My Take on the Stand Up to Racism, Refugees Welcome Demonstrations

In this article, I take a critical look at the Stand Up to Racism, Refugees Welcome Demonstrations and whilst agreeng with the sentiments, try to explain why I disagree with the sloganeering.

This weekend has seen demonstrations all across Europe in support of or against I don't know exactly what regarding the refugee crisis.

I can see that people are expressing their concern and disgust at the lamentable situation the refugees are in but I can't see what the message to politicians is?

Is it "Let all the refugees into Europe and let them go where they like now"  or is it "Something's got to be done about this as soon as possible"?

Sadly, with refugee figures at between 2.5 and 4 million, the former isn't very practical because the destination countries, like Germany and other prosperous northern European countries, which have already absorbed large numbers of refugees since the summer, don't have the resources to deal with so many new arrivals.

If the solution is the latter, it would be nice to hear what Europe's plan is rather than having politicians posturing for position depending on what they think the voters in their respective countries want.

If there was ever a time for Europe to act as one, it is in a situation such as the current refugee crisis.


Too Much Sloganeering

I was already mildly irritated by the slogan of the demonstration in Barcelona on Saturday, which was "Prou Racism (Stop Racism), Refugees Welcome" because I don't think the crisis is caused by racism but rather lack of coordinated planning on the part of the EU.

I was probably less annoyed by the people who actually went on the demonstration than by the lemming-like behaviour of many Facebook users, who seem to think that, by liking or sharing a photo, they've done their bit and will be able to sleep well at night safe in the knowledge that they are good people.

So when on Sunday, I saw a photo on Facebook , which read "Stand Up to Racism, Refugees Welcome" and then went on to say "Stop the Scapegoating, Say No to Islamophobia, Stamp out anti-Semitism, Yes to Diversity", I decided to comment.

My response was "This is so well-intentioned but at the same time so useless that it makes me despair!"

Although  I know that the person who posted it is a committed activist, who will definitely be doing his best to help in whatever way he can, I still think the poster is misguided so, given that I could quite easily be misinterpreted, I need to explain my position and the best way to do this is by taking each statement separately.

Stand Up to Racism

There is no question in my mind that racism is an utterly and completely stupid idea. Discriminating against people based on their skin colour, their country of origin  or whether they belong to an identifiable racial group, such as gypsies or Jews, is totally unacceptable.

It's also very clear that people of various colours and from diverse countries have made and will continue to make important contributions to the societies we live in so it's obvious that we have to take each person on their individual merits irrespective of race or colour.

However, conflating racism and the refugee problem just muddies the issue. One argument is "Let's Stop Racism" another is "Let's Help the Refugees".

Refugees Welcome

The juxtaposition of Stand Up to Racism and Refugees Welcome implies that if you try and discuss the issue of what to do with the influx of refugees from the Syrian war zone and how their arrival might affect the host society, you are automatically a racist. I don't believe that that is necessarily the case.

A more accurate position would be Don't Make Refugees Unwelcome but the whole idea of an unplanned open door policy, where you welcome (in other words invite) as many refugees as possible is quite simply impractical. In order to make the solution sustainable, there needs to be shared responsibility, which means greater not lesser co-operation between states and their respective governments.

Statements like 'I'm ashamed to be European' or 'I don't believe there should be any borders' are also disingenuous given the magnitude of the problem. Both have more to do with saying the right thing and feeling good about being a virtuous person than actually getting your hands dirty and solving the problem.

If you're ashamed to be European and you don't believe there should be borders, then a clear solution is to offer refuge to refugees in your home and stand by your holier than thou words.

Stop Scapegoating

Once again, I totally agree that it's ridiculous to blame immigrants for the economic crisis when in actual fact, the downturn was caused mainly by bankers and speculators and then made worse by the economic mismanagement of politicians. This has been particularly the case in Spain where the situation has been aggravated by endemic corruption.

However, without using it as a reason to refuse asylum, it has to be pointed out that taking in a massive influx of refugees of different ages is going to have costs. They will need housing and feeding and their children will need educating. It will take some time for them to overcome the trauma of their displacement and aspects like learning the language will mean that it will take some time before many of them can be become productive and autonomous members of the host society.

This is true of all societies but here in Spain we have a very fragile economy with over 20% unemployment and Catalonia suffers from serious financial difficulties, which mean that, for example, the Generalitat has been unable to pay pharmacists for supplying prescription drugs or provide a sufficient number of nursery places to underprivileged children.

Speaking personally, I'm in favour of offering refuge to the 4,500 migrants as suggested by the Generalitat and Barcelona City Council but pointing out that this will mean diverting limited resources. The solutions need to be planned and having an open discussion about the best course of action is not racism but rather democracy.

