Immigrants are not the problem, they never were

Fear is a bad advisor. Populists feed it in order to obtain power. We are better off with the European concept. The EU protects freedom and democracy. Member states are in peace since 1945.

Like many democracies today, the Netherlands suffer from a populist rightwing political party that has one issue and one issue only: no more immigrants.

Frank van Empel & Caro Sicking for nonfiXe

This Dutch party, ironically calling itself Party of Freedom (PVV), has no democratic structure in itself and is basically the one man show of Geert Wilders. He is surrounded by so-called blue collar – ordinary – pop up politicians to fill seats in Parliament, many of them convicted for fraud or violence. In the meantime Wilders, who himself is court marshalled for hate speech, tries to look and sound like a reasonable politician who sincerely worries about the influence of Islam in the European nations.

When he gave a speech in Rome on March 25, Wilders started with a handmade history lesson: the Roman Empire fell because of immigrants; Germanic Barbarians flooded the empire and rampaged the country. ‘The fall of Rome was a traumatic experience,’ Wilders claims. Well, merely living in these ages must have been a traumatic experience.

The Romans weren’t known for their peace-loving nature; they violently conquered quite some land (veni, vidi, vici) trying to expand their wealth. At some point Roman society became decadent and thus weak. Economic conditions deteriorated as well, due to the very expensive army the Romans had to sustain. Moreover currency devaluated when newly found mines ended the scarcity of silver. The Visigoths who entered the empire and presumably sacked it, weren’t famous for their humanity either. The world 1600 years ago was very different from the place we live in now. There was no democracy, nobody ever heard about human rights and the strongest prevailed. Wilders’ ordinary people were mainly slaves… and having a blue collar was an unknown luxury.

Luckily society has moved forward, not in the least because of the foundation of the European Union. The member states have been living in peace with each other since April 18, 1951, when the European Community for Coal and Steel – EU forerunner – came to being.

We have to thank Robert Schuman and Jean Monet for their long-term vision on how to bring and maintain peace on the continent. The basic thought behind the community was to make ‘war materially impossible’. When people trade and are mutual dependent for their livelihood, it is unlikely for them to grab arms and fight. The ECSC started with six nations and invited others to join. The treaty gradually grew into what we know now as the European Union. The community has been and still is an enormous success; it has brought peace and prosperity.

Therefore, instead of garbageing the EU like so many right wing politicians call for, we need to expand it, ask other countries to join, like Turkey and Morocco. People who are afraid of this should try to imagine how afraid of each other the French and the Germans were, after fighting two major wars in barely three decades. Fear is a bad advisor. Pouring Angst into a society is one of the most common strategies every starting dictator follows. Angst combined with a scapegoat whose fault it is when for example the economy collapses. This scapegoat can be the boogieman, Hitler picked on the Jewish community and nowadays babydictators and populists point at Islam.

These power hungry populists conveniently mix immigration and Islam into a shambolic ideology that surfs the waves of insecurity civilians tend to feel in a changing world. They abuse history, quote statesmen and philosophers or writers without mentioning the context of these words, they plant fear inside peoples’ hearts and demand for security measurements while declaiming the best security on earth: the European Union. The EU protects its’ people, not only from each other, but from dictatorship as well. We in Europe are free.

This is exactly why we have to keep Islam out, some extremists will add, the sound of warnings about an aggressive ideology ringing in their ears. Here is a parallel to the days when senator McCarthy pursued communists. Then the red danger was the great evil and threatening force, now the shekel is assigned as the symbol that is going to destroy our values, prosperity and culture.

Similar to the events in the Eastern bloc some twenty years ago, dictators and monarchs all over the Middle East are called to the stand by their own people these days. Muslims demonstrate for freedom and democracy. They are not so very different from the rest of the world. And neither is the religion.

Islam has the same roots as Christianity and Judaism. All three religions go back to Abraham. The Koran, some claim, is based on hallucinations, but isn’t the Bible as well? Stories featuring Adam and Eve, an apple and a snake …

Others state that Western society is superior to Islam communities. Today Westerners still use the Arabic ciphers (sifr) and teach Algebra in schools. Modern navigation tools and astronomy find their roots in the Middle East. Women rights? Well, the Koran teaches that men and women are equal, although this is not the case in many parts of the world. Women all over suffer from male domination. People all over the world suffer slavery and abuse, just think about the grand scale child abuse in the Catholic Church that recently came out. Abuse and discrimination happen in every society.

