Saturday, 12 September 2015


In Ireland, as elsewhere, the refugee crisis in the Mediterranean has been headline news lately.  The Irish government's response has been rather somnolent, however, partly under the cover of our opt-out from the Schengen Agreement, and this has allowed various other, usually ill-informed, positions to dominate the discussion.

Firstly, it has taken weeks for the discussion to shift from being one about 'migrants' (bad, because they simply want to better themselves economically) to a more accurate one about 'refugees': the major flow across the sea at the moment is of people fleeing the brutal civil war in Syria, who are refugees by any post-Geneva Convention definition.

Next, and most obviously, there has been the split between the focus on, and pride taken in, the work of Irish naval vessels in the Mediterranean, plucking refugees from the sea or from their ramshackle boats, and the fear and hostility to taking in refugees evinced by crackpots like George Hook.  Hook, who presents an afternoon programme on Newstalk106 (which makes distinctions between 'comment' and 'opinion' that would make bamboozle most critical philosophers), sees the world through a Blimpish misted lens composed of Victor comics, the novels of Rider Haggard and Ian Fleming, philo-Churchillism, and the Daily Telegraph.  Accordingly, he has been warning us all that all the refugees crossing the sea from Africa and the Levant are likely to be Islamist terrorists.  So we have a body of opinion that takes a touchingly provincial pride in the work of the Irish Naval Service (as if it was the only national navy contributing to rescue efforts), because this image mobilises all the tropes of which we are so fond - helping the wogs because they can't help themelves, helping them far away, our doughty servicemen performing deeds of derring-do.  But this same body of opinion is more sympathetic to traders and shipping companies at the port of Calais than to the desperate people who, left to rot by the French government, having been willing to risk stowing away on the Eurostar railway, and this body of opinion cannot countenance the arrival of more than a couple of hundred refugees in Ireland.

As the geopolitical debate warms up, so analysts or 'analysts' of various hues appear. Respectable scholars of the Middle East such as UCD's Vincent Durac are brought onto the media, but so also are ludicrous figures such as Susan Philips, a former Wicklow county councilor who boasts an M Litt (an incomplete doctorate?) on 'the rise of politcal Islam', and who has somehow set herself up as a commentator in the Bernard Lewis mould - Islamophobic, generalising, essentialising, ultra-Zionist, and the kind of Christian who gives Christianity a bad name. 

Questions are asked about the unwillingness of the Gulf monarchies to take in refugees.  These countries are indeed fabulously rich, but to expect them to take in Syrian refugees is ignorant and naive.  Not that they lack the resources, but we need to remember that these regimes are bitterly opposed to Assad's Ba'athi government, that they are the wellspring of the Wahhabi or Salafi ideologies that motivate ISIS or Al-Nusra or Al-Qa'ida in their battles against the Syrian and Iraqi governments, and that they or wealthy private citizens of theirs have bankrolled ISIS in both Syria and Iraq.  Furthermore, the ethno-religious mix of Syrians (and Iraqis, Libyans and Afghans) crossing the seas is very likely to be distasteful to the Sunni princedoms.  So, expecting the Gulf emirates to take in refugees is tantamount to asking them to admit their catastrophic ideological and political handiwork in helping create ISIS, and is unlikely to happen.

Of course, we also have Israel, a very rich country in the region and next door to Syria, Lebanon and Jordan, declaring its unwillingness to take in refugees.   Unless, no doubt, they happen (somehow) to be Jewish, in which case under the Law of Return they will be welcomed with open arms and will be immediately entitled to citizenship.  Israel's ethnic 'democracy' has little welfare to offer any other refugees - after all, Israel has never accepted responsibility for the 'Palestinian refugee problem' since 1947, and has made a point of stamping on them wherever they find them ('mowing the lawn' in Gaza in 2009 and 2014).  And then there is Israel's disgraceful and cynical support for Al-Nusra, an offshoot of Al-Qa'ida in Syria - yet another example of Israel's efforts to ride the Islamist tiger - from its connivance at the organisation of the Muslim Brotherhood in Gaza in the 1980s (which eventually produced Hamas) to its tacit alliance with Saudi Arabia today.

Here is a fine overview of the refugee problem, from Mondoweiss:

A guide to the worst refugee crisis since WWII


And here is Slavoj Zizek, on the website of the London Review of Books

The Non-Existence of Norway · 9 September 2015



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