DAY 152: My day at the seaside

November 27th, 2015 § 0 comments

Hi there, those of my friends – if there are any – who have been missing me, and wondering what well-chosen words I had to add to the mountains others have already written on the attacks by Daesh in Paris, Beirut, on the Russian airliner, and so on. I’ve passed through the stage of feeling guilty, since with so much other readling material by more informed observers then me, there’s no point in my adding the ramblings of an amateur. So I’ll stick to a few points which seem relevant. Indeed, It was as I set off – with a dozen friends and about forty SOAS stusents who were to become my friends during the ensuing ordeal, travelling by coach from Euston at 6 a.m. last freezing Saturday morning, to take much-needed supplies (chick peas, groundnut oil, dried fish, spices – you know the kind of stuff) which we’d packed up in Kennington to the jungle at Calais (is this sentence ever going to end?); I realized that what with the bad weather,

medusajpgGéricault, ‘The Raft of the Medusa’

and the police hysteria it was by no mean certain that we’d make it. Indeed, we stood a good chance of becoming refugees ourselves on the treacherous waters between Dover and Calais – and what good would thet have done? Would the coastguards have bothered with us?raqqaIndeed, the attacks are effectively directed against refugees, since Daesh wants France to put the screws on them and force them back to their natural home in the Caliphate. This is called ‘Eliminating the Grayzone‘. They may have  fled the horrendous regime of Aleppo and the still more terrifying   Raqqa (see report from ‘Raqqa is being slaughtered silently’ – in fact follow them, it’ll do you more good than reading my observations). No matter; the French and British police believe that they are the agents of those regimes on a mission to destroy so-called Christian civilization.

Fundraising

I’ve never tried doing that in these pages, but that’s no reason to suppose it can’t be done, If I were Oxfam or a money-laundering affiliate of Barclays, I don’t suppose I’d use it for anything else. So here is your link to Isis Mera’s praiseworthy drive to raise a fund for the needs of children at Calais – obviously, warm clothes and coverings, but also writing materials, books, dictionaries, toys, musical instruments,… The sum involved is modwst, so is what you’re expected to put in.

Here’s a strong and valuable report by Isabella Tomico Ellis on the mood in the jungle following the attacks; and on their effect.

In the days following the tragic terrorist attacks in the French capital, 129 innocent victims have been confirmed. However, as France mourns, another much larger group of people should be in our thoughts, too: Europe’s 750,000 refugees. Many have once again fallen victim to the brutality of extremism, having already experienced the barbarity of ISIS and other organisations and bravely fled, seeking safety in Europe.
Arriving at our shores, they have received a mixed response, quotas have been rejected and many borders have shut just as quickly as they opened. Thousands now reside in conditions condemned by human rights campaigners as unacceptable. After Paris, calls for the borders to be shut completely have intensified but it’s important we realise this is exactly what ISIS wants. They despise refugees, condemning them as traitors who have rejected their caliphate. But as long as Europe squabbles over what to do, ISIS’s rhetoric that the West is bad, is substantiated. The disunity it creates fulfils another of their twisted aims – to create hatred and division.

As Nicolas Henin, a former ISIS captive, wrote in The Guardian, this reaction against refugees is just what ISIS wants. ‘’They will be heartened by every sign of overreaction, of division, of fear, of racism, of xenophobia; they will be drawn to any examples of ugliness on social media.’’

As France, shocked and panicked, dropped bombs on the ISIS stronghold of Raqqa and French President Francois Hollande, too, called for border controls to be tightened, refugees living in the Jungle in Calais held a vigil to show solidarity with those killed in Friday’s attacks. Throughout Europe refugees face an uncertain and undesirable future and when ISIS struck Paris on 13 November, their prospects dramatically worsened; just as the terrorist group had intended.

The mood in the Jungle camp in Calais is deteriorating as quickly as the weather, cold nights are setting in, more children arrive everyday and frequent fires firestorch hard to come by shelters.

