Monday 7 September 2015

Refugees and Policy Wonk's Disease

My children need three square meals a day
My children need three square meals a day
O Lord God
And I ain't gonna be treated this way

Woody Guthrie, of course, in the aftermath of the Dust Bowl, and the great movement of the poor and ruined westwards to the California line. More of him another day. There is something of The Grapes of Wrath about what is happening in the interface between Europe and the middle east, but I suspect that even John Steinbeck never dreamed of what is about to emerge.

This is a difficult blog post to write. I've found, over the last few weeks, that my policy head has been at war with my moral heart. I've been staggered at the impact of the photos of the little boy drowned in the beach - heavens, it has even shifted the callous heart of News International.

It is easy to be moralistic about this, but - if I'm going to tell the truth - the photo shifted me too.

"It takes a civilised man to be deeply moved by statistics," said George Bernard Shaw and I realise now that, actually, I wasn't nearly civilised enough.  The horror of what is happening has finally come home to me. I wish I could have said that I understood for weeks, if not months, but it took a photo.

I'm the father of two sons myself and I wasn't immune.

So now I've been trying to puzzle out why it took me so long to grasp the human reality, and the tentative answer is that I have Policy Wonks Disease. I can't feel strongly about anything until I know what the policy solution is.  In this case, it is an even bigger struggle.

I have felt for some time that Europe was set for a massive influx of refugees, the like of which we may not have seen - certainly since World War II, but possibly not for some centuries before. I'm not sure there is a precedent for what is about to happen.  What is happening so far is a trickle compared to what will happen.

So I've found myself frustrated, not just with Cameron's 'stonewall' approach, but with the idea from the Left that somehow the solution was just about letting more people in.

This isn't just a crisis, it will be the crisis - and especially for the European Union which will somehow have to find a way of assimilating millions of people without unleashing a fierce reaction from their permanent communities, and hammering out some kind of policy that could conceivably pacify the middle east.

It hardly needs saying that it seems possible, even likely, that the EU will break under the strain.  But that somehow isn't the end of the problem.  This is the European crisis, emerging from the disastrous European involvement in the region from the Balfour Agreement to the American invention of the Mujahiddin.

Perhaps it goes back to the fall of Granada, the defence of Vienna and the Crusades. Perhaps this is the culmination of a very long story indeed that stretches back before Islam gained any kind of foothold. And because of the disastrous invasion of Iraq, we are now powerless to intervene militarily.

The sight of Cameron flip-flopping from one year to the next about which side in the Syrian conflict it is imperative to intervene on kind of makes the point. We can only now intervene in support of the cause to heal the rift in Islam by backing someone from there, with a message powerful enough to unite the middle east.

That message now lacks conviction. It lacks a representative. It lacks content. It is about as distant as it possibly could be right now.

In the meantime, it is quite impossible politically to solve the problem within Europe, however many families Europe takes in.

This is a prime example of Einstein's principle that you can't solve a problem on the same level that it was created. Our economic structures are wholly unsuitable for what is coming, which will make the next few years increasingly painful.

There may be action on safe havens we can take, but that will just be sticking plaster. But when I find myself thinking about what might possibly work - long-term - I'm imagining that we may have to remake the middle east in Europe, and from there forge the kernel of resistance to ISIS and all the other uncivilised regimes that are emerging.

To see this from another angle, we have to go back to the generation of Florentine philosophers, poets and geographers around the Medici who first 'discovered' the new continent of America for Europe. They believed in a strange dream which might help us now.  Read more in my book Toward the Setting Sun.

It was that Christianity, Islam and Judaism were at their roots the same, and that behind all three lay a kernel of divine truth that would allow them to be forged together in a new era of peace.

It was an idea they had borrowed from some of the Greek Orthodox churchmen who had come to Italy before the fall of Constantinople. In fact, the Papal Secretary George Trapezuntius, in Naples when he heard of the downfall of his own city in 1453, had written an urgent letter to the Sultan, urging him to work for the unity of the two faiths:

“If someone were to bring together the Christians and the Muslims, in one single faith and confession, he would be, I swear by heaven and earth, glorified by all mankind, on earth and in heaven, and promoted to the ranks of the angels. This work, O admirable Sovereign, none other than you can accomplish.”

Perhaps, by taking in the poor, hungry huddle masses of the middle east, yearning to be free - in an effort unprecedented in the modern world - we might shape this new spiritual understanding to underpin the kind of peace so many millions yearn for.

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asquith said...

Have you read Heirs to Forgotten Kingdoms by Gerard Russell It's a really excellent testament to the centuries-old religions and cultures in the Middle East, many of which predate Islam by centuries, which tragicaly are on the point of being wiped out by the religion of peace.

Who knew, for instance, that the Samaritans still exist?

It's even worse than killed and injured people. Even the ones who are still alive cannot recreate their ages-long traditions, especially since many of these communities are very hierarchical and knowledge resides in a handful of people. People of lower status often got little, which is why slaves were such enthusiastic converts to Islam in the same way that poorer women were some of the keenest Christians when we were evangelised.

This, the architechture, the cultures that have held together for centuries. Like the old Yiddish life, even if people are still alive they have had bits of themselves severed. It is so sordid and pointless. Mission accomplished!

BTW, about Christianity not having achieved what it set out to, presumably you've seen this:

David Boyle said...

I haven't read it, but I will now!

Iain King said...

Wonderfully refreshing honesty!

I've heard so many I-felt-sorry-for-the-refugees-before-you-did pieces over the last few days; they're akin to the moral narcissism of the 'Not in My Name' campaign, which preceded the Iraq War. So refreshing to hear someone admit their moral compass was jolted back into position by the emotive picture.

David Boyle said...

Thank you, Iain! There's a lot of moral narcissism about these days... Good phrase.