something in the name of Christianity or Islam, let it be competing in their humanism and in helping out a population in distress, drawing on their geographic locations and proximity, instead of competing on which one is less guilty for its lack of action or constant failures.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Morocco World News’ editorial policy
© Morocco World News. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, rewritten or redistributed without permission