Leigh Wilson: The European dream is not over, but we need to fight for it - now

Leigh Wilson says it is more important than ever to show solidarity with different races and cultures around the globe and resist insular, divisive politics

THE movement of people, like a rolling current across Europe, is the biggest challenge facing this continent now. 

As our politics is increasingly caught between the ideas of nativism and inclusion, European solidarity is rigorously tested while our leaders attempt to find a solution to the humanitarian crisis enveloping the continent. 

A solution will only be possible once we start to humanise the struggle of those who have been displaced from their native land, therefore restricting the fuel which intolerance thrives on.

Through tolerance, a safe pathway to resettlement for refugees can be found while alleviating the suffering of the most desperate people in the world. 

Through tolerance, however, a safe pathway to resettlement for refugees can be found while alleviating the suffering of the most desperate people in the world.

With a cacophony of devastation still reigning over Syria and the latest ceasefire coming to an abrupt end, European solidarity is being fully tested with regards to how we respond. 

As the world attempts to manage an unprecedented movement of people, there must be a global emphasis on humanising refugees and enabling a safe pathway to resettlement for those who have been displaced around the world. 

European leaders, therefore, must find a political solution to the crisis that is coherent, achievable and sustainable.

"Europe will not be made all at once, or according to a single plan. It will be built through concrete achievements which first create a de facto solidarity."

With a cacophony of devastation still reigning over Syria and the latest ceasefire coming to an abrupt end, European solidarity is being fully tested with regards to how we respond. 

The Schuman Declaration, presented by the French foreign minister in 1950, laid the foundations for the future European Union and thereby precipitated the formation of the world's largest political union. 

The solidarity referenced in 1950, though, mirrored the premise of the EU four decades later: solidarity among members to protect against the horror of a European war, solidarity in promoting free and fair trade, and solidarity in providing a connected community where citizens could move freely throughout. 

This ideal seemed to be relatively cohesive through the social democratic peak from the late 1990s, but as we move into what many economists are now describing as the post-liberal era, it seems to be gradually fracturing. 

A situation has developed in Europe whereby overtly political crises - the manifestation of Brexit and the rise of the far right - are twinned with the humanitarian crisis and the quest to find a pan-continent solution to solve it. 

A situation has developed in Europe whereby overtly political crises - the manifestation of Brexit and the rise of the far right - are twinned with the humanitarian crisis.

Sadly, it seems that a product of these challenges is the symptomatic fear of 'the other'. This fear only serves to turn people against each other, while at the same time, desensitising us to global atrocities in the knowledge that they are sufficiently far enough away from our shores. 

As humans, though, we should always feel a responsibility to find ways to help those in desperate need rather than finding reasons not to.

My experience has been that public perception of 'the other' is often shaped by both culture and background. My grandfather, the eldest of three from a deeply religious community in the south of Ireland, travelled to Britain in the 1960s to escape his preordained future in the clergy. 

It was tradition that the eldest son in the family would enter religion and, given my grandfather's misgivings with the church at the time, he struggled with the responsibility before deciding that the tradition was one he just could not continue. 

Sadly, it seems that a product of these challenges is the symptomatic fear of 'the other'.

My admiration for someone who relocated, in the knowledge that they may irreparably damage relationships with their family, knows no bounds. Interestingly, though, I am told of how he, as an 'economic migrant', never experienced the hostility which had befallen many Irish migrants of generations before, particularly following the great famine. 

I imagine that positive experience mirrors those of contemporary Irish who travel across the sea today for a variety of work, study and family reasons. 

As we know from a UK perspective, though, this is often not the experience of migrants who travel from across the globe to resettle in, and contribute to, our country. 

As a society we should feel humbled that people who are undertaking a dramatic new chapter in their lives have selected this country to make their home. Yet still too many regrettable sections of our society casually demean, insult and slander them. 

Refugees are not simply statistics that should be filed away in the databases of our minds, they are human beings, every one with a story. 

This hostility is not purely confined to 'economic migrants': we have frequently seen this language being directed towards people who are fleeing from terror, too. There is often an ambivalence that desperate people are risking their lives, in the most horrifying conditions, to find a safe haven from the devastation of war. 

The fear of 'the other', as perpetuated by some, therefore has little to do with literal numbers, as we are often told in the immigration debate, but instead a fear of people of different colour, with a different language, joining our communities. 

It would be fascinating to ascertain whether there would be the same antipathy for refugees if they were white Christians from America or Canada. I doubt it. We, as progressives, must therefore continue to set the tone for a humanisation of refugees and a culture of compassion to counter the crassness of those who want to abdicate all responsibility.

