The other day I heard a Syrian migrant say on the BBC : "We didn’t come here because we want to be happy. We only want to be safe." The migrant was still on a Greek island when he said that. Other Syrian migrants looked really happy when they reached the Budapest railway station, so happy that they started chanting: "Thank you, Hungary! Thank you, Hungary!" They became even more happy when they were welcomed into Germany, so happy that they started chanting: "Mama Merkel! Mama Merkel!" That Syrian migrant interviewed on the Greek island would understandably be happier, too, once he reached Munich in Germany. Would he be safe there? I don't know. But Germany is not Syria, where more than 240,000 people lost their lives in a little more than four years. 'Mother Merkel' does understand such people's need for saftey as much as she understands her country's need for migrant workers to boost (or at least to sustain its current economic growth.
Like those Syrians, thousands of migrants from war zones have paid thousands of dollars for boat lifts to safety. But thousands of other migrants too have paid thousands of dollars to smugglers although they came from relatively safe countries.
A year ago or so, I saw heart-breaking TV pictures of a man from Central America sleeping on the floor with his back to the wall, no blanket, no covers. He got his food from a local (Mexican) charity organisation that helped people who tried and failed to make it into the U.S.A. illegally through the Mexican border. Asked about his situation, he explained that he could never go back to his hometown, even if it meant prison or death on American soil. He said he was doing that for the sake of his mother, who needed his help. It is easy to moralize on such situations, and I'm not telling who's wrong and who's right, who is really in need of safety and who is not, who should provide that safety and who should not, who should be kept and who should be turned back. The Hungarian government, which stopped new migrants at the borders, using force, had its own logic, and those desperate migrants who clashed with Hungarian frontier soldiers had their own logic, too. I am not entirely neutral on this, but my point here is to see the positive side.
We live in a world of Statistics. The Soviet leader Joseph Stalin was quoted as saying: "A single death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a Statistic." We reckon the numbers of migrants who 'succeeded' in reaching Europe and of those who died on the way. We calculate the profits made by smugglers. We pay less attention to personal tragedies. Once a Moroccan TV reporter went to see candidates to migration from Moroccan (Western) Sahara to the (Spanish) Canarian Islands. One of the persons interviewed, a bare-foot, shabbily-dressed Sub-saharan woman in her twenties, said she and her companions ate rats because they couldn't afford meat. Several Muslim religious scholars issued fatwas that some people in Syria could eat cats, dogs and donkeys -if they had to. Many women migrants arrived in Europe as single mothers carrying little babies in their arms. You can understand what happened to them.
Imagine people travelling on foot across the desert, where only adventurous tourists would love to go in air-conditioned cars. Imagine them making such trips in the hope of reaching places thousands of miles away from their hometowns and villages. Then, ask them why they're doing this. Ask them where safety is -for them. Is their safety in the land they left or in the land they dreamt of? But what is safety?
Do all people in Europe feel safe right now? Who doesn't know that European Stock Exchange markets remain at the mercy of any bad news from China? Who doesn't know that millions of French people can't really hope for a significant drop in unemployment when France hasn't been able to do better than 00 % in economic growth this year? Who knows what the future holds for Greece or Portugal? .... On this (southern) side of the Mediterranian, oil-exporting Algeria, which until recently enjoyed a comfortable surplus, is now facing hard times, after having lost this year 35 billion dollars because of the 'merciless' drop in oil prices. Even Saudi Arabia, which has lost 100 billion dollars this year, is considering substantial spending cuts. Whi can feel safe nowadays?
Paradoxically, lack of safety is what makes us humane. Total feeling of safety may drive us apart and make us arrogant. Three siblings with such a high sense of self-sufficiency would probably prefer living in a small, old apartment each than live together in one bigger, more comfortable home. Even within the same home, under the same roof, you would find seceral siblings each with his own kitchen, and each would most probably borrow money or ask for help, at a time of crisis, from a distant friend or a workmate rather than ask his/her sibling. This happens to States, not only to individuals. Algeria in North Africa, or example, would borrow money from South Africa rather tha Morocco, its close neighbour!
It's our awareness of our weaknesses that saves the humane side in us. You see the picture of that Syrian child found dead on a Turkish beach and you say that could happen to my child, or to my little brother. Unfortunately, not everybody feels this way. But there's still a lot to hope from mankind. It's only a matter of education.
