A dear friend of mine told me one day after the recent Terror attacks in Paris that a friend of her brother has just died, by doing nothing else but going to see a concert. When she told, me I felt that cold grip of terror. I was mortified, and I’m only slowly finding words right now, none of which are suitable to describe that feeling. And first and foremost, such terror has to be condemned, such heinous acts of hatred can never be tolerated. My heart sank, for worry about my friend – and for fear of what might be to come. I think that it is paramount now to not draw what I see as the wrong conclusions – sometimes, the acts of a very very few decide the lives of the many, and I think those very few should be those chosen by the people to represent them. A state should not be held hostage by terrorists, and it should not hold it’s people hostage because of terrorists either. This post, then, is about #refugeeswelcome, why I think it makes sense and what I see as our role within a democratic system.
Preservation vs. Integration
If we as Europeans want to preserve what is good about our culture we should probably show how and why it is worthy of such preservation, as there are a great many good things about it. Preservation, from my point of view, is about keeping things with no regard whether that something is good or can become better if changed, no matter what the cost of preserving it is. I think that, much like at every other moment of our lives we now again have a chance to do things better, to make our own lives and those of the people we care about better. But this can only happen when we do not give in to fear.
But why #refugeeswelcome still?
Slamming doors into people’s faces might lead to them not wanting to enter the house, but one has to presume that it could just as well also make them hate not just the door, but also the house and quite possibly everyone in it. This then, quite comprehensibly, becomes a fertile ground for the desire to terrorise those who, to the person wanting to get in, will be seen as “hating them in the first place. This is a hatred for no reason obvious to those who are fleeing a place where losing those they love is not a faraway thing but cold reality or even just aspiring a better life. This is why I think presenting oneself as “harsh” and “unattractive” (which is the current strategy of Austrians Minister for internal affairs) seems to me like a fairly short-sighted approach. Building fences, creating walls and slamming doors into faces probably won’t do much to create a desire to get to know and appropriate a culture that in some respects will certainly be different to that the refugee (or, if you want to talk about two separate issues at the same time, migrant-for-whatever-reason). I personally often find it rather hard to follow procedures that seem to me arbitrary and unnecessary, but generally once I understand the why and the how of doing something differently, it always became much easier to do in that different way: this is then where I see the leverage point leading to successful Integration, and in turn, the continuing development of our European Culture and Values.
of course you might now say,
“well roared, lion, but how do we do that?”
I’ve recently seen the political discourse in Austria become quite a bit more like the one I encounter here in the UK – where often, the political “enemy” is dehumanised, demonised even, and insulted. Rather than having a discussion using facts and information about issues, it seems viable to attack the persons representing these issues, rather than talking about what they stand for. This, in turn, might then lead to the people going away (but does it really?) but the issue still persists, thus in the end it might only be the face that is changing.
I myself have found it rather hard to change someone’s mind after intentionally insulting them and their intellect, hence I try not to do so – we all make our own decisions, judgements and conclusions based on what information we have at our disposal at particular, situated points. I therefore like to think of the world as consisting of resonable actors with much the same ability to think and reflect as I do. And since I’ve found it hard to reflect and think “rationally” when emotions come into play, I think it is probably the same for others. So why, when I want other people to change their behaviours, would I think I’ll change their mind by insulting them? This is something I don’t really understand: Any discussion becomes charged with emotion, and a critical reflection of one’s personal stance becomes impossible from the get-go. I think there is very little to be gained in walking this path.
“You never know till you try to reach them how accessible men are; but you must approach each man by the right door.”- Henry Ward Beecher
In this way, I think a better approach is to try and assume that we are all reasonable people, after all the person we are talking to came to her or his conclusion and perspective in much the same ways as we did: by talking about things with other people, by reading and watching media (newspapers, TV series, movies), by going to school. Let’s think about occasions that made us change our minds, and then have a chat on that basis. Let’s try and find what we can agree on, and build from there – this, I’ve found, works the best. And you don’t have to do this every single time, I mean obviously the more the better, but every little bit helps. This might be what Tolkien meant when he let Gandalf say “I’ve found it is the small things, everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keeps the darkness at bay. Simple acts of kindness and love.”
Because it can be you who starts changing the world, in the things you do and in the ways you do them. And carry them over into how we talk to each other, carry them onto the streets, into the pubs, onto Facebook and into the Wirtshaus. It is there where we have to start – Austria and the European Union both are democracies, and as such every single citizen has a way to influence that power, and that is not just done by voting: you can send messages to those representing you, those you agree with and those you disagree with, and you might be surprised to find them actually responding! I mean, after all, they’re people just like you, like me, like any other human being. A little kindness when they did something you think is worth supporting or a polite notice telling them why what they’re doing is uncool and maybe even how you think it could be done better might go a long way. And alternatively, if you don’t like what is available at all, then you can go and create your own alternative and gather support for that. You can do that.
Post Scriptum – a few thoughts that crossed my mind during and after writing this post:
Judging from my own experience as an Austrian living in the UK, I think that by now I’ve come to realise quite a lot about the UK, and how it works, what I deem its good and its bad sides to be. But, as I’ve mentioned in an earlier, possibly a bit confusing post, I’m also now quite a bit more sensitive to what I like about my own home country and its people – but also how it could be different, and how it could be better for everyone.
Different organisations serve different purpose, that is a good thing and should be preserved: nations, states and religions are of course intermingled, and every one of us is part of a great many such categories. I think we would not be doing ourselves a favour by making one into the other (when a company fails, the people can find other companies to work in – but virtually all scenarios of when states failed seem much more grim…)
much along the same line of thought, I think it would be a treacherous mistake to think that any organisation attaching a religious label to itself (such as IS) is interchangeably representative of what that faith and belief is as a practical matter – after all, for us humans, the symbols we use (such as words in everyday language, or langue) get their meaning through human action and interaction. This leads to two effects: 1) the meaning everyone of us attaches to a symbol changes ever so slightly whenever we use it and 2) the symbol’s meaning is thus influenced by when, where, how, by whom and to who the symbol is summoned. (for lack of an actual example in data publishable on my blog, I had to resort to theory – in case you’re interested, I recommend reading the following: Blumer, Herbert (1969): Symbolic Interactionism. Perspective and Method. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall.)