Syrian refugees: help them…and don’t

Courtesy of John Stanmeyer and National Geographic magazine

Also published on Wordpress.

(An article based on my philosophy class essay)

Refugee crisis. It seems to be an everlastingly divisive facet of human life. To help or not to help, that is the question. Many are dangerously single-minded once they have taken a stance. Some wish to welcome refugees because of moral obligations. Others refuse to because of security and financial reasons. I am among those who are neither.

I believe literally everything in life has its strengths and weaknesses. In this case, I can spot them straight away. The welcomers may be motivated by a sense of humanity, or a lack of common sense. The refusers may be motivated by common sense, or a sense of inhumanity. Here, I will scrutinise the motives of both sides and try to present some possible solutions in the end. Oh and I will use the Syrian refugee crisis as a case study.

Don’t help them

Against:

For me, there are creatures worse than the openly immoral ones: the pretenders. In this case, they claim to be refusers because of security and financial concerns. But, in truth, the sense of practicality has been just a false face that unconvincingly hides bigotry, unmistakably visible for every living soul to witness. How they slander the refugees says a lot.

First, they love to accuse every single one as economic migrants, despite the fact that they are not. A refugee’s motive is to escape extreme harms at all cost. An economic migrant only needs a better job opportunity. Literally two different types of people! Never mind that such idiotic understanding of the vocabulary insults our intelligence. The accusers slander the refugees as money-hungry beings who were never in danger in the first place! Of course, they have to jack up the vilification by bringing Jihadism.

Some believe many refugees are Trojan horses for ISIS. Others believe all of them are! The refusers use a solid evidence that is paranoia and extreme fear of the ‘others’. They look different, their culture is different and their God is different; therefore, they are inherently evil and must be treated as such. This and the economic migrants accusation reduce the refugees as diverse and complex human beings to dehumanising stereotypes that exudes dangerous falsehood. This kind of refusers believe refugees should be left to die. Besides the shameless immorality, the refusers also have an unreasonable demand: gender and age quotas.

They are offended after finding out that (from a cherry-picked selection of photos) most refugees are supposedly young men; they believe young men must stay in war-ridden Syria and fight. Even in a matter of life and death, we must always uphold arbitrary and ever-changing gender roles; God forbids if we prioritise human well-being over cavemen customs.

For:

But, this side of the argument can also have a strength: the inclusion of rationality. Admittedly, it is can feel cruelly cold and seemingly defies our innate human nature. But, our contemptuous opinions still do not conceal the fact that we need rationality. It is one thing that elevates us to a status other earthly beings have yet to achieve. So what if it feels cold? That is something we have to deal with it. Besides, that coldness is useful in warding off a disease called sentimentality.

Sentimentality encourages us to execute decisions based on whether they feel right or not. Feelings matter, reason doesn’t. Sentimental people may think it is a moral and humane approach to life. But, in truth, it is nothing but selfishness. We do things because we want to please ourselves emotionally, not because we think hard about what is actually best for ourselves and others. We cannot remedy the world with sentimentality.

Help them

Against:

I am quick to berate anyone who demonise refugees with slanders. But, I also oppose the idea of unconditional acceptance. It’s financially reckless to the host countries’ finance. Assisting refugees is costly for everyone; even the wealthiest countries have limited savings. Refugees are not economic migrants whom we can ethically screen simply based on their skills. Either we limit their intake or not taking a single one of them. Unlimited intake should never be an option. Besides this, security is also an issue.

I believe most refugees are not security risks. But, there is no doubt that a handful possibly are; terrorists are often in disguise. As the atrocities of Jihadists are notorious, vigilance is essential. Unconditional acceptance means we endanger the lives of many innocent people. The same immorality we see on the dehumanisation of refugees. Besides security, integration is also a problem.

I love diversity and I am all for its existence. But, when sickly, it is prone to sectarianism. When we refuse to respect others’ identities and be reasonable about our own, conflicts are inevitable. The arrival of outsiders is a good example.

If you plan to stay permanently in your new home, integrate! Cultures are abstract entities. Trust me, you can embrace more than one of them! There is no excuse to not blend in. Heck, even if you don’t plan to stay permanently, never ever force the locals to embrace your culture. In the end, the locals will be antagonised at their own homes and outsiders will be even more marginalised. My fellow supporters of diversity barely talk against this.

