This is far and away the toughest blog to write so far, and so it should be as it covers a horrific cowardly attack by a bunch of terrorists on innocent victims – 132 of whom (so far) lost their lives on Friday. There should be nobody who does not realise the importance of this or why it matters. The fact that it happened in a capital city of Europe has (rightly or wrongly) intensified the interests of both the mainstream and social British media. It has also allowed those of us who have not been directly impacted to see the best and worst of humanity through that distorting lens of social media.
There are so many different aspects of this heinous crime it is really hard to button down all of them. Whether that is to look at the responses of national and international political figures, or understand why this has had so much more coverage than similar attacks perpetrated in non-European countries such as Lebanon, Kenya and Pakistan. We could even look at the impact that this has had on the grand coalition that is potentially forming now that Russia believe that the terrible bringing down of a passenger plane on the Sinai was perpetrated by IS. I do not doubt some of these things will pop up in future blogs. Certainly, there is a much wider question of what do we do to stop these attacks in the future.
For now though, I want to focus in on one area alone. That is the attempted use of this tragedy by the right wing to close European borders to immigrants. I have tried to argue this is the wrong response, and for my troubles on social media I have so far been unfriended, called a coward / leftie w**ker / terrorist sympathiser / bad father (I will come on to that one). I have been told to f**k off to Syria and threatened with physical violence. Remember, this is not for cheering on the psychopaths, this is not for mocking the dead. This is for saying that we should not turn away refugees. Oh, and these are not from general members of the public. My statuses can only be seen by friends. That is incredible and terrifying. Now, many of my mates are forces / services and so a certain amount of robust banter should be expected, but those are still some very extremist views to me holding a different opinion.
This is a blog, and I am not a journalist. Even if I was, it is impossible to get all of the details right. As we are only a few days after the events the police are still trying to piece together what happened. What there seems to be agreement on / known factors now are this – a bunch of a*seholes claiming to be part of the Muslim faith used marauding attacks on suburbs in Paris to attack places where normal Parisiens were out to enjoy themselves on a Friday night. None of the attackers have yet been identified as refugees. This might change – it is early days, but so far the evidence points to this being home-grown terrorist activity.
It is curious then that as early as Saturday morning (less than 12 hours after the attack) the rallying cry went up from a rainbow alliance of the racists, nationalists, right wing and those who didn’t understand the situation that we should close our borders to refugees. I would suggest that, and this is only a suggestion, I would suggest that if before we knew “anything about the attacks, or who carried them out, or why,” You were calling to close our borders to refugees – you were probably just waiting for an excuse to call for that.
Let’s consider some of the arguments that have been put forward for closing our borders to refugees, and some possible responses to them.
The central tenets of the right wing argument are constructed something along the following lines. It tends to change as you argue against each point:
1. This terror attack proves that refugees are a threat to us – look what they have done in Paris.
2. If we allow refugees in to Europe, terrorists will use this route in order to enter Europe and attack us.
3. Much better to keep these refugees in the Middle East and let them sort out their own problems.
4. We have won our freedom from terrorism and tyranny – why should we import their war?
5. How would you feel if the next attack killed your child / grandchild – I won’t let that happen to mine.
6. If you do agree with refugees coming in, then you are as good as risking my children – and therefore you are as bad as the terrorists themselves. (5&6 together are used to question your parenting)
Some counter arguments to this:
Evidence based – None of the terrorists involved in this attack were refugees. NONE. Not one of them. Not a single one of them. Each and every one of them had an EU passport – and could therefore travel freely anyway. As a fundamental basis for your argument, this is a pretty important point. So far, none of the evidence points to this being an attack carried out by refugees. Further, the mastermind behind the attack is believed to be a Belgian, and those that supported the attack appear to be French and Belgian.
Now, that does not counter the 2nd argument above, that if we allow refugees in, terrorists will use this as a route into Europe. Whilst this hasn’t happened, there is a risk. That is why it is important to ensure that we have a proven route to allow refugees in directly from the refugee camps. This should allow us to check backgrounds and has the added bonus of stopping the vile hideous people smugglers that prey on refugees. This isn’t fool-proof and there could still be terrorists that get through. But we would have a record of those people coming in, and they would find it harder to bring in materiel and money for terrorist attacks that way. In order to do this though we need to SPEED UP the process to get people out of the camps and into Europe.
Goals based – What is it that IS want to do? This is tricky as their approach, goals and methodology do change and we have limited background to understand whether they mean what they say or what is disinformation. However, we have 3 conflicting reports from the organisation itself in their magazine Dabiq. Firstly, that they want to draw the West (ie non-muslim countries) into a ground war to bring about the end of days as prophesised. Secondly, that they want to attack those countries currently involved in bombing campaigns against Syrian targets. Thirdly, that they want to break down links between European and Muslim countries so that we take no more refugees, and those we leave over there become part of the IS caliphate with nowhere to run and a seething resentment of the West for turning their back on them.
So, if we believe their third claim then to stop accepting refugees we are actually giving IS what they want. We are helping them to achieve their goals. By refusing refugees we are actively acting as a recruiting sergeant for the very terrorists we are trying to stop. Additionally, if there are more non-IS muslims stuck in the warzone our airstrikes are more likely to hit them. Creating more death, more pain and ultimately a bigger problem to resolve than it already is. I personally think those arguments really cover off right wing arguments 1,2 and 3 above.
