Thursday, February 21, 2019
The War on Refugees
Note: the State of Emergency I expected to be declared has been declared. If you missed episode 28 of This Week with David Rovics, State of Emergency, you can check it out if you want.
I recently asked the twittersphere for advice on how to get more interest among the twitterati in my tweets. One of the more interesting responses came from someone who appeared to be a Trump supporter, advising me to essentially use my communication powers for good and join the right. After overcoming my initial revulsion at the idea, I realized he was correct. Simplistic sloganeering and appealing to various sectarian impulses does often seem more straightforward than trying to kindle things like solidarity and a holistic understanding of the complex situation we find ourselves in on Planet Earth.
One of the tremendous advantages to being a rightwinger is it's always easier for people to identify with that which is most familiar, and for a whole lot of different reasons, the people physically near you are probably much more familiar than people who are far away from you. The notion of making the planet great again is a bit vague, and making France or China great again doesn't have immediate appeal here, but making America great again is at least an idea people can get their heads around, whether or not it makes much sense. We know where America is, at least.
The powers-that-be in countries like the United States learned long ago that they can rule most profitably when they successfully keep the people divided by concepts such as race and nation (blood and soil). That way even if the racially-divided working class within the country ever manages to unite, they can always divide us again by fomenting nationalism. If we don't hate each other enough, they can get us to hate someone else.
So in terms of communication, what the ruling class despotic types (such as those in power now and for the vast majority of the time throughout the history of the US) are trying to accomplish is division. They want us divided from each other within the borders of the US, and they want us hating certain people outside of the US as well, for good measure. Successfully divided, we'll tend to be more compliant, granted various other factors, such as keeping us totally ignorant of history and even recent events. A very short memory is key to maintaining a divided population, because these patterns repeat themselves too often not to be recognized if you're actually paying attention. Some of the patterns repeat every four years, in fact, like clockwork.
A tried-and-true method for creating division is to make sure the population has developed a sufficiently dehumanized view of the people we're supposed to hate. If you've never met an Iranian or a Venezuelan, that helps to keep them all seeming very foreign. If you have no knowledge of the history of US imperialism or why so many Iranians and Venezuelans despise our government, that's helpful. And then other aspects of the foreignness of our current enemies can be brought to the fore, such as the tendency of most Iranians to practice a religion other than Christianity, or the notion that in Venezuela there are socialists, which we're supposed to understand is something very bad and inherently dysfunctional.
The process of dehumanizing or "othering" a person or population is basically a process of taking what starts out as being familiar, and making it unfamiliar. You start out with people who walk, talk, eat, sleep, party, fall in love, work, cook, etc., just like you do, and then your task is to make them seem alien by emphasizing those aspects that are unfamiliar to your audience.
While the propagandists for the ruling class and those that they serve fully recognize the importance of dehumanizing those who they wish us to think of as our enemies, their policies indicate just how much they realize that our enemies are eminently human and so very familiar.
Whether or not the powers-that-be all had the prescience to realize that their imperial policies in Central America, the Middle East and elsewhere would provoke refugee crises -- and many of them were fully cognizant that they would -- they have universally dealt with the crisis by implementing policies which are designed to target the most basic, most familiar, most human thing of all: our love for our children.
It's systematic -- you don't even need a pundit to interpret the news for you if you're following global developments at all regularly -- if you're from the US then you're of course familiar with the child separations at the border, the fact that ICE has detained thousands more children than they originally said, that they're being held in terrible situations where they're crying all the time and not allowed to hug each other, and the more recent policy of just not letting refugees to try to enter in the first place, by creating an intentional bottleneck, where they claim they can only process fifteen asylum applicants per day at a border crossing.
In comparatively humane places like Denmark, appearances are that refugees are welcomed, housed and otherwise looked after very well. But as the refugee crisis unfolded in 2015, Denmark was one of many countries in Europe that, while continuing to welcome the refugees that got there, was rapidly changing their laws to make their country much less hospitable. The change in the law that refugees learned about most quickly and which had the most devastating impact in terms of where they were trying to seek asylum was when Denmark dramatically lengthened the amount of time someone has to wait after getting refugee status before they can legally get the rest of their family out of the war zone and into safety, back in the arms of their fathers, brothers, etc.
So you had the specter of thousands of refugees walking all the way through Denmark, refusing aid, with the single-minded aim of getting to Sweden, not because there's anything better about Sweden for them, other than the fact that they might not have to wait years before they can be reunited with their children, spouses, etc.
In Australia there has for decades been an effort on the part of both Australian ruling parties to intercept boats full of desperate refugees at sea and then house them indefinitely on a small prison island until they "voluntarily" decide to go back to the war zones from which they came. In terms of geography we can be confident that if the US does start a war with Iran, the Iranians fleeing that conflict will join their compatriots among the mosquitoes and destitution on the prison island of Nauru.
This is the welcome they will receive from the west. Whether they opposed their government or not, the corporate imperialists in power who created the crises in the first place in places like Australia and the United States don't care. They only care that the refugees, like the wars, can then be used to further their capitalist agendas. (This is the case whether said capitalists are being recognized as imperialists or being considered "isolationists" for a few minutes because it's a more convenient moniker for one reason or another).
Once we dehumanize the others, we not only lose any potential ability to organize as a class -- the global working class, the workers of the world, often referred to as "the people" -- but we also lose our humanity, of course. We, or at least some significant number of us, then become capable of behaving in the most inhuman ways. We can treat these foreign people much differently than we would ever treat members of the normative population.
At a policy level of course we can do the most devastating things, like bomb other countries. And similarly devastating but less explosive policies like paying dictatorships billions of dollars to deal with the refugees for us, building taller walls, insuring that more people drown in the Mediterranean and die of thirst in the Arizona desert.
At a more up-close human level, some among law enforcement professions especially are able to do things it's hard to imagine anyone doing to, say, middle-class white suburbanites -- separating babies from their mothers as both wail in horror, calling in armed police to tackle elementary school children for misbehaving, and shooting at vehicles you're trying to pull over instead of making them stop by using one of more usual methods.
One of many examples of the way this phenomenon manifests took place while I was in Belgium last May. It barely made the news outside of Belgium, but there it was a big deal for a while.
There are many refugees who have specific destinations in mind. You might, too, if you were a refugee. Going to countries where asylum policies are such that they're likely to be able to bring their families over is one thing. But there are other factors, like people often want to go to countries where they already have extended family members (which in most of the world is just known as "family"), or where they already speak the local language. So a lot of people who managed to make it to western Europe still want to go further -- to England.
So every night there are vans packed full of refugees making their way across the highways of Belgium, driving from the German border to the port of Antwerp, where people are hoping to manage to get on a boat one way or another. And every night Belgian cops are looking for the vans full of refugees, playing cat and mouse.
On the night of May 17th, 2018, the driver of one van packed full of refugees refused to pull over when the police signaled for him to do so. The police ultimately fired live ammunition at the van, hitting and killing one of the passengers. She was a German-born Kurdish girl named Mawda Shawri. She was two years old.
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