Firstly I wish to extend a sincere thank you to all of my readers in 2015; I hope that you will continue to read me in 2016. Secondly, it was kind of those of you who sent me a message in your Christmas card letting me know that you read my blog. As long as there are a few friends and strangers out there who read my musings, then I aim to continue blogging about things that I hope will be of interest to you in 2016.
I received a message via Facebook yesterday from a friend who lives in the USA. Amongst other things, M wished for “a dose of world peace”, a sentiment that I endorse wholeheartedly. As we know, the year 2015 began and ended with ISIS-inspired atrocities in Paris. The year 2015 was, to a large extent, the year that news reports concerning ISIS and migration/immigration dominated the news. I wonder if world affairs and events in 2016 will be similarly monopolised, on the grounds that these two issues have collided, such that the aftermath of the hideous tactics of ISIS are intertwined with the refugee and migration problem facing Europe.
On the basis of the UK’s increased involvement in bombing territory ‘occupied’ by ISIS, a number of commentators have reported that they suspect that it is only a matter of time until an incident is undetected by the authorities and ‘gets through’ so to speak to the UK. I sincerely hope that they are wrong, but France’s involvement in bombing campaigns last year probably initiated the appalling attacks in Paris in November.
Even at my great age, I clearly remember a teacher at my primary school in the 1950s attempting to explain the Suez Crisis to my class. I was far too young at the time to understand why we were involved in the Middle East. Sixty years later, we are still interfering in the Middle East and I continue to be at something of a loss to understand why we do not learn from recent history.
When ISIS came to prominence, I thought – perhaps naively – that it was only interested in creating a caliphate in, as the letters imply, Iraq and Syria. In other words, I thought that its aims were local and would not impact on the rest of the world. However, the actions of ISIS are all too evident for us to see and ‘the West’ has reacted by increasing air strikes. Apparently ISIS has lost some territory recently but have, in turn, responded by exporting its violent jihad to whichever country has – in its terms – offended it. In the event that ISIS is eventually ‘defeated’ in Western terms, it is probable that it will emerge somewhere else such as in Libya and Yemen, two countries where it already has a foothold. The prospects of a lessening in the fear of terrorism in Europe seem bleak if ISIS broadens its base.
The ancient, fifteen hundred year old, schism in Islam that separates Sunni and Shia Muslims is even starker today, given the widening fault line between these two forms of Islam in the Middle East. The world power blocks of Russia and the USA and the local power blocks of Iran and Saudi Arabia have taken sides in proxy wars across the region, to such an extent that it is very difficult to be optimistic about when an end to the civil war in Syria will come about, a settlement which – one hopes – would lead, at least, to a partial resolution of the refugee crisis in the region.
Since the so-called Arab Spring of 2011, war and conflicts in the Middle East seem to have reached a level of complexity that belies their resolution. Syrian refugees are still arriving on the shores of Greek islands, along with refugees from elsewhere in the region. The question remains: where are the refugees to go? Germany and Sweden, countries that have taken one million and almost a quarter of a million refugees respectively in 2015, are rowing back their open door policy: the doors of Europe are beginning to close on the continuing flow of refugees. Also, where are the occupants of the Jungle (camp), near Calais to go? Are they destined to remain on the north coast of France indefinitely?
The charged issue of immigration seemed to have pervaded much of the debate surrounding the General Election earlier this year. Similarly, issues concerning immigration appear to be central to aspects of the ‘leave’ campaign as we head towards the referendum on membership of the European Union. In short, the politics of fear offer a ready way for politicians to bamboozle the voting public. What worries a liberal like me, is that many of our politicians find it easier to play on the politics of fear rather than the politics of hope: the latter takes much more effort and imagination. Consequently we are hectored about the fear of immigration; fear of terrorism; fear for physical security. A few weeks ago George Osborne, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, painted a relatively rosy and positive picture of the economy of the UK in his autumn statement. Earlier this week, he took the opposite position. Surely the Christmas period wasn’t sufficiently long enough to change his mind about the economic prospects of the UK? Now we can add fear of economic insecurity to the list.
I feel conscious that this blog strikes a pessimistic note at the beginning of a new year. If you are still with me, then I offer my apologies: I am finding it difficult to be optimistic about 2016. The news that North Korea has exploded what might be a Hydrogen bomb hasn’t helped my febrile state of mind.
Finally, returning to the issue of migration, the reports of the behavior of groups of men in Cologne and in other cities in Germany, as well as in Helsinki, must feel like a late Christmas present to the likes of UKIP and the ‘leave’ campaign. Anything that helps the anti-immigrant stance will be fuel to their position. It pains this aging liberal to read about such appalling behavior of these men towards women and only serves to add to my pessimism.
If you are still with me, then I thank you with sincerity because I want at least to try and end on an upbeat note. When I switched on our TV earlier this week, I came in on the middle of a new story.
The story hit me like a lightening bolt and made my heart jump with joy. A bunch of smiley Sikh guys were loading up a hatchback with hot meals – Langar in action, about which I have blogged earlier last year. There was a print story follow up in the g2 section of the Guardian the next day. The same group of Sikhs were reported as “cooking up a storm” and sent thousands of meals from Slough to towns in the north that had been flooded. Slough! This town must be at least two hundred miles from towns in the north that had been flooded. A number of Muslim charities had also become involved in cleaning up operations in flood-stricken towns and some Syrian refugees from Manchester had been filling sand bags. Wonderful … simply wonderful.
Perhaps you will indulge me and permit me to end with a piece about immigration that I submitted to a book edited by Andrew Sparke (Kindle version available here), in an effort to end this blog post on an optimistic note. Andrew asked for contributions a few weeks ago, probably on the basis that immigration and migration was the dominant issue of 2015. (The book included poetry and prose on a number of topics, other than migration.)
Thank you to:
the skilled hospital doctor who removed a lump on my eyelid;
the kindly nurse who calmed me down as I waited for a prostate biopsy procedure;
the cheery optometrist who examined my eyes;
our cheery window cleaner who never misses, come rain, frost or shine;
my brilliant urology consultant
who monitors my prostate
who operated on my bother-in-law;
who is highly respected in our local hospital;
Bangladeshi and Chinese restaurateurs and waiters;
bar staff and baristas
in my town;
the very many stimulating students who I taught at university;
my university colleagues.
A huge “thank you” to you, or to your antecedents, for coming to this country: we are the richer for it.