Offbeat 11 September 2015
The migrants are a disturbing trend in the news. There are so many of them now that I don’t know what to make of it. The horror stories of people fleeing in their thousands, crossing incredible hurdles to escape utter misery and untenable lives, is shocking, and that is just the unstoppable tide Zimbabweans entering South Africa.
The desperation of people trying to cross a sea in ramshackle boats, and hard-hearted politicians suddenly revealing some form of human concern, speaks volumes about the awful existence of life in the Middle East.
It’s a good thing the migrants aren’t trying to enter Namibia. In Namibia, the expressions of naked, xenophobic hatred towards the Chinese, Angolans and Zimbabweans point to the idea that any migrants from the Middle East would cause the nation to instantly reach for guns and knives, and start behaving as if we were characters in The Walking Dead.
At least the one benefit of the xenophobia is that it distracts us from simmering distrust of one another. As long as we have a rabid dislike of foreigners, we have less time and energy to spend on rabid dislike of our compatriots.
The xenophobia and fear of foreigners is an interesting phenomenon. It points to the personal need for a homogenous society. A homogenous society comes with less disturbances. Values become uniform, so we all know what values to profess, even if our personal behaviour tells a different story. Plus we will never be threatened by the sudden appearance of strange items on fast food menus. Homogeneity is a matter of a personal sense of security.
Yet homogeneity is also akin to social and economic incest. History consists of people spreading ideas and trading in new and interesting products. We acknowledge the Chinese by buying mobile devices, the components of which are almost all manufactured in China. We also acknowledge the Angolans by changing or fashion and approaches to hairstyles. I am not sure what the Zimbabweans give us, other than slavish devotion to Robert Mugabe, but I am sure there is something.
We wouldn’t be happy without the ideas and products that cross our borders and influence our personal lives. Perhaps it is a case of ‘we’ll take what you have, even if we have to pay for it, but we really can’t take you’. Smile, and let me get my wallet out.
Migrancy, be it in the form of civilian masses, or armed barbarians at the gates, changes everything. To think that there might be progress or change without it, is naïvety at its best. On a grand scale, imagine Europe without the influence of Rome’s military expansion and the Roman empire, for instance. On a scientific and economic scale, imagine using the Latin numbering system now, rather than the system developed by Islam, all those centuries ago.
The ideas that migrancy brings have a way of civilising us.
The current wave of migrancy is rooted in horror. Zimbabweans are entering South Africa to escape abject poverty. The migrants from the Middle East are trying to find a place where they will not be killed.
Superficially, there is not much apparent gain in the situation. On a deeper level, there is some kind of spirituality, or a quality of being humane, emerging from the situation. There is a recognition that people need help, and this is even transferring to notoriously cold-blooded politicians, in spite of the recognition that the migrants might spread a darker strand of Islam, or be used as a Trojan horse to spread fundamentalist militancy.
It’s a pity it took a drowned child to reach this point.
I read a science fiction story, a few months back, in which the author shows that although there is a series of causes and effects to history, the past cannot take the blame, because we adjust to the reality that we are given. I think this is the case now, and will be the case in future.
That’s an easy answer, a way of delaying what happens to us in the here and now. As usual, the easy answer is a failure. We need to find a way to make good what is happening today.