Vinoth Ramachandra

Archive for February 2017

There are plenty of good arguments with which to criticize Donald Trump and his supporters without needing to resort to misrepresentation and one-sided rants. The liberal media in the US and Britain have tended to indulge in the latter, both during the presidential campaign and in the aftermath of his inauguration. “Trump wages war against Islam” screamed the front page of a well-known liberal British weekly after his travel ban. But he did nothing of the sort. If it was “anti-Muslim”, why leave out many other Muslim-majority states, some of which have a worse record of repression than the seven that were targeted?

Trump’s justification was couched in the language of “stopping terrorists” and “making America safe”. As I pointed out in my previous Post (“Selective Amnesia”) this was a foolish as well as immoral and dangerous decision, and I gave reasons for my judgment. But, however “Islamophobic” Trump’s campaign rhetoric may have been, the 27 January executive order was not.

The hypocrisy and double standards practiced by prestigious liberal media such as the BBC and the New York Times is well known. They were supporters of the war against Iraq, but suddenly turned self-righteously against Bush and Blair when the lies propagated by their respective intelligence agencies were exposed. On religious issues, the BBC loves to broadcast extreme viewpoints. Last month, I watched an interview with an obscure black pastor who claimed that Trump was a “wonderful Christian”, but they have given absolutely no attention to several Christian leaders and organizations who have roundly condemned Trump’s polices as deeply antithetical to the Christian faith. So much for the coverage of “evangelical Christian voices” in the liberal media- such coverage is simply a mirror image of the bias in the conservative media. Such media polarization ultimately undermines the sane, mutually respectful dialogue on which a liberal democracy rests.

When it comes to religious persecution, we see the same polarization in media coverage. The BBC, CNN, etc give little airtime to such cases, especially when they involve Christians suffering under oppressive Muslim or Hindu regimes. Terror attacks on Muslim minorities in Muslim countries (e.g. the recent deadly attacks in Pakistan on Shia followers) receive little or no attention to the mainstream news channels, let alone the tabloid press in the US and Britain. We see the reverse in the conservative Christian media which only highlights cases of anti-Christian persecution.

Trump’s decision to give priority in refugee applications to those minority Christians fleeing Muslim persecution is now opposed as “discriminatory” by liberal media and human rights watchdogs such as the ACLU. But where were these critics, when (for decades) US governments gave priority to refugees and asylum seekers who were their allies in military conflicts (such as Afghans during the Cold War) or to the rich or intellectuals- denying visas to the economically poor or disabled? I’m sure that if the Trump regime gave priority to homosexuals fleeing persecution in some African states, there would scarcely be a murmur of criticism. Governments do have a right to decide to whom they will grant visas. This is happening all the time, in every country on earth. The grounds on which such decisions are made should be transparent and open to moral criticism (for example, why favour the rich?), but charges of “discrimination” carry little weight unless they are applied across the board to cover all forms of travel and immigration.

Of course, there are great dangers for the Christian Church if Trump’s America were to be identified in the Muslim world as “Christian” and enjoying the support of those who go to Muslim-majority countries as “missionaries”. Giving priority to Christians fleeing persecution can also lead to many bogus “conversions” and persecution stories. But, given these important caveats, it is also necessary that the plight of Christians in Muslim states be brought to public attention by the secular liberal mainstream.

Anyone who writes on this sensitive issue has to be Janus-faced and so address the hypocrisies on both sides of the political spectrum. Those evangelical Christians who support Trump’s denunciation of undocumented migrants in the US need to ask: why does he not crack down hard on all those who employ such vulnerable migrants? Human trafficking is alive and flourishing in the US; and those who come voluntarily are often working as near-slaves in many hotel chains, restaurants, factories and large farms. Blaming victims is an easy game and it is sad to see Christians playing it- and, at the same time, profiting from the labour of such folk.

In the meantime, it is equally infuriating to watch the smug complacency of European governments as they posture themselves in opposition to Trump’s antics. We have a 20-year old friend from one of Trump’s banned countries who ended up in Sri Lanka after fleeing family and police in his own country after he had been baptized as a Christian. After a long and humiliating wait in the bureaucratic coils of the UNHCR, he was admitted to the US refugee vetting program in December and told that he would likely leave by May. Trump’s executive order of 27 January has demolished that hope. He is now told that he may have to wait another five years or more. He is utterly devastated.

