If You Really Want to Help Refugees…

by William Skink

The articles about the refugee crisis just keep coming. A few weeks ago Missoula Current took a look at Al Jazeera taking a look at the Missoula do-gooders crusade to bring refugees to this gentrified, economically exclusive little mountain town. From the link:

To the international news crew, the fears and offers of help found in Missoula stand as a reflection of what’s taking place nationally. Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has gained a following by taking a nationalistic tone, one that critics have said represents the worst of America.

Political watchdogs have seen the rhetoric trickle down to Montana’s gubernatorial race as well, with the state’s Republican candidate issuing campaign fliers tying Islamic terrorists to Muslim refugees.

Gallacher believes Poole represents the opposite point of view.

“Here you have this woman moved tears, even as I was interviewing her, about a dead boy on the beach, and she’s trying to do something about it,” said Gallacher. “She’s almost a little naive about it and didn’t really know it was going to blow up like this. It has become much bigger than Soft Landing.”

First, I don’t think Trump’s “nationalistic tone” represents “the worst of America.” In my humble opinion, it’s the indispensable nation mentality that represents the worst and most dangerous aspect of America, because it comes with baked-in euphemisms for war, like “humanitarian intervention”, that allows liberals to remain so damn naive when it comes to the underlying factors creating refugees in the first place.

In another article at Missoula Current, there is reportedly an effort to lessen the ignorance in our community about how places like the Congo become bad enough that people flee their homes and communities to try and find a better life, but from what was reported, it sounds like the problem in the Congo was framed in the blandest of ways:

The land is rich in resources, holding half of Africa’s known resources, from diamonds to copper. The agricultural opportunities alone could feed the entire continent, he said, and its hydro-electric potential is vast.

“And yet it’s a paradox,” Robinson said. “It’s per-capita income is less than $800 a year. It’s ranked 226th out of 229 countries in the world, placing it at the bottom of the poverty index.”

For hundreds of years, Congolese have been subject to outside influences – traded as slaves and dominated by colonial European powers. More recently, Robinson said, Congo’s resources have been subject to exploitation, and the U.S. has played a part.

The U.S. has done much more than just played a part in perpetuating the misery of the Congolese people. I’ll just use wikipedia for a quick summary:

The CIA has been involved in the Democratic Republic of the Congo for several decades, especially in relation to the CIA’s considerations and plans to assassinate former Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba and accusations of CIA involvement in his eventual assassination. The CIA is also notably involved in a campaign against Lumumba’s successor, which led to his eventual imprisonment and long exile from the Democratic Republic of the Congo.[1] The CIA was also a vital part of the United States efforts to aid Joseph Mobutu who would take control of the Congo in 1965, renaming it Zaire. The CIA would work heavily with Mobutu, particularly in relation to American support for the National Liberation Front of Angola and Jonas Savimbi’s National Union for the Total Independence of Angola.

While this undoubtedly solidifies in the minds of liberal do-gooders that America must do more to help refugees, considering they are the direct result of America’s foreign policy, an article today at Counterpunch takes a critical and well-thought out look by deconstructing the question itself–can westerners help refugees from war-torn countries?

The whole article is a must-read for Missoula’s liberal do-gooders because it uncovers some very important points. I will highlight a few, starting with why the questions of can we help refugees isn’t the right questions to be asking.

After doing some preliminary work to explain the intention of the article, and juxtaposing short-term help with basic resources vs what long term help is needed, the author describes the problem with the question itself:

As we take this long-term approach to the question of “how can we help refugees,” some surprising and perhaps even disturbing things will unfold. The first problem with the “how can we help the refugees” question is the question itself. The premise of the question is flawed and problematic at two levels: first, it draws a clear boundary in power relations by assuming more power to the “we”, the Western people doing the “helping”, and therefore simultaneously grants them the power of choosing to deny refugees this “help”, if so they choose. The second problem with the question, which is directly related to its flawed premise, is that it seriously lacks any self-reflection. If we analyze some of the narratives of why many people in Western countries are either uncomfortable or outright hateful and disgusted by the influx of refugees, we will see that those narratives consistently revolve around points like: “therefugees are here to take our jobs,” “they are here to use our welfare state and benefits,” “they are here to destroy our cultures, freedoms, and values,” and so on.

