History repeats itself

History repeats itself

Europe is deeply divided over the Syrian refugee crisis. Relying on the moral authority it gained through its more humane approach to the crisis - which contrasts sharply with some EU members (the “bête noire” being Hungary) – Germany is calling for more burden-sharing in this regard. 

Its chances of success appear limited though, given the fear of some countries that their societies will be “Islamized.”  Turkey is watching these countries shirk their humanitarian responsibilities with consternation since it has taken in nearly 3 million Syrians, a weight it can’t carry on its own.

There are some calls in Europe for a helping hand to be extended to Turkey. But many are saying this so the refugees will not come to Europe, and stay instead in “Islamic Turkey.” It is doubtful however that they would be willing to shoulder the vast cost to their taxpayers should they be sincere in helping Turkey out in a meaningful way. 

Given its lack of confidence in Europe, it is unlikely that Ankara will be expending any extra efforts to prevent refugees from using Turkey as a conduit to EU countries, especially if this is the only way to lighten its load. 

Few refugees want to stay here anyway, for one reason or another, including the fact that they are not as welcome as some think. Meanwhile, the international bickering on the issue continues. What is striking is seeing history repeat itself. Take Britain for example. 

A motion by MP Col. Josiah Wedgwood in 1938 calling for the country’s doors to be opened to Jewish refugees from mainland Europe - where there was obviously not a single country they would be safe in, let alone being welcomed - was rejected by the House of Commons. 

The press coverage at the time is uncannily familiar:

“…It is important that oppressed minorities should not assume that admission into this country is to be offered to all and sundry… The problem has an international character, and it is clearly impossible for this country alone to provide the necessary refuge.” The Scotsman (March 23, 1938)

“To be ruled by the misguided sentimentalism of those who think with Colonel Wedgwood would be disastrous… once it was known that Britain offered sanctuary to all who cared to come, the floodgates would be opened, and we should be inundated by thousands seeking a home…” Daily Mail (March 23, 1938)

“Shall All Come In? We need to ask, for there is a powerful agitation here to admit all Jewish refugees without question or discrimination. It would be unwise to overload the basket like that. It would stir up the elements here that fatten on anti-Semitic propaganda. They would point to the fresh tide of foreigners, almost all belonging to the extreme Left. They would ask: What if Poland, Hungary, Romania also expel their Jewish citizens? Must we admit them too? Because we DON’T want anti-Jewish uproar we DO need to show common sense in not admitting all applicants.” Daily Express (March 24, 1938) (Source: A.J. Sherman, “Island Refuge: Britain and Refugees from the Third Reich 1933-1939,” Elek Books, 1973, pp. 94-95)

A year later Canada, despite its vast lands, refused entry to 907 Jewish refugees aboard the German transatlantic liner St. Louis, who were seeking sanctuary from the Nazis. They were reportedly sent back to Europe, where 254 died in concentration camps.

The U.S. may be a committed supporter of Israel today but its record on Jewish refugees at the time was not commendable either. One can also compare these historic facts with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s arguments for not taking in Syrian refugees, even Christian ones. 

History provides cruel examples and shows each generation repeating the mistakes of former ones, albeit under different names. Yesterday it was Jewish refugees that were undesirable in the West for being “different;” today it is Syrian refugees, most of who are Muslim. 

These are historic moments when the mask of civility of certain countries drops to reveal ugly truths.