Windows on the world


Trojan Horse

Despite the smiles of politicians on both side of the Channel, the closure of the Sangatte Refugee Centre in France has not solved any problems.  Like the asylum seekers themselves, the problems have simply been moved on.

Perhaps such problems cannot be resolved, but they can only be tackled by facing the issues.  There have always been refugees, people moving away from fear and persecution towards a better future.  When they have settled and been absorbed into their new communities the world has been a better place.  The best antidote to insularity and small-mindedness is exposure to fresh faces and new ideas.  Language, commerce, culture and cuisine can all benefit from an influx of refugees.  But where refugees settle without being absorbed, the cultural divides form fault lines, awaiting disaster from some future shift in the tectonic plates of society.
Over 200 years, successive waves of immigrants from Europe, together with descendents of African slaves, gave the USA the broad base from which it was to become a world super power.  In like manner, the colonies of the old empire boosted Britain’s growth in factories, construction, transport and the health service.  And sporting achievements of both nations would have been less impressive without this rich ethnic mix. 

Migration and Dispossession
But often, if not spilling over onto the streets, jealousy, resentment and fear are dormant rather than absent.  The Scottish protestants who migrated to Ulster; the Europeans who created vast farms in Africa; the exodus of European Jews to modern Israel; the forced relocation of millions of Hindus and Muslims with the establishment of Pakistan, Bangladesh and India at the end of British rule; the ongoing Chinese settlement of Tibet; the vast tides of humanity moving throughout history through the Balkans, Central Asia, and elsewhere; all have resulted in disruption, dispossession, and wrongs that cannot be righted without further misery. 

With hindsight, we might not have attempted some of these social upheavals.  But although hindsight was not available then, awareness of the consequences should inform decisions now being faced.  Compassion for the plight of individuals has to be tempered by recognition of the effects on the countries involved.

There is constant pressure on first world countries to grant asylum to those fleeing political and religious persecution in third world countries.  Because of the financial imbalance between these different worlds many more seek asylum, not because their lives are in danger, but for a better life.  When most of the evidence is anecdotal it is difficult to distinguish between financial asylum seekers and genuine cases, but whatever they are fleeing from, the taking in of refugees rewards repressive and uneconomic regimes, and interferes with the natural formation of strong opposition groups.  First world countries become accomplices in propping up corrupt and criminal regimes, implicitly condoning undesirable activities ranging from local bribery to ethnic cleansing. 
Accepting refugees does not necessarily help solve the problems in the country from which they flee, and can result in new problems in the country which provides sanctuary.  The old adage ‘When in Rome, do as the Romans’ no longer applies.  Now, it seems, the asylum seeker wants the social benefits and employment opportunities of a western democracy whilst importing the cultural values on which the repressive regimes are based.  Nowhere is this more apparent than in the clash between Muslim and Democratic cultures.

In Nigeria, recently, a newspaper article sparked off riots resulting in hundreds of deaths.  The author of the article was the subject of a death threat, and although this is illegal in Nigeria the justification was that man-made laws are irrelevant when offence is given to Islam.  In the west we acknowledged that it was insensitive to hold a beauty contest in a Muslim country, ill-advised to comment flippantly on The Prophet in a newspaper article, but failed to utterly condemn the criminal actions of those who were thus outraged.

Perhaps we in the west should not be concerned with what happens in Nigeria.  But in accepting large numbers of Muslim asylum seekers we are in danger of wheeling a Trojan Horse into the chambers of European parliaments.  Different dress codes and eating habits might cause friction, but if a fundamental Muslim belief is that Islam overrides the law of the land then we are setting up a potential for conflict that could dwarf those seen in today’s trouble spots.

Freedom or Repression
A modern democracy is based on rights and freedoms of the individual, including freedom of worship, within the democratic framework.  A Muslim society offers certain rights and freedoms to the individual within the framework of Islam.  It is this conceptual difference that leads fundamentalist Muslim immigrants to seek to impose Islam over democracy in the countries that granted them sanctuary.  The irony is that the ultimate goal, a totally Islamic world, would leave no future asylum for those seeking yet again to flee repressive regimes.

In common with most religions, Islam consists of early teachings now considered holy, interpreted by scholars who are themselves shaped by their beliefs, background and education.  There is no hierarchy or single, Pope-like figure, to monitor or test contradictory or inappropriate pronouncements made by these different scholars.  Violent and criminal actions can be condoned, making a mockery of the claim by most Muslims that Islam is based on peace.  Unless modern Muslim leaders are able to codify Islam in such a way as to encourage religious adherence within the broad confines of the laws of the host nation, Islam and democracy seem incompatible. 

If this is the case, then democratic nations must question the wisdom of granting asylum or citizenship to Muslims.  Islamic countries have closed their doors to the Trojan Horse of western values regarding dress code, alcohol, soft drugs and sex.  It seems eminently reasonable that western nations should not accept the Trojan Horse from which militant Muslims could compromise the laws and principles of democracy.

© Harvey Tordoff
December 2002