Personal Politics: Our Relationship to the Refugee Crisis.
The refugee crisis is a humanitarian issue first and foremost but is also, at it’s core, a battle of ideologies.
The crisis has generated very definitive and unique changes in our collective relationship to the mass media and has evolved the relationships that we hold between our own systems of belief.
The reality of the crisis became biting when a young child of Syria, named Aylan Kurdi, was photographed as his body was lifted from the shores of the land that his family risked everything to reach alive. Media language shifted slightly surrounding this single image. Rather than a language of fear, the words ‘tragic’, ‘shocking’ and ‘harrowing’ were used to describe and, perhaps, marked a change in public discourse.
Arguably, however, this shift in both public and media discourse signals a need to lessen our reliance on media outlets in our collective measuring of human tragedy.
Europe has, importantly, been confronted with the truth that personal politics and personal systems of belief have the capacity to enact tangible effect, both constructive and damaging.
We are accountable for these effects.
With allegiance to fascist and racist belief systems across Europe swelling, arguably, so too are allegiances to belief systems promoting solution and compassion with people seeking practical and ideological resolve to a violent, humanitarian disaster.
The fact that much of the racist discourse narrating the crisis has condemned both the refugee community and the extremist ideologies that those same refugees are often victim of, demonstrates the irrationality and lack of logic with which racist and fascist discourse frequently speaks.
For, if dangerous extremist ideologies alone were the target of fascism, rather than a fear of patriotism’s death, as is often claimed, refugees should be welcomed into European nations openly, by the general population and fascists alike.
However, we know this not to be the case.
It is our duty to counteract racist, inflammatory and illogical discourse when human lives are the subject of both action and conversation.
Divisive narratives are not always so blatant to identify, and are often propagated and perpetrated by government bodies.
The suggested introduction of a new conservative policy that seeks to ‘build one nation’ through forcing migrant and refugee communities to be proficient in the English language after two years of living in Britain, is arguably damaging.
Cameron affirms that the government be ‘more assertive about our liberal values, more clear about the expectations we place on those who come to live here’.
Yet, these assertions are a further expression of cultural control and hegemony, rather than any meaningful solution to crisis. They suggest a hierarchy of cultural identity; that a migrant or refugee community is ‘valuable’ only if ‘integrated’ and ‘assimilated’ into an imagined idea of ‘British values’. It is a damaging appeal to those fascist strains of public thought.
Appeasement of these values must be criticised.
More flagrant in their harming of refugee communities, it has been reported that the border authorities that police the Calais Jungle regularly assault the people needing to shelter within its safety with violence and tear gas. Further to this, up to 2,000 refugees and families living within the camp’s shelter have recently been ordered to leave the essential safe hold, with a large area to be bulldozed and decimated, reducing the size and capacity of the Calais Jungle to provide shelter.
We cannot forget that the refugee crisis is colonialism’s hangover and is disputably the effect of an extremism born from seeds that western colonialism has planted, and that western wars have nurtured.
We cannot negate responsibility for the suffering that these atrocities have caused.
And we cannot negate the effects of our personal politics in counteracting, or contributing to, damaging ideologies.
Words – Ella Russel
PHOTOGRAPHS: Taken of a ‘die-in’ protest that took place in the spring of 2015, in which activists and members of the public lined main roads and bridges that crossed the Thames, halting the traffic surrounding parliament for a number of hours in order to criticise Government handling of the migrant crisis and in order to raise awareness of the suffering that this handling has and will cause.