by Norman Berdichevsky (October 2015)
Every night on a dozen or more West European television channels, (Americans, by and large are still unaware of this chaos because of the geographic separation of a continent and an ocean), the news programs bring into people’s homes, heart wrenching pictures of tens of thousands of destitute refugees from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, and other regions in Africa, about 98% of whom are Muslims, clamoring to enter Europe. In July alone, an estimated 100,000 refugees from the Middle East and North Africa entered European territory.
Here at home, the administration presses for an emergency measure to admit 65,000 Syrians next year in addition to the number of Muslims already admitted as refugees. This measure is supported by a powerful lobby of nine major churches, religious organizations and their charities (including a notable Jewish one – HIAS) which are paid by the State Department to settle refugees in 190 locations. This measure is currently subscribed to by 14 senators without any local knowledge or control (see Ann Corcoran and Petition of Center for Security Policy, on the Iconoclast August 29, 2015).
These refugees are risking everything – life and limb to flee from their Muslim homelands and leave what according to their religion (whether Sunni or Shia) is defined as the protected and preferential state of living in Muslim majority states, regarded by their religion as necessary for them to practice their faith unmolested by the profane, immoral and utterly corrupt Dar-al-Harb, defined as the communities of non-believers who have not accepted “subjugation” which is the literal meaning of Islam. How do the thousands of imams and mullahs accept such a glaring revelation of Islam’s failure to cope with the vote made by so many Muslims who have made their choice of preferring to live in the West?
Our students are taught through high school, college and university courses that among the principles of Islam is charity and the solidarity of all Muslims as one community/nation called the ummah and have a responsibility towards each other but where is it? Not in Saudi Arabia, or in the wealthy oil rich states of the Gulf who have accepted not one refugee or contributed one dollar towards their relief. Nearby Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan have accepted many (only under duress), but consigned them to makeshift tent camps with the backing and financial support of the U.N. and the United States. In these camps, they lack all rights to start an independent life or freely leave. Each has good reason to fear that the influx poses severe risks to the stability of their regime from either the Kurds, or agents of Assad and the Islamic state fanatics.
This reality is, from a Muslim theological perspective, even more appalling with the many scenes of these refugees dependent for their very survival on the generosity of those European Christian states which are the closest geographically to their points of departure – Greece, Italy and Spain to reach what for them is their holy land – not Mecca, but Germany, France, Scandinavia, or Great Britain.
The only major Christian religious figure who has called their bluff is the former Archbishop of Canterbury – the Rt. Reverend George Carey who has had the audacity to reject the hand-wringing of his colleagues by laying the responsibility of the refugee question today not at the door of the West and Christian civilization but where it squarely belongs, on Islam. He pointedly recalled that what has happened to the Syrian and Iraqi Christian communities throughout the Middle East today following the previous genocidal attacks on the Armenians, Assyrians, Copts and Greeks. Likewise, the governments and people of Slovakia, Hungary, Serbia, Bulgaria, Macedonia and Greece with their memories of centuries of Ottoman oppression rightly feel threatened by any renewed Muslim presence in the Balkans.
To put this into perspective, let’s push the rewind button and examine Central and East European Jews on the eve of the Holocaust, without any escape route, condemned by the British White Paper on Palestine and the determined policies of European governments answering to deeply held antisemitic sentiments of a large sector of public opinion in those states that might have offered a temporary haven and saved six million souls from annihilation. In almost all democratic states in Europe and the Western hemisphere in the 1930s, Jewish families were willing to sponsor and support these refugees and prevent them from becoming public charges. This made no difference.
As a result of American pressure, an international conference at Evian, France was held to offer some relief to Jewish refugees and the millions entrapped in Nazi dominated Europe. The conference achieved next to nothing and was meant largely as a fig leaf to cover up the weak and obstructionist policy of the FDR administration towards the Jewish refugee plight. During the conference, the British government made it very clear that it would not be able to increase its quota for refugees, citing high levels of unemployment. France also said that they were “at the extreme point of saturation.” The Australian delegate reported “as we have no real racial problem, we are not desirous of importing one.” Other countries also cited the economic depression and population levels as a reason why they could not increase refugee quotas.
