SPECIAL WEEKEND FEATURE
At the height of the refugee wave from NATO war zones into Turkey and Europe a couple of years ago, Merkel opened the borders and allowed nearly a million refugees into Germany. Although she is a conservative woman and an obedient servant of the neoliberal economic order and American hegemony, with whom I have always disagreed about almost everything, I was proud of her for a while for taking this courageous stand against much of Europe, including at least half of her own party, the tragically misnamed Christian Democratic Union.
The political center in Germany is somewhat to the left of America’s center (which has raced to the Right chasing the Republicans since 1981), and in her cautious and plodding way the Chancellor has brought her right-wing German party several steps leftward and closer to that center in her 15 years as the CDU’s leader. While Merkel is the daughter of an East German Protestant Minister from the days of the Iron Curtain, the CDU has close ties to the Catholic Church and to industry. Under Merkel it has loosened up a bit about gay rights, followed her late reversal to renounce nuclear power and embrace the move toward renewable energy following the wake-up call of the Fukushima Disaster, and has experienced a rising female membership in what is still a party dominated by white males. But it remains a deeply conservative organization, and the first real threat to Merkel’s power base there came as a panicky, xenophobic reaction by the party’s right wing to her decision to help a large number of refugees in a quickly improvised response to the growing refugee crisis. That improvisation involved housing the many arriving foreigners in hastily arranged shelters all around the country, some in small towns like the one where I live, where 350 young men were brought in almost overnight to be domiciled in a large space in an industrial park, adjacent to one of the town’s busiest ALDI supermarkets. I met many of them and worked with some of them, and found them to be fine people who were deeply grateful for the help they were receiving. But shortly after these tumultuous events, a town hall meeting had to be hastily organized to explain things to the locals. I was there, the place was jam-packed, and there were many very worried faces, many of them more or less in shock. A couple of days before that meeting, my partner had been accosted by aggressive, xenophobic Germans as she went to the shelter to help, having erroneously parked her car next to one of their businesses in an unmarked space which turned out to be private. She was surrounded by insulting and hostile machos who labeled her a “Gutmensch” (“do-gooder”) and shouted at her that “no one wants these refugees here.”
At the town hall meeting, the mayor and some of his staff reported on the measures that were being taken in coordination with the federal government. Their attitude was fairly positive and reassuring as they explained the situation, but they repeatedly cited “the pain threshold” in regard to the situation – that would be the pain of the local citizens expected to put up with refugees, not the pain of those fleeing war and destruction – which finally prompted me to speak up. A bit heatedly, I introduced myself in German as an American refugee who loves living in their beautiful region. This was met by a good bit of laughter, and I immediately said that it was not meant as a joke, which produced sudden silence. I then proceeded to point out that these persons were fleeing from the horrors of war zones in conflicts that the German government supports, and that I was offended by the term “pain threshold” as applied to ourselves: rather, it is the refugees’ pain about which we should be concerned, and it is a wonderful thing to be in a position to help such desperate people. For it is a fact that the largest groups in that refugee wave into Germany came from Syria, Libya, Afghanistan and Iraq. I then spoke about the despicable treatment to which my partner had been subjected as someone helping the refugees. Later one of the businessmen involved, also present, spoke in embarrassment to explain his actions.
Barack Obama joins Angela Merkel in Berlin: Spreading the snake oil again across the Atlantic. (May 25, 2017)
"Many refugees...are fleeing from ISIS, which would not exist if George W. Bush had not invaded Iraq with calamitous results which continue to unfold. Many, many other refugees come from Syria, victims of a proxy war which is kept going by the US government via CIA arms and funding to islamist-jihadi groups attempting to overthrow Bashar al-Assad..."
Over the following two years, tempers cooled as most Germans came to realize that refugees were no threat to their way of life. However: at the same time, racist and xenophobic political movements developed such as PEGIDA (“Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the Occident”) in East Germany and the national political party Alternativ für Deutschland (AfD) which is now represented in almost all state legislatures and on track to enter Germany’s Parliament, the Bundestag, in the coming election. Much of their support apparently came from anti-immigrant CDU voters who were deserting the party based on the refugee issue, as polls showed that many of Merkel’s longtime voters were now thoroughly disillusioned with her.
At first, she defended her actions vociferously and calmly, as right-wing attacks from within and outside of her own party grew ever more heated. But slowly, gradually, she began to capitulate.
Her governing coalition, which includes the very compromised and unsocial Social Democratic Party (SPD), pushed through changes in Germany’s once-noble asylum policies which make it more difficult for refugees to receive permanent asylum. Other weakening of the refugee-friendly policies followed. Not long ago, her government announced its intention to deport Afghan refugees who are denied asylum back to Afghanistan, even as the war there heats up yet again and terrorist attacks increase in spite of the 16-year NATO presence (which includes German troops). The government insists that there are parts of Afghanistan that are safe and that the deported refugees are not being placed in danger. The facts, especially in recent weeks, render this excuse transparently ridiculous and reveal it as another sell-out for votes.