For:

Abdusalam Guseinov expressed how rationality is not always the sensible approach to problems (2014). He believes morality is about our ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ choices and that is supposedly out of rationality’s scope. Just like emotions, rationality should also be tamed.

Sometimes, seemingly contradicting my previous statement, the best decisions we can make are based on whether they feel right or not. The ‘coldness’ of reason is not inherently bad. But, we should not let it take over us if we don’t want to see our fellow human beings as mere piles of flesh, blood and bones.

After visiting a refugee camp with her colleagues, sociologist Elizabeth Holzer saw how the refugees’ daily lives were still similar to our own (2014, p. 868). They are not that different from us, despite the differing religious and cultural backgrounds, despite them experiencing an extreme situation which we should be grateful for not enduring it ourselves. This is not a philosophical musing, this is a methodical sociological observation. It should be more than enough to prove their humanness.

Possible solutions

My proposed solution is obvious if one reads the previous paragraphs. We should consider the possible risks of welcoming refugees while, at the same time, confronting the bigotry against them. I also believe the inclusion of rationality and emotions should be strictly balanced.

Of course, my solution is too simplistic and it barely counts as one. I am also literally one person. I also spend. Social issues are very complex and require complex solutions constructed by people of various perspectives. This is why we need global ethics.

It is the best solution we have so far because it fulfills the nationalistic needs of individual countries, while still taking ‘universal moral values’ into consideration (Wonicki 2014, p. 261). Ethics (and philosophy in general) still has objectivity, albeit different the one in science. Ethics sees validity in every viewpoint, as long as they are based on good reasoning and solid evidences. They can be rejected for their fallacies and saying they are just ‘opinions’ is a poor defense. Now that we have one proposed solution, how are we going to implement it?

Philosopher Keith Horton (2014) believed he and his colleagues must reach the masses if they desire to popularise ethics discussions. He proposed these steps (pp. 308–309): 1. do further research on relevant ‘strategic’ issues; 2. make them presentable to wider audiences; 3. join or establish networks; 4. establish relations with non-academic groups and/or individuals with similar goals.

Again, Horton is just one person. His proposals’ effectiveness has yet to be proven. But, unlike me, he was giving genuinely more empirical suggestions. If there are more ethicists who make similar endeavours, it would be easier to improve the relatively young and underdeveloped discipline (Dower 2014, p. 14). Besides that, we should also involve the media in this conversation.

Edward Girardet and Loretta Hieber stated how journalists refuse to advocate humanitarianism, citing objectivity as a pretext. But then, those same journalists are eager to promote their government’s patriotic endeavours or commercialism in general (2002, p. 166). Whether those actions are journalistic or not, that is an entirely different matter.

Those so-called journalists drop their objectivity only when it is personally beneficial for them to do so. The media should admit this deep-rooted hypocrisy and courageously confront it (Girardet & Hieber 2002, p. 166). Bear in mind that the media is greatly powerful.

Girardet and Hieber (p. 172) suggested that, in order to spread the words, humanitarian organisations need to study the societal roles of media and to join forces with independent media. They also argued that independent media should bring their ‘faith in quality reporting’ back to life instead of giving in. We cannot expect commercial media to be self-reflective any time soon, if ever.

Just like Horton’s, Girardet and Hieber’s proposal is far from perfect, albeit (again) better than mine. Once again, we need more individuals partaking in this conversation. More participation means more perspectives. More perspectives means the more we (ideally) would be mindful in the problem-solving.

Girardet, E & Hieber, L 2002, ‘The media and humanitarian values’, Refugee survey quarterly, vol. 21, no. 3, 166–172.

Guseinov, AE 2014, ‘Morality as the limit rationality’, Russian studies in philosophy, vol. 52, no. 3, pp. 18–38.

Holzer, E 2014, ‘Humanitarian crisis as everyday life’, Sociological forum, vol. 29, no. 4, pp. 851–872.

Horton, K 2014, ‘Global ethics: increasing our positive impact’, Journal of global ethics, vol. 10, no. 3, pp. 304–311.

Dower, N 2014, ‘Global ethics: dimensions and prospects’, Journal of global ethics, vol. 10, no. 1, pp. 8–15.

Wonicki, R 2014, ‘Global ethics and human responsibility: challenges for the theory and discipline’, Journal of global ethics, vol. 10, no. 3, pp. 261–266.

Hi. I am a stammering dunce. My Wordpress blog: https://dachmad.wordpress.com/