Why do I pick the refugee crisis to worry about?
I must admit: I would rather not care about the fate of refugees.
Preferably, I would scroll down my news feed until stumbling upon something positive. Somehow I manage to reduce my corona-related news intake to an absolute minimum of the necessary info. In fact, I could do the same with news on the situation of refugees – because hey, it is not really MY problem, is it?
You have to pick your battles. One cannot care about all the problems in the world. I mean: there is poverty, hunger, HIV, teen mums, gender discrimination, racial discrimination, big companies’ tax evasion, dictators, obesity, anorexia, psychiatric problems, the #MeToo movement, addictions, mediocre school systems, underpaid teachers, abusive people, cults, vandalism, conspiracy theories, pharmaceutical medicine monopoly, stupid people in power, overpopulation, loneliness, depression, cancer, drunk drivers – oh yeah: the climate crisis, and the current covid-19 situation.
If you cannot fight them all, why pick any at all? These problems are not waiting for my interference! They will solve themselves. The situation of refugees will be solved too. It will all pass. They will die, or not. Anyway, I do not have anything to do with them. I could totally think this way. Yet, recently I have developed a problem with this way of thinking.
When I met Rikko Voorberg, we started talking about how we have different ways of being.
If the two of us would have been monks, I would have retreated to a quiet monastery on the countryside, trying to find God in the peace and quiet, nature and books. I was meditating alone. Rikko, instead, is working hard, in the middle of the city, preaching and helping, handing out food to the poor.
His theological path, besides knowing and writing about Christian scriptures, is to get involved. His way is to reach out, to care, to show empathy when it gets hard. He is a pastor, an example for the masses. He is out there, connecting with people. He follows the example of the prophets, who – after being inspired by God – became spokesmen of justice. They told the people about right and wrong, about how to live together and be the whistle-blowers of their time, pointing out what was going wrong in their society. Activism, helping people – this is what makes Rikko feel closer to God.
Compared to that, my own philosophical path to truth, enlightenment, unity, eternity, etc., feels suddenly extremely selfish. Is it that I do not care? Seriously, can’t I just scroll down? And a better question: can I look myself in the mirror after scrolling down?
Suddenly, when I do dare to look around, inquiring about what is going on in the world, I feel that the refugee situation is harder to be ignored than any other. Why? Because it is happening right in front of our eyes, and – mark my words – it will definitely look disastrous in future history books.
We, our beloved civilized Europe with our fancy politicians, are treating real people as if they were not human. As if no one had ever told us to ‘treat your neighbour as thyself’. As if none of our parents or teachers had ever told us to be ‘kind’ or ‘tenderhearted’.
We just ignore them, millions of them. We let them be tortured and robbed by the police, we have them wait endlessly, walk for weeks or months, we let them suffer, we lock them up, we restrict them from doing anything to start building a life for themselves.
Yes, we are repeating History. This time, it is not the Nazis who are killing Jews, but it is the same kind of xenophobia that makes us blind to what we are doing to these people.
It is time we rehumanise people on the move and treat them as we treat each other, knowing they have stories to tell, skills to share and emotions to feel. They are real people with names and faces. Once we do that, we will have empathy and treat them as equals. It is time we make xenophobia a thing of the past, as only then, we will rehumanise our politics as well.
We should feel ashamed already about what will be in those history books later on. We are going to have to teach our children about how we screwed up. We knew, we saw, but we kept scrolling down.
by Sabine Wassenberg, philosopher, the Netherlands
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