I have just listened to a news item about the ‘Migrant Crisis’ in Calais. The language used made me feel a bit sick. Apparently the migrants ‘stormed’ the tunnel terminal and ‘overwhelmed’ the customs officials who were ‘engaged in a constant battle’.
What struck me was this; the narrative we are being given reminded me of those ‘Star Ship Trooper’ films in which hoards of non-human insects (Migrants) are massing to overwhelm the poor humans (us)
This version of the story is unrelentingly one-dimensional. It plugs in to our deepest fears in exactly the same way as films about invading insect killers. The implication is that we are under threat- our homes, our children and our individual security is directly at risk. The outsiders have no story of their own that is relevant here- they are less-than, not-human, evil and malevolent.
This narrative fails on so many levels as an adequate way to describe what seems to me to be happening in Calais;
- Perspective- last nights events involved around 150 desperate people. They were not an army, they had no claws or tentacles. They want only to find a better life for themselves and their children. There will be far more violence each evening in the drinking zones of our cities.
- The meaning for our comfortable lives. What does it say about our world that the huge inequalities and conflicts can stimulate such acts of desperation?
- What is good and what is evil here? There are other narratives that might shed light- the story of the pioneers who seek new opportunity in another land.
- Or an understanding of the legacy of Empire and the continuing enforced North/South inequality that sustains our own lifestyles at the expense of those parts of the world where the ‘others’ live.
- The operation of international capital that rewards the very few at the cost of the many.
Perhaps more than all of this however is the fact that when we treat the outsider as less than human, we too lose our humanity. We are diminished.
People like me, who have tried to understand the world in the light of the stories told about Jesus, have a particularly pressing need to watch for narratives like these. We are are called always towards the other; to seek ways of understanding, grace, engagement, love. This narrative takes us in a totally different direction from the one described above.
Firstly it should perhaps force us to reconsider our own feelings of fear and threat and to place them alongside the manifest unfairness and heartbreak that others are experiencing right on our doorsteps.
Next we should look for the real stories that are being lived by the other- those making incredibly perilous journeys (as humans have always done) towards the hope of better lives where they and their children might flourish. Some of them are fleeing oppression, violence and poverty. Others are educated with gifts and abilities that might be desperately needed within our stagnating aging population.
Finally, we should always resist the voices that demonise and scapegoat the other in order to achieve their own narrow political agendas. There seems to me to be a lot of this around at the moment and there are plenty of warnings from history of where this kind of thing leads.