Dyab Abou Jahjah
(column published in the Belgian daily De Standaard and translated from Dutch by Oriana P.)
When I saw you, in your eternal bath, floating in your sleep, in your eternal cradle, I imagined you were tired and simply resting. I saw my own daughter in you and assumed you must be tired, my little girl, that’s why you had fallen asleep with your clothes on. Yellow and green and red, the colors of the rainbow, so beautiful and delicate, like a flower in the sea, so very beautiful but oh so tired, so very tired.
My dear, you must leave us all behind you because this world does not deserve your innocence. This world does not deserve your dreams. Don’t look back now, travel with the rays of the sun that keep your body warm, cross the bridge alongside the souls of the other drowned towards a spiritual existence, which may exist or may not. Forgive me that I do not know and that I cannot promise. Come what may, give it your best shot at finding peace at the source of the love that has created us, if it exists. Or sleep, forever. This time without the dreams and thus without the disappointments and the suffering.
For with us, my sweetheart, my daughter, your dreams are nothing but a cruel deception. They claim that you, and the others on that boat, were on your way to come and take advantage of our prosperity. They say, we just can’t be the Social Security of the world. Indeed, we are not. It is in fact Africa that is the Social Security of the world. We, together with the rest of the world, have exploited Africa for hundreds of years. And we still do it today. African wealth is in our bank accounts. But when African people come here to flee the wars we are waging, to escape the looting we control, to dodge the mafia regimes of which we are partners then we hope they will die in the ocean. Then we celebrate their death as one less social security check. Then we ask if maybe it would be possible for the others, who are here already, to also drown. Then we dream of genocide.
And, no, it's not about a few hateful sourpusses on social media. Social media are but the tip of the iceberg of what lives amongst millions of people who vote for the parties in power with policies of deportation and murderous cynicism. Their policy is one of accessory because it views the deaths as a useful barrier against an influx of migrants from conflict zones. They were all people who risked their lives to escape certain death, or certain rape, or certain captivity. All those people who aren’t politicians nor activists and who can’t prove, with name and surname, they were the ones being targeted, prosecuted and actually would have the right to fall under the protection of the Geneva Convention. These people who are in fact in real danger and who are fleeing just as we would flee from danger.
Europe wants to receive 5,000 of those people. A country like Lebanon, a country of many problems, little money and four million inhabitants, receives almost two million refugees. Europe, a continent with many countries, with a strong economy and with 300 million inhabitants, is grumbling over 5,000 or 10,000 refugees. It is so cynical you cannot get beyond mere shock and devastating disappointment. I can’t even move myself to engage in debate. I am angry and sad and baffled and disillusioned and I feel like burning my European passport because I am too ashamed to hold it.
And then there’s the gloating that doesn’t stay limited to a bunch of simpletons on Facebook or Twitter but that can be spotted in between the lines of what ministers and secretaries of state are saying. And there is the unwillingness to provide even basic support for the ones that were drowning, the unwillingness of the whole of Europe to conduct rescue operations to, at the very least, save the children from the water like the men from the Libyan coast guard indeed are trying to do every day, without the necessary resources in a state that is falling apart and at gunpoint by armed gangs.
Europe can save all of them, every single one. Europe has the naval power and the means to save them even if it would later decide to send them back, it could still save them. But Europe chooses to let them drown. A deliberate choice.
In the meantime, your body is like a flower plucked from the sea. And with your body, my sweet darling, the faith many have in civilization will be buried.