“I think to bring about a peace process you have to talk to people [with whom] you profoundly disagree.”
Jeremy Corbyn said this during the leadership campaign in response to a question about peace talks with Hamas, and he is right of course, but how many of us apply it in our own lives? Or do most of us abide by that old adage, ‘don’t talk religion and politics.’
When it comes to acquaintances I usually avoid politics, but with my nearest and dearest I talk about it all the time. This provides me with an interesting insight into how people of different political views think. For example, one of my closest relatives gets very worked up about migration. She’s a lovely caring person so I find it strange to see the way she responds to the refugee crisis. The other day I told her about a heart wrenching photo I’d seen of a mother bathing her baby in a muddy puddle at some makeshift refugee camp in Europe. ‘A lot of them aren’t fleeing war,’ she told me sharply. ‘A lot of them are just economic migrants.’ She sounded like she was talking about the families you see on the TV show ‘Wanted Down Under, ‘ who are eager to trade one good life for another.
I could feel myself getting angry. ‘Like my grandparents then,’ I replied bristling. I was referring to my dad’s parents who were from Limerick in Ireland. I don’t know all the ins and outs of why they moved to England, and sadly my dad died 23 years ago so I can’t ask him, but I do remember him telling me his family were so poor they used to go to the convent to beg for potatoes. Sometimes the spuds were green which made the whole family ill. When my dad was eight, the family migrated to the UK. My dad said his mother was so homesick for her mum and sisters after the move, she became very depressed, which resulted in two nervous breakdowns and two courses of electric shock treatment. They weren’t fleeing bombs and bullets, but they were fleeing dire poverty, except they had to leave their homeland and everything familiar to do it, which was devastating for my nan.
After reminding my relative about this story she agreed it was terrible to feel you had to leave your country. ‘That’s why I so want Jeremy Corbyn to be prime minister,’ I told her. ‘If we want a fairer, safer world where people aren’t forced to flee their homes because of war and poverty, we need more leaders like Jeremy Corbyn.” That led onto a long discussion about the way western military intervention had created chaos in the Middle East, which sowed the seeds for terrorism to flourish. On this point, my relative and I were in total agreement.
I felt a need to share this conversation on my blog because it really got me thinking about the way we frame the debate about the refugee crisis, especially when we are talking to potential UKIP voters. While I fully support the refugees are welcome rallies, and recoil when I hear Cameron dismissively refer to refugees as ‘a bunch of migrants,’ fundamentally we shouldn’t have to welcome these desperate people, and we need to make that case time and time again. There should NOT be desperate people.
So yes, let’s be humane, but let’s extend the reach of the debate to the causes of the crisis, and explain how a leader with the values of Jeremy Corbyn makes a refugee crisis less likely in the future. It’s a good argument on a number of levels. Firstly it’s true, which always gives an argument weight. And secondly, it reminds the person hardening their heart to refugees, that it’s not a situation of the refugees making. They are victims. The west bomb their homes, or arm someone else to bomb them, then throw their hands up in horror when these now homeless and desperate people have the ‘audacity’ to flee to the west where they will be safe. We can’t make people feel more compassion toward refugees overnight, but we can start the emotional rewiring process that will eventually free these people from years of brainwashing by right wing newspapers and politicians, who have a vested interest in turning refugees into scapegoats.
By the end of my chat with my relative I sensed a shift in her perspective. She was no longer talking about refugees as if they were moving from a Butlin’s Holiday Camp to a Haven one, just because their caravans were a bit bigger. And she was warming to the idea of having a political leader who didn’t use military intervention as a way to flex the UK’s muscles on the world stage.
Whether she’ll go on to vote Labour is between her and the ballot box, but I am nursing a hope that she will.