An attempt at dealing with the current refugee situation

In Roland Emmerich’s disaster film „2012“, Charles Hapgood’s hypothesis of a sudden polar shift becomes reality. The Earth experiences a massive continental drift which consequently causes earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and tsunamis. In the Himalayas several nations built arks to save civilization from impending extinction. In the last third of the film, various complications threaten the final phase of operations. Instead of the time calculated for a coordinated embarkation, there remains instead merely half an hour. In addition to that, damage to one of the arks has made it unseaworthy. Thousands of refugees gather in front of the remaining ark and beg admission. The White House Chief of Staff immediately orders all ports closed and locked. Among the people in the remaining ark, one man gives a fiery speech to the leaders of the Western world:

„To be human means to care for each other, and civilization means to work together to create a better life. If that’s true, then there is nothing human and nothing civilized about what we’re doing here. Ask yourselves. Can we really stand by and watch these people die? I read a quote two days ago, the author is probably dead by now, bur he said: ‚The moment we stop fighting for each other, that’s the moment that we lose our humanity.’”

At some point, the daughter of the killed American president exclaims: if her father were still alive, he would certainly open the gates. The Russian president and the German chancellor react by repeating the sentence Ronald Reagan once spoke before the Berlin Wall: „Open the gate!“ The gates are opened and the film goes on!

In recent days, I’m often reminded of this movie scene. I am happy about how refugees are greeted and helped at the borders and train stations in Germany. It moves me to tears when I see all the people applauding.

As in the movie „2012“, the German Chancellor has opened the gates for refugees. She is rewarded not only with praise. Many criticize Angela Merkel, others are worried. However, the Chancellor has an answer:

„I think that Islamism and Islamist terrorism are unfortunately a very strong phenomena in Syria, in Libya and in northern Iraq, but to which, unfortunately, the European Union has contributed a large number of fighters. We can’t say this is a phenomenon that doesn’t concern us. These are some people, often very young people who have grown up in our country and where we also play our part. Secondly, fear has never been a good counselor, not in personal life and not in social life either. Cultures and societies that are marked by fear, certainly won’t be able to cope with the future.“

Henryk M. Broder remarks on the current refugee situation:

„Those who feel no compassion in this situation have no heart! But, those who feel only pity are not rational!“

It’s obvious that one must help where help is needed. It’s understandable that positive images such as those from the main train station in Munich where arriving refugees were recently greeted, are needed, especially as a contrast to the nearly daily attacks on shelters elswhere in Germany by radical xenophobes! “The moment we stop fighting for each other, is the moment we lose our humanity.”

Besides Roland Emmerich there is another artist who has given us great plays: William Shakespeare. Shakespeare’s villains are particulary interesting. I have played many of Shakespeare’s evil figures, among others, Richard III and Iago. I am always impressed by the cool logic evil employs. If there’s something to appreciate in Shakespeare’s portrayal of evil, then it’s the inner logic which knows how to exploit an opponent’s weaknesses. There’s no other monologue which better describes the human weakness for evil than as in Hamlet’s famous soliloquy:

“To be, or not to be–that is the question:
Whether ‚tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles
And by opposing end them. To die, to sleep–
No more–and by a sleep to say we end
The heartache and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to. ‚Tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wished. To die, to sleep–
To sleep–perchance to dream: ay, there’s the rub,
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause. There’s the respect
That makes calamity of so long life.
(…)
But that the dread of something after death,
The undiscovered country, from whose bourn
No traveller returns, puzzles the will,
And makes us rather bear those ills we have
Than fly to others that we know not of?
Thus conscience does make cowards of us all,
And thus the native hue of resolution
Is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought,
And enterprise of great pitch and moment
With this regard their currents turn awry
And lose the name of action. — Soft you now,
The fair Ophelia! — Nymph, in thy orisons
Be all my sins remembered.”

As long as humans are busy trying to retain a good conscience, there will always be enough bad guys who know precisely how to exploit this conscience with logical brilliance. So, now I’ll imagine myself a villain in today’s refugee situation.

If I were a leader of the Islamic State and wanted to bring war to the Western world, I would use the flow of refugees to my advantage! The flow of refugees would be the best route to smuggle soldiers into Europe. It would be no problem to hide a few thousand fighters among the millions of desperate refugees. I would even profit threefold! Firstly, Islamist fighters enter Europe; secondly, Europa would be weakened or even distablized by throngs of innocent refugees, fleeing Islamic dictatorship, but who are not well disposed among themselves. Hostile Sunnis, Alawis and Shiites who flee together from the Islamic State, would expand internal conflict to Europe. Thirdly, I could harm my main enemy severely. If a million Muslims were to flee to Germany, and among them were only 15% Jew-haters, – and there are more than that according to surveys – then there’d be more Jew haters than there are Jews in all of Germany. The Islamic State would have an unintentional ally in the form of neo-Nazis who hate everything foreign, spread violence and can escalate negative situations in Germany. Soon, there’d hardly be space for logical thought, which would be the only means with which to uncover my devious plan. What a devilish good plan! Shakespeare couldn’t have devised a better one.