Even in those cases when a few “lucky” Jews had managed to secure the longed for visa at enormous cost, often through bribes, the White Paper policy of the British made entry into Palestine impossible. Other destinations were denied them even when all the paperwork was in order.
In May 1939, 937 Jewish refugees on board the German passenger ship St. Louis were denied entry to Cuba due to the revocation of their visas by President Bru. Apparently, the only motivation for this inhuman act was Bru’s desire to obtain an even bigger bribe than he had been promised, a move that also garnered support from many Cubans under the guise of protecting “Cuba’s Workers,” fearful of more Jewish refugees receiving asylum or economic assistance during the Depression.
The St. Louis affair was a terrible blot on the conscience of all those who opposed the Nazi “racial” policies and threats. Fulgencio Batista (Cuba’s future president following Bru in 1940 actually controlled most affairs and pulled almost all the strings of power as early as 1937). Today, the Cuban regime of the Castro brothers “explain” that the Roosevelt administration ordered the Cuban government to reject the right of the passengers to disembark in Havana although they were in possession of Cuban immigration visas and landing permits. This of course, is false.
Appeals to half a dozen Latin American countries and the United States to accept the St. Louis passengers fell on deaf ears and they were ordered to return to Hamburg. At the last moment, Britain, Holland and Belgium agreed to accept the passengers. World War II began only two months later and at least 95% of them who had been accepted into Holland and Belgium were murdered in the Holocaust.
The U.S. has nothing to be proud of in this story since U.S. Coast Guard boats shadowed the St. Louis to make sure that no attempt was made to dock and unload the “illegal immigrants” on American shores.
Only the Dominican Republic volunteered to take in up to 100,000 refugees, but then only in return for large amounts of money. In actual fact only 800 refugees entered the country and most of those moved on to the United States. Hitler noted how ”astonishing“ it was that, even though these countries that most harshly criticized Germany for its treatment of its Jews, had nevertheless refused to open their borders to them. The Evian conference sent Hitler the signal he needed: foreign governments would not interfere in his anti-Jewish policies. Although each of the 32 delegates expressed their concern about the situation in Germany, none of the countries represented offered any practical help.
Let’s go fast forward for a moment to today’s Muslim refugees and examine how incongruous today’s “demands” for asylum, residence and even eventual citizenship are by those Muslim refugees forced to flee from their homelands and never expecting for a moment that their fellow Muslims either in Saudi Arabia, Iran, Turkey, Dubai or the other Gulf States might come to their aid. These states are geographically closer, enormously wealthy in resources and territory, and each claims the mantle of leadership – either of all Sunni Islam (Saudi Arabia) Shi’ism (Iran) or as the protector and benefactor of all Muslims inherited from the glory days of the Ottoman Empire (Turkey).
On the contrary, what we see on television is that people who are entirely without resources and often in life threatening situations expect to be helped to reach the wealthiest European nations and welcomed as well as supported there. On the way, they are forced to pass through Hungary, Serbia or Greece, where none of them speak a word of the local languages.
Few have appropriate job skills and little education except what was important for traditional Islam which claims that the Christian “kaffir” non-believers of the European nations are inferior to them in every way and would not be entitled to the most elementary rights if the tables of fortune were turned. These are beliefs about those in the Dar-al-Harb (the world of infidels with which Islam is at war) that have been deeply ingrained in their upbringing.
Let us imagine they were put into the situation of East European Jews in 1939. Would they have been able to even leave the countries of their birth? Imagine if they, like those Jews of 1939-45 had not a single land of refuge able to offer a new life amidst people with whom they shared culture, religion, traditions and a sense of solidarity.
All along the way, todays refugees pose risks and hazards to themselves as well as the local population. Already, thousands have perished at sea on the first leg of their voyage. On August 28, a refrigerated truck “full of bodies” was found abandoned on the side of highway 71 near Parndorf, in Austria where it had been parked overnight. The Syrian refugees inside died of suffocation. Authorities confirmed that three suspects believed to be involved in people smuggling had been arrested. The victims included 59 men, eight women and four children — including a girl who was no older than two years of age. The grim discovery was made about 10 miles from Austria’s border with Slovakia and Hungary where thousands of migrants have recently arrived from Syria, Afghanistan and North Africa.
