Dr Zain Ali: Magic ways to ease a crisis of conscience

Quran 4:100. And whoever emigrates for the cause of God will find on the earth many [alternative] locations and abundance. And whoever leaves his home as an emigrant to God and His Messenger and then death overtakes him – his reward has already become incumbent upon God.

Dr. Ali downplays the reasons why Islamic countries like Egypt, Saudi Arabia (who desperately require workers), and Iran do not accept more of these people. He also downplays the fact that only 20% are from Syria and Iraq, with the rest coming from Africa and other Islamic nations.

Paris has shown his reasoning is faulty. Islam hasn’t changed in 1400 years.

Dr Zain Ali: Magic ways to ease a crisis of conscience

It’s often said that magic is the art of misdirection. In the debate on the Syrian refugee crisis, misdirection seems ubiquitous.

Consider the comments of Australian Liberal Senator Cory Bernardi, who claims Syrian toddler Aylan Kurdi was travelling from Turkey to Greece because his father wanted better teeth. It’s unclear how Senator Bernardi came across this information, but he uses it to argue that the images of young Aylan on the shores of Turkey is not representative of a humanitarian crisis.

Bernardi could very well be right about Aylan, but it’s an example of misdirection since the humanitarian crisis existed long before images of poor young Aylan flashed across our screens.

Consider also recent comments by Winston Peters, who suggests that some of the refugee men should go back home to fight for their freedom. This is not only misdirection but deeply misguided. There are hundreds of rebel groups operating in Syria – which one should we expect them to join?

It’s time for a mature discussion of the refugee crisis. Europe, and to a lesser extent Australia and New Zealand, are faced with three fundamental risks – let’s consider each in turn.

The economic risk: will large numbers of refugees adversely impact local economies?

Governments who take in refugees must now think about providing them with food, accommodation and clothing. This will rely on taxpayer funding, and may divert funds from other worthy projects. The influx may also place a strain on the availability of everyday commodities like water, rice, flour and oil.

It would be another example of misdirection if we assumed that supporting refugees had purely negative economic impacts. Perhaps the United Nations should be helping to subsidise the costs.

The security risk: will militant groups such as Isis use this crisis to send their agents into Europe and Australasia? Alternatively, will refugees bring with them the same problems they have left behind?

Again, it would be misdirection to simply raise these issues as a reason not to allow refugees. The risks are very real, and we should not downplay them, but the crisis is just as real, and it would be absurd to only help those who could prove their good intent. We need to accept and help refugees with our eyes wide open. Countries such as Saudi Arabia have taken this risk to heart and do not take in refugees. They have, however, provided hundreds of millions of dollars to provide refuges in Syria with food and shelter. Perhaps the New Zealand Government could approach Saudi Arabia to help subsidise the costs of hosting refugees.

The social and cultural risk: the concern is that refugees will not fit in with our values or, even worse, they may overwhelm the host culture to a point where the values of that culture are lost.

This point was made by Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who said that Muslim refugees threatened Europe’s Christian identity and roots. This statement again seemed to be a case of misdirection, since Europe is usually seen as a paragon of enlightened secularism – but in the face of this crisis its Christian roots seem to matter most.

Even if we seek to preserve those Christian roots, surely we must also pay attention to Christian values, such as helping the needy.

Australia wants only Syrians who belong to a religious minority. It will be interesting to see how a secular nation will go about testing and evaluating their religious beliefs.

None of these issues are easy to deal with, even when we set emotion aside. Europe is facing a crisis of conscience, as are we, and I can’t help but recall a quote that a colleague recently shared with me. The quote belongs to holocaust survivor and philosopher Emmanuel Levinas: “The material needs of the other, are my spiritual needs.”

Dr Zain Ali is head of the Islamic studies research unit at the University of Auckland.