Adapt or die: what the EU can learn from 19th century Ottomans


On a crisp November day in 1839, in the Gülhane rose gardens of Istanbul, the Sublime Porte of the Ottoman Empire, Grand Vizier Mustafa Resid Pasha recited a proclamation direct from the Sultan in the fresh morning air. It was to change the course of the region’s history for the next 70 years. Before numerous distinguished European guests and dignitaries, including the third son of King Louis Philippe, the decree from recently crowned Abdülmecid I espoused religious equality, modernisation and secularised Ottoman citizenship. It called for the abolition of corrupt tax farming, reform of conscription, and proclaimed the rights of all children to free secular education. 

The proclamation triggered the Tanzimat movement from 1839-1870s, the most extensive programme of modernising reforms the vast empire ever saw. It’s aim: to wrestle back power from local hands and win over the support of entrenched interest groups, including powerful religious minorities. It launched the Ottoman empire into industrial modernity. Tanzimat would enable the Ottoman Empire to compete with the European great powers in its own right, and most importantly, to unify and strengthen itself from within to face its threats without. Its method: using a strong, integrated bureaucratic class to create a new, inclusive secular identity, attempting to rob internal dissenters of their arguments that they faced discrimination at the hands of the Sublime Porte.

As the Pasha spoke, the empire was in turmoil. The millets, religious minorities, had gained extensive new powers, setting their own laws and collecting their own taxes. The once Ottoman governor of Egypt, Mehmet Ali Pasha had declared Egypt an autonomous khedivate no longer part of the Empire, invading Ottoman Syria in 1831 with a modernised, formidable Egyptian army. Meanwhile, in the background Western Europe was flexing its muscles in the Near East; Algeria was conquered by the French in 1830, the Persian Gulf had emerged as an East India Company sphere of influence despite Ottoman claims to suzerainty and West Europeans and Russians readily intervened in the internal affairs of Muslim states over the treatment of the Christian populations. The Ottomans had to act, and Tanzimat became their new hope. 

Fast forward to 2017. The same European countries which feasted their eyes on the Ottoman prize with colonial covetousness have formed a union of their own, which now faces a hostile and uncertain new world. They face a Russia flexing its muscles in Eastern Europe, emerging powers ready to challenge the privileged economic and diplomatic role of the EU, and an American White House reluctant to commit to defending them. Just as the Europeans had vested interests in a weak Ottoman empire so do Russia and emerging superpowers today. As European states argue amongst themselves, competitors like Turkey, China, Russia, quietly ascend.

To counter this, the EU must learn to structure its support from within its borders in order to be taken as a strong, credible and unified force. As with the Ottomans, the task that lies ahead is to steal from its populist enemies their most powerful political tools; passionate appeals to democracy. No longer can the EU afford to ignore concerns, particularly from the fringe parties eroding their authority, about democratic deficit, isolated, unaccountable elites underestimating of the power of identity and a cumbersome, inaccessible EU legal framework. It cannot rest on technocratic laurels to achieve its vision but learn to bridge the gap between authority and the people. It must seek to find its advocates right down to the local grassroots in each of its member states and work hard to simplify and justify itself to the people it claims to serve. 

The EU must learn, as the Ottomans did, to rob its adversaries of their arguments; a directly elected president of the European Commission, for instance, would go some way to silencing the battle cries of European populists. The Union must take seriously concerns about democratic deficit. The EU is not on the brink of collapse, as the Eurosceptics claim, but it could face real danger should it not continue its current course. 

Tanzimat, ultimately, was a failure. In the face of European colonial greed, social inequality and bitter sectarian division Tanzimat never fully achieved its aims before the final death of the Ottoman empire in 1918. However, Europe can succeed where the Ottomans have failed. It has a strong, centralised institutional framework and, more importantly, counts among its members some of the most prosperous economies in the world. It has resources capable of uniting people as vast as the internet by which it can connect with citizens, resources the imperial class in Istanbul 200 years ago would have envied. Like the 19th century Ottomans, the EU’s time is running out. To combat its threats it must unify itself from within.

