Friday, September 4, 2015

West of Eden, and hopefully on the way north

Aylan Kurdi alive, apparently threatening the cultural integrity of Mr. Orbán's continent, though I don't quite see that. Photo via The Independent.
I've heard of governments hating foreign refugees so much they'd seal the border with a razor-wire fence, or a Great Wall as the case may be, so they can't get in, but I've never heard of one like the Hungarian Fidesz regime that won't let them out either.

Why are there 500 Syrians stuck on a train in the town of Bicske, and thousands more haunting the central station in Budapest? When crypto-fascist* prime minister Viktor Orbán says,
“Those arriving have been raised in another religion, and represent a radically different culture. Most of them are not Christians, but Muslims,” he said. “This is an important question, because Europe and European identity is rooted in Christianity.
“Is it not worrying in itself that European Christianity is now barely able to keep Europe Christian? There is no alternative, and we have no option but to defend our borders.”
Not because the migrants want to be the guests of such a narrow-minded and unwelcoming government. They're just passing through on their way to Germany, which has agreed to take on 800,000 refugees. Hungary is holding them under the theory that they are legally required to herd them into camps.

I'm not making this up. There is really a European Union rule, under the Schengen Agreement that made the EU a borderless zone, that migrants need to register themselves in the first EU country they reach, even if their destination is another one, and in the case of refugees heading up the route through Turkey and Greece, leaving the EU for Macedonia and Serbia, and reentering in Hungary, Hungary is where they should register, and Orbán says camps are the only way this can be done. Germany has agreed to waive the rule for refugees headed there, but Orbán is not impressed—what if Austria isn't on board, he asks, and seals their own border with Hungary?

It's clear that what he wants is to punish the Syrian and other migrants, to make an example, an example in particular of what a tough Big Man he is, at whatever cost of suffering it might entail for others, for his own domestic political purposes. But in fact he shows himself as weak, panicky, and irrational. And scarcely "Christian" in any postitive sense of the term.

"Who, me? The Germans made me do it! I was just following imaginary orders!" Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán, photo by Thierry Charlier/AFP/Getty Images.
This is my 13th post on the plight of Syrian refugees since September 2013, I think, and I don't seem to have been able to do any good so far. The most significant event may well turn out to be the death of one small boy, Aylan Kurdi, whose body washed up on a beach was the focus of a viral photo that helped the world's Internet users understand, at last, what this crisis is doing to human beings.

The UK has responded by doubling the number of Syrian refugees it will be willing to take in, from 2000 to 4000, which is of course pathetic by any standard unless you compare it with the United States, which is doing even less, though US heedless destruction of Iraq during the Bush regime is directly responsible for what is happening in Syria today. Fourteen Democratic Senators led by Richard Durbin and Amy Klobuchar have now called for something better, I'm glad to say, presumably inspired by Aylan's tiny corpse. Beyond thanking them and encouraging other Congressfolk, follow the website The Arabist, and note that
If you are an American, you can sign this petition to resettle more Syrian refugees in our country (we have taken less than 1,000 so far). The suffering of these people is a historic calamity, and a shame on us all. 
Meanwhile, let's not do the same thing in Yemen, where 80% of the population, 21 million human beings, are in need of humanitarian aid according to the Save the Children Foundation (via MondoWeiss), because of the Saudi Arabian military campaign against the country's (coup-installed, I'm not going to lie) government, carried out with the technical support of the US government. I understand why the US is involved, it's actually to hold the Saudis back and save civilian lives, but it's not working.

And now King Salman is getting an official visit to the White House—no state dinner, though, apparently. And according to Al-Jazeera one of the asks on his list is more cooperation from Obama on the destruction of Yemen; please, Mr. President, don't say yes.

Yemeni child following Saudi airstrikes. Photo via AP/Hani Mohammed via MondoWeiss.
*How the Fidesz got to be the decider, April 2014:
...In a reverberation from 1933 Germany, Orban has taken steps curtailing democracy, freedom of speech, and the legal system. For example, he changed the election system to his advantage, whereby a 44 percent win (which Orban received) would garner two-thirds of Parliament seats.
Contrary to Hungarian law, Orban set up only Fidesz members in high positions of all branches of the government. By many accounts, he compromised media freedom, meaning that those in the countryside only have access to the Fidesz government-controlled radio, television, and news agency. And, with the win of a two-thirds majority, he was able to change the Constitution. In echoes of erstwhile totalitarian leaders, Orban referred to his comprehensive election victory, saying that the significance of this triumph cannot yet be fully understood.
Then again Czech police are responding to the refugee crisis by writing numbers on their arms. Literally. So there's no monopoly on Fascism.

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