Even in this globalized world, many large families still gather round the same dinner table. There's still true brotherhood and true sisterhood. There's still true friendship. There's still genuine solidarity. Those millions of Syrian refugees in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey couldn't have survived without generous, genuine help from good souls in Europe, in America and elsewhere. Many people still work hard in bad conditions in foreign countries in order to help family members at home. Many bothers and sisters donate kidneys to their brothers and sisters. Many good-hearted men and women donate blood, money and all sorts of assistance to people they don't know. Those who don't have anything to donate have hearts that feel sorrow for other people's misfortunes. And those who can donate and help others to feel some kind of safety may themselves be in need of some kind of safety. Safety is not always physical or material. It can be emotional as well.
In some places people don't feel safe because they fear floods. In other places people don't feel safe because they fear drought. You may find people who feel very safe in Zimbabwe, in Ghaza, in Armenia, in Brazil's pavellas...., and people who wouldn't feel safe at all in places like Sweden, Japan, Shanghai, Los Angeles or I don't know where. There are married people who don't feel safe about their marriage, employed people who don't feel safe about their work, healthy people who don't feel safe without proper health insurance, people who don't feel safe because of their colour, race or religion, people who don't feel safe because other people are always judging them by their look, by their cast, by their holidays...
It takes a lot of self-confidence, a high sense of freedom and much sacrifice to be able to defy other people's way of looking at us. Take this example: of the late Egyptian popular poet Ahmad Fouad Negm. On one TV programme the camera followed him as he went up the stairs towards a humble 'apartment' in the midst of a popular, poor neighbourhood in Cairo, Egypt. Egyptians call such dwellings 'assotooh', the roofs. Ahmad Fouad Negm was then in his seventies and he was dressed in a jellaba and he lived with his only daughter, that he loved so much. Personally, I didn't believe my eyes and couldn't understand why such a famous Arab poet, who was a celebrity in the Arab world, could live in such a place. Earlier in his life, he had spent several years in prison (because of his political poems), but he had also spent a lot of time in 5-star hotels. He had worn V.I.P. clothes and travelled in chauffeured cars, etc, etc. And now he was living like any poor Egyptian in the slums of Cairo. "Why?" he was asked. "Because this place is alive!" he explained. "Don't you hear the voices of the neighbours? I tell you what, I once lived in a classy discrict in Paris. Everything was beautiful and glamourous. But it was dead! I didn't feel at home at all. Everything was so calm, nobody spoke to anybody; that was horrific for me. It was like a prison! And here, look! there's life! You feel safe, in the midst of the population..."
You may probably have seen TV pictures of Chinese people traveling on jam-packed trains on the eve of major Chinese hollidays. People who left their villages and hamlets to work in far-away towns and cities are pining for their families, to whom they are bringing money and gifts. Who needs the other? The migrant worker or his family back in the village? Who is in need of safety? Isn't loneliness a form of lack of safety? Isn't feeling of safety worth money and gifts? Almost always I see young Sub-Saharan men and women, some with their children, sitting together, walking together or playing football under the eyes of their fellow Sub-Saharans. Man doesn't need only money or power. We need things that we don't even think about.
Many years ago, my younger brother invited me to share Eed Al Adha (The Feast of Sacrifice) with him in the Southern town of Essaouira. I went the day before eed. I arrived at the Casablanca motor coach station late in the afternoon. But I had to wait several hours for the Essaouira coach to leave the station. And I didn't get bored with waiting. I was delighted to see how people struggled to book their trips to nearly all places across the country. I saw several people carry sheep on their shoulders, others take up the sheep onto the coach roofs... And when our coach left Casablanca City, in the evening, a group of the passengers burst out singing, some in Arabic, some in Berber... They sang and clapped their hands happily. They would have even danced had there been enough space. The coach was running on four (rubber) wheels, at night, but everybody felt so safe that many succumbed to sleep. Everybody put their trust in the coach driver. In a way, we are all that little child that runs into his mother's arms to feel safe. We all need some kind of 'Mama Merkel', a source of compassion close at hand.
Mohamed Ali LAGOUADER