If you thought that many European nations had adopted a mean and inhuman approach in preventing refugees from finding safe and welcoming locations for their families – there is one country which took an even more hostile stance towards immigration. Israel’s leaders engaged in a campaign of incitement and demonisation against thousands of African refugees who succeeded in crossing into the country’s borders; describing them as “infiltrators” and “criminals” and preparing to evict all of them.
Israel has seen the arrival of around 60,000 African refugees in recent years, mainly fleeing war and oppression in Sudan and Eritrea. UN member states are legally obliged to offer safe haven to those fleeing persecution and violence in their own countries.
However, not all Israelis think like their leaders. A large proportion of Jews arrived in Israel fleeing the Nazi holocaust during the Second World War and thus understand that they owe their lives to having access to a place of safety. There have thus been a flurry of petitions from thousands of Jewish professionals and prominent figures, begging the government to behave compassionately, with many of the most vocal figures themselves being holocaust survivors.
Another country whose entire Western population can trace their roots back to immigrants is the US. A large proportion of them arrived representing a diversity of Christian sects fleeing persecution in Europe; and as a result they forcibly displaced the native American population. Yet instead of having particular sympathy for dispossessed refugees from across the world, dominant political currents in America today have risen to power through demonszing immigrants.
In early political speeches Donald Trump fiercely denounced Mexican and Syrian refugees as “rapists”, “criminals” and “terrorists” and political discourse has focused on scare stories to project the impression that asylum seekers are a threat to the American way of life. The fact that such vicious incitement and hate speech is seen as “populist” illustrates the sickness which has infected contemporary politics. We find these same brands of populist anti-immigrant rhetoric among many European nations today, with anti-Muslim and xenophobic attitudes whipped up by segments of the media.
However, large segments of the American and European public have supported offering sanctuary to vulnerable people around the world, not just because it’s the right thing to do and not just because they see such anti-immigrant discourse as fundamentally anti-American – but also because Western economies largely depend on inflows of foreign labour. These are people willing to work hard and do jobs that many Americans aren’t willing to do, for lower wages.
It is ironic that so many of Donald Trump’s own businesses heavily depended on cheap immigrant labour – so even if he pretends not to, the President clearly understands why immigration is part of the lifeblood of the American economy.
The world around us today appears uncaring and uncompassionate. Yet it is precisely this inhumanity and injustice which forces thousands of people around the world to stand up on behalf of humanity. The worst of the human race is often necessary to bring out the best.
Our world is profoundly interconnected: Daesh may for now have been defeated in Iraq and Syria, but thousands of Daesh fighters have been dispersed across the region and around the world, from where they will set up mini-Daesh’s to stage terrorist attacks, fuel instability and create misery for millions of innocent civilians.
Our failure to act in support of peace and stability around the world today, will allow these plagues to arrive on our own shores tomorrow. Why should we feel motivated to assist families afflicted by conflict? Because tomorrow this could be us. If one day we hope the world will show us compassion – let us today show compassion to those who need it most.
Indeed, as a young man I found myself with my wife and children fleeing our native Lebanon with nothing when civil war broke out. I am thus profoundly indebted to Bahrain that this was the country which I was eventually able to call home. I am proud to say that instead of becoming a burden to my Bahraini hosts, I played a modest part in being part of the miracle of economic development which transformed this country over the past decades. As I prospered, so did my co-workers and so did Bahrain.
So let us reject those who demonise immigrants as a threat and a burden upon more fortunate nations. Let us not think of these people as Afghans, Rohingya or Eritreans – they need our help and according to our own faith, this makes them our brothers and sisters. Let us demonstrate the best example set by our own traditions in our willingness to open up our homes, our hearts and our borders to assist those who have nothing.