Explorations in Theology

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Our Fears…

If you are European a great weekly resource is Jeff Fountain’s weekly newsletter from The Schuman Centre for European Studies. In my inbox this morning came False Expectations Appearing Real. At a recent summit Dr Katrine Camilleri gave a blistering talk. She works in Malta right at the centre of the migration route from Lybia. She said:

For a country the size of a rock these arrivals strain not only our logistical capacities but also our longstanding tradition of hospitality. It is a little ironic that the country that prides itself on having welcomed St. Paul with unusual kindness, as the Acts of the Apostles tells us, welcomes these arrivals by locking them up in detention centres.

Migrants were held in detention in some cases up to 18 months. The conditions were completely substandard. The centres were overcrowded. People didn’t have access to basic services, which we knew were desperately needed.

Walls

Many, she said, were fleeing war and massive violation of human rights. The journey itself made many of them pass through hardships difficult to imagine. Many were legally entitled to international protection. Katrine couldn’t but ask if receiving these people who turned up at our doors asking for help was not completely out of sync, completely incongruent with our self-perception and with our European values?

The response of the EU to the asylum seekers who came through Greece in 2015 was much the same, she continued. Although we are part of a Union founded on the core values of solidarity and respect of human rights and human dignity, we saw states acting alone, refusing to see this as a European challenge and refusing to develop a common and effective response.

‘European states are still responding by putting up walls,’ Katrine said. ‘We put up these walls to protect ourselves from real or perceived threats to our culture, to our Christian values and heritage, to our stability, to our comfort and possibly to our security. Walls in many shapes and forms: border walls, ever more sophisticated and militarized border control measures, agreements with third countries such as Turkey, and Libya, countries where asylum seekers can’t find effective protection. The list is endless.

‘These walls are, in part, the result of indifference. Pope Francis talks repeatedly about the culture of indifference, which doesn’t allow us to see the needs of the other, much less to empathize with them. Fear makes you completely unable to think of anything else except your own protection. Everything looks like a threat and you respond accordingly. You put up walls to protect yourself.

Less human

‘On the individual as well as on the national level, fear leads us to build walls and makes us incapable of looking beyond our own self-preservation, to the needs of the people who are going to be affected by those walls.

‘I don’t want to minimise the challenges posed by large numbers of arrivals. The challenges are real. People worry that it will change Europe, and I say they are probably right. But I believe that what will change us is how we choose to react to this challenge. We can choose to put up walls, to react out of fear, out of an instinct for self-preservation or we can choose to welcome, to receive the people who are arriving at our shores, who are fleeing as we ourselves would want to be treated.

‘Reacting out of fear is also very problematic for what it does to us. Fear prevents us from seeing refugees arriving at our borders as people, as individuals with needs and with rights. Dead people at the border, arbitrary detention and miserable conditions, ill-treatment, abuse: what to do? Fear allows us to assume that the violation of human rights is in certain circumstances necessary and justified. Fear allows us to dehumanize the refugees and close our eyes to their needs and suffering, which we are obliged by law to respond to. We are obliged by law to protect and assist refugees.

‘Not only the face of Europe is changed but our soul. We become less human. We turn to the opposite of what we profess as individuals and as a Union, which is supposedly founded on solidarity and respect for human rights. We respond in a way that is anything but Christian even if we do it ironically to protect our Christian heritage.’

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2 thoughts on “Our Fears…

  1. You know, personal and corporate histories are great. They give us a sense of identity. But I fail to see what exactly about Western culture is so fantastic that it cannot be improved including by change brought in by other cultures. We live, if we are honest, in an all encompassing system based on the imperial colonization of other places and people. Our wealth is gathered from all over the world often from underpaid and exploited workers including children and from the planet itself. We have rampaged across the planet in the name of Western culture killing, destroying, devastating and oppressing.

    Granted, many humans behave this way outside of Western culture. So just granting entrance to others won’t necessarily provoke good change. We can only influence and control how our own cultures evolve to a limited degree. But the very least we can do is to treat others with kindness and humanity. That itself would be a great improvement on much of how western cultures have treated others. It isn’t necessarily easy or nice. But I am heartened today by an article in the Guardian – people living in Barcelona would rather be inundated with immigrants than tourists. Right on. Now there’s a culture that might just be changed and for the better.

    There is nothing sacrosanct about any of our cultures, countries or borders. To impose such a meaning negates our own humanity as well as others. Is it easy to manage the immigration? No, not really, but not impossible either. What we fear is the loss of our standard of living (based on the exploitation of others and the planet) as those ‘others’ come and demand the use of the resources we believe we own (even if we really have stolen them).

    What I find interesting about all of this is that many of these refugees and immigrants on both sides of the Atlantic are really, at the root, driven by climate change and the secondary violence it produces. This is just the beginning really so we need to wrap our heads around it and our hearts because while it may occur in waves, it will keep coming. And yes, we will all be changed. Hallelujah!

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