The very next day the Associated Press reported from the Libyan city of Zuwara, that as many as 200 refugees drowned when their boats capsized trying to reach Europe. Libya is one of the primary launching points for desperate migrants attempting to reach Europe. Many of them were Muslims from as far away as Bangladesh.
Among the most incongruous and repellent scenes of the migrant tragedy are demonstrations by the emigrants in Hungary who refused to be fingerprinted so the authorities could know who they were in order to take care of them. Were the refugees afraid of being sent back to their original homes like the Jewish refugees aboard the St. Louis in 1939, or sent to concentration camps or the ovens? No, the answer was simply that they were afraid that registration might “force” them to remain in Hungary for a time and receive assistance there, impeding their dash to Western Europe. These are not refugees seeking political asylum. They are refugees from the many failed Muslim states.
A Modest Proposal
But there is a fellow Muslim land in Europe – a stone’s throw away from the ports of entry for many of them fleeing by sea. ALBANIA. It is less than 72 km (45 mi) from Italy, across the Strait of Otranto which connects the Adriatic Sea to the Ionian Sea. Just as Israel today can offer any Jewish immigrant or refugee a new life among people of a similar religious and cultural background, this European Muslim nation and member of NATO could do the same. It has an area more than 30% larger than the State of Israel with a miniscule population of scarcely three million people (a population density of approximately 300 per square mile vs. over 800 in Israel). It provides a universal health care system and free primary and secondary education.
The country has an overwhelming ethnic majority of Albanians with only a very tiny Greek minority. According to 2011 census, about 59% of Albania adheres to Islam and 17% to Christianity, and almost one quarter is agnostic-atheist. According to a 2010 survey, religion today plays an important role in the lives of only 39% of Albanians, and the country is ranked among the least religious countries in the world. A 2012 Pew Research Center study found that 65% of Albanian Muslims are non-denominational Muslims thus avoiding the Sunni-Shiite split so prevalent in the Middle East. The refugees could thus be assured that their new home would not be subject to the confessional or ethnic strife that has resulted in civil war and chaos in their homelands.
Albania could thus provide a shining example to the refugees about tolerance. In the 15th century, when the Ottomans were gaining a firm foothold in the region, the government fostered trade by settling a sizeable Jewish colony of refugees fleeing persecution in Spain, and today, Albania has full diplomatic relations with Israel. It recognized the State of Israel as early as 1949. Although occupied by the Axis powers of World War II, it had a larger Jewish population by the end of the war. Only one Jewish family was deported and killed during the Nazi occupation of Albania. Not only did the Albanians protect their own Jews, but they provided refuge for those from neighboring countries. Jewish families were provided with forged documents and helped to disperse in the countryside.
Before the establishment of the People’s Republic, Albania’s illiteracy rate was among the highest of Muslim majority countries, approximately 85%. As part of a vast educational and social campaign following World Wat II, anyone between the ages of 12 and 40 who could not read or write was mandated to attend classes to learn. By 1955, illiteracy was virtually eliminated among the adult population. Law enforcement in Albania is primarily the responsibility of the Albanian Police and has a special counter-terrorism unit called RENEA. On a list of 75 countries, Albania is listed at the 17th lowest crime rate ahead of many western nations such as Denmark, the United Kingdom, Sweden and France.
No one in Europe objected to Albania’s inclusion in NATO or its present candidacy for the EU. Albania is an official candidate for accession to the European Union since June 2014. Instead of an increasing massive flood of Muslim migrants attempting to inundate Europe and disrupt society there even more creating an unassimilable but growing and hostile minority by the monumental gap in customs, mores, traditions and basic attitudes towards such issues as gender rights and secular education, funneling the stream of migrants towards Albania with the stated expectation that to resettle them and provide humanitarian assistance will also require them to integrate into a fellow Muslim society which has adapted, integrated and adopted many European values. Could it be they realize that Albanians are simply “Minos” (Muslims in name only)?
Any criticism of those Christian majority nations in the Balkans to favor only Christian refugees for a “lack of solidarity” should wait until the Syrians, Saudis, Turks, Iraqis, Libyans, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis, Sudanese, Somalis, Iranians and Afghans solve their own failed states that proclaim Islam as the official state religion, and end the inhuman treatment of their own people.
Norman Berdichevsky is the author of The Left is Seldom Right and Modern Hebrew: The Past and Future of a Revitalized Language.
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