A few weeks ago, Merkel’s Minister of the Interior, Thomas de Maiziere, wrote an article for the vulgar right-wing boulevard newspaper BILD outlining his concept of the German “Leitkultur”, which means something like “leading or dominant culture” and is understood by right-wingers here as a blueprint for assimilation of foreigners who are expected to behave in certain ways if they expect to be permanently welcome. It was the starting gun in the national election and a blatant appeal to the racist and xenophobic voters who had been deserting the party to return to Mutti (“Mommy”, as she is only half-jokingly known here in casual conversation). The article was met with a good amount of widespread scorn and strong criticism, but along with the other measures, it is having the desired effect. The CDU is winning state elections again and the number of people voting for the AfD has fallen substantially. This subtly racist electioneering is in the best tradition of former CDU Chairman and Chancellor Helmut Kohl, Merkel’s political godfather, who always made sure to deliver a few choice, mildly anti-immigrant remarks in the run-up to every election, unspectacular but also unmistakable.
Over the last two days Merkel appeared with Barack Obama before a very large convention of Protestant young people in Berlin (see video above), and continued to twist the knife of betrayal she has plunged in the back of the helpless refugee population she once protected. In answer to skeptical questioning from young Christians – some of whom, obviously, actually take the religion’s precepts seriously -- regarding her deportations into a war zone, she defended the policy and chose to focus on the need to keep things functioning smoothly in a “nation of laws”.
Then it was time for Obama to speak his piece in support of a right-wing party running a racist campaign. There was a time when his relations with Merkel took a nose-dive, following the Snowden affair and the revelation that the NSA had been listening in on Merkel’s cellphone. Germans were angry and even outraged, but although Obama never really apologized or agreed to any of the substantial changes in the NSA’s worldwide mass surveillance requested by the EU, the scandal died down quickly. Merkel’s pretended pouting about how “such things are not done among friends” turned out to be nothing but an act, when it was later revealed that at the very same time, the German BND had been helping the NSA tap phones in Paris and Brussels in the same manner, with her knowledge. Last year she welcomed Obama back to Berlin as he campaigned for Hillary Clinton, and they appeared together to denounce “Fake News” (see my article “Hope Is Our Enemy” about Obama’s role in initiating this campaign against free speech and independent journalism, and my piece “Europe Drinks the Kool-Aid” regarding European cowardly complicity in the mendacious campaign of imperial propaganda against Russia after the US and the EU provoked the Ukraine crisis).
The EU member nations are already fighting bitterly among themselves, with many of them accepting only small numbers of refugees and others such as Poland, Hungary and Slovakia refusing to accept any at all. No, Erdogan may be a brutal tyrant but after all, Turkey IS a NATO member and we need him, they insist. Payments continue. This is the modern European Union, definitely not a profile in courage.
I won’t go into Obama’s facile and embarrassing remarks about his alleged Christian faith, which have always been of a strategic political nature considered obligatory for anyone hoping to be President of the United States. However, he was questioned directly from the audience about the Christianity of his drone attacks – partly controlled from Ramstein Air Force base here in Germany -- which the questioner said have killed “hundreds” (the real toll is much, much higher of course) of civilians. He responded that it was his responsibility to do so, to protect people from attacks like the one in Manchester – unbelievable brazen ironic gall in light of the fact that the Manchester killer appears to have been trained by ISIS in Libya, where they developed a presence after Obama, Hillary Clinton, former UK Prime Minister David Cameron and former French President Nicholas Sarkozy took it upon themselves to destroy the Libyan state, which had renounced terror much earlier after years of Western pressure. Today, refugees are sold openly as slaves in Libya and drown by the thousand, as a direct result of Obama’s actions. Glibly, and with remarkably distasteful false piety delivered in a cheerful tone, he addressed the issue of refugees fleeing from his own war zones by saying that “while people on both sides of the borders are god’s children, our national governments have limited capacities to help”. Merkel, who at least had the temporary political courage to accept a million refugees while Obama considered accepting 10,000 a great humanitarian gesture, did not show it if she was struck by the deadly hypocrisy of this statement. But after all, she has now reversed course to move in the same cowardly direction.