There is not such a thing as a superior civilisation, culture or religion. The good and the bad, the inferior and the sublime travel hand in hand wherever people live. If we want to conquer evil, we have to create a system that roots it out, with checks and balances to prevent the powerful from becoming sole rulers. We have to make wars ‘materially impossible’, like Schuman taught us and like Europe is doing for sixty years already.

People in Northern Africa demonstrate for freedom, dignity and democracy. Ecological crises, like the disaster that hit Japan, merciless point out that we all live on the same planet. The house of humans is crumbling and shaking. We have to take care of it together. When the cellar breaks down, the house collapses. If the attic is a mess with vermin crawling around, the whole mansion will become an unhygienic place. Each and every room, wall, window, hallway and door is equally important for the inhabitants. We also have to reckon with each other while living together. We can decorate the spaces differently, change colours with rooms, but together we have to maintain the building and its’ community.

Immigrants are not the problem, they never were. Most societies thrive on immigrants and diversity. Until humanity is doing good earthkeeping there will be immigrants. This will go on until basic needs are satisfied within the countries of origin as well as in the countries of destination. We can accomplish this by mutual economic dependence, which is already there, but not as such acknowledged yet. Once we start to act according to this shared fate, war will be materially impossible worldwide, borders will be marks of ancient times freely crossed over by who wants to – like in the EU now – This will save a lot of money and energy, as well as lives, because there is no need anymore to sustain an army.

Is this Utopia? No, this is Europe today and it can be the world tomorrow.

nonfiXe, March 28 2011

For an update on this subject: Ecolutie

Image: Joost Sicking, Wandering, acrylics, 130x110cm, 1986

Democratic Vistas

Democratic principles that are manifest for internal affairs and citizens do not count for foreigners. Strange. Either you have principles or you don’t. Democratic principles in particular should apply to everyone who wants to enjoy them.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011; 5:18 AM

‘MANAMA, Bahrain – (…) The full scale assault launched at daybreak swept into Pearl Square, which has been the center of uprising against Bahrain’s rulers since it began more than a month ago. Stinging clouds of tear gas filled streets and black smoke rose from the square from the protesters’ tents set ablaze. Witnesses said at least two protesters were killed.’ (The Associated Press)

Frank van Empel for nonfiXe

Tunesia, Egypt, Libye, Bahrain… the freedom virus is spreading rapidly. The world is watching. Military forces of the West seem to be on the island of Kreta, but nobody takes notice. They’re just there, while diplomats talk about a no fly zone above Libya. In the meantime the Libyan ruler for 40 years, Gaddafi, kills his own people. Protesters who by accident survive face torture in dirty prisons and a slow dead, like countless other unarmed protesters from Argentina, Chili, Iran and other not democratic states.

Nationstates are constructions of the past. The borders are silent witnesses of wars and trade offs. They are not natural. And because they are not natural they have to be defended by guns and soldiers. Defended against the evil that may come from abroad: real evil, like Al Quada kamikaze pilots, but also poor South American Adventurers and African freedomseekers. Democratic principles that are manifest for internal affairs and citizens do not go for foreigners. Strange. Either you have principles or you don’t have principles. Democratic principles in particular should apply to everyone who wants to live the life we Westerners live.

Democracy is much more than just a form of government. It is a way of life that we can try to sketch in words, but that is impossible to define. It’s something bigger than life. For instance it says that democrats shall not boss or rule others who have fewer or no means to redress. Its history goes back in time some 2600 years. The roots are in the Middle East: Babylon, the area we nowadays call Iran and Iraq. Countries that got lost somewhere between then and now. Athens in Greece and Rome in Italy took over.

After the fall of the Roman Empire a dark episode of 1000 years, called the Middle Ages, followed. Then democracy popped up in Europe and the US. Since 1989 democracy is a hit in Eastern Europe as well. The EU system of enlargement has much to do with the growth of incomes and jobs in places that used to be a dictatorship.

The story of democracy cannot be told in a few lines, but one thing is for sure: Gaddafi is an anti democrat. In his name people whose biggest crime is that they want to be democrats too, are being massacred. They don’t only shout it, they show it, by risking their lives in order to overthrow dictatorship. The protesters in Northern Africa and the Middle East don’t want to get screwed anymore by no-brainers that have gathered weapons and trigger-happy crooks around their villas. They have enough of unfairness, display of power, sexual abuse and the lack of money due to stealing practices of high placed blind followers of rulers.