My wife Karin, a Danish citizen, has taken our friend around some European embassies to see if they would consider his plight and treat him with empathy and understanding. She ran into a brick wall everywhere. “The only possibility of accepting him is if he applies from within an EU territory,” she was told. “Well, how does he get on a plane without an EU visa?”, replied Karin. They smiled politely and remained silent. But one official said, “He can arrive with a false passport, like others do.”

This is how European governments encourage illegal migration.

In an interview in 1994, the eminent French philosopher Paul Ricoeur observed:

“The history of America is a strange history: émigrés came to territory which was already inhabited by people- the Indians- and exterminated many of them, pushed others onto reservations; but at the same time, these first immigrants brought along other émigrés by force who were their slaves. It is a singular history that has no equivalent in Europe. This is why I always return to the idea of incomparable histories, and consequently to the specificity of ethnic and political problematics.” (from Critique and Conviction: Conversations with Francois Azouvi and Marc de Launay)

Of course European nations have their own shameful histories of exterminations; but apart from the Holocaust, they were mostly committed outside Europe. With an irony that hasn’t gone unnoticed, US President Donald Trump signed his executive order on January 27, Holocaust Memorial Day.

What has also not gone unnoticed is the irrational, immoral and potentially dangerous insinuation that America’s terrorists come from 7 Muslim-majority states and are not home-grown. I call it irrational because, for a start, not a single refugee or immigrant from one of the named countries has ever committed an act of terrorism in the US (most of the 9/11 perpetrators came from Saudi Arabia, which remains a staunch US military ally and is not in the list of designated countries); and, moreover, the threat of terrorism is so exaggerated in the public mind – the probability of an American being killed in a terrorist attack by refugees has been calculated as less than that of one’s clothes spontaneously igniting!

I call it immoral because it scapegoats people who have either suffered from acts of terrorism themselves or risked their lives to combat terrorists (including many Iraqis who must feel utterly betrayed by the US government). In any case, existing laws and the 1951 refugee convention – to which the US is a signatory- ensure that anybody who could seriously be considered to have committed a war crime or even a serious non-political crime would not qualify for refugee status. (Notwithstanding this, the irony is that many of the most brutal criminals, including gang leaders in the various Mafias, Triads, Yardies, etc from all over the world are all legitimate US citizens and known to the police in every major American city).

I call it dangerous because it will only alienate friendly Muslims and nudge them towards the radical Islamists who hate the West. One extremism feeds off the other. It has also undermined the efforts of all those men and women who have been struggling to promote respect for human rights all over the world, not least in China, Myanmar, the Central African Republic and other states where Muslims are persecuted minorities.

A further irony is that, since the US has a long history of receiving refugees and asylum seekers and resettling them (and is always among the top receiving countries in the industrialised world), Trump’s executive order tramples upon the “American values” that were trumpeted (sic) by his campaign supporters.

The ignorance on which the executive order is founded is also displayed in the charge that all refugees must in future respect the laws and values of the USA. Surely Trump’s lawyers should have pointed him to Article 2 of the 1951 Convention: “Every refugee has duties to the country in which he finds himself, which require in particular that he conform to its laws and regulations as well as to measures taken for the maintenance of public order.”

Millions of immigrants from the Indian subcontinent live in the US, Canada, Europe and Australia. Once settled, many of them become bellicose opponents of further immigration. They are often more xenophobic than “whites”. Are there any South Asians in the US joining Black Lives Matter marches or Tamils from Sri Lanka who went as refugees to the UK or Australia publicly arguing today on behalf of refugees from Syria or Yemen?

During the Brexit campaign I heard Indian and Sri Lankan professionals in the UK contemptuously dismissing Poles and Rumanians as “economic migrants”. What were they, I wonder, twenty or thirty years ago? And why do we not use that term to describe the tens of thousands of Europeans who go to the US or Australia every year in search of more lucrative employment or a more comfortable retirement?

Selective memory loss afflicts us all. But it is particularly tragic when professing Christians are no different. Which is why the biblical command to “love the alien among you” is always prefixed by the reminder “because you were aliens in Egypt and I loved you.” Nothing damages the credibility of the Gospel more than the failure of Christians to practise it.


Categories

February 2017
M T W T F S S
« Jan   Mar »
 12345
6789101112
13141516171819
20212223242526
2728