We all know these villians exist and that they know all too well how to exploit the weaknesses of the West. So what can we do?

But, we have to make one thing clear: just because the opposing side knows how to exploit our desire for goodness, we mustn’t be tempted to curtail this urge. Just because evilness can pass through our open door, we mustn’t close it for those who need our help. Evil will permeate through every crevice, anyway. Even behind closed doors, evil would still eat us from the inside out like a cancer! Although open doors may indeed facilitate an invasion, we can fight evil only if they’re open!

I realize evil is a metaphysical concept. As an enlightened human being, I’ve learned to use this term carefully. Whom do we not make responsible, when we are confronted with evil deeds if not society, parents, politics, the circumstances! We are all so damn sure that everything is just a matter of education. But what if it’s really all quite different? What if evil simply exists on its own?

Shakespeare’s most brilliant villain is Iago, whom he lets philosophize about evil:

„Virtue? A fig! ‚Tis in ourselves that we are thus or thus. Our bodies are our gardens, to the which our wills are gardeners. So that if we will plant nettles or sow lettuce, set hyssop and weed up thyme, supply it with one gender of herbs or distract it with many—either to have it sterile with idleness, or manured with industry—why, the power and corrigible authority of this lies in our wills. If the balance of our lives had not one scale of reason to poise another of sensuality, the blood and baseness of our natures would conduct us to most prepost’rous conclusions. But we have reason to cool our raging motions, our carnal stings, our unbitted lusts. Whereof I take this that you call love to be a sect or scion.“

It is difficult to agree with a villian, but when he’s right, he’s right. Whatever happens to a person, whatever personal misfortunes he or she may have to deal with, the origin of all his or her decisions, may they be good or bad, derive solely from his or her own free will.

“Tis here, but yet confused: Knavery’s plain face is never seen tin used.“

In his essay „Die Lust am Bösen (Pleasures of Evil)“ Eugen Sorg writes:

„Whenever we are confronted with examples of human cruelty and meanness, we are at a loss. We search for a rational explanation, which would remove the horror of senselessness. It’s unthinkable that someone would kill another for the sheer pleasure of killing. For the last half a century, the view has prevailed in the rich Western countries that evil is a reaction to suffered injustices originating in the past and may even be characterized as a kind of misguided good. The more heinous an act – so the universal diagnosis – the less the perpetrator is responsible. „The problem of evil people“, as the American philosopher Richard Rorty summarizes the therapeutic worldview of the cultural elites of the West, „is that they have not had as much luck as we do with regard to the circumstances in which they grew up.“ – Rorty, Wahrheit und Fortschritt (Truth and Progress: Philosophical Papers), Frankfurt a. M. 2000.

“In all known societies past evil was conceived as an independent power. Ancient myths explain how it came into the world, legends report on its various manifestations, religions warn against its seductive power. The basic civilizational story relates that the capacity for evil is rooted in freedom, distinguishing us humans from animals, and that evil is an ultimate mystery, and remains an „incomprehensible factuality“ (Soren Kierkegaard). It’s probably never come up before that a whole culture such as ours, defines evil, in principle, as a preventable workplace accident and not as an integral part of the human condition. (…)

Evil accompanies human history. It is not curable, not reconditionable, not to be bought off. It is the tragic condition of human freedom; one can do away with it only if one abolishes humankind. Its power is enormous. Not only because it can cause paralyzing fear, but also because it is seductive. It breaks up the monotony of everyday life, it means intense life and promises liberation from limits and constraints. To deny the existence of evil, is the straight path of surrender to it. Protection against it, is possible only to those who acknowledge it. The vast majority of us have an instinctive moral compass. Humans are moral animals. Only our species can decide at any time between good or evil. Whether we follow our choices, remains unpredictable, because these decisions are subject to our free will.“

Empathy is the ability and willingness to recognize and understand thoughts, emotions, motives and personality traits of another person. As an actor, I have empathy for evil when I play a villain. Compassion should always be empathetic, for goodness, but also for evil. When I read Shakespeare, I have empathy for evil, and I believe I „understand“ it and that scares me. However, on March 4, 1933, the American President Franklin D. Roosevelt declared:

„So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is…fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.“

Fear is truly a bad counselor, especially if you are confronted others in certain situations. Refugees are not a group; they are many individuals. They have individual biographies, their own wishes and dreams. They’ve experienced dangerous journeys, at times, even mortal danger. They may have been freezing and sweating, crying and suffering. Therefore, I will continue to applaud each refugee who makes it to Germany and will help where I can.

