Of refugees and other sorrows

“The civilized have created the wretched, quite coldly and deliberately, and do not intend to change the status quo; are responsible for their slaughter and enslavement; rain down bombs on defenseless children whenever and wherever they decide that their ‘vital interests’ are menaced, and think nothing of torturing a man to death: these people are not to be taken seriously when they speak of the ‘sanctity’ of human life, or the ‘conscience’ of the civilized world.”

― James Baldwin, The Devil Finds Work.

The words written above will never lose their significance for the reason that the champions of civilization will always cloak their hideous agenda of intervening in other countries for exploiting their resources, whatever these are in a particular state, under some enlightenment ideal: bringing democracy to a nation, or ensuring the protection of human rights. What James Baldwin has told us about the actions of  ‘the civilized’ and the fate of ‘the uncivilized’ has come to our face many a time.

Only recently, the horrible refugee crisis ―a direct and inevitable consequence of the massive Migration Crisis― that jolted the consciousness of the whole world and the inadequate response of the international community to tackle the issue of refugees leaves one speechless. The debate that the drowning of Aylan Kurdi provokes on migration and refugee crisis is a testimony to the fact that we live in a world driven by images. But the irony does not end with this; it is a reflection of the bitter reality that we suffer from collective amnesia as well.

Hardly did the debates settle on thorny questions of how to respond to the migration crisis, mostly created as a result of what Tariq Ali calls, ‘Turbo-charged Capitalism,’ that we find ourselves struggling with another head of the same hydra: the continuous persecution of Rohingya Muslims.

An attempt to understand and explain the global failure of finding a sustainable solution to the migration crisis concludes that such inability is a combination of two components. First is the human behavior. The second one is the intricacies of academic disciplines like international law and relations. On their own as well as their combination, these factors have paralyzed our collective thinking from taking any measure against the oppressor state of Myanmar’s persecution of Rohingyas, which the UN terms as a textbook example of ethnic cleansing. 

Considering the appalling response of the civilian leader of Myanmar, Aung San Su Kyi, Nobel Prize Winner, and the neighboring countries to shelter the ethnic Rohingyas is a testimonial to our moral bankruptcy. A culture of empathy has died and instead what Pankaj Mishra calls ‘Culture of Cruelty’ is dominating the world. The soi-disant culture transcends every kind of artificial limitations devised by the human mind. The fate of Rohingyas, an unwanted people, turned stateless in the midst of open seas, is not very different from hundreds of thousands of people in countries of the rest of the Asia and Africa.

According to one recent report published by UNHCR, till this day a total of 65.5 million people are displaced from their homes. Reasons for people leaving their homes include wars, abrupt climate changes, religious, ethnic or political persecutions. Out of these nearly 22 million are refugees. 

The slogan of ‘Never Again’ after the crisis of European refugees as a result of WWII and Rwanda Genocide gave birth to a plethora of documents aimed at upholding human rights supreme. Making high resolutions, after every major catastrophe, not to remain silent or mere spectators in the face of injustice, the world, ignoring the warnings of Desmond Tutu, has chosen the side of oppressor many a time by remaining silent.  Leaders of the free world often cite complexities of international law to justify the criminal silence they maintain whenever a human sponsored catastrophe hits the world. 

The greed to grab more and more resources finds novel justifications in the intellectual lexicon devised by the global powers. Though such reasoning is morally and legally devoid of any standing, yet it works perfectly for them. Going a step further, it is not incorrect to argue that the unsettled refugee crisis and the western civilization’s vitriolic campaign to nurture Islamophobia ―to silent their population against questioning them on intervening country after country― go hand in hand.

Moreover, allowing states to find scapegoats for their failure has unleashed demagogues to fill the political vacuum across the West. Trump’s hate speeches and rhetoric against minorities expose the darker side of the much-cherished concept of democracy: the tyranny of the majority. While the liberal world order gave the impression that globalization will usher in a new era where borders will hold no meanings thus ensuring free movement of humans along with ideas and goods, the reverse of it is happening today. Instead, more emphasis is laid today on consolidating borders than ever before. Insistence on keeping a country pure from external influences and closing eyes to the sufferings of others are the natural outcomes of sticking to the idea of the nation-state. And this idea is playing a key role in barring the rational faculties of the world and its leaders to find any durable and sustainable solution to the refugee crisis.

The borders, a core component of the idea of the nation-state, created to restrain free movement of people are nothing short of tools of violence available to the state. It is this creation of borders that teaches us the hatred of other fellow human beings. If international community seeks a solution to the crisis in hand, the world needs to take radical steps such as overthrowing the idea of the nation-state. This cherished construction has given birth to one of the most toxic concepts of hating others: Nationalism.

Similarly, certain concepts of International Relations, ironically the first academic effort to maintain global peace in the aftermath of World War I, have turned into the most vicious intellectual justifications in the hands of oppressive and aggressive states to secure their ‘national interests’ and commit brutalities under the veil of ‘nationalism’ at any cost in any part of the world.

What else explains this collapse? In an attempt to address the problem on a deeper level, one can blame the global reliance on the one-dimensional definition of progress and rationality promoted by the cheerleaders of the dominant Western intellectual tradition. The widespread pathology of apathy, a result of concepts like national interests, sovereignty, and nationalism, which occupies the mind of everyone against everyone, has turned a signification population of the world into Untermenschen ―subhuman. The global response to the ongoing refugees’ crisis is nothing but an ethical and moral breakdown of Homo sapiens.

In the midst of all the technological innovations and advancement of political and economic ideas under the umbrella of Western civilization, the emphasis is on individualism and selected few confined in geographical proximity; little room for fundamental human values is available then. As a result, we missed out on one thing: care for others. Thanks to the provincialized worldview of ours, we have forgotten the compassion for fellow human beings not only beyond the artificial barriers erected in the form of walls and frontiers but has also resulted in bitter divisions within a given society. This core element of human existence has long been faded away from our collective understanding, especially in the age of globalization —a much-popularized concept after the fall of Soviet Union in the late twentieth century.

In times when core human values like empathy and benevolence are put behind for securing the political and economic interests of the selected few, one should expect worst than the present mayhem we are living in.

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