When examined, it becomes clear that many of these narratives are primarily concerned with economics. The refugee is seen as somebody coming to Western countries to receive humanitarian aid at a time when many people in those countries are living precarious lives, struggling in their scarce and “at will” jobs, or simply feeling constant uncertainty in a future increasingly shaped and driven by neoliberal market policies that serve the minority elites in power. In this sense, many Westerners are right to feel angry, uncertain, and unsafe in their own societies. We need to acknowledge this.

Wait, you mean there is someone on the left capable of talking about the refugee crisis without automatically demonizing anyone critical of bringing refugees into communities where people already don’t feel economically secure? Brilliant. It’s too bad more reflection of this kind isn’t happening in Missoula, but this kind of reflection isn’t the kind partisans can translate into electoral action, so I get why it isn’t happening.

Another aspect of this article worth highlighting is what we share with refugees, specifically being trapped and powerless to stop what makes refugees in the first place: war. Again, from the link:

So, “what can we do to help refugees?” well, it seems to me that the solution starts right here in Western countries. It is in finding how this problem is caused in the first place and fixing it once and for all. It is clear that the solution lies in stopping Western governments from invading and destroying so many countries under different pretexts like spreading “freedom”, “democracy”, or “fighting terrorism”. Now, obviously some people in Western countries know this well, which is why they have strongly opposed and demonstrated against wars, signed petitions, put bumper stickers on the back of their cars to express their outrage, and so on. But their voices are totally ignored by their so-called “democratic” governments that insist on going to wars to serve the minority of the political and corporate elites in the U.S. and Western Europe. In the case of Western Europe, where there is relatively more awareness about the impacts of wars, the people were and still are unable to stop the elites in these countries from joining the U.S. in its mission of war and destruction in the Middle East and elsewhere. The structure of all these governments is so corrupt that they are in theory multi-party political systems, but in practice almost exclusively dominated by two political parties at the most, that are bought and sold by those who have the money to put them in power or remove them from it. What often happens is that these two-party systems are two sides of the same coin, especially when it comes to foreign policy dictated by those who have the money to bring them to power in the first place. Domestically, they may have different agendas and plans, hence many people’s illusion that they actually have different political options. But many people don’t realize that the domestic and the foreign policies are actually intertwined. If your government needs to spend billions on waging wars, guess where are they going to get it from? Yes, from your schools, health systems, and other essential public services and institutions. In foreign policy, Western governments rarely diverge from their foreign policies on the Middle East, Russia, or any country around the world that remotely threatens their hegemonic aspirations. For example, let us ask: Is it a coincidence that the U.S. and the EU speak in one united voice to sanction the Russian people and frame them as an enemy? Why are there not at least a few Western European countries who would decide to break the sanctions imposed on Russia? Is it a coincidence that their stance on Syria is almost identical? Is it a coincidence that most of them have participated in destroying Iraq during the first Gulf War? Is it a coincidence that most Western countries punished the Iraqi people for thirteen years with the most inhumane sanctions ever imposed in history? Is it a coincidence that none of these countries took a firm stance to prevent the second Gulf War from taking place? But more importantly, going back to the main question of “how can we help the refugees,” is it really “democratic” that the people in Western countries, no matter how much they loathe wars and the invasion of other countries are unable to stop their governments from waging these wars? Is it a coincidence that surveillance and repression of many freedoms have increased so much in the U.S. and Western Europe using “war on terror” as an excuse?

Confronting this reality requires changing the question from the imbalanced power dynamic of ‘can we help the refugees?’, to ‘how can we work together with refugees to stop the wars destroying their homes?’. That means putting aside the white savior complex and actually identifying the powerlessness of refugees with our own powerlessness to stop the wars:

As we try to honestly confront these questions, it becomes clear that most Western people are not free, and therefore unable to stop all these wars producing millions of refugees. The only people free to do whatever they please are the Western elites, not the general Western public. This means that Westerners, too, are as trapped as the refugees in changing the course of these events and actions, because their governments are simply not respecting their wishes. This means that instead of asking “how can we help the refugees,” the question must be seriously revised to become: “how can we and the refugees work together to stop this madness?” Revising the question changes the entire story. The first step to do so is to realize that one is unfree. To help refugees, it must be realized that the circumstances that led them to come to Western countries are not only beyond their powers, but apparently, they are beyond the power of most Westerners also. The few powerful Western elites, on the other hand, benefit from wars twice: first, by destroying other countries and stealing their resources under different pretexts. Second, by bringing millions of refugees to Western countries and using them as cheap labor. This is where the strong connection between the military-industrial-complex and the refugee-industrial-complex precisely lies. The elites benefit from these intertwined industries while hypocritically also paying a lip service to “inclusiveness” and “multiculturalism” in a phony way, as if they care about these now worn out terms that are becoming more harmful than useful. The outcome is that the Western elites make the majority of the disgruntled and disempowered Western populations spew their hatred on the wrong people, the refugees. In this way, the refugees and most Westerners are allies in this battle. They are both, though from different positions, fighting against the same warmongers, repressive powers, and undemocratic systems that are simply not listening and respecting their peoples’ wishes.

