We live in one World. A World that is torn with strife. It is hard to think of a time since World War 2 that is so chaotic & war torn. It isn’t just Syria. It is also much of Africa, Tibet, Mexico & other Latin American countries where war & poverty prevail. In the 21st century, the human race, in terms of intelligence & love & compassion hasn’t advanced at all. Evolution is confined to things other than the human spirit. Indeed man’s capacity to wage war has increased to an almost unimaginable level.
It all began (I suppose) with the invention of the musket. In, for example, Roman times, remote control warfare consisted of throwing boulders with massive catapult machines.
In the last century, nuclear weapons were invented & were dropped on Japan. The Kalashnikov, a rifle so simple that almost anybody could use, was invented.
Inevitably, all this violence spills over. Since the beginning of the existence of the human race, the human race has committed acts of violence against itself. It does seem to be in-built.
The Syrian refugees are suffering as much as anybody since the cessation of hostilities in 1946. In wartime we become (unfortunately) accustomed to the extreme suffering of civilians. Much (for example the use of depleted uranium) is deemed a war crime. But this doesn’t prevent those waging war to carry out acts so deemed.
There are wars in large parts of Africa, where indescribable, well almost indescribable, atrocities take place.
The war in Syria has been going for about 2 years. There are talks, peace talks apparently, in Switzerland. But they don’t seem likely to yield anything. After the probable break-down of the talks in Switzerland, hostilities are likely to continue, possibly for years before one side or the other prevails. Intervention in Iraq has not turned out well. Non-intervention in Syria has not turned out well.
The question being asked is, does the United Kingdom have an obligation, moral or otherwise to take in some refugees?
The problem is political, not moral. There is much feeling about immigration in the UK. Indeed there is in the whole of Europe. There is too, much xenophobia in Europe. There has been for as long as I have been alive, in the UK, much xenophobia, much racism. We do not want to spoil our little paradise. For such it is, in spite of all the issues of crime & poverty & so on which afflict our country. All this is relative.
Devastation in Syria or at least parts of it, for sure, is on unimaginable or almost unimaginable scale. Photographs of it, published on Facebook & elsewhere, show the kind of destruction seen during World War II but not since really.
It could be called compassion fatigue; it could be called hardening our hearts. We are unwilling to help. It can be called many things. The present government is hardening its stance. Its excuse is that it is giving millions of pounds of aid – medical aid I suppose – maybe clothes. It is difficult to know what can really help the situation. But somehow it has come to pass that Syria, led by a stern & cruel dictator has become an area of complete desolation. Refugees are streaming out There are said to be hundreds of thousands of them in Lebanon & Turkey. President Assad had achieved a certain legitimacy – if dictators ever can do this. But this legitimacy has long since evaporated.
The question is not whether the UK & other EU countries have a moral responsibility to allow refugees to come to the UK, maybe for the duration of the conflict or maybe to settle permanently. We do have such an obligation because we are just One World. The question is whether it is politically possible. It isn’t. Already, there is so much hostility to the East & Central European visitors; there would almost certainly be even more hostility to those from the Middle East. No government could survive such an onslaught. There is a slight tendency to believe that demonstrators are always on the left, that demonstrators are always the good guys. But this is not so. In the 60s, the British politician Enoch Powell stirred up much racial hatred with his rivers of blood speech. Dockers & others came out in his support. Even now, there are those who opine that he was right. I remember it well. His views were amongst many people, common currency.
The Home Office is turning down individual cases of Syrians seeking entry to the UK. It is causing great distress to people who are already in enough distress.
In the end, the moral argument doesn’t make a lot of difference. In politics it rarely does.
My Member of Parliament, at least for the duration, is Sarah Teather. She has been campaigning on behalf of Syrian refugees & is due to give a sermon on the subject at a Cambridge college evensong. I wish her luck. As a practicing Catholic & a practicing politician, she is in a tricky position.