Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Let them in

Here we are again.  Another firestorm of debate surrounding taking in refugees ignited by a terrorist action in a first world nation.  Considering the progression of the discussion is a maudlin sort of affair.

Religious extremists bomb Paris.  Awful.  Western social media explodes with coverage and people expressing solidarity with the French.  Which is good... but it shows how racist that caring is when we realize that recent terrorist attacks in countries that aren't white got no such response.

That doesn't mean that everyone who publicly supports France is being racist, but it shows us that in aggregate Western society pays attention to people based on race.  We share and care about terrorism in France in ways that we don't when the location is Beirut instead.  We should all take this as a lesson that we need to stop Othering people in countries that are culturally or racially different than our own.  We need to stop ignoring their suffering, and only paying attention when one of our own tribe is in trouble.

Far worse though are the people using this as a platform to complain about immigration and refugees.  That isn't systemic racism revealed by examining actions in aggregate, no, it is just straight out racism.  The refugees are fleeing IS.  They are running away from the exact same group that masterminded the murders in Paris.  They are looking for a new home, a place of safety away from the chaos in Syria.

I said it before and I will say it again.  We have a moral obligation to help refugees.  But we don't need to help them solely because of moral obligation as taking in refugees results in economic benefits for the country in question over time.  We are making the world a better place by helping desperate people in dire need, and in the end we will help ourselves too.

Anyone desperate to use this event as a platform to rail against refugees coming to their nation is just trying to cover their bigotry in the cloak of safety or frugality, both of which are ridiculous, trivially falsifiable arguments.  Maybe that bigotry is cultural imperialism, maybe it is racism, maybe it is religious discimination, or perhaps some combination of the three.  But in no way should we condone this nonsense and it should be called out for what it is.

The way to push back against IS isn't to toss more bombs at cities or to build walls against desperate civilians.  It is to welcome with open arms the people displaced by their violence, to help those still in harm's way with food and medicine, and to set an example of living well and lovingly.  There are many ways to stir up a potential bomber to fanatical levels, but "Go kill those people who help those in need of a home and who cure the sick and feed the hungry" doesn't generally do it, but "Go kill those people who bombed your hometown" sure does.


  1. http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/crossings-in-the-midst-of-germanys-refugee-crisis-two-livesintersect/article27305658/

  2. I'm not sure "racist" is right.

    People relate better to things that they are familiar with. There are psych tests that show it. They care more about the local school than a school in the Yukon. They care more about Canada than the US, North America more than Europe, Europe more than most remaining places. My examples may not be the best, but the less "different" something is, the more people relate to it. Different doesn't have to be race, or racist.

    People also exaggerate the likelihood of recent or unusual events. "Middle East explosion" is relatively common when not looked at too closely. More than 100 people die in the developed world is extremely rare.

    I am not at all surprised that Paris resonates more with people. And I don't think anyone should be judged for that. There's a philosophical dilemma of deciding how to allocate your effort/charity/concern. There are endless causes, and insufficient time to assess them all. There is no shame, or immorality, to picking one that's meaningful to you or that you can relate to. People wanting to help Paris but not paying attention to Beruit or Baghdad is not a judgement of anyone or any event, it's just people being people.

    And it's a bit of media bias. For all we know, the people of the Middle East and China (to pick a random location) were very upset about Baghdad and Beruit. But our media focuses on what it knows, and what it knows we want to read about. Beruit ain't it, so we don't hear about it, and less media = less caring/attention.

  3. We should be careful with semantics here. An individual noticing that Paris is in the news and wanting to express sympathy may well not be racist. However, a society (of which that individual is a part) can be racist by consistently putting the deaths of white people front and centre and the deaths of people of colour on the margins. Racism as systemic discrimination is definitely there, even if some people are doing things that are evidence of racism when taken as a unit aren't individually doing something wrong. I am not judging the individual here, just showing that society is racist and you can see it by looking at the total of individual actions.

    Note that the Beirut massacre was covered by mainstream media sources. But it didn't end up on everyone's facebook wall in the west. You can't just write it all off to media coverage, individuals are the ones propagating it too.

  4. Here's a link that may explain what I'm saying better:


    Is "not expressing the same amount of shock and grief" considered systemic discrimination?

    I suspect (but can't say for sure) that there are examples of "white people" tragedies that didn't generate the same attention. It's hard to judge because Facebook seems to be the metric and it's relatively recent. My memory of the Beslan school siege in 2004, for example, did not capture the true horror of the event that I realized years later when reading about it more in-depth. There have been a number of terrorist bombings in Russia, various conflicts in Eastern Europe, etc. Places that Americans/Canadians don't always feel as connected to, even if they are the same race.

    Similarly, the world reacts to surprising events in unfamiliar places. Tsunami's, nuclear reactor meltdowns, etc.

    I think it's the rarity/surprise value that catches the world's attention, not systemic racism.