As the refugee crisis in Europe has come to dominate western media headlines, it has predictably given rise to a complex web of theories, analyses, and politically and ideologically charged omissions and distortions. The corporate propagandists of ‘acceptable journalism’ have presented the issue in a purely humanitarian and cultural light, with little to no political context in terms of the refugee influx as the fruit of imperial wars in Africa and Asia.
These bastions of journalistic truth have managed to flush down the memory hole nearly all evidence published in their own pages of the overlapping strategies of regional and international powers that have conspired to wage war in Syria, openly colluded in wars of aggression in Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Yemen, and prolonged and capitalized from seemingly endless conflicts in Somalia and elsewhere. All of these very conscious decisions by the ruling class and its political establishment in the US-NATO (plus Israel and GCC), have led directly to the “crisis” as it exists today. And yet, if they’re mentioned at all, it is merely in passing bemusement, the way one might refer to a stupid comment made after one too many tequila shots at a margarita happy hour.
The refugee issue then becomes less a product of political conflict, and more a cultural battlefield with trenches dug along racial and ethnic lines: the struggle to maintain European ‘civilization’ against the barbaric hordes of uncivilized brown-skinned invaders arriving as a “swarm,” to borrow the unintentionally honest expression used by British Prime Minister David Cameron to describe the refugees. This is of course the neocolonial, supremacist position espoused most vocally by the far right throughout Europe, from Marine Le Pen and the Front National in France, to Hungary’s conservative Prime Minister Viktor Orban whose heavy-handed tactics – building fences, mobilizing troops and the unemployed, convicts, and fascists of various stripes – to block the refugee influx, have been both praised and condemned by various elements in Europe.
While there is clearly an attempt to rewrite recent history to scrub the role of imperialism in fostering this crisis, there is also a deafening silence on the role of certain regional and international actors in manipulating it for political advantage. For instance, there is virtually no discussion in mainstream (and much of the alternative) media regarding the role of Turkey in redirecting refugees from its country to Greece and into Europe. There has yet to be even one substantive investigative piece in any establishment media on the collusion between the human traffickers of the Islamic State and other terror groups and criminal gangs, and their backers in the US, Europe, and Middle East. Equally, there has been virtually zero discussion of how the strategy of manipulated migration is part of a broader effort to further the goals of the Empire in the Global South.
Indeed, such questions and debates are critical to understanding the political, economic, and socio-cultural implications of this issue. However, in asking such questions, one almost immediately encounters the virulent strains of racism, bigotry, and outright fascism whose pernicious influence has become pervasive in nominally anti-imperialist circles. Sometimes such ideology is manifested in centuries-old reactionary conspiracy theories in which cabals of Jews, Jesuits, freemasons, or reptilian overlords (as the case may be) conspire to destroy white Christendom. Other times it is simply a rehashing of the ‘barbarian invader’ trope, a product of both European history and good old fashioned Euro-supremacism.
Why are these questions critical? Simply put, the discourse on the refugee crisis is essential to undermining the entire imperialist agenda in Africa and the Middle East. Leftists must be cautious not to take the bait on the liberal versus conservative culture war narrative rooted in a neocolonial worldview, while at the same time remaining vigilant about both the real geopolitical machinations driving the crisis, and the fascistic memes that pass for “telling the truth” in the quagmire of social media and online activism.