A Climate of Peace? The role of Climate Change in International Diplomacy


The Paris climate agreement represents so much more than a commitment to limit rising global temperatures; climate change poses an equal threat to all nations, and efforts to tackle it signify a worldwide community united in its shared goal to ‘protect all of creation’, in the words of Chancellor Merkel. In a world so fragmented by currents of racism, xenophobia, nationalism and the likes, the role of climate change in ascribing a dynamic of commonality to international diplomacy and foreign policy is often overlooked. The 2015 Paris agreement commits the United States and 194 other countries to ‘holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, recognising that this would significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change’.


In signalling America’s exit from the accord on June 1st, Trump not only crystallises his blatant disregard for the sustainability of our planet, but he consciously withdraws America from a worldwide endeavour which surpasses borders and dissonances so that we may communicate with one another and work together towards finding solutions to an environmental crisis that impacts us all. Michael Brune, from US environmentalists, the Sierra Club, said the expected withdrawal was a "historic mistake which our grandchildren will look back on with stunned dismay at how a world leader could be so divorced from reality and morality”. The only other countries in the global community which have not signed up to the Paris climate accord are Syria and Nicaragua.


The powerful link between climate change and international diplomacy is brought to the fore when we examine the origins of the agreement itself and the reactions of the international community in the wake of Trump’s recent decision. The key relationship that brokered the Paris accord was that of the United States and China, as President Obama and President Xi Jinping collaborated to build a so-called “coalition of high ambition”. On June 2nd, an EU-China Summit took place in Brussels, whereby leaders from both parties reaffirmed their commitment to implementing the 2015 Paris agreement on climate change and, as major energy consumers and importers, highlighted the importance of fostering cooperation in their energy policies. EU and Chinese leaders also look forward to co-hosting, along with Canada, a major ministerial gathering in September to advance the implementation of the Paris agreement and accelerate the clean energy transition. At the joint press conference following the Summit, President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker said: "As far as the European side is concerned, we were happy to see that China is agreeing to our unhappiness about the American climate decision. This is helpful, this is responsible, and this is about inviting both, China and the European Union, to proceed with the implementation of the Paris agreement.” The news that a US pullout is on the cards represents so much more than Trump’s obvious ignorance; it signals a move towards American isolationism, as the president seeks to raise yet more barriers between the United States and the rest of the world, following from his decision earlier this year to implement a Muslim travel ban.


External to the Paris climate accord are other international schemes and programmes designed to protect the environment. The Copenhagen Agreement was drafted by the United States and the BASIC countries (a bloc of four newly industrialised countries - Brazil, South Africa, India and China) who committed to act jointly at the Copenhagen climate summit of 2009, whereby a fund was created dictating that high income countries would give 100 billion USD each year to developing countries by 2020 to ensure they could invest in renewable energy without sacrificing economic growth. “Climate finance” is thus indicative of the way in which climate change has driven foreign policy and international cooperation, uniting HICs, MICs and LICs, whilst also partially responding to the claim that developed countries should make a more concerted effort to tackle environmental issues given that they have up until recently been responsible for the lion’s share of emissions. A similar multilateral scheme is the Kyoto protocol which went into force in 2005. Ratified by nearly all nations, this agreement was the first of its kind to mandate country-by-country reductions in yearly emissions of carbon.


The Clean Development Mechanism was introduced to help achieve these targets, and allows emission-reduction projects in developing countries to earn certified emission reduction (CER) credits, each equivalent to one tonne of CO2. These may be traded in emissions trading schemes, with developed countries having the ability to purchase CERs from developing countries, thus investing in emission reductions and green technologies where it is cheapest globally. This work, driven primarily by the demand for low-cost emissions reduction credits from the EU Emissions Trading System (EU-ETS), has resulted in the creation of a burgeoning global market for greenhouse gas emission offsets. Similar to a domestic cap-and-trade programme between companies, international emissions trading enables the transfer of emissions allowances, each worth one ton of greenhouse gases, from one country to another while keeping the total amount of allowable emissions constant.


These strategies are not without their flaws, but it is what they represent - the coming together of nations to protect our shared future through economic and environmental ventures - that is so critical to the shaping of a more sustainable and harmonious international global community. The CDM has made a considerable contribution to the development and transfer of knowledge and technology in developing countries, and has positively impacted on local communities through the creation of jobs and infrastructure. This process of cross-cultural dialogue and interaction, combined with the transfer of knowledge, international trading schemes and foreign investment represents the opening up of our borders and the shared values of humanity that Trump’s decision last week so strongly undermines.


