Sunday, June 5, 2016

Shame & Prejudice


Dalai Lama Warns Against Taking Too Many Migrants, Arab Domination: ‘Migrants Should Return’. “When we look at the face of each refugee, but especially those of the children and women, we feel their suffering, and a human being who has a better situation in life has the responsibility to help them. But on the other hand, there are too many at the moment… Europe, Germany in particular, cannot become an Arab country, Germany is Germany.” Despite the large influx involved, the fact remains that we are in no way dealing with numbers that can change the demographic realities of Europe. Germany will not be overwhelmed by Arabs, not today, not tomorrow, not ever. But, with the Dalai Lama now joining the ranks of populist fearmongering leaders catering to the prejudices and fears of the crowds and echoing their ill-informed opinions and sentiments, it’s becoming increasingly clear that we are still going down that slippery slope of paranoia towards a dark end.

The points raised by the Dalai Lama are infantile to say the least. The idea that refugees who braved the dangerous journey to Europe, and who did so either because they had nothing to begin with, or because they had lost everything, could actually be forced years later to leave their new life and go back “home,” misses the whole social, economic and psychological dynamics involved in this phenomenon. How many times can one endure becoming dispossessed? How many times can one build or rebuild a life for oneself and one’s family? More importantly, how many times in the modern world have refugees been able to return to their countries of origin? Except in the case of West European refugees during WWI and WWII, and refugees from short-duration conflicts, the option of returning “home” has not proven to be a practical one for the overwhelming number of refugees. 

So, what does it say about our era when someone with the moral and intellectual stature of the Dalai Lama fails to understand what a tragedy like the current global refugee crisis entails to those who go through it?

But these unfortunate remarks by the Dalai Lama point to an issue that is often overlooked in the media and academic circles, but when which is bound to become more relevant in the coming decades, the fact that the peoples of the Far East are no less susceptible to the lure of dangerous stereotypes about Arabs and Muslims than those of the West. In fact, not long ago, the dismissive stance adopted by Aung San Suu Kye towards the treatment of the Rohingya in her country puzzled and disappointed many of her admirers, especially those of Muslim and Arab backgrounds. Of course, Arabs and Muslims are not innocent in this regard, they, too, believe in many negative stereotypes about others, not to mention even each other. But the culpability of all excuses none, especially those who occupy positions of moral influence.

Speaking of the Far East: Syrian refugees stuck in limbo at Seoul airport. Muhammed is in his early 20s. He escaped from Aleppo when his house was destroyed and Bashar al-Assad's government called him up for military service. "Some are running away from joining the army, some are running away from the government and the military service," he said through a mobile video call. "We ran away from Syria because we don't want to be part of the war. We don't want to hold a gun." But, I think there is little reason to worry that the Korean peninsula might be on its way to becoming an Arab country. After all, we are only talking about a few dozen people here.