The year is barely a month old, but already the peace and goodwill of festive cheer has been replaced by anger, suspicion and fear. Across the globe, nations are closing ranks against the tide of economic, political and human misfortune heading their way. As the refugee crisis in Europe threatens to overwhelm the European Union, the once open door policies of member states are being firmly shut in the faces of the thousands fleeing the conflicts in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. Sweden is threatening to send some 80,000 back, whilst neighbouring Denmark has recently passed legislation to take valuables off asylum seekers, in a move that has been compared by some to the Nazi treatment of the Jews in the 1930s. In Germany meanwhile, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s previously applauded open stance on immigration is now coming under pressure from opponents and allies alike, following the disturbances in Cologne on New Year’s Eve. And in the United States, Donald Trump is leading the Republican Presidential race on a political platform of hate and ignorance.
And what of the English? Well, it has to said that there is an underlying sense of smug self-satisfaction amongst certain members of society. With Europe shutting up shop and America heading for a political meltdown in the electoral debates to come, the likes of Britain First and the EDL are clambering aboard the St. George bandwagon in their haste to fly the flag. These are people who steadfastly refuse to accept Syrian refugees, mainly on the grounds, it seems, that they will obviously come over here and abuse our women and blow up our babies. They proudly drape themselves in the flag of St George and expostulate the very Englishness of their origins.
This does of course beggar the question as to which antecedents they are holding up as English. Is it their Anglo-Saxon ancestry that they are so proud of, or their Viking blood? Or perhaps they are more favoured towards the gallic charms of the Normans, who defeated Harold Godwinson, the last Anglo-Saxon king of England, in 1066. Truth be told, we Brits are a race of mongrels, as is much of Europe and America. The movement of peoples and labour has been central to our societies for millennia and I know Arabs, Indians, Jews and Gentiles who are just as English as you and I.
One person who I can categorically state isn’t English though is Saint George. Prepare yourselves Britain First, but the man whose virtues you so love to flaunt is in fact…Syrian! Yes, the patron saint of England was born in Syria Palaestina (Palestine) in AD280, when the region was part of the Roman Empire. So, in a delicious twist of irony, if St George rocked up at Calais today, having made the long and arduous journey from the Middle East to the shores of his adopted homeland, the chances are he would be refused entry!
As winter takes hold, the plight of the refugees will only get worse and with the arrival of spring, the influx of asylum seekers threatens to turn this into one of the worst human tragedies of recent times. I have no answer, I wish I did. I can understand the desperation of the refugees searching for a better life, as well as the fear and trepidation that their arrival is causing amongst member states. As a species we should help, it is what makes us human. But it seems that national priorities and an almost primal instinct for survival is starting to take control.
Hopefully compassion and compromise will prevail. If not, then the politics of hate will, tragically, win.