Developed countries are subsequently recognising and accepting responsibility for their contribution to global warming, and are making concerted efforts to devise innovative means by which less developed countries can undergo the same process of economic growth whilst using renewable technologies, rendering them less dependent on fossil fuels such as coal. The UN World Meteorological Organisation said that in the worst scenario, the US pullout could add 0.3°C to global temperatures by the end of the century. I view Trump’s decision as not only entirely selfish (he argued that the agreement “punished” the US and would cost millions of American jobs), but as a provocation of joint diplomatic efforts to overcome one of our generation’s greatest challenges.


Reactions both within and outside the United States testify to the moral obligation we all share topreserve this planet for future generations. Democratic former US Secretary of State John Kerry branded this an ‘extraordinary moment of self-destruction’ which ‘isolates the United States after we had united the world.’ Mayors across the country have stood firm against Trump’s explosive revelation that he would withdraw America from the 2015 Paris climate accord, with the Mayor of New York, Bill de Blasio, asserting: "This decision is an immoral assault on the public health, safety and security of everyone on this planet. On behalf of the people of New York City, and alongside mayors across the country, I am committing to honour the goals of the Paris agreement with an executive order in the coming days, so our city can remain a home for generations to come."


One link that has yet to be researched further but which bears great relevance to the role of climate change in foreign affairs is that between climate-fragility risks and non-state armed groups (NSAGs). A Climate Diplomacy report entitled ‘Insurgency, Terrorism and Organised Crime in a Warming Climate: Analysing the Links Between Climate Change and Non-State Armed Groups’ published in 2016 highlights how the complex risks presented by conflicts, climate change and increasingly fragile geophysical and socio-political conditions can contribute to the emergence and growth of NSAGs. Climate change is thus inextricably linked with matters of security, since the former acts as a risks multiplier in regards to NSAGs. Large-scale environmental and climatic change contributes to creating an environment in which NSAGs can thrive and opens spaces that facilitate the pursuit of their strategies. Climate change increasingly contributes to fragility, namely by initiating conflicts surrounding natural resources and livelihood insecurity. NSAGs proliferate and can operate more easily in these environments where the state has little to no authority (‘ungoverned space’) and lacks legitimacy.


Sometimes, NSAGs also try to fill the vacuum left by the state by providing basic services in order to gain legitimacy and secure trust and support among the local population. Food insecurity and water/land scarcities render the affected population groups more vulnerable to recruitment by NSAGs, since these groups can offer alternative livelihoods and economic incentives, responding to political and socio-economic grievances. The report comprises four case studies to highlight this point: Boko Haram in the Lake Chad region, ISIS in Syria, the Taliban in Afghanistan, and urban violence and organised crime in Guatemala. 

 Environmental history emerged in the United States out of the environmental movement of the 1960s and 1970s. Having only recently assumed prominence as a methodology and discipline of historiographical literature, it emphasises the active role nature plays in influencing human affairs. A study of environmental history documents the transition over time from an ancient and medieval worldview which interpreted environmental catastrophes as orchestrated by God, to a modern-day global acceptance of the impact of human beings on their environment. A unified effort on behalf of the global community to tackle climate change offers opportunity for integration, the transfer of knowledge, cross-cultural exchange, international trade and foreign investment, which bring with them open dialogue and communication, as well as a diplomatic attitude which prizes community and the vision of a shared future over division and barriers. Trump’s signal to withdraw the United States from the 2015 Paris climate accord resembles so much more than an abandonment of America’s commitment to reduce its carbon emissions; it represents an undermining of the values we should be pressing so hard to maintain and reinforce in light of the contemporary tensions and challenges we face.


Tracing Treason: Between Civil Liberties and Collective Security


It was the golden age of Athenian civilisation when Socrates was called to trial by a polis facing political reformulation following defeat in the Peloponnesian War. Under charges of moral corruption and impiety, the great philosopher faced his jury.  For crimes against the city-state of Athens he was found guilty, and sentenced to death. Faithful to his teachings of respect for the rule of law, he drank the contents of his ascribed poison as if a draught of sweet wine.  

