This week, we investigated further into the long and often dangerous journey that many refugees take in leaving their homeland to find a better home elsewhere. An article titled The Dispossessed in the Foreign Affairs does a terrific job of presenting the statistics of refugee migration during the past 35 years.
Though we in the Western world are largely concerned with refugees arriving in Europe and in the United States, these western countries actually accept very few refugees compared to others. For example, Lebanon has over 200 refugees per 1000 inhabitants in their country, the largest percentage of refugees to citizens in the world. Other countries such as Jordan, Nauru, Chad, and Turkey follow directly behind Lebanon. Countries like the United States would look very different if enough refugees crossed our borders to constitute 20% of our population.
With such a high number of refugees moving into these countries, many are experiencing the lowering of wages, as the job market becomes saturated, while rent is simultaneously rising. Somehow, these countries are staying afloat, but such a large influx of people is bound to cause political and economic challenges that even wealthy countries would find difficulty in successfully addressing.
The Disposessed also includes a comic, detailing the long, stressful journey of two Syrians from their home in Latakia, Syria to Sweden. Though the comic describes their journey and one can imagine the emotions that a person might feel along the way, I don’t think that it does justice to accurately describe the refugee situation; We, as the readers, do not hear the emotions in each character’s voice, and the comic drawings can only convey so much detail.
The film My Escape helps to convey more clearly the situation of many refugees as they flee their old homes. In the film, we see the journeys of several different refugees, all heading towards Europe. We see a man and his nephew walking through the desert, led by smugglers, from Kabul, Afghanistan to Saindak, Pakistan. They are later made to hide in an empty fuel tank of a passenger bus with two other refugees in order to get to Europe.
In another part of the film, we hear the story of how one man was robbed with his group while walking through the desert, and another group was kidnapped. We see smugglers packing 100+ refugees into the back of a truck, and mafia members, carrying guns, forcing an unsafe number of people into a small, inflatable boat to cross the water between Turkey and Greece. I was amazed at what these people were willing to do in order to find a better life – and the viewer realizes just how bad a situation must be in order for a person to be willing to go through something so horrible.
Unfortunately, once these people arrive at their destination, they are often met with hostility, particularly Muslims. In their article Islam and the West: Narratives of Conflict and Conflict Transformation, Funk and Said bring to light the difference between intercultural confrontation and intercultural compatibility.
The authors find that in modern society, there is a cultural tension between Western citizens and Middle Eastern, Muslim citizens. Both sides tend to become trapped inside of their own stories and identities, viewing the other side as the strange, immoral “other” that is unable to integrate into their own society. This understanding of the “other” helps each group to understand and reinforce their own identity. Through this intercultural confrontation, actual differences in culture are exaggerated, whether through the news, Hollywood, or the media. With this view of the “other,” each side begins to think that security can only be found in either repressing or changing the “other.”
This tension between the West and the Middle East has existed for centuries. Islam has consistently been held as a rival to traditionally Christian areas, emphasized as violent, corrupt, fanatic, and intolerant since the Middle Ages. On the other hand, Muslims were driven out of Spain in the 15th century, and the Ottoman empire collapsed in Eastern Europe. Thus, Muslims feel that they were “excluded from history” in the western world, banished to the east and Middle East. Additionally, many traditionally Muslim areas in Africa, the Middle East, and Asia became colonies of more advanced European nations and were exploited for resources and labor.
Thus, these historical contexts have served to sour relations between the two groups for centuries. However, Funk and Said present intercultural compatibility as another way that these two sides can approach relations and hopefully head towards a more peaceful, tolerant future. By focusing on the values that are shared between the two societies, such as respect for learning and a desire for peace and tolerance, both sides may begin to realize that our differences are much less than our similarities. Additionally, increasing contact between the two cultures and attempting to genuinely understand the “other” can begin to build up this intercultural compatibility.
This process will take time, as it is difficult to convince people to change their minds. However, as we as a society become more aware of our prejudices against the “other,” we will hopefully be able to better understand and coexist peacefully.
The Dispossessed. The Foreign Affairs.
My Escape/Meine Flucht: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qtMlN3nqL4c&t=950s
Islam and the West: Narratives of Conflict and Conflict Transformation. Funk and Said.