As a result of the terrible war in Syria about half of the population have been displaced . Syria is by no means the only country generating refugees at present but it is leading the field at about 5 million, Of these 1.8 million are in Turkey , 1.2 million in Lebanon, 625,000 in Jordan, 250,000 in Iraq, and 135,000 in Egypt. About 340,000 of all nationalities have made it across the Med, 174,000 to Italy. The Irish government, in the goodness of its heart has agreed to take 600.
And in the Irish media, as in the media of every rich and relatively peaceful country in Western Europe, this decision has been accompanied by much hand wringing and fretting about how we are going to cope with this terrible ‘influx’ or is it ‘invasion’.
I take completely the opposite view I think we would be ‘mad, literally mad’ to quote Enoch Powell, to pass up the chance to welcome, say, 100,000 refugees to Ireland. Think of the benefits!
One of the most obvious benefits of having lots of people come from other countries is its effect on our cuisine. Just think what Irish food was like before the ‘foreigners’ came or what it would be like without Indians, Chinese, Koreans, Italians, Turks and so on. 100,000 from the Middle East would mean more Middle Eastern restaurants with more mezes and humous and kofte and baba ganoush – delicious.
Then there’s the music- they would bring all that fantastic Arabic music. And there would probably be some from North Africa (Libya, Algeria etc) – they have marvellous music and have done wonders for French musical culture.
Speaking of culture refugees from the Middle East and North Africa would make a great contribution to our literature. There is a great poetic tradition in the region from Omar Khayyam to Nazim Hikmet and Mahmoud Darwish as well as novelists such as Naguib Mahfouz , Alaa al Aswany and Oran Pamuk. Refugees, in particular, would be able to write their stories – dramatic tales of adventure across deserts and on the high seas. The exile has always been an important literary figure: think of James Joyce, Oscar Wilde, T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, Bertold Brecht and Pablo Neruda.
In politics also refugees from oppression have made immense contributions to European thought, especially radical thought. Actually when you think about it the list is enormous: Karl Marx, Bakunin, Rosa Luxemburg, Vladimir Lenin, Leon Trotsky, Victor Serge and all those who fled the Nazis like Marcuse, Fromm, Benjamin etc.
100,000 people from the Middle East and North Africa which has witnessed so many wars and revolutions in recent years would be bound to include some very serious political thinkers.
But what about the economy I hear the sceptic say? How can we pay for all this when we cant look after our own? Well actually restaurateurs, chefs, artists, writers and musicians are good for an economy and can generate a lot of wealth. But even if we ignore all these skills and think only in terms of crude manual labour – a rather racist way of viewing these people but never mind – refugees are still a very good bet. They are likely to be relatively young and strong just to have made the extraordinary journeys that got them to Europe in the first place; excellent material for working in construction building all those houses we so desperately need to deal with the housing crisis.
As it happens Irish people are in an excellent position to understand and appreciate all this because it is our history in reverse. After all how many Irish have been forced by famine, poverty and unemployment to head for foreign parts – America, Britain, Australia etc – to work building canals, railways, houses and in every other industry? And how many have also contributed massively to the music, literature, culture and politics of the countries they ended up in.
So, given the obvious benefits afforded by welcoming refugees and migrants in general, why is it that our establishment politicians and media – and not just ours, the establishment politicians and media of every country, especially the far right ones – insist on viewing refugees so negatively?
Is it just because they are so into greed and money grubbing that they have lost all humanity and cant see beyond the end of their collective noses? Or is it also that they instinctively know they need scapegoats, for example for their inability to house people, and they will rest easier in their beds if they can get ordinary people of different countries and races to turn on each other rather than turning on them.
John Molyneux is Secretary of the Irish Anti-War Movement which has called a Refugees: Victims of War – Let them in picket of the EU Offices, Molesworth St. for 5pm on Thursday 27 Aug.