Passage & Problems for Syrian Refugees

With this year’s theme of Passage in mind, it’s hard not to think on the migrant crisis in Europe that has been big news since this summer. Floating around in conversation and in the media we hear about the Syrian refugees seeking asylum throughout the EU. The more sensational stories rise to the top, like the German news station photo shopping Angela Merkel in a burka, or the Hungarian camera woman tripping a man carrying his child; but these don’t get anywhere close to telling the ‘true’ narrative of the situation. It is important not to get caught up in the distractions. Stories about Alan Kurdi, whose body washed ashore in Turkey, or the 71 immigrants who died in an abandoned truck in Austria, serve as reminders of the ‘collective failure’. The shear amount of people who have been dislocated since the continuing civil war in Syria and the destabilization of the region is staggering. It is estimated to be over nine million, and people often have trouble conceptualizing numbers over 100. On top of that, getting straight facts is hard considering the evolving nature of the situation.  What is clear though is that with the further involvement of the two super powers in the Iraqi and Syrian region these areas will not be safe or stable for a long time, and that a response is necessary.
The media’s focus so far has seemed to be on how different EU nations are handling the crisis, along with their internal bickering. Xenophobia and racism seem to be the buzz words. France’s Foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, labels Hungary, with their razor wire fence and tear gas, ‘un-European’. Yet, at the same time, France has also used tear gas on some of the refugees there, when the country tried to prevent entry to Britain through Calais. The Scandinavian countries, and Germany are being lauded for their response accepting the most migrants long before quotas were agreed upon by the EU.
What is interesting is that while Europe is taking in hundreds of thousands of migrants, Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan are taking in millions. The likely reason for the media’s inflation of the situation in Europe is xenophobia. People are afraid of the ‘other’ that is coming into Europe in large numbers. It shouldn’t be necessary to explain the negative portrayal of Muslims in western media and how this is likely influencing the situation. Some news outlets are not afraid to sensationalize the entire situation, suggesting that Europe will face countless problems from accepting these refugees. The arguments are not tied in numbers or demographics, but rather cultural bias. Some news stations have even gone so far as to suggest that ‘terrorists’ are part of the population seeking asylum in the EU. The bias against these refugees is seen clearly in the Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s words, who said in September, “I think we have a right to decide that we do not want a large number of Muslim people in our country.” The xenophobia is disguised by other European leaders on economic arguments, but this falls apart when one looks to Germany, who has taken in the most migrants and has pledged to take in even more.
Though there is still disagreement and debate within Germany, their approach is likely to work in the long term, even though there is a large initial cost. Because Europe’s population is aging, a large influx of young labor is exactly what they need. Germany has the foresight to realize this, and even though these reasons might be seen as ‘selfish,’ it shows that the reasons to not let these people in are founded on weak argument. It makes sense to accept the migrants both economically and humanitarianly. Any country still fighting the EU’s decided stance on the situation is going to find it harder and harder to argue against it as Germany’s response is shown successful. Of course this is a strong statement, but if the racial and religious makeup of the refugees was not an issue for some Europeans, the whole situation might not be labelled as a ‘crisis’ for Europe.

By Morgan Curtis

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Belle: Ownership and Feminism

For the past two weeks, my 18th century literature class has been talking about the slave trade and how this issue is portrayed in film. Our first screening on the issue came in the form of Amazing Grace (2006), directed by Michael Apted. The film follows William Wilberforce as he struggles with Parliament to end the British transatlantic slave trade. With the help of various important British men and Equiano, a freed slave who wrote about his experience as a slave and successfully published and sold his autobiography. Interestingly, most of my peers had previously seen the film at church events. Equiano played a major role in ending the slave trade, however the film depicted him as a sort of mascot for the issue and focused more on Wilberforce’s economic and political conflicts. In comparison, Belle did a more successful job in portraying the disturbing moral issue of ownership.

Belle (2013), directed by African American female Amma Asante tells the story of Dido Elizabeth Belle, a mixed girl born into slavery and later taken in by her great uncle in England, William Murray, 1st Earl of Mansfield. The film brings light to the issue of slavery by focusing on one case, the Zong massacre. Lord Mansfield, being the Chief Justice, must rule if the drowning of hundreds of slaves was an act of insurance fraud (I won’t spoil his decision). Asante uses this case as a way to expand the issue of slavery to include topics of feminism. Elizabeth Murray, played by Sarah Gadon makes the point that “women are property of gentlemen.” Dido, played by Gugu Mbatha-Raw, transitions to a woman, only to find that her race, despite the fact that she lives with the wealthy Murray’s, affects who she marries, what she does in public and if and when she can eat alongside the Murray family. Elizabeth and Dido act as sisters and friends, but both of them know that they live by different standards. It is not until John Davinier, played by Sam Reid, is introduced, that Dido begins to be self-aware and learn about her ancestor’s mistreatment. Davinier also introduces Dido to the case of the Zong massacre. Through Dido and Davinier, Asante highlights the moral issue of the slave trade, rather than the economic issue prevalent in Amazing Grace. John and Dido argue to Lord Mansfield that one can not put a price on any human life or death.

In contrast to John, The Ashford brothers, played by James Norton and good ole Tom Felton, represent the how men perceived African Americans, and women in general, during the time period.  Oliver Ashford (Norton) labels Dido as “exotic” and explains to her that she has “privilege” by living with the Murray’s. On the other hand, Divinier criticizes the fact that the family won’t let Dido eat dinner with them when there is company. In true Malfoy style, James Ashford (Felton) confronts Dido in an intense scene, straddling the line between desire and shame in his harsh treatment of Dido.

Expanding on Oliver’s point of Dido’s privilege, I think that it is very misconstrued. Oliver sees the fact that she’s an African American woman living with the Murray’s as a daughter, not as a servant, and he considers that to be privilege. However, she’s held to very different standards compared to Elizabeth in regards to marriage, her dowry, her up bringing, etc. Dido has been isolated from her history. Dido explains Lord Mansfield’s parenting skills as wanting her to “see no ill,” as if ignoring the fact makes everything better. Although realizing that she is different and oppressed elicits a very emotional scene of Dido vigorously rubbing her face in front of the mirror, it is also contrasted with a similar scene where Dido looks at herself in the mirror and smiles, as if she knows what she wants and finally knows herself.