The Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie gave a speech “Nobody is Just a Refugee” for United Nation’s World Humanitarian day. After recounting her own family's run from shelling and acceptance in a house that was already full of people, Adichie said:
“I'm not making the simplistic suggestion that all borders be open. Because that's impractical.”
Ah! So it's impractical. Sorry??!!! We cannot give up justice just because it is impractical! Or can we?
Learning to Bear the Burden of Doing the Just Thing
Blocking huge areas of the earth to babies just because they were born somewhere else is the biggest injustice of our times. It is injustice at birth.
So whatever the cost, that injustice needs to be removed. I understand... The burden of that cost is going to be on us. If it is so, be it. We need to do the right and just thing. If doing the right and just thing has a bad consequence for us, I'm sorry, we bear it. We face the consequences.
You deal with migration. We deal with it. We are not the masters of the universe even though we believe we are the most wonderful animal on earth because we have built skyscrapers, we have built metal birds that fly, we understand a bit how nature works and we know how to split the atom... Still, we deal with it. We have the resources and the capacity to deal with it. I know, some people do not believe that. If we cannot deal with it, we live with it. We learn to live with it. (Haven't you heard of “If it doesn't kill you, it just makes you stronger.” Oh I know, now some people will claim we're going to be flooded with terrorists and then wiped out. Someone with the nickname Suchindranath, commenting on The Economist said “Mark my words.” So here I am, marking his words. He wrote: “Turkey will stem the Islamic invasion until it becomes part of the EU and then take over Europe with 75 Millions Sunni Terrorists!” I'd find this appalling and take it as an insult if it wasn't so ridiculously funny. First of all, not everybody in Turkey is Sunni. Second of all, not every Sunni is a believer even if it writes so on our IDs. Third of all, not every believer is a practicing Muslim. Fourth of all, the vast majority of believers and practicing Muslims are not terrorists. Fifth of all, I came from Turkey into the EU by way of marriage. There are many other Turkish already in Europe. Just like there are millions of Muslims from other countries already in the EU. As far as I know, we haven't blown anybody up. And no, we don't plan to. And those who plan such acts would have many methods to go around the barriers you erect, you can be sure of that. For further analysis please see "On Going Down the Gutter." If you want to argue about Cologne and other news, please refer to the following paragraphs.)
We are humans, we learn to live with everything. We learn to live with the pain of losing our child; we learn to live with cancer and all other types of diseases; we learn to live not only with the symptoms of these diseases but also with the setbacks, the inconveniences that their treatment brings into our lives; we learn to live with big accidents and their consequences; we learn to live with natural disasters and their consequences; we learn to live with bullies in our lives; we learn to live in wartimes, in warzones, in camps, in makeshift huts, in the mud, under the scourging sun, under the soaking rain, under the freezing snow. These people have learnt to live with being driven out of their homes, with being treated as dirt or as inferior... We either learn to live with all the things life throws at us, or simply live with them. We are human beings, yes, some do not learn to live with some things, some cannot cope with living with the cards life deals them and give up, but we are mostly resilient and have a strong will to survive and live even under very dire conditions.
We deal with mass migration the way we deal with life and whatever life throws at us. The migrants - whom you expose to every type of hardship, whom you cannot decide how to torture - they say "We will find a way," and we/you, sitting in y/our nice couches, cannot say "We will deal with mass migration"?! Shame on you, shame on us. It's a crying shame.: such leaders.
The caption under this photo reads:
“How many days does poverty last father?”
“40 days my son.”
“Would we be rich after 40 days?”
“No son. We'd get used to it...”
We'd get used to mass migration too. If necessary, we learn to live with it. We live with impossible family members for God's sake! We may choose not to talk to them, but there is always the blood connection whether we like it or not. So we may choose to ignore the migrants, but we may live in proximity with them whether we like it or not.
I don't believe in the doomsday scenarios of Middle Easterners flooding Europe and turning the wealthy developed Western way of life into a shithole. All the while, I believe every fear is valid and legitimate; fears being fears, they do not need to be grounded. Even if it is to be so, even if the fears of some people turn into reality with the removal of visas... The bottom line is this:
We should not have, we do not have the right to, make the weak suffer unnecessarily because of our fears and just because we have the power and we can. Yes, we have the possibility to shirk our fears by devising visa practices, by building walls, by police force, by paying bribes to other countries etc. but we shouldn't be doing it. Because it puts a very unjust burden and leads to unacceptable suffering of those whose only “crime” is having been born in a certain geographical part of the world. Just because it's not our lives, we cannot shut our eyes to these wasted lives. Migrants are not the ones who should be learning to live or having to live with the consequences of unjust decisions and political maneuvers of governing bodies. If there is to be a price to pay, if there is to be a burden to bear at all... It should be on us. We should be the ones learning to live with the consequences of doing the right and just thing.
