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After Paris – Trumping the Trumps

November 20, 2015


Hillary Clinton

Good for Hillary Clinton for pushing back against the knee-jerkers in the US who are using the Paris massacre as a reason not to give sanctuary to refugees from Syria and Iraq. For her and those who agree with her, it’s a moral issue.

Indeed it is. But there’s another reason why these people shouldn’t be left to rot. But first some questions.

In the wake of the Paris atrocity, do we really believe that we are incapable of detecting fake Syrian passports now that their use has been identified as a security risk? With the billions that we are pouring into all manner of security measures are we likely in the future to be so lax that we fail to scrutinise more closely the backgrounds of the refugees seeking the right to remain within our borders? Do we not face a far greater threat from home-grown terrorists than from those who seek to infiltrate from Syria?

I would answer no to the first question, no for the second and yes to the third.

Now for the other reason. If we let the refugees settle within the EU, if we treat them in a humane and supportive manner and if we give them the opportunity to build new lives for themselves, why should they turn against their hosts? Surely the last thing they will want will be to recreate the battleground from which they have fled. They will no more tolerate the warmongers and fanatics in their midst than we do.

If states in continental Europe have by accident or design marginalised their ethnic minorities, thus producing “breeding grounds for terrorists”, then that is a separate issue that they must address. That’s something that we in the UK must do also, to prevent the like of Bradford, Bolton and Tower Hamlets from becoming more like the Paris banlieues than they already are. When the newcomers arrive, it will be hard to prevent Little Syrias and Iraqs from springing up in our economically deprived areas, because people with common backgrounds, initially at least, tend to stick together. So we must work harder to make those areas less deprived, and help those within them to spread out beyond their ethno-centric communities.

If that means greater investment in housing, education and social amenities in those areas, then so be it. To hell with the orthodoxy of deficit reduction. Priorities have changed. Nobody will thank the current government for sticking to its deficit target if our fiscally-neutral nation is a perilous place in which individual freedoms as well as public services have been cut to the bone.

Much as the right-wing factions across the EU are trying to exploit the Paris tragedy to pursue their anti-immigrant agendas, they cannot turn back the clock. There are multi-ethnic societies in virtually every country in the Union, and that’s not going to change. Integrating them is the problem we need to fix. At least that’s within our power to achieve, whereas helping the countries from which the refugees are fleeing to find political and economic solutions is fiendishly difficult and not within the power of any individual nation.

If fear is preventing us from welcoming the new arrivals, then it needs to be dissipated by a combination of practical measures – again within our control – and moral argument. What better way to set a new tone among our established ethnic minorities than to welcome the refugees (as many Germans have), make use of their skills, and do our best to integrate those who wish to make our countries their permanent home?

There are lessons to be learned from Paris. We will not stop further attacks, but we can get better at preventing more of them. And we can, given time, effort and money, fix the underlying causes behind the attacks.

Letting a million refugees rot in camps, or sending them back to the hell-holes from which they escaped, will do nothing to cure the malaise in our towns and suburbs. Welcoming them and giving them the opportunity to start new lives might be just what we need to begin rebuilding coherence in our European societies, because it will force us to pay full attention to a defining issue for our generation which for decades we have struggled to address effectively.

I admit to a bias. I’ve spent many years living and working in the Arab world among industrious, smart and principled people, including Syrians and Iraqis. They are resourceful and adaptable. Liberate them from a sense that they must defend their cultures and beliefs, and they will have much to offer us. Those cultures are evolving. No matter how much ISIS would desire otherwise, the differences between Middle East and West are becoming less, not more.  I have no fear of the other.

And I for one refuse to accept that our continent, which seventy years ago rebuilt itself from the ashes of conflict, can’t emerge from this crisis without building walls, herding people into ghettos or indulging in bouts of ethnic cleansing. As in America, our domestic Donald Trumps are doing us a favour by reminding us of the consequences if we don’t put social coherence at the top of our national agendas.


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