Say No to Islamophobia

Of all the slogans on this poster, I suppose this is the one that annoys me most because Islamophobia here is being used as a synonym of racism when, in fact, Islam is not a race but rather a religious ideology that you can convert to.

Islam began in the Middle East, the largest country Muslim country in the world is Indonesia and quite a few countries in Africa are predominantly Muslim. Most British Muslims have roots in Pakistan, most French ones have roots in Algeria and there are white Muslim converts, the most famous one being Cat Stevens, now known as Yusuf Islam, who was actually born Steven Demetre Georgiou.

Here in Barcelona, the two main Muslim communities seem to be Moroccans and Pakistanis and as far as I can see, the two communities seem to have very little to do with each other. If Syrians and Iraqis come here, I'm pretty certain that they'll form their own communities based on language and culture and if they are on the receiving end of prejudice, it'll probabably be simple racism rather than Islamophobia . It's quite possible that racists will use religion as an extra reason for discrimination but I think it's a mistake to confuse issues.

Admittedly, as a convinced atheist (and anti-theist), I'm not very keen on Islam but I'm also very critical of both Christianity and Judaism because I disagree with the ideology rather than the skin colour of the person who adheres to it.

 In fact, as I was brought up in a Judeo-Christian tradition and had to read the Old and New Testaments as a child, I'm more comfortable about attacking Christian and Jewish religious ideas. I actually think that, given that non-religious secularism dominates European societies, it would be just as traumatic if we had to absorb millions of American Christian fundamentalists because their ideology is equally incompatible with the way we do things here.

I have no problem with nominally religious people, who respect the separation of church and state and cultural standards such as freedom of speech and sexual equality. However, I do have the right to criticise both Jesus and Mohammed, in picture form if necessary, and will defend the rights of women and gays no matter what religious community they come from.

Stamp Out Anti-Semitism

A clear sign of a retrograde society is anti-Semitism. Anti-Jewish pogroms have been the bane of Christian societies for centuries and in many respects, given that Nazism received the support of the Catholic church, the holocaust was just a continuation of the persecution of the Jews because they were the murderers of Jesus Christ.

Unfortunately, a certain kind of left-wing thinking and many Muslims as well as plenty of crackpot conspiracy theorists continue this tradition of anti-Semitism. They cite Israeli foreign policy rather than the murder of Christ as the reason, or in the case of the conspiracy theorists, the Jewish plan for a New World Order, but these are just excuses for anti-Semitism. Whatever you think about the situation in Palestine, you can't blame all Jews for the actions of the Israeli government.

I'm very pleased that the poster makers have included Stamp Out anti-Semitism on the banner but wonder whether it's not, at least for some people, incompatible with Say No to Islamophobia.

Yes to Diversity

I totally agree. Do what you like and be who you like as long as you don't impose your values on other communities.

White European Guilt

A final point I'd like to make is that, we are not personally responsible for the political situation in the Middle East and the terrible conditions in which the refugees find themselves.

I'm not saying that the Crusades were a good idea but they happened a rather long time ago and I don't feel personally guilty for what happened in the 10th century. You can't really blame everybody in modern Europe for the actions of aristocratic and religious knights from a few countries over a thousand years ago.

In fact, the Crusades were a response to the Muslim invasion of Europe, which began when they crossed the Straits of Gibraltar and conquered the Iberian Peninsula in 711.

Furthermore, lots of civilisations have had empires, not just Europe. Do we blame the modern Chinese for what their ancestors did thousands of years ago? It's also interesting that we seem to have different criteria regarding attributing blame to the Russians or the Turks both of whom had empires until relatively recently and are also involved in the current conflict in Syria and Iraq.

Admittedly, the carving up of the Middle East along arbitrary lines after the Second World War did a lot to destabilise the region but I'm certainly not personally responsible for the actions of politicians elected by my grandparents and, as a matter of fact, I don't personally blame my grandparents either.

Modern Responsibilities

The main Western instigator of conflict in the Middle East in the last couple of decades has been the United States, admittedly along with its European NATO allies but if we're attributing blame, the Russians also have to accept some responsibility. Furthermore, we demonstrated against the Iraq War in 2003 and so we did our best to stop it but the politicians didn't listen.

I also think it's disingenuous to blame Europe for the rise of Al Qaeda, the Taliban and ISIS. The destabilisation of the region obviously hasn't helped but 9/11 happened before the invasion of Iraq and how do you explain the presence of Al Qaeda in Indonesia or Boko Haram in Nigeria?

The truth is, like all ideologies, Islam has always had a radical strain. In fact, the Muslim Brotherhood date back to the 19th century.

The reason why we should help the refugees, and we should, is not because we feel guilty about our history or about the behaviour of our politicians. We should do our best to solve this crisis out of empathy for fellow human beings. Don't forget that the reason the refugees want to come here is because they believe they can make a better life for themselves and their children.

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