A group of people is called a community, everyone together is called humanity and all people who have ever lived, are part of history. The present influx of refugees allows many historical concepts to resurface. Some speak of a worldwide migration, and even use the biblical term, exodus. Edith Piaf once sang an emotional song on this subject:

“They left during the winter sun
They left running through the sea
To erase fear, to override fear
That life had nailed into the depths of their hearts

They left believing in the harvest
From the old country of their song
Their hearts singing with hope
Their hearts bellowing with hope
They have reclaimed the road of their memories

They have cried the tears of the sea
They have recited so many prayers
„Deliver us, our brothers!
Deliver us, our brothers!“
That their brothers will pull them towards the light

They are there in a new country
That floats with the mast of their boat
Their broken hearts of love
Their hearts of love lost
They have found the land of love”

George Satayana once said:

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

Two thousand years ago, religious refugees arrived in Europe. They were all individuals. Eventually they formed communities, spread out over the continent and aquired more and more power. However, they were persecuted by religious fanatics, who also set libraries on fire and destroyed works of art. They were Christians!

Certainly, there were those who stressed that these fanatics were not true Christians, but nevertheless these fanatics were able to assert themselves. However, in France, for example, it took a bloody revolution to disempower the ever powerful and inhuman first estate of Christian clergy. The Enlightenment endured many a bloody battle in culture wars in order to break the power of the Church. Untold thousands of people were killed. Even among themselves, the Christians quarreled and fought. During the Thirty Years War, Catholics and Protestants fought then as Sunnis and Shiites fight today. Of course, not all Christians were dangerous, but there were enough of them who spread war and misery all over the world.

One only has to look at the last three hundred years of Native American history to realize what Christian refugees and migrants were capable of. Many natives welcomed the Christian migrants from Europe with open arms and gave them food to eat. Even today, there is a national holiday in America which celebrates the welcoming culture of the original inhabitants: Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving Day commemorates the European migrant and refugee landing at Plymouth Rock in Massachusetts. Together with the native Wampanoag, they celebrated in autumn 1621 a three-day harvest festival. Without the help of the Wampanoag, the Christian migrants would not have survived the following winter. That was exemplary welcoming culture. The future, however, would prove bloody. In the movie, „The Addams Family“, by Barry Sonnenfeld, the issue of a welcoming culture is brought to a point in polemical fashion:

What the children act out in this scene, is the kindling of migrant living quarters by locals. In Germany, refugee shelters are being set on fire almost daily. I’m an artist. I write plays, produce shows and I’m an actor. I’m not an academic and –please allow me to assert- I’m a person of reason and sometimes guided by my feelings. Given the growing xenophobia in Germany, I can understand the actor Til Schweiger very well when he says:

„I don’t think politicians have to go to Freital. Instead they could send two battalions of police there, round up the protesters and tell them: ‚Tonight you’ll be spending a night in jail so you can think about what you are doing and tomorrow you won’t come back.'“

It makes me angry when I see and hear the hatred of some people.

Like fear, anger is a bad advisor! It is not easy to properly respond to the wrongness. Hamlet can sing a song about it. But, the governor of Thuringia, Bodo Ramelow’s suggestion to separate refugees according to ethnic criteria in order to avoid violence is completely wrong. Ramelow made this suggestion after fighting broke out in a refugee center in Suhl. A refugee, who had fled Islamic fundamentalism, expressed his anger by ripping up a copy of the Koran. He was then attacked by Muslim fanatics.

Rather than confront the attackers with the full force of the law, the Islamists of Suhl were spared as many a neo-Nazi in Heidenau. If it were up to me, I wouldn’t be separating, rather I’d lock the Islamists and the neo-Nazis together in the same jail cell and see what happens! Because what belongs together, sticks together!

During these times, in the face of mass flight from war and misery, it’s hard to respond appropriately, but each of us still has to deal with it. The German rock group Die Ärzte sang the following:

„It’s not your fault that the world’s the way it is. It would be your fault if you let it stay that way.“

We must do something! But what? On the one hand, we have to accept the following truth of Roland Emmerich:

„The moment we stop fighting for each other, is the moment when we lose our humanity.“

On the other hand, there is also William Shakespeare’s warning:

„…there’s the respect that makes calamity of so long life!“

For me, that means that we shouldn’t close our eyes to the plight of refugees; instead we should help them. But, we must not ignore the fact that among them are many religious fanatics whose „religious feelings“, full of resentment and hatred, deserve no consideration.

(Translation: William Wires)

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