With the UN recently holding its first refugee summit, it has been estimated that 13 million people are in need of humanitarian aid within Syria, over four million have been displaced outside from the country, while over 2,000 have died while trying to cross the Mediterranean this year alone. 

It is therefore incumbent on those of us who believe in progressivism, internationalism and solidarity, to hold our establishment to account in advocating a more humane asylum policy and a more benevolent rhetoric. 

Digesting such vast numbers can lead to a desensitisation where we fail to register the sheer human sacrifice involved in this crisis. Refugees, though, are not simply statistics that should be filed away in the databases of our minds, they are human beings, every one with a story. 

These are stories, though, which will end in despair unless we take the necessary action to alleviate their suffering. This inability to grasp the human element of the crisis, the spiriting away of collective empathy, is indeed why it required the visualisation of horror to spark mass public consciousness to life. 

The harrowing image of a young Syrian boy, washed up on a Turkish beach, has been burned into our minds. A melancholic reminder of what global inaction results in. 
The image brought a realisation that, more than just statistics, people are dying in their thousands as they strive to make a life for themselves and their families. The image illustrates, more drastically than any article or set of statistics can, the futility of this crisis and the waste of human life. Children, in particular, should never have to suffer the consequences of war.

It is therefore incumbent on those of us who believe in progressivism, internationalism and solidarity, to hold our establishment to account in advocating a more humane asylum policy and a more benevolent rhetoric. 

In times of economic struggle, history shows us that the most vulnerable in society often retract inwards and seek a politics that closes off the rest of the world instead of reaching out.

As I have previously alluded to, attempting to appease the right and triangulate in any such way only serves to commence a race to the bottom where the most pernicious, most right wing, will always be the victors. This is not a new phenomenon. 

In times of economic struggle, history shows us that the most vulnerable in society often retract inwards and seek a politics that closes off the rest of the world instead of reaching out. 

In this age of significant transition, therefore, now is a fertile moment in history for the far-right to exploit. Hungary, for example, is proposing to build a second, Trump-esque, fence around its borders to keep the refugees out. In Germany, Angela Merkel's reign as chancellor now looks under threat ahead of the national elections next year amid a rise of the far-right. 

In an age of softer borders, there is a body of thought that seeks to strengthen the territorial borders that still exist, to close off diversity wherever possible: a notion that speaks to patriotism as well as national pride. 

There is no pride in becoming more insular, however, because it makes us much weaker rather than stronger.

There is no pride in becoming more insular, however, because it makes us much weaker rather than stronger. In many ways that is why it is pleasing that the civic nationalism of the SNP, and the wider Yes movement, has been so successful in Scotland. 

We have been able to couple people's desire for the national collective, inclusive of all nationalities, while producing a progressive climate which actually looks out to rest of the world.

Scotland is a nation that has been shaped by movement. The movement of power; the movement of ideas; and yes, the movement of people. The Scottish Diaspora is in the region of 50-100 million people. History has shown that Scots, 20 per cent of whom were born here but now live elsewhere, are a migratory people with America, Canada and Australia all popular destinations for those emigrating. 

Now, thanks to the opportunities afforded by free movement across the European Union, it is possible for Scots to travel freely throughout Europe while we welcome many thousands of European citizens who come here to work and study. 

In many ways that is why it is pleasing that the civic nationalism of the SNP, and the wider Yes movement, has been so successful in Scotland. 

These ideals of internationalism encrust the thinking of our nation and go to the heart of who we are. I am proud, therefore, that Scotland was recently able to welcome it's 1000th Syrian refugee, confirming that Scotland has now accepted a third of all the UK's total. 

Just as important as welcoming them, though, is the integration that takes place thereafter. Much thought and effort is generated into teaching refugees English, educating them on their new surroundings and offering support with regards to employment. 

On the the Isle of Bute, the local community has welcomed the new arrivals by converting a section of the local church into a mosque while ensuring that local butchers provide halal meat. This inclusive attitude to 'New Scots' underpins the Scottish Government's ambition for Scotland's future. 

It is important to me that the global community looks on Scotland, not just as a cooperative partner, but also a progressive companion. Only through this approach can we create the dynamic country of the future that we aspire to be. 

As Europeans we have the power to shape the future we want to see, acting as agents of change in an uncertain world. 

As Scotland gains more autonomy, we seem to be increasingly at ease with our place in the world, confident of our abilities to engage with our partners and creative with the solutions to the challenges we face. 

This model has to be replicated across Europe if our future is going to be more harmonious than our past. As Europeans we have the power to shape the future we want to see, acting as agents of change in an uncertain world. 

The ideal of a compassionate, enlightened and free Europe is not over. It is down to us to grasp it.

Picture courtesy of Rasande Tyskar

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