For some, the trial represented the disparity between democratic ideals and popular rule in practice. For others, his sentence was a reasonable defence of a democracy at peril and its steadfast principles. For Plato, the execution - of whom he called the wisest and most just of all men - inspired a body of work that marked the culmination of ancient Greek philosophical thought and laid the foundations for the Occidental philosophical tradition.

Beyond the polis of Athens, the court room has acted as a theatre for reflection on the relationship between the citizen subject and the society to which they belong. Within the binary constraints of the law, judgements are passed. The drama of the court room provides for negotiations on the relationship between individual identity and the authority of the state, as collective identities are forged through the narrative of public trial. With a protagonist accused and a captive audience, a stage for moral lesson is built.


Moving forward to the foremost horror of the twentieth century, it was not until the 1960s - when the trial of Adolf Eichmann demonstrated the banality of an evil wholly obedient to authority - that the Holocaust gained its metaphysical and cultural symbolism. 

But in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War, the Holocaust was not recognised by the international community as the systematic extermination of 6 million Jews. Rather, it was seen as one aspect of the atrocities committed by the Nazi fascists in their war of aggression. It was as an active participant in this violent nationalism that William Joyce would be tried by the British government for the crime of treason. 

Joyce, whose fascist career had begun under the guidance of Sir Oswald Mosley, was drawn towards the world of Adolf Hitler. Shortly before war was declared, he fled the British authorities to a place where his views did not elicit the prospect of arrest. In Germany, he was quickly employed to issue broadcasts and write scripts on an English language radio station. At the peak of his popularity, the rhetoric he had perfected as a young fascist activist was used to deliver German propagandist messages to 18 million British listeners – inciting subversion against the Allied war effort.

His career lasted the war, but in 1945 Joyce was brought to the Old Bailey under charges of high treason. Pleading not guilty, he offered himself as a case for a prominent public trial by a nation reeling from the material and emotional toil of war. For his prosecutors, this was a chance to affirm the collective identity of a British front that had won military success. 

It was the particularity of his association with the Nazi regime whilst in possession of a British passport that served as the key indicator of Joyce’s guilt. For his jury, the failure to uphold allegiance to the Crown in favour of the fervent nationalism of the German fascists was an offence that demanded his life. William Joyce went defiant to his noose, the last person to be executed for treason in Britain.


But with that special capacity of time to alter any idea, the nature of treason is shifting. Just as it was the multipolar order of the Second World War system that generated that particular brand of fascist treachery, it was the bipolar order of a new world system that shaped the path of those called to conspire in the Cold War.  

In the climate of Cold War intrigue, treachery could be achieved through the weakening of the ties that formed an ideological front. The Soviet Union willed the identification of its agents amongst the internal workings of Western ally states as a way to sow distrust and generate imbalance between the various atoms of its enemies. As the tactics of conceit changed, so too did the means by which its actors faced judgement.

The trial of Klaus Emil Fuchs on 1 March 1950, for his role in sharing atomic secrets with the Soviet enemy, judged his espionage as an act of treason. His defence held that he was acting in principled protest against government demands for secrecy that violated his commitment to truth as a member of the global scientific community. The conduct of his trial highlighted the changed nature of the world order. Unlike that of Joyce and his fellow fascists, whose trials were intended as a moral lesson for a nation, Fuchs was tried quickly, quietly, and without spectacle. He was handed the maximum sentence available under the Official Secrets Act. 

Such patterns of communist conspiracy were repeated, replicated in action and then in art, forming a body of work that gave immortality to the workings of this secret global society. Then, with the peculiar dramatism that remains the preserve of history, this world too crumbled. Its people rose, its walls fell, and a seemingly deep rooted ideological grip sank into the earth from which it aspired to build. 

The collapse of the bipolar world order was taken by some to represent the triumph of liberal democracy and capitalism over alternative world visions - the end of history in a post-ideological age. Globalisation - taken to mean the state of complete transnational integration, encompassing all the people of the world within a single network of economic and cultural connections informed by a common consciousness - became the byword of the millennia, believed by both optimists and pessimists to represent the potential of a new age.