Simplistic suggestion?? Is it? Opening all borders at the click of a finger may be impractical... Even if not, it is probably not something that can happen overnight either. At least, not all around the world in synchronization. However, Adichie's deduction from the story is wrong! It is her example that is simplistic. It was the home of a person, a concrete being, that they entered. The analogy doesn't work. Countries are not the homes of governments! Countries are not flesh and blood like people, countries are defined by us. We can just as easily redefine our political concepts.
My husband has warned me several times that if I do not acknowledge the complexity of removing barriers and the difficulties that would arise in practice, people would think “Oh, another dreamer.” He was going on “And it's good to be a dreamer...”
I interrupted him. “I'm not a dreamer. To the contrary, I am very realistic. I know very well that this is not going to be happening. Not now, probably not even in my lifetime. But I'd like to stretch the minds of people. Otherwise, if everybody keeps on talking at this level, there is no way, no hope of things changing. Ever!”
He added that my discourse would be interpreted like saying “Let's love each other and everything's going to be fine.” To the contrary... I loath people. To the point that I call myself a misanthrope. Or let's say borderline misanthrope. But that doesn't give me the right to treat people bad, to harm them. Or even to treat them unjustly for my own sake.
My husband also says what I advocate, i.e. removing borders as barriers of movement, is all good in theory. He understands the philosophizing part, but he thinks of the practical situation. (Ring a bell with Adichie's “impractical” comment?) “People scared of migrants probably need some answers on how to handle the whole issue,” said my husband. “You have to deal with the migrants coming into your country somehow. They cannot come to your neighborhood and live on the streets, they need a place to stay, they need food, otherwise you'll have dead bodies around you, here, instead of the beach in Bodrum. That is not much different.” Then he came to the real point. “And you need money for these things.”
“There are already many people, many organizations working on helping migrants, there is already a huge amount of money being poured in!” I cried out. “Instead of this, you can just spend the money on something beneficial, on integrating these people. What's more, you make these people spend or to put it better waste money. Instead of using their money to pay smugglers, migrants could use it to live properly in the place they migrate to. If things didn't work out in the first place they went, they could even decide to move somewhere else since they would not have depleted all their resources. You first create this totally unnecessary and totally unacceptable situation, then prefer to spend money and energy trying to sort it out or put patches on the problem. You add to the problem and try to solve a double problem rather than solving the only existent problem. Are you stupid? I mean is every politician so stupid?”
The very situation we are living right now, spending all this money to block people, making people spend money to overcome those blocks, is very Impractical.
You know what is also soo very impractical??
It is very impractical to leave your home, leave all your belongings behind and try to get through borders full of walls and fences and guns pointed at you not to enter. It is very impractical to set up a new life for yourself somewhere else where everything is unfamiliar. That's what's VERY impractical.
But people do it. So we can do some impractical things, too. Better to do the impractical thing that is just than to go on doing the unjust impractical thing.
Humanity and Injustice
“Our humanity is that glowing center in all of us, it is what makes us speak up against an injustice even when that injustice does not personally affect us,” said Adichie in her speech.
Then why didn't she say it? I'll be repeating myself but... Blocking huge areas of the earth to babies just because they were born somewhere is the biggest injustice of our times. It's injustice at birth.
Adichie couldn't say it. She couldn't bring herself to say that borders are unjust. Her 2009 TED talk "The Danger of a Single Story" was among my favorite talks. I was a single story person. I fell in love with a man for one single nice behavior. Then it didn't last. No wonder... I had a single story for people I broke up with too. Somebody did one unacceptable thing, it was over. So Adichie's TED talk resonated with me, but her UN talk was just unbearable even though it sounded so refined. (Would you say I learnt to overcome the single story?!)
Adichie, at the conclusion of her speech said:
“Today, in this world that has been scarred by so much suffering, creating room for people is not only doable, it is a moral imperative. It is the moral imperative of our time. ”
I'd like to re-quote her:
“Today, in this world that has been scarred by so much suffering, realizing the injustice of borders and if necessary, giving up our privileges, is not only doable, it is a moral imperative. It is the moral imperative of our time. ”
It may be impractical, but it is a moral imperative.
Opening up borders, acknowledging everyone's right to move around and live anywhere on the planet they were born is the moral imperative of our time.