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Our perception of a place is very much if not solely related to our experience of its people. For example, I am fond of Germany, because I would go there on vacations as a child with my parents and would be embraced by a couple of loving locals that made life beautiful. I did return to Germany as an adult for my master’s degree – in a way searching for my roots – and although I found things different from how I’d left them (as I was approximately fifteen years older), nothing could or probably ever will erase the emotional importance of that place and its people.

When a friend from Greece recently told me that she has been taking the kids of a refugee family from the Elliniko camp to her home for a bath and a few hours of play per day, I took it for granted that the unconditional love these kids receive from a stranger is an experience that will escort them for the rest of their lives, and something they’ll give back to humanity in the future – and this is how the world becomes a better place. Also, these people will cherish Greece and the Greek people.

On the contrary, the refugees who faced racism or were taken advantage of by Greeks who e.g. sold them a bottle of water for five euros, will probably hate Greece and its people, and so on and so forth. The younger we are the more absolute our feelings, but in any age our minds tend to work with generalizations that one can overcome only with hard, conscious effort, if ever. We tend to reflect our experiences like precision mirrors, and racism begets racism. It is to our benefit to try and control if not eliminate racist tendencies in our populations, if not out of interest for the advancement of civilization then as a precaution, as, according to natural law, what goes around comes around, and it often hits you hard in the face.

    Just a few days ago, the ICCT [International Center for Counter-Terrorism] released a research paper called “The Foreign Fighters Phenomenon in the European Union.” According to the gathered data, the number of “foreign fighters” from the EU – meaning people who embraced the Islamic State propaganda and left their EU countries to join the war against the Assad regime in Syria as well as the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan – is estimated to be approximately four thousand.

Even though the paper recognizes the importance of segregation, stating, for example, that many of these people felt secluded and without access to growth opportunities, it fails in a manner typical of the European policies of the past decades: Although the importance of preventive measures is rightly stressed, the proposed measures are limited to the ‘high risk’ populations, supporting an interventionist approach that will mathematically lead to increased marginalization and an even deeper sense of alienation and distrust.

Similarly, a few months ago there was an article in Huffington Post called “The Mothers of ISIS”. Interestingly enough and despite its title, the article stressed time and again the lack of a father figure in most of these families. The viewpoint was fresh and the details sensational, but here too there was the attempt to present extremism as a phenomenon springing mostly from the deeper core of society, the family, and not as a result of societal dynamics.

For prevention to succeed, we should start our interventions from the deeply rooted racist tendencies within our western societies, providing not a new vocabulary but new cohabitation standards. Immigrants and refugees should stop being treated as “guests in our country” who should be constantly under surveillance by the authorities or the ‘concerned’ citizen who is filled with prejudism, presuppositions and fear.

Since racism, and the gap it creates, is always an issue of class – i.e. it refers mostly to the poor and is eagerly embraced by the little-less-but-still poor – I like to think of the rioting and terrorism potential in this oversimplified way: Imagine a kid, kid A, that goes everyday to the pastry shop and gets ice-cream, and another kid, kid B, who everyday passes by but never has enough money to get ice-cream. Kid A doesn’t empathize with kid B and even makes fun of her. Normally, kid B will just resign and accept that she might or might not get an ice-cream someday but, under certain circumstances, she may get angry and trip kid A up, who will then start crying and blame kid B.

(Notice that in this paradigm I’m not getting into the causative details at all. Both subjects are kids, thus none of them is really responsible for their status or, to a certain extend, their behavior. And this is exactly the standpoint I believe we should adopt, since otherwise we’ll just get tangled in “the chicken or the egg” kind of argument.)

The major issue here though is that kid B takes action in the seemingly more harmful and hateful manner, so this is the action and thus the kid on which we tend to focus on. Instead of overanalyzing the behavior of kid B, it would be a good idea to place equal emphasis on the behavior of kid A, correct them both, and build a constructive relationship between the two. Pulling kid B away from the display window will only treat the symptoms, and only for a little while, but if we put in the extra effort to instill cultural understanding and empathy in kid A we can avoid much hurt, with long-lasting and transforming results for society as a whole.

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Saturday, 14 May 2016 01:18
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