Monday, September 7, 2015

Five Self-Commandments With Regard to the Global Refugee Crisis

1) I shalt harken unto my own counsel whenever countries of exceeding wealth and plenty -- and most especially the United States -- pleadeth poverty and incapacity to take in a greater share of refugees or to provide them aid elsewhere. I will remind myself of two numbers: $5 billion and $600 billion: the $5 billion being the annual budget of the entire United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, which provides all the UN's aid to all refugees displaced by all conflicts and persecutions around the world; and the $600 billion being the US military budget for this fiscal year, 2015. I will dare to notice that one of those numbers is roughly 1% of the other. I will reflect upon the fact that all UN humanitarian organizations put together spend about $20-30 billion a year to attempt to provide food, shelter, medical care, and more to all the world's most desperately impoverished and displaced populations. I shalt recall that this is considerably smaller than the endowment of yon Harvard University, though it still bear the penurious designation of a "non-profit institution."

2) I shalt seek out and interrogate those American tax payers who protest it be unfair to spend their treasure on humanitarian aid. I will calculate that the amount of money devoted each year to the US military budget is enough to provide $54,000 annually to every man, woman, and child displaced from Syria (there being about 11 million of them in total) if it were spent on nothing else. I will remember to ask these taxpayers just why it is they do not resent this same quantity of money being taken from their pockets each year when it is spent on creating refugees rather than resettling them.

3) I shalt be sure to seek out too across field and plain for yon politicians who once were heard to say "We shalt arm the Syrian 'moderates'!" and "We shalt bomb Iraq, and Iran, and Syria, and Libya" and we shalt do so because in each case it be the international duty of the United States -- nay, more than that, an obligation of humanitarian concern for the people of those countries. For "Lo!" I shalt be heard to say to such as these, "Those very women and men and children whom you had been so anxious to save have now arrived at thy very threshold! How happy thou must be that thou mayest now have the chance to fulfill those very obligations, and without this time the shedding of blood!" And yet, I fear these very same politicians will be difficult to find. Oh, where have they secreted themselves from view? But hark! Thou regardeth them now; yet strange to say, they are not visibly pleased with the happy chance presented them, and are instead apparently very upset about the "security concerns" involved in taking in -- what is it now?-- about a thousand Syrian refugees so far (plainly an enormous strain on the US's capacities). I will dare to connect certain associated ideas with one another to form the following logical progression: Peter King, bombing the Middle East, not taking in displaced people, the fact that those displaced people may be Muslim in some cases, the code-phrase "security concerns," Islamophobia (-- but on Peter King's part? Surely not!)

4) I will know that anyone truly worried about "security concerns" -- or the more obvious humanitarian ones -- related to the Islamic State ought to be first in line, rather than last, to take in IS's victims. They ought also to be the first to concern themselves with what happens when UN humanitarian relief services run out of money and start triaging, and suddenly ISIS is the only group around that is still offering food -- if only in exchange for blood. Reports the Guardian: "This year the World Food Programme cut rations to 1.6 million Syrian refugees. The most vulnerable living in Lebanon now only have $13 to spend on food each month, a figure that the WFP warned would leave refugees vulnerable to recruitment by extremist groups." Such is not only a humanitarian catastrophe unfolding, but also an infinitely more plausible "security concern" than those indicated by any dog-whistling conspiracy theories about terrorist networks smuggling themselves in through the (thoroughly onerous) asylum process. Suddenly Brecht's "Song of the Storm Trooper" doesn't sound so terribly reductionist anymore in its analysis of fascist recruitment:
"From hunger I grew drowsy,
Dulled by my belly’s ache.
Then someone shouted in my ear,
Germany awake. […]
They gave me a revolver
And said: now shoot our foe.
But as I fired on his ranks
I laid my brother low." (Hays trans.)

5) I shalt recollect that none of the above considerations is really the decisive one anyways, for anything that wealthy and powerful governments do for the world's refugees shall be but a small paying down of the interest on moral debts long-since incurred; it shall be the fulfillment of a clear and patent legal obligation under humanitarian law; and anyways, if any act of generosity could be done extremely easily and at no cost whatsoever of time and money and space, it would not exactly be generous, would it?

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