In a disused bunker on the outskirts of the Jungle, I met Obama, he had changed his name from Mohammed in a show of love for the US President. The tiny space with a Cornish flag painted on the wall and a five-star sign is home to six people. I wonder how Obama feels now that 24 governors in America have said they will not allow refugees to settle in their states, disregarding the fact that no refugee has been convicted of terrorism offences in the US since 9/11.

Houmam*, a Syrian refugee who I met on my last trip, tells me ‘’he is thinking of going back to Turkey’’ and that he ‘’has given up on Britain.’’ As I left after our first meeting, he had joyously promised we would meet again in London, but now he just looks exhausted and despairing. ‘’The Jungle is no life, it’s for animals,’’ a group of Kurdish men add, shaking their heads. The term Jungle was coined to represent this feeling exactly. Though volunteers often call it the camp, refugeesrowan-4 always refer to the rickety shanty-town as the jungle – highlighting how they feel they have suffered the utmost dehumanisation.

The Daily Mail’s newest cartoon corroborates their sentiment and presents a scathing attack on many people who have fled and continue to fear the same horrors that crippled Paris on Friday. Among Muslims approaching a “Europe. Open borders. Freedom of movement” sign, run a number of rats – presumably representatives of the militants who attacked Paris. Unsurprisingly, the cartoon holds no footnote that none of the killers, whose backgrounds have been confirmed, were refugees.During a time when Charlie Hebdo and the murder of controversial cartoonists is fresh in our minds, it is important to acknowledge the fact that the European press is indeed prided on values of freedom of speech. However, in the current climate we live in, such depictions will simply facilitate a negative and misinformed backlash against already vulnerable people.After the Rwandan genocide, where 800,000 people, referred to in the media as cockroaches, were massacred, the UN introduced a charter: “The Responsibility to Protect.” But, since this refugee crisis began, the UN and the big NGOs we are used to seeing in similar situations have been almost absent. It has therefore fallen to the public, to Europeans, to protect people fleeing unimaginable horror. The grassroots aid efforts have been inspiring, they have shown strength, unity and hope. They have defied all of the feelings the terrorists so desperately try to inflict.Unfortunately, the Paris attacks have left Europe frightened and fearful, just as the terrorists intended. It would be easy for citizens to fall foul of the climate of fear, to retract our help and to hide behind closed doors – but this will undoubtedly make matters worse. Refugees and Muslims were the first victim of extremism, now the terrorists have turned their guns to us, too. If we close our borders and our hearts to refugees, eventually they will reciprocate and the beneficiary will be the terrorist groups that should have united us.

Well, you will be glad to hear (are you still reading?) that we, my friends and I eventually arrived at Calais. Thanks to the truly horrendous weather, it was 6.30, too late to do any of the work we’d planned. Most of us then turned around and – to simplify a narrative which deserves more detail – were caught in a trap by the Calais border police. The aim, it became clear, was that they should pick off a leading Muslim member and serve him with a formal notice of expulsion.

We have, indeed, two opposing forces: The increasing repression and racism of the border police – the French in particular; and on the other side the determination and optimism of us, of our comrades, and of the refugees themselves – who have indeed nothing to lose.

Most of my friends have naturally given up on attempts to explain these events and fallen back on the usual hackneyed quotations from Auden (‘We must love one another ore die’) or Yeats (‘Things fall apart; the centre cannot hole’). Is this the best Western civilization can come up with? Truly, the best lack all conviction and so have stopped being the best anyway. I could cite the Book of Revelation or the Qur’an for guidance, but this post has gone on long enough. While many of us will naturally turn to the ever-reliable Book of Revelation for guidance -(stuff about those who had been beheaded for their witness to Jesus).

A couple of great exile songs:

1. (predictably), the Melodians’ version of ‘The Rivers of Babylon

2. Verdi’s ‘Va pensiero‘, which these days I choose – as I recommend you to regard as a song of Palestinian, rather than Hebrew exile. After all, the Hebrews aren’t exiled from Zion and the Palestinians are.

 

 

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