Since then, this imagined condition has become the latest utopia to collapse before our eyes. The implications of the contemporary ‘globalised’ world - neoliberal market hegemony, the homogenisation of mass consumerism against the sharpened heterogeneity of cultural relativism, mass migration in a world of hyper information, and the ubiquitous spectre of environmental destruction - have raised a host of new and challenging questions to contend with.

In this transnational age, the nature of nationalism, and its counterpart treason, takes on new meaning. The social contract that dictates a state provides protection in return for citizen obedience has broken its national boundaries, subject to treachery on a universal scale. 

US citizen Edward Snowden took the decision in 2013 to blow the whistle on human rights abuses by the United States National Security Agency. His revelation outed the extent of global mass surveillance, showing how governments without consent are scooping up the private communications of individuals. He chose to share this information because he believed that the citizens of his country and the world needed to confront the truth of this mass violation of civil liberties. His betrayal of state information in favour of public interest means he now faces decades in prison under charges of espionage outdated and ill-suited to deal with the nature of his crime. His treason was not in support of a contained enemy ideology, but as a transcendent universal aim for the protection of individual freedoms to which all nations must be accountable.

But the apparent goodwill that inspired Snowden’s revelations is not a consistent thread in contemporary acts of treason. Terrorism committed by citizens of a state willing to murder their compatriots in the name of ideology is a gross breakdown of a social contract that demands some collective duty of society. 

In Britain, the 2015 murder of left-wing politician Jo Cox by a far right extremist and the 2017 fatal attack on the Houses of Parliament in Westminster are tragic examples of how perceptions of difference in a globalised world breed a fatal brand of treason at home.

Jo Cox’s murderer was locked away swiftly; Thomas Mair chose to enter no plea and gave no defence at his trial. But his murderous cries of “Britain First!” rang out through the courtroom as evidence of the extreme nationalism that inspired his act. Khalid Masood, the Westminster attacker, was shot in his tracks as he tried to inflict more death on an innocent public. Despite the speed with which the radical terrorist organisation Islamic State claimed him as one of their own, the exact motivations that took Masood over that bridge remain subject to speculation. 

Beyond the media headlines and the commemorative processions, true justice for the victims of such criminal acts will come from achieving solutions that ensure innocent civilians are not killed in the street by those who feel that is a legitimate way to express dissatisfaction with their society. 

But, so often, in the climate of fear that follows an attack on the values of a state, citizens are willing to grant their government extraordinary powers in the name of protection. After 11 September 2001, the community of nations took the opportunity to combat terrorist activities by cracking down on domestic political opponents. In democracies and authoritarianisms alike, the war on terror has been extended to restrict civil liberties in the name of national security.

France, following the 2015 Islamic State terror attack that killed 130 people in Paris, has recently entered its longest uninterrupted state of emergency since the Algerian War in the 1960s, accompanied by the restriction of civil liberties that this entails. In the vying for political power, the provision of security is central to the promises of leaders in a nation whose children have died by the guns of an enemy ideology. But with the insistent recurrence of such violence, the impossibility of absolute security becomes painfully clear, begging the question how much freedom is one willing to give up for the sake of collective safety, and at what cost.

In contemporary Turkey there is evidence of the dangers of this security narrative to the values of democracy. The presidency of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has seen the harassment, arrest and imprisonment of intellectuals, teachers and artists whose commitment to rights of expression puts them in opposition to his entrenching regime. Dissenters condemned as traitors, the act of treason is used as a reason for the extension of power, in violation of civil liberties that should transcend the nation. 


Socrates, when drinking his sweet poisoned wine, believed that reason could dictate a conscientious disobedience to the state, while agreeing that he had to accept the legal sanctions of his polis. But with no natural correlation between law and justice, an individual must walk this line between respecting the democratic rule of law, and fighting for those values whose intangible nature pulls more at the human heart than those of decrees or documents. 

As it was seen in Eichmann, it is with absolute obedience to the orders of authority that the banal nature of human evil is given space to prosper. The memory of such obedience practiced en masse should provide the guidance to our contemporary treasons. 

The accompanying balance between civil liberties and collective security is for the social contract as the Odysseyan passage between Scylla and Charybdis, respectively.

