Like many other people this week, I've been trying to make sense of the deeply harrowing images that have appeared on social media and (finally) mainstream media this week. I am ashamed of the fact that it's only when the reporting of catastrophe built upon catastrophe have reached some sort of event horizon that I've managed to try and do something about it and feel that it's my responsibility. I like to think of myself as warm-hearted and charitable, but equally I know that there had always been and always will be so much more I could do to help the vulnerable and weak of the world. So much of the world has been broken that I've managed to hide in my fortified North London bubble and scream "a plague on both your houses" at the Middle East and ISIS and tinpot dictators. I've become fatalistic about climate change ("I'll be dead by the time it really kicks in...good luck grandkids!") and weary about the never-ending cycle of violence and hatred and bloodshed. It's far away, thank goodness we're not repeating fascistic mistakes of the 20th century or the imperial ones of the 19th. Life is good here and better for many millions around the world so let's just accept that shit things happen everyday and hopefully we can get on with our lives and they'll stop or the media will move on or we'll be let off the emotional hook somehow. Those are the blinkers I've been wearing.
But the horror and human pain of the refugee crisis is too much. It's easy to get crisis fatigue when you read about another Iraqi suicide bomb or ISIS raid. 35 dead in Basra, 49 dead in Tikrit, 12 dead in Bagdhad. Just numbers. Those things probably will never ravage the UK and so we can disassociate ourselves from them. But this refugee crisis has happened here. I'm the grandchild of refugees for fucks sake. Not migrants (and we should welcome them too) but people running for their lives from murder and rape and torture. As one of my Facebook friends wrote yesterday - if someone came to your door screaming that they'd been attacked, their family beaten and they were on the run from a madman, you'd shelter them and help them out of pure, raw human empathy. You wouldn't close the door in their face, order three new Chubb locks and hide in the basement eating caviar. Except that's what the British government think we should do.
There seems to be a real feeling in the government and some parts of the nation that since we defeated the Nazis that gives us a free pass on other moral issues and dilemmas. We need to wake up that 75 years have past and the world is different. We need to accept, in a way that we have not yet, that before World War 2 Britain was one of the biggest, most hated bastards in the world - ask India, ask Zimbabwe, ask anywhere we owned and stole from and pillaged. It was only the fact that the Nazis were even bigger bastards than us that saved us. We haven't come to terms with the world turning in the way that, say, the Germans have. Who could imagine the remarkable response of that nation to this humanitarian crisis when looking at their history in the past 100 years?
So whilst our government manages to moves its ability to spurn the weak, vulnerable, disabled and desperate from the domestic to the international sphere, it's left to us, the people, do to something about it. Really we should be housing refugees. I don't care if we have food banks and income inequality and a housing crisis and a creaking NHS. This is still a country with a far higher standard of living that at least 80% of the planet. We could take 10,000, minimum, without a fuss. For once I'm delighted to be a bit inspired by something Yvette Cooper has said - if 100 towns took just 10 families that's 4000 people right there. That's easy, so easy. These poor fuckers are desperate and broken and it feels like we've reached a real tipping point. God I hope we have. I really hope this isn't just another flavour of the month tragedy that we get compassion fatigue with. I doubt it actually, it's just too big.
A good friend once pointed out that even people who consider themselves to be altruistic have a limit of how much money, time or empathy they can give. All of us could, in theory, give so much more. We could sacrifice all but our bare essentials of clothing, food, shelter, money and time to help those whose lives are infinitely more harrowing and difficult than ours. But we don't. Partially through apathy and partially because I think that, even in the face of over-whelming suffering worldwide we owe it to ourselves to strive for a good standard of living and an upper limit on what we can give. But we're nowhere near that right now. We can give so much more. So in the face of this horror there are some people doing some excellent things to help out and I urge you to fund them and donate to them and try and do something, just a little thing for 5-10 minutes a day to help. Sign a petition to keep this in the political discourse, write to your MP, donate money or clothing or camping equipment. These people aren't going to go away. There is a very real possibility that if we don't try and absorb these refugees into our societies in a humane way then they could end up in disassociated refugee camps dotted around Europe, little pockets of stateless despair that so many governments will try and sweep under the ermine rug of fortress Europe. Hungary is already throwing hundreds on trains to camps, rather than let them try and find stable homes to re-start their lives. The news on the Twitter feed from Paul Mates of ITV News is chilling me to the bone and the echoes of people going on trains to an undetermined destination is terrifying. I appreciate it's hard for Hungarian authorities (who aren't exactly pussy cats mind you) to be on Europe's frontline of this crisis, but I just which that some European leaders, other than Mistress Merkel would show more compassion, leadership and co-ordination.
I've always been suspicious of the fact that I've grown-up in relatively peaceful times. Over 75 years without a major land war in Europe is pretty remarkable when you look at our history over the centuries. It could just be that the echoes and aftershocks of war and violence in the Middle East could produce something equally as destabilising as war - a huge flood of broken humanity needing our support and kinship. Let's hope we can somehow step up to the plate.
If you want to feel a little bit less like a useless lump of Western privilege, I heartily recommend going to this Amazon wishlist and donating some of the goods on it for Calais based migrants: http://www.amazon.co.uk/registry/wishlist/1P2RJO27Q6N2T/ref=cm_sw_r_tw_ws_HdU5vb917CQ5B. It's a drop in the ocean, but somewhere out there will be another human being who could really do with your support right now.