Again, brilliant.

I hope naive liberal do-gooders will become better educated about what is fueling this refugee crisis. Maybe they will even learn to put the anti-refugee sentiment in the context of economic disempowerment, so as to understand where the fear is actually coming from.

I don’t expect partisans to do any of this work, though, because it’s not in their interest to understand the bipartisanship of America’s disastrous foreign policy, or the economic reality that underlies the scapegoating of refugees and immigrants. Their interest is in demonizing one group to scare another group into voting for their brand of warmongers and corporate enablers. Fuck that noise, says I.

Instead, you can be better than those partisan hacks, liberal do-gooders. Don’t allow yourselves to be the pawns of the partisans who want, above all else, to elect Democrats. Right now that is what you are: pawns in an electoral charade that occludes the reality of our powerlessness to stop the wars and exploitation only the western elites benefit from.

Change that dynamic, and you will truly help the refugees.

About Travis Mateer

I'm an artist and citizen journalist living and writing in Montana. You can contact me here: willskink at yahoo dot com
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16 Responses to If You Really Want to Help Refugees…

  1. steve kelly says:

    Is powerlessness real? Or is it a state of mind created by the constant barrage of weaponized anthropology developed to control our thoughts and actions? For the ruling elites it is not enough to force our acceptance, they want us all to like their sick abuse. Democrats not only accept their plight, they proselytize for never-ending slavery. Democrats truly believe we should all “love Big Brother.” Screw that.

    No person is powerless. There is always something that can be done, however great the risk.

  2. Greg Strandberg says:

    How’d the mess in Syria start?

    Well, Russia supplies Europe with 80% of their natural gas, and Europe resents this. So they decided to get a pipeline set up with Qatar. This would run from Qatar through Saudia Arabia into Jordan then Syria then Turkey and into Bulgaria.

    Well, Syria didn’t like this because Russia is a good friend of theirs going back to ’56 or so.

    So they got the idea of working with Russia and Iran to get the Iran-Iraq-Syria to Greece pipeline built…which should have been done this year.

    Well, hot damn, wouldn’t you know that’d lose money for the American corporations? Thankfully the Arab Spring started up and destabilized the whole region and it’s been that way ever since.

    If it wasn’t for the greed of the American corporations and their puppet American government, we’d never have the Syrian civil war or the refugee crisis.

    But we just couldn’t let that Russian gas keep going to Europe.

    Our corporate American government is the problem.

  3. JC says:

    Here’s an opportunity for Missoulians to start a new conversation about allying with refugees to focus on how to change the elites’ economic and foreign policy — that is if the “teach-in” allows diversity of thought, and doesn’t just preach neoliberalist propaganda.

    From the Missoula Community News list serve:

    CONTACT: Ari Laurel, alaurel@ywcaofmissoula.org
    SUBJECT: “Second Annual Missoula Racial Justice Teach-In Tells the Immigration Story”

    MISSOULA – The Racial Justice Teach-In will take place on Thursday, Sept. 29 from 6:00-8:00 p.m. at the Missoula Senior Center. There is no registration required. The teach-in will be free and open to the public. More information can be found on the event page at https://www.facebook.com/events/195857467502395/.

    Back by popular demand, YWCA Missoula and EmpowerMT (formerly NCBI Montana) are hosting a second annual Racial Justice Teach-In in September. YWCA Missoula and EmpowerMT have partnered with Soft Landing Missoula and the peace organization SALAM (Standing Alongside America’s Muslims) in an effort to address attitudes and misconceptions around immigration and refugee resettlement. This coincides with Missoula’s involvement in opening a refugee resettlement agency, and the anxieties and misinformation around immigration that have sprung up in the election season. However, America is a story of immigration, migration, and the search of safety and a better livelihood.