EU distaste for refugees, the world’s Untouchable Caste, was enshrined in an obscene agreement between partner whores when the Union agreed to pay Turkey three billion euros to keep as many refugees as possible in Turkey to prevent them from reaching the EU. In Turkey and on Greek islands, vast numbers of refugees inhabit filthy and reprehensible tent cities and prison-like facilities where they often suffer extreme cold in the winter and enjoy only token support from United Nations teams. Meanwhile Turkey is rapidly going fascist following its failed coup in the summer of 2016, as President Erdogan rounds up tens of thousands of teachers, journalists and intellectuals accused of “terrorist sympathies” and throws them in other nasty Turkish prisons. Europe is afraid to be too critical; what if Erdogan lets those deeply unpleasant refugees into Europe again? The EU member nations are already fighting bitterly among themselves, with many of them accepting only small numbers of refugees and others such as Poland, Hungary and Slovakia refusing to accept any at all. No, Erdogan may be a brutal tyrant but after all, Turkey IS a NATO member and we need him, they insist. Payments continue. This is the modern European Union, definitely not a profile in courage. The refugee issue continues to be a key driving force in the growth of anti-EU right-wing parties, and while the establishment breathed a huge sigh of relief after the outcomes of the elections in The Netherlands and France, they know well that they are not out of the woods.
Almost no one gives a damn about refugees, the most desperate and powerless people on Earth, whose numbers are growing rapidly.
And how did they become refugees?
Although it is treated as a taboo subject in Europe’s mainstream media, the fact is that the vast majority of the refugees reaching the EU in the major wave a couple of years ago were fleeing from American and NATO war zones. The same NATO ally which the others consider indispensable for their protection, giving rise currently to major panic here because of Trump’s NATO-skepticism and unpredictability, is responsible in large measure for much of the refugee explosion. Many are fleeing from ISIS, which would not exist if George W. Bush had not invaded Iraq with calamitous results which continue to unfold. Many, many other refugees come from Syria, victims of a proxy war which is kept going by the US government via CIA arms and funding to islamist-jihadi groups attempting to overthrow Bashar al-Assad. More funding for this widely diverse array of fighters comes from the evil Saudi Arabians, whom Germany too supports with arms sales and military training, in spite of their head-chopping, their support for terrorism, and their genocidal war against the Shiite Houthis in Yemen, in which the US and the UK are also deeply involved. Trump, of course, blames much of the terrorism on Iran as he plays ventriloquist’s dummy to the blood-soaked Saudi royal family. But most people everywhere recognize this brazen lie, also a big favorite in Israel, as such. And even if it were true: there would be no Islamic Republic in Iran if America’s CIA had not overthrown the country’s democratically elected leader Mossadegh in 1953 at the behest of President Eisenhower, and put Shah Reza Pahlavi on the throne to subsequently murder and torture his way into the history books via his dreaded secret police SAVAK. Later, the CIA supported Osama bin Laden and other jihadis in Afghanistan against Russia in a stunningly brilliant strategy by Carter’s National Security Adviser, Russian-hating Pole Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski, which regrettably evolved into Al-Qaeda after the US installed military bases in Saudi Arabia and upset the pious Osama. “Zbig” died this week and if he ever delivered a mea culpa, I was not informed.
But as I have said before, we don’t talk much here in Europe about Big Brother’s nasty habits. It’s embarrassing, since we continue to be involved as well. But after all, he’s family, we must support him.
Even though those nasty habits are tearing the EU apart? Might this not be the time to grow a backbone and put some distance between Europe and the crumbling, but still deadly and dangerous, empire in which it plays such an ignoble, subservient role?
A brief footnote: I have defended Merkel in political debate (on the refugee issue alone) against others on the Left who assert that she never had a compassionate bone in her body, as evidenced by her terrible neoliberal austerity policies directed against Greece and others, and that the motive for admitting the refugees was to provide cheap labor for German industry. While I agree that those policies have brought great suffering to Greece and are despicable, and while it seems very inconsistent that she should make such distinctions among desperate people, I am very familiar with her personality after years of living here and I consider that theory preposterous. German industry is not desperate for unskilled labor in any case and the facts do not add up. It may have been an brief attack of weak sentimentality, but she did feel compassion for the refugees and took major risks to help them. But that was then. This is now.
America’s brutal contempt for its domestic homeless population, who are driven around like herds of animals to keep them out of the sight of “respectable” people, is reflected on the world stage in its refusal to help refugees who have lost everything because of our own wars of greed and conquest. HELP them? We rarely even deign to speak of them. They are the West’s untouchable caste, Made in America, and as usual, Europe is deeply complicit.
(1) ART BY SYRIAN ARTISTS ABDALLAH AL OMARI / http://www.abdallaomari.com
GREGORY BARRETT—“Many refugees…are fleeing from ISIS, which would not exist if George W. Bush had not invaded Iraq with calamitous results which continue to unfold. Many, many other refugees come from Syria, victims of a proxy war which is kept going by the US government via CIA arms and funding to islamist-jihadi groups attempting to overthrow Bashar al-Assad…”