“Behind carts, in front of horses, on foot, in railway cars planes, and ships./Blended in a line of images, we have strolled and limped across the countries and surfaces of a planet./ Whims and fashion, empiric caprice; not God, not fate, are what keep us moving until there is nowhere left./ Borders open to let us out, or shut to keep us in./Doors slam in our faces, and open swinging towards us.”
I wrote those lines as part of a much larger poem quite a number of years ago. It was inspired by a number of things, but largely from the frustration of seeing how little things have changed in thousands of years of human existence. You see it was the early nineties and the ethnic murders in the former Yugoslavia were in full swing.
Don’t look for me to ever use the term “ethnic cleansing”. It sounds too much like everybody getting together to do laundry to convey the horror of what happened in places like Rwanda and the Balkans in the 1990’s and earlier. Who ever decided to popularize the term should be tied to stake and bombarded with thesauruses until he or she gains a measure of sense and respect for the English language.
When would we ever learn? Before Bosnia and the rest of the Balkans went up in smoke, you’d think the world had enough examples of racial and ethnic murders, from this century alone, to maybe grow up a little? No, once again we have to prove, that as a species we have cornered the market on xenophobia (that does not mean you are scared of warrior priestesses by the way) “Hey what’s that?” “I don’t know” “Better kill it than”
If it’s not like me or I don’t understand it, there is no room for it in my world. The easiest way for people to deal with issues that confuse them, are to get rid of them. Or if you can’t get rid of an issue, find someone, or a group of someones, who you can blame it on. Then you can get rid of them.
What’s even better is by the time everybody’s done with the murder and mayhem; they’ll have forgotten what the issue was that got them so upset in the first place. It will look like the problem has been solved. Too many people in this world think diversity is the choice of sauces that comes with their chicken MacNuggets.
The stream of refugees doesn’t seem to ever end. I have a memory of an image from a childhood viewing of the movie Fiddler On The Roof that has stayed with me all of my life. It’s the end of the movie and the whole village is moving out, headed to America or Canada. Families are trudging along together, carrying what they can on their backs and in their arms, while some are pulling carts laden with the rest of their possessions.
How often is that scene still being repeated on a daily basis somewhere in our world? Well the deserts of the Sub Sahara are now the hot spot for people seeking escape from the economic disintegration of Africa. The Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Mellila have seen desperate people charging their borders of razor wire this past week in an attempt to begin the process of gaining admission to Europe.
Mirroring North American attitudes to illegal Mexican migration, the governments of the European Union’s response has been to toughen it’s repatriation laws, allowing member states to deport people en masse back to their countries of origin. Borders are closing as fast as the minds who govern within them.
The beginning of the twentieth century saw a mass exodus of eastern Europeans fleeing starvation and persecution. These people walked across chunks of Europe attempting to reach a port town where they could gain passage on a ship heading to America or Canada. One hundred years latter people are walking across the deserts of Africa looking to do something similar.
But now nobody wants them. They’re either being shipped back to where they come from, picked up by the Moroccan army and dumped in the desert, or being held on masse in detention camps awaiting their fates. What fate awaits them if they are shipped home? Will they simply do world leaders a favour and die, dreams unfulfilled and hopes destroyed? Or will they become the next wave of terrorists controlled by the first manic able to whip their frustration into anger at the developed world?
In the days leading up to World War Two Jews were scrambling to find any country willing to take them as they attempted to flee Nazi persecution. Neither Canada nor the United States was willing to take on any more refugees. How many people perished because of that decision?
Less then sixty years latter we are once again refusing people admittance. Have we learned nothing from recent history? What makes us so special that we are given the power to relegate thousands of people to the scrap heap? What gives us the right?
Somewhere in the world today there is a person walking along a road with all his processions on his back. Whatever it is that he is leaving behind is so bad that he is willing to risk a journey of thousands of miles that doesn’t offer any guarantee of success at the end of the line. If he is willing to take that kind of risk, isn’t it only fair for of us to take a chance on him?
With the way economic conditions are getting worse, and unrest continuing to grow apace with it, the seeds are being sown for another bout of ethnic warfare. Perhaps we could take a preventative role this time, instead of just being around after the fact to count the bodies and mop up the blood.
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On the dock, on the platform/In the terminal station/stands one with a ticket,/waiting to be plucked from the baggage carousel./Plucked from a mother’s birthing arms by tribal hatreds that do not heed a child’s tears./The barbed wire runs behind and beyond./It climbs like someone told me roses climb trestles,/like corn grows in a field.