Odysseus and his ship faced an ocean passage between the Charybdis whirlpool and the cave dwelling, man-eating monster Scylla. One route, Charybdis, presents the possibility that the entire ship will be swallowed by the sea, taking with it all men on board to certain death. The other, Scylla, guarantees the loss of some men to the hungry monster, but ensures that the ship will pass intact. A terrible choice, but pragmatism and idealism alike demand that the mouth of the monster is chanced. The potential to lose all men aboard to the depths of the ocean, the ship and all its previous achievement sinking into oblivion, is too high a risk to take when the journey ahead will promises so much for the vessel and its crew. 

Refugees, National Security and Crime: a Perspective from Dunkirk


The migrant situation in Europe and the Middle East is an undeniable human crisis that we cannot ignore. Regardless of political standpoint, this situation has to be talked about and acted upon in a way that acknowledges the lives that have been put on indefinite pause. Let us at least give the dignity of recognition and dialogue to the human beings who have been forced to leave their own countries due to persecution, war, or a stagnant economic situation.
Our world is now experiencing the highest levels of displacement on record. By July 2016, European Union reports were indicating that more than 1 million refugees had arrived in the EU throughout the previous two years, having fled from oppression, conflict, or extreme poverty in the Middle East, Asia, and Africa. There are unofficial camps from Lesbos to Calais, with transient populations of people seeking a better life, and looking for safety. Their lives feature small tents, charitable donations, and no clear or official way to find security. Yet, how much do we really acknowledge this reality?
It has been a month since I returned from spending 5 weeks at La Linière refugee camp near Dunkirk, and it is evident that this reality is so rarely discussed. Before the camp suffered a significant fire and was subsequently closed by local authorities, those living there were rarely reported on. Sporadic and, frankly, sensationalist reporting would comment on cases of rape and abuse, or on the fighting and fire that took place on 10th April 2017, leading to the immediate closure of the camp. Such reports were important, and highlighted significant events and social situations that absolutely should be discussed. However, their isolation in a sea of journalistic silence creates destructive problems that must be addressed.
Silence on migrants in our mainstream media is only broken occasionally with articles that focus on violence, abuse, and manipulation. This Guardian article addressed rape and domestic violence in the former camp, and this piece from Deutsche Welle addressed the violence of mafia networks within the refugee population. Such narrow journalistic focus on the very worst and most destructive stories depicts a migrant population that is violent and immoral, incapable of achieving the standards of western civilisation. In demonising the refugee population, their situation is thus exacerbated, as empathy for refugees evaporates with every new article that shows abuse and manipulation committed by a small number of refugees.
I do not mean to demonise these articles themselves, because in essence they are correct and well-intended. Undeniably, it is right of these journalists to give a voice to the women who would rather wear incontinence pants than go to the toilets at night for fear of being assaulted, or the child who is being abused by a parent whose anger is aggravated by the powerlessness of their situation. It is not the fault of the journalists who concentrate on these stories that their articles have such a devastating effect on the perception of migrants. Rather, it is the failure of the journalistic community as a whole that devotes so little of its website space to this human crisis, so that the only stories to make it through are the ones of such violence.
Of course, being a refugee does put you in a vulnerable situation, and we should be doing all we can to get people out of these circumstances. It is a tragic reality that, if you take a cross-section of any society, it will contain a minority of people who do not respect others. Amongst myriad parents, doctors, models, builders, and marine biologists, our world contains people who would harm others. The refugee populations are no different: amongst the majority of people just looking for safety and to be able to start living again, there is a minority who gain from the suffering of others. Yet, can we turn our backs on thousands for the sake of a few? By only breaking our silence on the migrant problem for the most devastating of stories, we reduce our conception of the migrant population to one of demonic qualities, and fail to recognise the majority of refugees as vulnerable people, looking to live real lives again.
Furthermore, forcing refugees to remain in camps significantly raises the levels of human suffering that emerge in the aforementioned news articles. Whilst migrants remain deserted in unofficial camps across Europe and the Middle East, there is no way to monitor who is being manipulated or abused. When you’re not being recognised legally, there is no one to even notice when a minor is being trafficked and beaten, or a family is being manipulated in return for safe passage, and no legal structure with which to provide protection for those at risk. Whilst volunteers can do what they can to identify those who would be considered most vulnerable, the transient nature of the migrant community makes these circumstances difficult to assess, and even harder to act on. Abandoned to a constant state of non-existence, no protection can be offered and no steps can be taken for the prevention of harm. In doing so, this causes us to disassociate ourselves from the refugee community and to fail to recognise the majority of people just looking for security, instead leaving them trapped in a life unacknowledged and unprotected.
Moreover, such sporadic attention allows us to forget that this is an everyday reality. These people are not living lives that are spotted with tragic moments, but are living lives that are continuously vulnerable. There is no visible light at the end of the tunnel. When our information about the refugee crisis only appears on our newsfeeds in violent and shocking statistics, we lose focus from the stories of isolation and displacement that would show us the unending and hopeless fatigue of never knowing when you will have stability again. With the closure of La Linière camp towards the beginning of April, even the little stability there was - living in wooden boxes, knowing that volunteers would arrive with donations of food at the same time every day - became lost. Migrants went from having nothing to having so much less than nothing. Your food, your hygiene items, your phone credit - each day is a reminder that you cannot sustain yourself or support your family. There is the hope that, one day, you will find asylum and be able to start your life anew, but until that day comes, each day is another day stuck in limbo. Being suspended with no right to protection, and no right to sustain yourself, each day is another day without rights, and without official recognition as a human being.
At the end of the day, the starting point of any further action relies on the recognition of migrants as human beings who fully deserve the implementation of their fundamental human rights. Human beings have a right to clean water and a roof over their heads, but also the right to education, and the right to be self-sufficient. Living in a tent, surviving on food and clothing donations, and being denied the right to have any more purpose to each day than getting up, eating, smoking, and then sleeping again, is not a life. We have to recognise that migrants should have the right to really thrive, and not just survive. As individuals, we can volunteer our time for short term aid, or support those who feel capable of doing so.

