Silence in the face of anti-refugee sentiment makes us complicit

Sevilay Çelenk writes: In the eyes of a racist and xenophobic German, French or British person, Turks and Kurds may be no different than Syrians or Afghans. Germany supported the construction of the Cologne Mosque. The local government contributed. Do you think there were no Germans, at that time, who thought their security, women and freedom were under threat?

Sevilay Çelenk

I tried to observe the Twitter trends in Turkey last week. After all, one has to know what the country is talking about. On one hand, it is nice that the country is not exactly engaged in those topics trending on Twitter. Sometimes it’s comforting to be aware that social media does not actually reflect the general mood of a society, but the feelings of a limited number of social media users. Moreover, user interest disappears very easily. At one point, users are angry at something. Next thing you know, the crowd hashtags #InstagramHesaplarıÇalınıyor (#Instagramaccountsarebeingstolen) in a couple of minutes. This is indeed very fortunate. But, at other times when the anger is fixated on one issue, that makes one quite anxious.

It seems that anger is concentrated in a certain area. The Turkish equivalents of the hashtags #Suriyelileriİstemiyoruz, #Afganlarıİstemiyoruz, #VatanEldenGidiyor #PKKYakıyor. (#WedonotwantSyrians, #WedonotwantAfghans, #Ourcountryisbeing stolen and; #PKKtorches are trending.) Clearly there is a collective rage looking for an outlet. Such rage unites not only the opposition but the electorate of the ruling AKP/MHP coalition.

There is something frightening about the phrase “young Afghan men,” which is frequently used to advocate for something or express anger. Something that aims to dehumanize them. Suggesting that instead of fleeing into Turkey, they should be driven to the front lines of war. Those fleeing the Taliban - just like those who fled ISIS or Assad’s cruelty - are being accused of treason.

With regard to Syria it is almost as if we have ceased trying. Several towns in Syria which had reached a level of stability have now been turned upside down again. Even the state-owned news agency Anadolu Agency reported incidents of looting. Have we forgotten these stories?

In many places of the world people are no longer convinced that they should shed blood in order to establish a homeland. They have pulled back the curtain from their eyes that people in palaces should tell them how to love their country, and that there is glory in dying for one’s country. They are now asking what good does more death do in a region where the flow of blood and tears never ends.

They are now trying to save themselves and their surviving relatives from despot leaders, collaborators, and court fools. Millions of people consider themselves lucky if they had time to fill a plastic bag with a few a few precious belongings, water, and supplies before fleeing.

The history of the world is one of migration, displacement and invasion. The U.S. was founded via colonization and migration. The Europeans migrated to the Americas, Asia, and Africa to colonize these places. They also moved within these continents. The Europeans have changed demographically over centuries via the contributions of those who migrating to their land. They have received migrants for centuries from the countries they exploited, the countries they fought, the countries they cherished. Immigrants have come from across the world to Europe for centuries. They continue to come.

Humankind has not stopped looking for a place to settle.

Are we not doing the same? The reason may be security or economic, but there have been more than 6.5 million Turkey leaving Turkey over the decades. Take a look at where the Turkish diaspora has landed. We have gone everywhere from Hungary to Iceland, Ukraine to Japan, not just Germany and France.

We boast that “Turks are everywhere.” Cabinet ministers make proud statements. We always refer to the Turkish population of close to 3 million in Germany. Of course, their presence in Germany developed under different circumstances than the “refugee problem” we are experiencing today. However, most of us know that a large part of this population went to Germany at the invitation of the German Government to meet the demand for labor, but another large part entered the country illegally. Maybe it is good that they did. What makes Germany a wealthy state today is their labor and diversity. The Germans learned Turks the joy of barbecuing on the banks of their rivers. Over the years, local governments have observed these communities and responded accordingly; they allocated and arranged picnic areas suitable for barbecues. It’s not just barbecues and kebabs that we have contributed to “civilized European countries.” We have become part of Germany via filmmakers, actors, musicians, athletes, business people, lawyers, politicians, and physicians such as Özlem Türeci and Uğur Şahin. Should we not be proud?

Among German citizens, there were always those who said, “They are disrupting our demographics; committing crimes; creating ghettos; breeding like rabbits and they would cut off our heads if they had the chance.” They continue saying these things. Just as our use of “young Afghan male” seems to be creating tension among us.

In the eyes of a racist and xenophobic German, French or British person, Turks and Kurds may be no different than Syrians or Afghans. Germany supported the construction of the Cologne Mosque. The local government contributed. Do you think there were no Germans, at that time, who thought their security, women and freedom were under threat? Not only Germans, but even certain third generation Turks did not want “more Turks” in the country and were not happy with the situation.

Let this story summarize the situation in Germany today. Six years ago, in 2015, some 895,000 refugees entered the country. Official or unofficial entries continue. In Germany, there are those who say “What can we do? They are here now,” and there are those who say, “We don’t want foreigners in our country anymore.” There are also those who greet asylum seekers with flowers at train stations. Speaking of the U.S., Germany and the EU, there are also countries and heads of states who are negotiating with Turkey – with unknown agenda items - to not send them refugees.

We cannot escape this crisis unless we question how the inequalities of global capitalism go together with nationalism, militarism, and the destruction of nature to end in unsolvable displacement issues. It does not help anyone to direct our anger at those seeking refuge and survival in a safe country, whether for economic reasons or to ensure their safety. If we could have prevented the ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) cross-border operations and business with regime opponents of other countries while calling the leaders of the main opposition party “terrorists,” would this have happened? Similarly, if we could have prevented the AKP from using the “refugee card” any time it wanted in domestic and foreign policy, would this have happened? If we had only said, “What are we doing in Syria, Libya and Afghanistan?”

These uncontrolled, unplanned, and futureless refugee policies are frightening in terms of their consequences. Just like the AKP/MHP government’s domestic and foreign policy choices. Many people are sincerely uneasy about the situation. Years of accumulated anger and hatred are diverted toward the easiest target like a loose cannon. They are directed toward others, foreigners, and refugees. Unfortunately, this works for both the opposition and the government. This is a dangerous path, so we must be careful.

There are people constantly repeating that Syrians are committing crimes and Afghans want jihad. However, among the millions of refugees, the proportion of the population involved in crime is very low. Refugees live in our country in fear. Only 1.3 percent of the crimes committed in Turkey have been committed by Syrians. The overwhelming majority of Afghans are fleeing the jihadist Taliban.

What do we think when radical Islamic terrorism in Europe detonates bombs, kills civilians, raids magazines, slaughters writers and illustrators, or butchers a teacher for showing a cartoon in class? What do we think when this anger is directed unfairly toward the Muslim population minding their own business?

What are we going to do about the crimes against the refugees? Aside from our country’s share in the destruction of their country, what is the rate of lynching, assault, rape, and forced child marriages? How many people are being exploited as child laborers? How many refugees have been harassed and raped? Even if we have nothing to do, no share in what has been happening to the Syrians, our silence contributes. Murderers entered and exited Syria via our borders… to benefit whom?

Governments should be forced to end their hypocritical refugee policies. Anger and effort must be directed toward the realization of this. Not against the Syrians who have been displaced, not against the Afghans. If stability was supported in their countries, why would they want to suffer in ours?

Who would ever want that?