    The teach-in will be interactive and activity based, discussing ways in which diversity and inclusion enriches our communities. The event will also include first and second generation Americans who will share their deeply personal stories, discussing challenges and achievements of moving to the unknown. The two organizations seek allies who seek to better understand xenophobia in America. YWCA and EmpowerMT hope the event will give community members the tools with which to advocate for immigrants and refugees in their communities.

  4. petetalbot says:

    I haven’t seen the term “liberal do-gooders” bandied about this much since the Nixon/Agnew administration.

    But it’s the usual Skink false dichotomy. He’s saying the folks who are brought to tears by a picture of a small, dead, refugee boy washed up on a Mediterranean beach are fools for ignoring the cause of his death: Western foreign policy and corporate greed. They’re just shills for the “partisan hacks.” We shouldn’t address the immediate humanitarian crisis, he says, and instead should focus on the corporatism and imperialism that’s behind this catastrophe.

    Does he really believe that these “liberal do-gooders” aren’t aware of the causes and may be looking for solutions beyond short-term relocation? They probably agree with his opinion on Western foreign policy, war and corporate exploitation but feel something needs to be done, closer to home, now.

    Skink also believes we should ignore the needs of refugee families because of community self-interest: our tight housing and job market, and already underlying social problems. We need to take care of “us” not “them.” Apparently, we’re incapable of doing both.

    Skink is good at tossing out labels, though. I can think of few good ones for him.

    • yes, I think Missoula is incapable of both fixing local health/criminal justice systems and addressing housing while bringing 150 people with serious needs into this valley every year. Pete, don’t you own some rental units? I heard the do-gooder from New York is having problems finding property management companies willing to give these families preferential treatment by not using the things they usually use to deny undesirables access to housing, like bad credit, past evictions, criminal records and a bunch of other disqualifies that makes it next to impossible for those domestic economic refugees to put a roof over their head in this “welcoming” community.

      • petetalbot says:

        ” … the do-gooder from New York … ” Love those labels, don’t we, Skink.
        Anyway, I went to a forum presented by the International Rescue Committee and Soft Landing Missoula where they described their relocation efforts, and responded to questions about our tight housing and job market, and the strides they’ve made. They also talked about the vetting process, and various assistance and regulations that apply to refugees. Very informative.
        Perhaps you should attend the “Teach In” posted in JC’s comment. That is, if you really want to expand your knowledge on the subject, which I’m guessing you don’t.

        • New York do-gooder is probably not as good as the label rich guy from New Jersey.

          here is another label: hypocrite.

        • petetalbot says:

          I always thought the the “billionaire from New Jersey” was a cheap shot at Gianforte and was probably thought up by some skanky campaign advisor who should have been canned. It has no bearing on the race. I wasn’t, however, consulted.
          Not surprised that you jumped to the conclusion I supported it, though. Jumping to conclusions is what you do best.

        • I must have missed that post where you broadened your disdain for labels and held your party to account. I would love a link to that post.

          I would also love to read more about how unfortunate it was that anyone critical of Hillary’s health was immediately labeled a conspiracy theorist–a label-hater like yourself must have really been galled by that.

          and then there’s that label that could lose your party the presidency: basket of deplorables. I’m sure you covered that labeling gaffe, right?

          or maybe it’s not the use labels you disdain, but who is the recipient of labels that bugs you. I think that is probably more accurate, wouldn’t you agree?

        • petetalbot says:

          Thanks again for holding me accountable for the labels that others use and on what I should be posting.
          But yes, it does bug me when you label folks who are assisting suffering refugee families “liberal do-gooders.”

        • I have a solution, Pete, don’t like it, don’t read it.

        • petetalbot says:

          Same goes for you and our site, Skink, but then this blog would be devoid of content.

        • Big Swede says:

          You’re being judged by the color of your nose Liz. At ID your nose is brown.

  5. Big Swede says:

    The CIA doesn’t decide whether or not the people of Congo can participate in free markets.

    Congo is one of the least free economically countries. http://humanevents.com/2007/03/19/top-10-least-economically-free-countries/

    That lack of freedom has more to do with quality of life.

  6. Eric Coobs says:

    Take people from a desert, and move them to a place where on a bad year we have 5 months of Winter. Did those braniacs in the Obama Regime ever consider that ?

  7. Eric Coobs says:

    Nothing against you guys in Western Montana – but I’m hoping for a few “Old-fashioned Montana Winters” if they decide to load you up with refugees from a desert climate. Just to show what braniacs the Obama regime has working there.

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