It is time, it is high time for Obama, Merkel, Kroes, Rutte, Sarkozy and all other so-called democrats to stand up for the rights of the weak, to tame gunpowers like Gaddafi, to empower people everywhere, so that they can work, earn income and live the life we live. Take notion of the word ‘everywhere’. The taming of power should be the nr. 1 mission of democrats all over the world, no matter where they come from. It is a big but necessary step forward on the way to sustainable peace and happiness for everyone. A democratic Vistas (named after an essay of the 19th century American writer Walt Whitman), based on the principle that no concentrations of unaccountable power will be tolerated anymore by the United Democrats. Anticipating on this vision Obama c.s. immediately have to act!!

We go even further. Europe, the USA and other places of Wealth and Prosperity have to open their doors for likeminded democrats. To asylum seekers who never practiced their democratic rights we will extend a warm welcome. In order for them to experience the democratic way of life. To quote another American writer, Gary Snyder: ‘It is also a new thought that anyone of any cultural or racial background who chooses to learn, love and respect the North American (and European, fve) continent and its human and nonhuman inhabitants – and its ecosystems and watersheds – can be a sort of honorary Native American (European, fve).’

nonfiXe March 16 2011

No more refugees

Published on Killing two birds with one stone: environmental solutions can bring peace, health and prosperity to all.

Killing two birds with one stone: environmental solutions can bring peace, health and prosperity to all.

By Caro Sicking

Newspapers from all over the globe report on the prediction of 50 million environmental refugees flooding the world by 2020, which will be nine years from now. Scientists like Cristina Tirado from the Californian University UCLA en Ewen Todd, Professor at Michigan State University warned at the annual AAAS conference[1] this February in Washington that the affects of climate change will cause people to leave their home-country, looking for food and shelter. ‘What we saw in Tunisia — a change in government and suddenly there are a whole lot of people going to Italy — this is going to be the pattern. Already, Africans are going in small droves up to Spain, Germany and wherever from different countries in the Mediterranean region, but we’re going to see many, many more trying to go north when food stress comes in. And it was food shortages that put the people of Tunisia and Egypt over the top,’ Mr. Todd told AFP.

What (or better, Who) is an environmental refugee? Norman Myers[2] defines: ‘These are people who can no longer gain a secure livelihood in their homelands because of drought, soil erosion, desertification, deforestation and other environmental problems, together with the associated problems of population pressures and profound poverty.’

Norman Myers stirred a lot of waves in migrant-country, which would be the fifth most populous nation (214 million people) according to the International Organisation of Migration (IOM). Myers’ definition as well as his prognoses on the amount of climate exiles is widely criticized by fellow scientists and eagerly adapted by environmental and social activists and NGO’s. Myers is called a Neo Malthusian, a spaceman – Frank van Empel would say – who compares the Earth to star ship Enterprise with limited resources, but one that lacks back up connection to turn to for resources. At the other end of the universe, one can find the Van Empel Cowboy, or more specific, the economic adaptation view: People tend to adapt, to invent new technology or methods when confronted with scarcity or depletion, therefore dearth of means is a temporary issue.

One fervent defender of human resourcefulness was the economist Julian Simon (1932 -1998): ‘Humans adapt to the problems that our development produces, for the most part smoothly and without grave setbacks. In the process we gain increased productivity and efficiency, and improved human welfare.’[3]

Apparently societies with a well functioning democracy and legal system, where people are literate and the free market regulates supply and demand stir the creativity of human beings and lead to solutions whether it is adaptation, innovation or the replacement of materials by something else, less scarce, polluting or expensive. The only remaining problems in these societies seem to be non-owned resources. Since nobody owns them – the atmosphere, the oceans – nobody really cares to look after them. People incline to take from the common wealth sans scrupules. Rules, like a ban on dumping waste in the forest, NGO’s like Greenpeace and the WWF and social control – thus a kind of mutual understanding on what is and is not accepted – have to protect the non-owned commons.

The problem of course is there is not so very much democracy – 27 out of 167 countries according to the Economist – nor access to affordable legal systems, education or good governance in large parts of the world. Well functioning international institutes that prevent nations, companies and individuals from plundering or wasting in non-owned resources are scarce as well, especially in the developing part of the world.

Africa, so very wealthy of natural resources and packed with natures’ amenities, has a long lasting history of abuse. The continent suffers. Extreme poverty, droughts, floods, pollution and epidemics scourge the Africans, who don’t enjoy democratic rights, health care or education and most of the time are deprived from enjoying the treasures their soil hides. For example like Nigeria. The Nigerians put up the garlands for the rest of the world but are not invited to the party.

