I WONDER how people 100 years from now will regard this generation? One of the largest problems of our day, and one that we see precious little media coverage about is the subject of refugees. All of our war mongering and the mismanagement of the planet have created a historically unprecedented flood of refugees and not only is no one talking about them (relatively speaking, compared to the coverage of other more sound-bite worthy topics) but more importantly precious few souls are doing anything about them.
This simple story about a boat captain instrumental in saving refugees points out the problem. It seems a strange world in which someone who acts to alleviate the suffering of others should, themselves, be put at risk for having done so. 20 years in prison is no “slight inconvenience” for having done a humane act, and yet that’s the world we live in.
If we who live in the U.S. think that the Donald-Trump-fueled-paranoia over immigrants is unique to our shores need only look beyond our boundaries to realize that nations around the world are struggling over how to maintain their own integrity in the face of mounting immigrant/refugee pressure. The U.S. is no longer a burgeoning nation in need of every able hand and keen brain to build a new nation. Now we are an established entity and those in power would very much like to keep things just as they are. They don’t want “different” folk coming in to accumulate wealth as they have done; after all, those with wealth view the wealth that they do not own as their right to accumulate and woe be unto anyone who gets in their way — even on the smallest scale.
All of the European nations are struggling with nationalism and refugees just as we are struggling with immigration. The thing is, we humans really would like the world to stay as it is, for as it is right now is something we know, and that we are more or less comfortable with. No one, specially those with assets to protect, is enamored of the great unknown. Wealth, in large part, is a matter of scarcity and public opinion. The great wealth of the super-rich is often not a matter of gold in vaults, it’s company stock — and company stock is valued by how highly the public regard the company. A scandal at the right level can make a blue ribbon company’s value plummet overnight. No. No one in their right mind is eager to plunge into the unknown. Not even at night in the forest with no flashlight. On a macro scale, and on a micro scale, uncertainty scares the pants off of everyone.
And the biggest problem with refugees is that they present uncertainty. Will they assimilate? This is what happened here in the U.S. 100 or more years ago. Immigrants arrived, they learned the language, they learned the customs, the wanted to be Americans, and that is what they became. The worst off among them could not change their color or the shape of their faces — these felt the longest ongoing discrimination as longer-time immigrants — those who thought of themselves as the real citizens of this country could identify the new ones who looked different, and so they treated them differently out of fear that their visual difference would manifest in a change in our country.
But in the 21st Century things are no so easy. It’s not just visual differences that people fear. The immigrant today — commonly more a refugee than a true immigrant — has arrived on strange shores because they have been driven out of their country by war, by discrimination, by hunger, you name it. They have often arrived in a new place not because they wanted to be different but simply because they wanted to survive. And they aren’t in a big hurry to give up their old ways, they just want to have enough food in their belly to live as they want to live — frequently as they were living in their homeland. And to talk as they have talked. And to carry forward the customs, and the ideals, and the prejudices, and the hatreds that they carried with them from “the old country.”
This is a very different climate in which to enter a new country. It may not be necessary to fear such people but one thing is sure: they are feared. Not in the U.S. alone, but in every country around the world. And that has been the case for at least the last 75 years.
The question comes to mind, however, does it make sense for a sea boat captain to face prison for being humane?
What are we doing to ourselves if an act of compassion is viewed as criminal?
If you scour the media you will find that this single incident is not singular! There are events not much different occurring every day around the world. Laws have become more important than results. And just where that ends … well, your guess is as good as mine.
And the bigger question is, all those people have become refugees because of the actions of others: the wars, famine, and pestilence that they flee are caused by greedy men and women who want more than their share of something. How long before we say “enough” with wars over oil, wars over territory, wars over ideology? How long before we let people live, and recognize that they are human just as are we, and they too deserve to live.