Monsters amongst us: inhumane commentators damn us all in their refugee crisis response

[Trigger warning: the photos of Alyan Kurdi’s body and Laith Majid with his children are in this blog]

This is not a blog about Alyan Kurdi.

But it is a blog about who we allow to speak to us about Alyan Kurdi.

The public outpouring of grief and the demand for change in the pathetic refugee intake here in Aotearoa New Zealand was the subject of commentary in all of our major newspapers and channels over the past five days.

Some of those commentators have done an outstanding job of expressing our pain and our hopelessness in text. This is not a blog about those commentators, though I want to express my thanks to Heather du Plessis-Allan, Duncan Garner, Andrea Vance and in particular for their considered responses.

This is a blog about the monsters that reside amongst us. The monsters that we consistently allow on our screens and in our newspapers to make us less than we are: less compassionate; less human; less whole. The monsters who have a seat at the table because we have placed objectivity and rationalism on God’s throne.

With Cameron Slater a joke now – the physical manifestation of Judith Collin’s soul of darkness – it has been up to Matthew Hooton and Claire Robinson to take the role of shock troops for the dead eyed heartlessness of people who claim they have mandate to speak for us, first of whom is John Key. On New Zealand Q and A, long tirades by Hooton and Robinson are best exemplified by two quotes:

“Two political parties have decided to leverage off this dead child.” – Matthew Hooton

“Do you want a refugee… in your house for two years… whilst they learn English?” – Claire Robinson

The temerity of Hooton and Robinson to talk about the death of Alyan Kurdi and the grief of his father as political leverage. The temerity of Hooton and Robinson to talk about the death of over 2,000 refugees on their way to Europe, the abuse and rape of refugees, and the disturbing images of trains of refugees being unloaded at camps in Hungary as practically difficult to resolve. The commentary of Hooton and Robinson is monstrous. Yet we allow them to speak to and for us time and again.

If we spend enough time listening to monsters, we become monsters ourselves.

John Key and his government’s inaction is not a considered response to a difficult situation. It is a window into the shriveled, hateful spirit that rules our Cabinet. Key has spoken with exactly the same level of interest on the refugee crisis in Europe as he has on the flag and on the health and safety legislation. He has shown some emotion and passion this week: when he was at the announcement of the All Black World Cup squad. Effusive, interested, reflective: about a fucking rugby team.

If we spend enough time bowing to monsters, we become monsters ourselves.

So here are those images again. Remember why you responded this week. Remember what you felt. Remember why you have offered a bed in your house if a refugee could somehow find a way here. It was because this boy reminds me of my son, and this father is overwhelmed with a grief for his childrens’ future that no person deserves.

Laith Majid & children (freelancer Daniel Etter)
Alyan Kurdi (journalist Nilufer Demir)

Our response to the suffering didn’t start with the body of Alyan Kurdi. People of conscience have been arguing to raise our refugee quota for years. I first heard the arguments for it over a decade ago. Aotearoa New Zealand is an island, not a fortress. What happens to refugees in the Middle East, in Europe, in Australia will impact on us. We live with a glut of space and resources that we need to make available to our brothers and sisters in need.

But Key’s government and supporters want to hoard that resource for themselves. They want to “protect our way of life.” They are living a lie; our way of live is unsustainable because it is unattainable on a finite planet. You’d need multiple planets for everyone to live like we do. We cannot have this way of life and save our soul. We need to give of ourselves for those in suffering, or I assure you that in the end, their suffering will lead to others coming to take it for themselves.

If we spend enough time allowing monsters to scare others off, we become monsters ourselves.

This is the greatest refugee crisis since World War II. Aotearoa New Zealand opened its doors then to the refugees of Europe and changed the face of a nation for the better. We need to do the same today, certainly for the desperate needs of the people flooding into Europe, but also to affirm our own humanity. There are a number of things we can do (all the links are in this article): sign this petition and other petitions; donate; become a member of a grassroots group; volunteer; and buy specific items.

This is not a blog about Alyan Kurdi.

This is a blog about the soul of our country. If we have enthroned rationalism and objectivity, where has the greater part of our humanity gone? In his outstanding and significant short story, Nietzsche’s erstwhile madman proclaimed that we have killed God. This week we found His body, we found our humanity washed up on a beach in Europe.

[the header image is the Za’atri refugee camp in Jordan. The photo is from the US State Department]

10 thoughts on “Monsters amongst us: inhumane commentators damn us all in their refugee crisis response

  1. Absolutely spot on Graham – but i think fingers need to be pointed elsewhere too. ‘Airtime’ is distributed to those who will get the most ratings (I assume?). Who is allowing this? (Slightly rhetorical although i don’t actually know the answer!). Also, consumers play as much a role in who is selected to ‘speak’ on our behalf, through ratings, but also, through our inaction. If these commentators (Hooton and co) continue to appear unabated, then we are can be seen to be complicit. We need to galvanize around this issue to 1. turf these assholes out 2. put up some credible alternatives.

    1. Kia ora Simon, thanks for taking the time to comment. Consumers are absolutely a part of this equation; though advertisers are probably the most important decision making body.

  2. Of course there is more we can do. You say our way of life is unsustainable. So those New Zealanders who feel compelled to help, give up your current way of life, now. Live a subsistence lifestyle and donate the rest of your income to the cause. No luxury foods, no cars no alcohol. Any takers? Oh wait, do I see some of the “refugees” wearing Nikes?

    1. Duve – lifestyle change doesn’t have to be as dramatic as you suggest; nor does it have to involve only change in the material aspects of life. IMO LIfestyle change begins by reflecting on your current circumstances so that you identify areas that can be changed. In other words, it is a change preceded by a change in thinking. When this occurs, people may respond in a variety of ways – or not at all. Your description would be one a continuum on which there are numerous ways for people to change.

    2. Where to start, Duve? How about with the snide remark about Nikes; I don’t think the labels, brands or other details of their clothing is sufficient justification for ignoring the suffering of others. I presume your use of quotation marks is because you are unconvinced the people seeking refuge outside of Syria are indeed refugees. Under the Refugee Convention 1951, which NZ has both signed and ratified, there are three basic characteristics:
      – they are outside their country of origin or outside the country of their former habitual residence;
      – they are unable or unwilling to avail themselves of the protection of that country owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted; and
      – the persecution feared is based on at least one of five grounds: race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion.
      If you are willing to do even a google search of mainstream media about the situation in Syria, you will find they all fit under this definition of refugee.

      I don’t say our way of life is unsustainable: the IPCA, the World Bank, the IMF, the UN, and our very own Chief Science Advisor, amongst others, say that it is unsustainable. We need to change, or there will be a future of water shortages, food shortages, wide conflict, and extreme weather events for our children and grandchildren. Given the first three things you could think of giving up were luxury foods, cars and alcohol, I presume that is hard for you to imagine. It won’t be for them. So yes, we all need to give up our current expectations of what we deserve in life for simpler fare. And now would be better than later. But hey, you probably won’t be here in 2100, so what does it matter to you?

    1. Indeed Tracy. It’s probably a both and: we need to do what we can as a country to combat the root causes such as imperialism whilst also extending a compassionate welcome to its victims.

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