Amnesty International reports in 2009: ‘The Niger Delta is one of the world’s 10 most important wetland and coastal marine ecosystems and is home to some 31 million people. It is also the location of massive oil deposits, which have been extracted for decades by the government of Nigeria and by multinational oil companies.
The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) describes the region as suffering from “administrative neglect, crumbling social infrastructure and services, high unemployment, social deprivation, abject poverty, filth and squalor, and endemic conflict.” This poverty, and its contrast with the wealth generated by oil, has become one of the world’s starkest and most disturbing examples of the “resource curse”.’

From the alleged 50 million environmental refugees a large part will be African. Until now developed countries do not acknowledge environmental refugees. People running for aid because they are starving are not granted asylum, their name is economic refugee, which is almost synonym for profiteer, gold digger or parasite. The West is very afraid of the hurdles poor young black that tinker at the gate. Fear is a bad advisor. The brick walls Europe tries to build to keep the poor outside become thicker and higher. And the angry mob becomes more determined by day and out of despair.

In the meantime the Europeans themselves get older with lesser youth to do the work. The world is racing straight for the Malthusian catastrophe. Population growth will soon not be our biggest problem; if we do not change course, we will kill each other. The solution is so very obvious and simple and apparently so difficult to act on: we will have to start sharing and apply smart and clean innovations for energy supply, agriculture, transportation and building. Sharing resources, the benefits as well as the costs to get rid of the resource curse. Sharing food and land, ocean and atmosphere, like we teach our children to share toys with their brother and sister.

Now here applies the law of the non-owned common, or if you like, the prisoners’ dilemma: Why should I share and care if the others don’t? And: should the others share resources, stop polluting, take care of the poor, then there is no need for me to do it as well. Individuals, companies and states don’t feel responsible for the well being of the world’s population. The rich want to protect their possessions; the poor want to obtain what the rich have. The very poorest want food, potable water, a leak proof shelter, and after that good healthcare, education, freedom, a mobile phone and a television set.

But there are solutions

Here’s two for the short term to clean the air:

1.   Reducing emissions of two common air polluters: black carbon and Methane. Both threaten public health and are being held responsible for climate change. ‘Now a panel of some 70 scientists, led by New York City-based Goddard Institute for Space Studies climatologist Drew Shindell, has reviewed the best available science and concludes that just a handful of measures could yield major benefits in the next fifty years’, Nasa reports.

2.   Olivine, the mineral that volcanoes disgorge during an eruption turns out to be a carbon dioxide eater, meant to clean up after the outburst. When crunched the mineral eats even more CO2. Plants grow happily on it. Everybody can use it in their garden, public parks, highways, railroads et cetera.

And for the long run? Maybe in the long run we’ll all be dead, like Keynes predicted so justly. But then again, hopefully there is some offspring left. There are plenty ideas to reach for sustainable development – sustainable meaning that People weigh just as heavy as Planet does – On the ecological, well being and health side we might as well build solar or wind power systems instead of coal mining and burning or oil drilling. Preferable de-central in order for far from a grid settlements to profit as well. Clean energy enables people to run a fridge to keep food and medication, a light bulb and even a telephone or pc to access the worldwide information rhizome called Internet. We saw what connection can do to oppressive regimes in Tunisia and Egypt recently. And what it is doing right now in other parts of the Middle East, like Libya. Mr Owen is probably right that the Arab peoples’ upraise is due to rising food prices, but Internet and the social media helped spread it.

The only thing we need to keep in mind is to keep things at a human scale. There is no sustainable solution thinkable that is as large as the planet, or that will stay sustainable forever. ‘As a general rule almost all technologies that were sustainable when first introduced became unsustainable as human population densities and consumption levels increased,’ is stated in the Atlas of Population and Environment. But that might just be because of the large, larger, largest implementation of an innovation we tend to apply instead of going through the hard work of (re)searching the right solution for an issue for that day, age, man or woman, and place on earth.

Apart from this, Mahatma Ghandi gave the right example: ‘Be the change you want to see in the world’. Once we all start behaving according to this principle, the problem of the non-owned commons nobody takes responsibility for will melt, faster than a glacier in 2011.

If we succeed, even if we succeed partly, the number of people who have to migrate, flee, ask for asylum will reduce. There will be much less fear and far more peace which is the true meaning of sustainability.

nonfiXe, Februari 2011

This article was published on Ecolutie, February 2011

[1] The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS)

[2] Environmental refugees: a growing phenomenon of the 21st century, Green college, University of Oxford, The Royal Society, May 2001

[3] The ultimate resource 2, Princeton University Press, 1996