Sunday, 2 August 2015

Time to "rediscover what it is to be human."

It’s good to see religious leaders standing up to denounce immorality – especially when for once it isn’t sex they’re talking about.

It’s particularly welcome when it is a Christian leader revealing how deeply unchristian David Cameron is, despite his frequent professions of faith. In this instance, the speaker was the bishop of Dover, Trevor Willmott, commenting on the so-called crisis of migrants in Calais.

I say “so-called” because there are at most 3000 of them (compared to the 60,000 who turned up in Italy in the first six months of this year), and it isn’t even clear that all of them want to come to England. I heard one interviewed by the BBC, saying she hoped the world might hear them, and maybe someone in the world might find it in their heart to help them.

Even so, Cameron has decided to provide dogs and guards and better fences to Calais, to make sure that none of these immigrants make it to Britain. So for him the question is merely to be met with security measures, rather than to be treated as a social and political issue, that needs to be handled with compassion towards people who are fleeing some of the worst dangers on the face of the Earth.

What underlined the moral problem was Cameron’s description of the people in Calais as a “swarm of migrants.” It was that use of the word “swarm”, as though we were dealing not with humans but with locusts, that caused the worst shock.

The bishop, talking with the support of the Church of England, pointed out that “we’ve become an increasingly harsh world, and when we become harsh with each other and forget our humanity then we end up in these standoff positions. We need to rediscover what it is to be a human, and that every human being matters.”

Not an infestation, not a swarm
Just humans facing desperate hardship
A salutary reminder. And here’s another – a reminder of a previous time when we in Britain closed ranks to resist swarms of immigrants.

“The way stateless Jews from Germany are pouring into this country from every port is becoming an outrage. I intend to enforce the law to the fullest.”

Thus spake a magistrate in 1938, quoted with approval by the Daily Mail, the paper which supported the Nazis in Germany at that time, and the British Union of Fascists in its own country.

Recently, the Czech Republic honoured Sir Nicholas Winton who brought 669 children out in the “Kindertransporte”, to save their lives in Britain. This was felt to be only what he deserved, including by the right wing press. They’re correct, of course, but it’s worth remembering that we’re talking about under 700.

For the first six years of the Nazi regime, the only Jews affected were in Germany, Austria and parts of Czechoslovakia. These were Jews that could have been helped, in a way that when it came to Poland, rescue was impossible: the Nazis appeared in their country so rapidly, and Britain in any case declared war on Germany. But something could have been done about German Jews.

There were a little over 500,000 of them when the Nazis came to power. By 1941, around 160,000 of them were still there. They were, almost without exception, murdered. Jews who left for other European countries, like France, which later fell under Nazi control, were also mostly killed.

Britain took about 40,000 of the Jews who got out. That’s about 10% of the total. Under 10% of the whole Jewish population of Germany. About a quarter as many as those who were killed. So while it’s wonderful to recognise men like Nicholas Winton, it would be unfortunate if we allowed sentimentalism about those 669 children to blind us to the fact that we left so many to face the horror of the gas chambers.

“We need to rediscover what it is to be a human, and that every human being matters,” said the bishop of Dover. That was something we forgot in the 1930s, when powerful men decided that the arrival of German Jews in Britain was “becoming an outrage.”

Learn the bishop’s lesson and we might avoid behaving so shamefully this time round.


Faith A. Colburn said...

I agree, David. The mean-spiritedness I'm seeing in the Western World--at a time when our leadership screams out its Christianity--beggars belief. I see our solution to homelessness here in the good old U.S. of A. is to place beds of prongs under our bridges so homeless people won't go there. some cities have outlawed feeding the homeless or sheltering them in our churches. I guess somebody I'm supposed to consider wiser than me thinks that by outlawing homelessness we make the homeless go away. It appears that the only solution for the homeless person is to die--but then there would be a disposal problem, wouldn't there?

David Beeson said...

Well said. The attitude seems to be that we should simply do away with problems rather than attempt to solve them, and any suffering that causes is viewed as acceptable rather than facing up to the real challenge in the first place.

In Britain, we seem intent on creating poverty ghettoes, as it becomes increasingly impossible for all but the wealthiest to live in more prosperous areas. If homeless people die there, I suppose the disposal problem would also go away – as long as nice people don't get to see the bodies, is there really a difficulty at all?