Yet it is obvious that the true power to change the damaging and bleak reality of the refugee situation lies with European governments. No, we cannot take full responsibility for the creation of this refugee problem, but we can offer safety to those who have been abandoned, and restore the rights of those who have been denied them. Every day that we do not even discuss this issue is another day that these people are reduced to a tragic-but-frozen mural on the wall. This is not a question of blame, but a question of the imminent needs of vulnerable people. This will not alter unless we keep the dialogue open, and acknowledge the daily reality of having been forced from your country of origin, and then had every other door slammed in your face. None of those now affected had a choice in the genesis of the migrant problem, but we do have a choice in how we respond to it. Regardless of political perspective, there is something fundamentally inhuman to not acknowledge these people. This is not a statistical problem to be solved, or a cloud of locusts to be wafted away; these are human beings to be recognised.


The 'Organized Hypocrisy' of Western Refugee Policy


Barely a week after coming to office, US President Trump signed an executive order suspending the US refugee program for 120 days, specifically barring Syrian refugees from entering the country until further notice. Confusion erupted across US airports while shockwaves of protest gathered full force.

Although Trump’s executive order seemed extreme considering its direct repudiation of the international community’s commitment to refugee protection, the policy actually resembled asylum policies utilized by other western, refugee-receiving states; the only difference is the rhetoric. For example, Hungary recently passed a new set of anti-migration laws to prevent non-Europeans who do not intend to apply for asylum in the country from passing through its territory. In the wake of Europe’s recent migration crisis, only Germany offered mass protection thanks to Chancellor Angela Merkel’s open door policy. However, even Merkel has recently admitted that her policy might not have been the best decision for Germany: “If I knew what change in refugee policy the people in Germany want, I would be prepared to consider it.”

In this case, is Trump really radical? Not really. His language is rudimentary and direct but not radical. The reality is that rich western states have been restricting access to their territories ever since the end of the Cold War, when refugees and asylum seekers no longer represented weapons against communism. Now that refugees no longer have value—their labor is no longer needed and they do not serve a political agenda—states are doing what they can to turn them away while also proclaiming their commitment to refugee protection in the international community. Matthew Gibney, a leading political theorist in refugee studies, calls this organized hypocrisy: “Northern states claim to support the principle of asylum, pointing to their status as signatories of the 1951 Refugee Convention, and their well-developed semi-judicial bodies that determine asylum claims, as well. However, they construct visa and control regimes that prevent asylum seekers from arriving lawfully at their borders.” These practices create negative attitudes towards refugees, attitudes that many individuals and human rights groups are working hard to subdue. 

