There are many well-meaning people who are sure that we have learned enough from the terrible events of the 1930s that led to the holocaust not to let them happen again. Many of us are sure that, taken back to 1938, we would have petitioned our government to allow parents to accompany their children on the Kindertransport; that we would have shown that popular opinion wanted Britain to do more for these refugees; that we would have been prepared to give up one tiny slice of our secure, comfortable life to help support someone who had already lost everything but their life, and was soon to lose even that.
But we don’t. People die every day because there is no safe refuge. Instead of standing up for these people, our xenophobic nimbyism drives us to worry about the consequences for us – us personally. What if allowing refugees in takes away our jobs? What if it means a little bit less for me, if we save someone from a disease-ridden refugee camp and let them live?
Have we really bought into capitalism and the free market to this extent? Do we really measure qualities like love, compassion, and humanity as if they were a commodity, where the more you give to someone else, the less you have left? Well, let’s talk in those terms, then. When we invest something of ourselves in a relationship, a job, a situation, we tend to enhance rather than diminish our return. If we sit in a corner, hoarding our love, we are unlikely to get much back, whereas by going out into the community and caring about people, we end up with a fulfilling network of life-affirming interactions and friendships. If you walk down the street grouching to yourself, you’ll get little affection in return, but if you smile at people, meet their eyes, nod or say good afternoon, some people will reciprocate. Where love, compassion, and kindness are concerned, the more you give, the more you end up with.
But even if there was a cost, so what? The poorest of us has so much compared to these people – are our extras worth more than their lives? Some of us may really not be able to afford to give money or a slice of what they have – at least they could give their support and their compassion. I’m not wealthy, but if I knew it would make a difference to refugees being saved and to the welcome we gave them, I could afford to give two slices – one for my family, and one for another who couldn’t manage it.
Sometimes I am ashamed at how we treat people who are on the very edge of existence. I am ashamed of a climate in which politicians can accumulate easy votes by rabble-rousing about “them” and about what their need for safety is doing to “us”. I am ashamed to live in a society where a mainstream newspaper can believe that it’s acceptable to publish an article arguing that gunboats, rather than rescue boats, should welcome people desperate enough to give any possessions they may still have for the privilege of a tiny place on an overladen boat for a perilous journey to an uncertain future. I am in favour of free speech, of everyone being entitled to an opinion and to being able to voice it, but I do not support giving a national platform to someone with such sociopathic, murderous views.
Well, maybe the reason such things happen is that the more compassionate, more reasonable majority do not make a fuss. So I’m taking a stand. To the politicians who are afraid of losing my vote, to the neighbours who whinge about immigrants, to the papers who print xenophobic, inhumane invective, I’d like to say:-
NOT IN MY NAME.
I will not be part of a society that excludes those who have nothing. I will not let abuses of power over refugees’ lives pass unprotested. I will not lend tacit support by keeping quiet when they are denigrated. And I will let people know. I will write to or email all my local candidates, making it very clear that this issue is, for me, a test of our humanity, and will determine my vote. I will protest to every paper in which I read such vitriol, every politician I hear ranting against these people who can’t defend themselves. I will become as well-informed as I can, so that I can counter the unthinking assumptions of the ignorant who believe the rabble-rousers. I will give my support to organisations such as The White Helmets, The Syria Campaign, the Refugee Council. I will pledge money to help support refugees. I will work with others to devise and support viable initiatives for offering support to the most vulnerable.
It gives me hope, that there has been such a public outpouring of disgust in the wake of Katie Hopkins’ diatribe against refugees. There is so much compassion that remains unvoiced in a climate of greed, of nimbyism, of fear. I have a vision of a society where quiet compassion becomes louder than ignorant demagogues.
I will be one voice. I hope I will be one voice amongst many.