Every day when we watch or listen to the news, we hear stories about the refugee crisis. The flashpoint for this crisis at this moment is Europe and the refugees, who are largely from Syria and Iraq. It is particularly noteworthy to observe the manner in which right-wing populists have played upon xenophobia within the populations of many European countries in demonizing the immigrants and insisting that they stay out. The right-wing authoritarian government of Hungary is a case in point, but it is not alone.
What strikes me about the response to the refugees, who are fleeing from war, is that the European governments — and many of its own people — act as if there has never been a war in Europe and that refugees are an alien concept. Does anyone need to remind the Europeans about World War II and the tremendous refugee crisis that emerged as the continent was destroyed? Does anyone need to remind them of the international assistance that they requested, if not demanded, in the face of this crisis? All of this seems to have escaped the memories of the Europeans.
The refugee crisis, however, is not unique to Europe. In the U.S. we have been facing one or another variant of this for years. Since 1979, for instance, Central American migration to the U.S. in the face of war increased substantially. In the 1990s, migration from Mexico skyrocketed in response to the impact of the North American Free Trade Agreement on Mexican workers and farmers.
In addition to the immoral response by European governments to the refugee crisis in light of their own histories, it is worth remembering that many of the challenges facing the Middle East are directly related to policies that originated not in the Middle East but in Europe and the United States. Much of the Middle East was carved out of the Ottoman (Turkish) Empire at the end of World War I in such a way so as to guarantee long-term instability. If that sounds familiar, that is because the Europeans did the same thing to Africa beginning in the late 19th century.
In addition to the historic problems created by the division of the Middle East, there are more contemporary developments in which both the Europeans and the U.S. have been complicit. The invasion of Iraq and the complete destabilization of that country have been a prime mover in the Middle East chaos, spilling over into the Syrian civil war. In Syria, the Assad regime has carried out a war against its own people, which, along with the terror conducted by the so-called Islamic State (Daesh or ISIL), has catalyzed a massive population shift. Foreign forces have worsened this situation.
What is striking is that in the cases of the Europeans and the United States, there is a complete blindness to their respective roles in creating or intensifying the crises. In the U.S., we hear the likes of Donald Trump rail against Mexicans coming to the U.S. as if the U.S. is uninvolved in why they have come here in the first place. In Europe, acting as if greater Europe has had nothing to do with the Middle East’s fires is completely disingenuous.
Perhaps it is a moment in which, through the media, we need to engage in a bit of an exploration of history and current events. Perhaps it is time for a bit more humility on the part of Europe and the United States in recognizing their respective roles in the human tragedy unfolding before us.
Bill Fletcher Jr. is the host of “The Global African” on Telesur-English. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook and at www.billfletcherjr.com.