by Martin Odoni First posted 3rd September 2015
There are numerous aspects of the varied British reactions to the Syrian Refugee Crisis deserving of castigation, from the latest example of UK Independence Party foaming-mouth stupidity and intolerance, blaming the death-by-drowning of a child on the parents (how easily people of a right-leaning disposition find a case for saying that when people are in terrible trouble, it must be their own fault), to Philip Davies crassly labelling compassion for the victims of the war as being ‘trendy‘, to George Osborne rather redundantly pointing out that, in a sense, the forces of Islamic State of Iraq and Levant are what caused the death of Aylan Kurdi (great point, Gideon! So obviously we should insist ISIL take in the refugees while we launch rockets at al-Qaryatayn. Right? Is that what Gideon is saying? Actually, I really have no idea what he is saying).
The truth is, though, that plenty of others up and down the country have offered their thoughts on this ignorant mixture of excuses for sitting-on-hands, and there is little I can say that will not already have been said.
Instead, I want to focus more narrowly on the words of our ‘wannabe-Tony-Blair-clone‘ Prime Minister, David Cameron, and put them into a wider context of his conduct in office. Yesterday, Cameron said that he did not want Britain to take in any more Syrian refugees. Now his stance has softened somewhat since then, in a way that suggests rather maddeningly that he is simply following the crowd, and one that has been worded somewhat ambiguously; the declaration “we will fulfil our moral responsibilities” is hardly specific.
My concern here is that Cameron’s stance on Syria seems disturbingly volatile at times, and what is most disturbing is perhaps which proposed action in Syria most piques his enthusiasm; it always seems to be violence, rather than rescue, that he finds appealing. I hope he does not imagine the people of this country are so stupid that they might forget that almost exactly two years ago, he took a motion to Parliament requesting military action against the regime of Bashar al-Assad. His enthusiasm for war as he spoke in that debate seemed almost fervent. By contrast, this week he has argued that taking in refugees is not a solution to the crisis, and that only stabilising and bringing peace to Syria and the wider region can offer that.
This is both a strawman argument – no one is suggesting that taking in refugees is a solution to the crisis as a whole, it is just a way of keeping Syrian people alive until such a solution can be found – and the diametric opposite of his stance two years ago; unless you genuinely believe that you can bomb a country into peace and stability, that is. His enthusiasm for a military ‘solution’ was such that, despite being voted down in the House of Commons, he ended up secretly authorising it anyway (a corrupt move that has seriously jeopardised Parliament’s credibility and should have made his position untenable). But this week, his reluctance to get involved in the actual ‘rescuing-the-Syrian-people’ part of rescuing Syrian people smacks of the mindset of a casual thrill-seeker i.e. he only wants action that causes lots of exciting bright flashes of light and loud banging noises.
Admittedly, the target two years ago was the Assad regime, whereas this time the ‘enemy’, to use a simplistic shorthand, would be ISIL. But does that really make a difference? Either way, Cameron needed to see a picture of a dead child in order to grasp the true horror of what is happening to the fleeing Syrians, and so to find the same enthusiasm for mercy as he had previously shown for malevolence.
Rather than saving some people, he would like to kill others. It does not look like he has the right priorities.
On a related note: –
Last night, I decided to put several photos of the tragic Aylan Kurdi up on social media. This was not a decision I made lightly, because I knew the proliferation of the picture, which had already gone viral across Twitter and Facebook, was bound to have an intrusive, even voyeuristic, overtone at a time of grief.
But in the end, despite having little taste for doing so, I went ahead, because I felt that there was a point that simply had to be driven home to a lot of very selfish people in Britain, and only by having the pictures as widely available as possible can that point get across; –
Quite simply, the refugee crisis on the Mediterranean has become a humanitarian disaster in its own right, rather than just an offshoot of the Syrian Civil War, and yet wide numbers of people around the UK are still buying into the preposterous ‘they’re-lazy-foreigners-here-to-live-off-our-Welfare-State’ narrative (as though people would ship their families hundreds of miles in cramped, top-heavy fishing boats just to get about a hundred pounds per fortnight). The greedy, self-satisfied people who cling to this ridiculous view – arrived at largely by projecting their own sociopathic tendencies onto the rest of the human race – need to understand precisely the terrible risks the refugees are having to take, and the scale of the horror they are trying to escape from in doing so. The photos of little Aylan, one of twelve victims to drown off the coast of Turkey when their boat sank, are perhaps the only evidence strong enough to break through this stubborn thick-headedness. While I – and I am sure most others who have shared the pictures – would not wish to exploit the death of a young child, the widened awareness of the crisis could equally be seen as a way of sifting some good from what happened to him. Given the photos appear to have swayed Cameron’s attitude somewhat, their proliferation does appear to have had a positive effect.