Aylan's death is just tip of the iceberg: Why doesn't the Arab Muslim world step up?

The reasons for the refugee exodus from the West Asia are obvious: the anarchic , unsafe conditions in much of the reason and the abdication by the West of its moral responsibility in and towards the region.

Wajahat Qazi September 05, 2015 08:20:40 IST
Aylan's death is just tip of the iceberg: Why doesn't the Arab Muslim world step up?

The death of a three-year-old Aylan Kurdi, whose body washed onto Turkish shores has shocked the world. Aylan died along with his mother and brother while the family was trying to flee the blighted West Asia. While Aylan’s tragic death made headlines, it stands to reason that it is merely the tip of an iceberg. The estimated death toll owing to the crisis has reached 2,500 people this year. And thousands or even hundreds of thousands of refugees will try to move to safer climes and environs as conditions in West Asia deteriorate. The reasons for the exodus from West Asia are obvious: The anarchic, unsafe conditions in much of the reason and the abdication by the West of its moral responsibility in and towards the region.

Post-Gulf War II, which has been described by some as a ‘war of choice’, the West has, by and large retreated into itself. The responsibility for global security has been abdicated, outsourced in some cases, and left to simmer in other instances. The West Asian region has been left to its own devices as the West deals with its own security. In the US, this has meant ‘homeland security’ and in Europe, walling the continent and morphing into ‘Fortress Europe’. The consequences have been stark and clear: as West Asia gradually but inexorably tears itself apart, the pressures for outward migration in the form of refugee flows has increased manifold. The inability to deal with exponential flows also reflects the failure of the existing global governance regime. This is overlain by an added layer that makes recipient countries — especially in Europe — loath to accept refugees. This layer pertains to the rise of populism and populist parties in Europe. The thrust of these populist parties is xenophobia and the push for curbing immigration into Europe. Added together, all these factors explain the refugee crisis.

Aylans death is just tip of the iceberg Why doesnt the Arab Muslim world step up

File photo of a Syrian refugee camp. Reuters

That is, insofar as the generic backdrop of the refugee crisis is concerned.

But the question that I as a Muslim raise is why should the refugee crisis be only a ‘moral crisis’ of the West? Why does only Europe cop blame for the crisis? Isn’t the Muslim world especially the Arab Muslim world equally or even more culpable for the crisis?

Let me begin with an example. The federating units of the UAE and even Saudi Arabia welcome expatriates from the Muslim world. The major corpus of expats forms the labour pool of these Muslim countries. They live there, make money, send their remittances home but at the end of the day, they have to return home. The Gulf countries and Saudi Arabia do not grant these expats citizenship and citizen rights even if they are Muslim. The policy of these states towards expats is then very instrumental: Allow expats in, use them and them make them return. Why does this policy persist?

Given that there is little by way of information in the public domain remain regarding this policy, one can only speculate. It would appear that the Gulf states, and Saudi Arabia, want to maintain the cultural essence and purity of their states. The colour of these states is Arab and they want to remain Arab, albeit with a tribal overlay and ingress. That is to say, that Arab Muslim states are essentially tribal states with a tribe or a group of tribes that constitute the ruling elite and even the laity , so to speak. Granting citizenship and citizenship rights to other peoples would dilute this character of these states. Hence, the closed nature of the Arab state system.

Another factor or dynamic that appears to be at work here pertains to political economy. Power is easy to maintain when states are homogeneous; the more heterogeneous a state the more complex power and authority become. Arab states are authoritarian in nature and opening up to immigrants or expats would open a Pandora’s box that would then have power political implications. Citizenship comes with rights, and rights mean democracy. According rights to expats would mean democratisation and a multicultural makeup of Arab societies. The status quo then is preferable over the uncertainty that citizenship and the rights flowing from this would lead to.

Au contraire, while there is much to say about the nature of integration of non-western people in the West, western countries offer citizenship and accord rights to people who choose to go to the West either as immigrants or refugees. The rule of law that obtains in the West may not entirely prevent social discrimination and racism to immigrants once they become citizens, but it does afford full protection to immigrants. The generous welfare provisions of most western states, especially in Europe are another draw for some immigrants. (This has, over the time, become controversial).

From a utilitarian and other perspectives, heading West-ward is probably the natural inclination of refugees and immigrants.

This, however, does not solve the moral problem or dilemma.

If fellow Muslims , caught in the crucible of conflict, in parts of West Asia, need refuge and succour, why aren't the major states of the region stepping up to offer help? Isn't the ‘ummah’ one? Should not a fellow Muslim come to the aid of another Muslim when he or she is in trouble? Is this not what Islam enjoins?

Helping fellow Muslims is an Islamic ideal. But alas, this flounders on the rocks of reality. The Muslim world is divided along the lines of race, culture and states. Culture , sect and even race in the Muslim world determine the solidarity and orientation of Muslims towards each other. This besides the reasons spelled out above may explain the Arab Muslim world’s choice to ignore the plight of fellow Muslims caught in the maelstrom of conflict. Morality is sacrificed at the altar of culture, race, political economy and power. In the meantime, victims of the West Asian conflicts will, instead of seeking succour and assistance from the Muslim world, continue to head West-ward.

This is the prosaic reality of the Arab world, one that in all likelihood will endure.

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