by Baris Celik
It has been five years since the beginning of the conflict in Syria, but the atrocity has come to a point that only the last two years’ mortality figures are enough to since April 2014. This figure rises to even 300,000 when the calculation includes the timeline from the beginning of the conflict. The ‘international community’ is working day and night to find a way out from the crisis. But the measures taken so far seem more like efforts to externalise the burden, rather than sharing it. But why calling this as a ‘burden’ in the first place? Cambridge’s online dictionary defines the word as ‘a heavy load that you carry’, or as ‘something difficult or unpleasant that you have to deal with or worry about’. Yes, the situation is ‘heavy’ and unpleasant, and it is worrying too. But calling the relief efforts to migrants as a ‘burden’ assigns a negative meaning to those very efforts: like we live our normal, ordinary lives, but what we need to handle is something extra to carry, not human beings like ourselves. Sometimes we oversee the possibility that we could have been the people who only want to live in a place where they can cross the street without the fear of a mortar blasting only few meters away.
We also see nowadays the migration issue become a tool that politicians use as leverage against one another. France is threatening the UK to send migrants to the other side of the channel, labelling migration the camp as ‘The Jungle’. And refugees are being classified as ‘worthless’ and ‘qualified’, an attempt to distinguish the ‘unskilled workers’ from doctors and engineers. These make me think that the ones who deal with this issue, the ones who offer help to the people fleeing from war, are doing so because it is a good means to influence politics, not because it is what humanity necessitates.
And yet, we are revolving around the concepts with the adjective ‘humanitarian’, which qualify the aid, duties and responsibilities. Maybe we should question the extent of how humanitarian we and our efforts are. If we are all humans, then why is the discourse so exclusive? If we are undertaking our humanitarian responsibilities, then why are those very responsibilities are being used as bargaining tools?
Moreover, the term is not used in a sincere manner. More importantly perhaps, as Carl Schmitt warns, if we argue to be fighting against an enemy in the name of humanity, then the enemy itself should not be within the category of ‘humanity’. In this sense, the one who fought for humanity would be Tom Cruise in H.G Well’s adaptation of The War of the Worlds, who was trying to survive in an invasion of the world by tripod-like aliens. But the things we hear about on the news every single day are not a war of the worlds. They are rather the war in the world, in our world.
Vagueness of such concepts are also dangerous just like the situations they qualify. Take ‘international community’, a highly diplomatic concept that generally aims to prompt a common action. When the US or the EU impose sanctions on North Korea, for instance, they call ‘international community’ to comply with the sanctions. But what they mean is obviously a community without North Korea. So the concept may not be as inclusive as someone would have us to believe. The decision on who has a place in this world is given, but by whom?
And yet, like each and every experience we see as harmful and as coming from evil in the first instance, these depressing, conscience-shocking situations can teach us some important lessons. But I think these lessons are not the ones about solidarity or the responsibilities of international community. Our arguments against those who are for a more aggressive and less welcoming approach towards the people in need of help should be more subtle. The decades-old terminologies are not helpful anymore. They are like the words that are being used to conceal some fruitless efforts.