Historical based - For most of us, we don't profess to live in history. For some, they can feel empathy with what it is like for others in other times. I personally can't feel empathy. I can understand on a logical level what those people must necessarily have felt, but I can't feel it myself. Wont go in to the arguments why (although my wife tells me I am a l-o-o-o-o-ng way down the spectrum). But I can imagine this.
Imagine being stuck, in a corner of a continent surrounded by war. You never wanted to be here. You never wanted to fight. You have a range of different powers around you. All are fighting - and none of them want what is best for you. You know what is best for you is to carry on with your day job - bake, teach, cook, look after others, raise a family. However, there is a so far unstoppable force ranged against you. They have you surrounded and cut off. You are getting some aid to feed you and your family. But only when it can get through - and that is hit and mess. They are as happy to blow up your food supplies as they are yo attack you. You have asked for help from the international community, but they wont help you - they'll send aid and guns but it's your war. It's not their job to get involved. You look around and can't see anyway to escape.
Thank fuck Japan bombed Pearl Harbour, or we would have never got the help we so desperately needed from the USA. We won our wars and our freedoms? Tell that to the Russian Army who suffered the most casualties of the Second World War. Or trying telling the British Colonies - who lost over 180,000 dead during the second world war to protect us. What arrogance - that we won our own freedom. We survived the second world war thanks to the British Empire (as it was) and only turned it around thanks to the US and Russia. Yet you want to turn your backs on other countries and the refugees of those countries?
Morality based – I don’t profess to being a great philosophical thinker. I will therefore hand over to a couple of people who have a lot to say on the basis of morality and humanity. Firstly, Jesus Christ (by the way, you don’t have to be a Christian to agree with somebody’s words – morally right is morally right).
Behold, a certain lawyer stood up and tested him, saying, "Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?" He said to him, "What is written in the law? How do you read it?" He answered, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, with all your mind, and your neighbour as yourself." He said to him, "You have answered correctly. Do this, and you will live." But he, desiring to justify himself, asked Jesus, "Who is my neighbour?"
Jesus answered, "A certain man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who both stripped him and beat him, and departed, leaving him half dead. By chance a certain priest was going down that way. When he saw him, he passed by on the other side. In the same way a Levite also, when he came to the place, and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a certain Samaritan, as he travelled, came where he was. When he saw him, he was moved with compassion, came to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. He set him on his own animal, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. On the next day, when he departed, he took out two denarii, and gave them to the host, and said to him, 'Take care of him. Whatever you spend beyond that, I will repay you when I return.' Now which of these three do you think seemed to be a neighbour to him who fell among the robbers?" He said, "He who showed mercy on him." Then Jesus said to him, "Go and do likewise."
Luke 10: 25-37
Now, I understand that Jesus isn’t to everyone’s taste, so when Rev. Martin Luther King was repeating this story, he added:
And you know, it's possible that the priest and the Levite looked over that man on the ground and wondered if the robbers were still around. Or it's possible that they felt that the man on the ground was merely faking, and he was acting like he had been robbed and hurt in order to seize them over there, lure them there for quick and easy seizure. And so the first question that the priest asked, the first question that the Levite asked was, "If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?" But then the Good Samaritan came by, and he reversed the question: "If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?" (He gave this thought in his famous "I've been to the mountaintop"speech - just one day before the was murdered).
I am not going to add any more to this really, but I think this comes down to what sort of human you want to be and what sort of world you want to both create and live in. One which is coloured by fear and hatred, or one which is coloured by love and hope.
Sadly, the right wing argument continues that if you don't want to live in the one built on hate and fear you are a bad parent and a terrorist sympathiser. The question I have been asked twice by people on the right is "How would you feel if it was your child?". I don't know. I can't answer that. Nobody possibly can. However, I would hope that I would feel the way that Antoine Leiris did at the loss of his wife. As one of the victims of this horrible attack, I think he should have the last words.
Friday night, you took an exceptional life — the love of my life, the mother of my son — but you will not have my hatred. I don’t know who you are and I don’t want to know, you are dead souls. If this God, for whom you kill blindly, made us in his image, every bullet in the body of my wife would have been one more wound in his heart.
So, no, I will not grant you the gift of my hatred. You’re asking for it, but responding to hatred with anger is falling victim to the same ignorance that has made you what you are. You want me to be scared, to view my countrymen with mistrust, to sacrifice my liberty for my security. You lost.
I saw her this morning. Finally, after nights and days of waiting. She was just as beautiful as when she left on Friday night, just as beautiful as when I fell hopelessly in love over 12 years ago. Of course I am devastated by this pain, I give you this little victory, but the pain will be short-lived. I know that she will be with us every day and that we will find ourselves again in this paradise of free love to which you have no access.
We are just two, my son and me, but we are stronger than all the armies in the world. I don’t have any more time to devote to you, I have to join Melvil who is waking up from his nap. He is barely 17-months-old. He will eat his meals as usual, and then we are going to play as usual, and for his whole life this little boy will threaten you by being happy and free. Because no, you will not have his hatred either.