David Aaronovitch, courtesy of The Times, 17 November 2016 & The Australian, 17 November 2016, with the former bearing the title “The West has only itself to blame for populist revolt”
At the time of his death, Alan Kurdi seemed to be a harbinger of something else. Washed up on a Turkish beach last year, his lifeless body symbolised a suffering that could no longer be ignored. This tragic consequence of mass migration, mostly involving Syrians fleeing the civil war, was going to be the moment when a conscience-pricked world would do something to help. No more – Alan has an altogether different significance now. The insurgencies that gave us Brexit and the Trump presidency have gestated over many years. But the proximate cause of both, I believe, was not economics or wage inequalities but the events of 2015.
Refugees stand in front of a barrier at the border with Hungary near the village of Horgos, Serbia, September 15, 2015.
All that summer and autumn the talk was of human tides, and the pictures of panicking authorities closing borders, erecting barbed wire and lobbing tear gas into crowds of swarthy men. Austria quarrelled with Hungary, Poland with Germany. The impression given to the citizens of the West was of an establishment unable to deal with the crisis. Governments had lost control; borders were a joke and the EU, which was supposed to solve such problems, was the biggest joke of all.
Then came the Paris terrorist attacks. Of course the killers of 130 people in November last year were not refugees. But they shared something with the refugees. For a start they looked like them. Some of them had visited Syria, where many of the refugees came from. And they were also Muslims. In the wake of Paris, a picture emerged of alienated young Islamic State recruits from previously unknown enclaves in Brussels and elsewhere crossing non-existent borders to carry out mass murder.
Less than three weeks later Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik shot and killed 14 people at an office party in San Bernardino, California. Though Syed was US-born, the attack prompted the then-outsider Donald Trump’s famous call for a “total and complete” ban on Muslims entering the United States.
Most significant of all was the series of assaults, many of them sexual, carried out at the end of the year by hundreds of young migrant men in Cologne. It was a nightmarish vision of what can happen when you let the stranger into your home. The Germans had been the most generous nation, and this was how they were repaid.
There’s no getting around it. As with Britain’s own grooming scandals, from Rotherham to Oxford, there is a presumption among men from certain backgrounds (usually Pakistani, usually Muslim) that western women’s behaviour amounts to sluttishness and, maybe, an invitation to sexual assault. Denials of this by the authorities only fuelled the impression that minorities were being given a licence to behave appallingly.
It’s not enough to remind people that the majority of refugees would be horrified by the Cologne attacks or that most sexual assaults are not carried out by migrants. Both are true. But unless they are accompanied by measures to address the problem – such as compulsory education and assimilation classes for new arrivals – such caveats sound hollow and dishonest.
The failure of governments to grasp this point has fostered an atmosphere in which the crimes or alleged crimes of refugees are magnified and those of others go unattributed. A couple of weeks ago, for example, one mass circulation newspaper carried a story headlined “MIGRANT SEX ATTACK: Gang of Syrian boys as young as SEVEN launch sex attacks on under-age girls at German swimming pool”. And another, this time from Britain, was headlined “HE’S A DIFFERENT PERSON NOW: Boy, four, ‘sexually assaulted in his school toilets by a gang of ten-year-old lads’”. We have no idea of the origins of the latter group of alleged attackers.
I note here a bloody irony. Weeks before the Cologne attacks, a woman seeking election as the city’s mayor was nearly killed by a white German assailant angry at her pro-refugee policies. We had the killing of a pro-refugee MP, Jo Cox, here in Britain.
Guilt and fear are very powerful motivators. Human beings don’t like to feel either. Many people in Britain, Europe and the US believe they have been badgered by do-gooders into allowing uncontrolled danger into their country and their community. That certain groups of migrants have not helped their own cause (I’m thinking here of the Salman Rushdie affair and some reactions to the Charlie Hebdo killings) is obvious to all but the most cock-eyed.
One result has been the growing belief that refugees are undeserving. They’re all young men. If they had any decency they’d stay at home and provide for their womenfolk. They’re not really children. We don’t need to feel guilty. In fact we should feel angry with those who make us afraid.
A few weeks ago a group of children from the Calais migrant camp known as the Jungle – all aged under 18 – were taken to a hostel in Devon for a few days. They were described by one local councillor as “frightened and vulnerable”. Some locals were not happy, however. “Residents of picturesque Devon village tell of their fury at ‘bizarre’ decision to send 70 young migrants there who have arrived in the UK from the Jungle,” read one headline. One objector was incandescent. Even one day was too long, he said. He wanted them out now.
An atmosphere of defensive vindictiveness. Control. A wall. A strong man who tells it like it is. This is what you get when people are scared, see that the authorities are powerless to act and gain the impression that the establishment unfairly favours the incomer.
Days after Alan Kurdi’s death last year I wrote that we in the West seemed incapable of mobilising ourselves in the way we had in 1945 to deal with an even greater movement of displaced peoples. The states of the EU, and indeed the US and the United Nations, instead of agreeing a comprehensive plan, turned on each other. In the end – and far too late – the EU resorted to bribing Turkey to keep the Syrians on their side of the Aegean. For those who were lucky enough to make it to mainland Europe, we had no plan and no preparation.
There were political forces well placed to exploit this failure and they’ve done it. There now seems a terrible inevitability about how complacency and expedience, coming up against a disaster like Syria, is leading by short steps to the unravelling of the West.
ALSO SEE http://www.express.co.uk/news/politics/670845/migrant-crisis-MI6-Sir-Richard-Dearlove-EU-Brussels-populist-uprising-revolution-refugees