Alas, I am tired of begging people to see refugees as human beings. As one of the many individuals working to reverse discriminatory attitudes against refugees, I confess that sometimes I feel like I am hitting my head against a wall as states and leaders push for more rigid non-arrival measures. My documentary about Zaatari Syrian Refugee Camp in Jordan, talks, and discussion groups seem to have little influence against the tide of discrimination and organized hypocrisy. And, I am not the only one doing this work; several human rights groups and sincere individuals across sectors are also begging people to recognize refugees as human beings with rights. So, why is nothing changing? Why are we stuck with hate and mass hysteria against refugees? Why are our leaders reinforcing this hate and getting away with it? 

Looking at possible solutions for today’s refugee crisis might offer some answers. Leading scholars and organizations in the humanitarian sector have recently put forward new and creative solutions for ‘fixing’ the international refugee system. For example, a new group named Europe in Africa (EIA) advocates for the founding of a new city-state on an artificial island built on the shallow Tunisian Plateau right between the Exclusive Economic Zone of Tunisia and Italy. The aim of EIA is “to provide a secure place for people who have to flee their country and want to reach Europe.” The group’s website provides a colorful map that lays out the infrastructure of the island, including hospitals, schools, churches, mosques, a soccer stadium, and even an airport. Reading this colorful map along with the organization’s objectives makes you question the seriousness of the proposal. My immediate response was “this cannot be for real.” 

At the same time, leading scholars in the field of refugee studies have also offered interesting new solutions. In their attempt to reconcile the disconnect between the international commitment to refugees and what actually happens on the ground, scholars Alexander Betts and Paul Collier recently release a book titled ‘Refuge’ in which they argue for a new solution to refugee protection based on comparative advantage, an old school principle in international relations theory. However, many have criticized this solution as exacerbating the very problem it is trying to fix.

Why is it so hard to fix this problem? Why do all our solutions seem farcical and incomplete? The simple answer is that the system is flawed. An international regime based on nationalism inherently creates refugees. Emma Haddad, a political theorist, argues that refugees are not only an inevitable consequence of the international state system, but also a constitutive part of the structure. Refugees reinforce the insider/outsider relationship, which is essential for the nation-state concept. Refugees lie betwixt and between nation-states.  Ultimately, Haddad argues, the ideal of the state-territory-citizen nexus on which international society is based will breakdown, and people will fall outside the state system, requiring that they receive a pathway back into that state system through asylum. These people represent “deviations from the normal model of international society.” Hence, they become anomalies, aliens left at the mercy of various communities willing to integrate them. 

Of course, there are other factors that create or have created refugees in the past such as decolonization, failed states, structural poverty, and conflict. However, the source of the problem—especially of the discriminatory attitudes towards refugees—is the rooting of peoples in physical territory. Anthropologist Liisa Malkki questions the assumptions scholars and politicians make about the rooting of cultures and the territorialization of national identity. In other words, why are we obsessed with rooting cultures in soils and, therefore, peoples in places? Internalizing this idea makes it easy to reject people seeking asylum in our countries because they do not ‘naturally’ belong here. Hannah Arendt eloquently described this new political awareness in 1951: 

Suddenly, there was no place on earth where migrants could go without the severest restrictions, no country where they would be assimilated…This, moreover, had next to nothing to do with any material problem of overpopulation; it was a problem not of space but of political organization.

The refugee problem, therefore, is a product of the international state system, and the only way to fix the problem is to fix the system. 

It is not enough to beg people to see refugees for their humanity. Many groups and individuals are doing just that. We cannot change attitudes without changing the structural implications for their creation in the first place. The system is inherently flawed, frozen in time and space. Our current world leaders are not only reinforcing the structure but expanding it with new laws and restrictions. Groups like EIA do the same but with different intentions. We need a new world order if we really want to ‘fix’ the refugee crisis—a world order not rooted in sovereign nations but in common humanity.