Cyprus Today - - LETTERS -

COLONEL John Hugh­esWil­son claims that there are bar­bar­ians at Europe’s gates (Cyprus To­day, De­cem­ber 1). In­vok­ing the fall of Rome as an ex­am­ple, Colonel Hugh­esWil­son ar­gues that just as Rome fell to the hands of bar­baric in­vaders in the past, Europe if not care­ful would suf­fer the same fate, the only dif­fer­ence this time be­ing the iden­tity of this bar­baric in­vader — with im­mi­grants from Africa and the Arab world re­plac­ing the Huns and Ger­manic tribes of the fourth cen­tury as the new bar­bar­ians.

List­ing four rea­sons for the col­lapse of Rome, Colonel Hughes-Wil­son the­o­rises that Europe finds it­self at a sim­i­lar defin­ing mo­ment. He goes fur­ther to state that “Europe is sleep­walk­ing into a com­plete re-or­der­ing of so­ci­ety from unchecked mass im­mi­gra­tion . . . the dan­ger to Europe — as we know it — is star­ing us in the face. The ques­tion is, will Europe go the way of Rome, 2000 years ago . . . ?”

Upon first glance, and to the in­no­cent mind, Colonel John Hughes-Wil­son’s the­sis might be taken as a lit­er­ary mas­ter­piece which in­vokes the his­tory of the fall of Rome as a valu­able les­son for to­day’s politi­cian vis-à-vis the mi­gra­tion cri­sis. In fact, Colonel Hughes-Wil­son would have us be­lieve that the fall of Rome was largely due to a cri­sis of mi­gra­tion, what he refers to as “bar­bar­ians at the gates”. But he is wrong. In fact, the bril­liance of his piece lies not in its his­tor­i­cal ac­cu­racy, but in his abil­ity to ig­nore, in­ten­tion­ally or un­in­ten­tion­ally, the main rea­sons which led to the de­struc­tion of Rome, while fo­cus­ing on the in­va­sions which led to the un­do­ing of an em­pire which had long been “dead” from the in­side. The in­va­sion of the Huns and Ger­manic tribes was the “fi­nal nail in the cof­fin”, not the be­gin­ning of the col­lapse of Rome.

It is im­por­tant to be­gin any re­but­tal by tack­ling the very essence of Hugh­esWil­son’s piece: the fall of Rome. He states four rea­sons ex­plain­ing the col­lapse of Rome; weak de­fences, taxes be­ing spent on lux­u­ri­ous life­styles, a dwin­dling Ro­man econ­omy, and im­mi­gra­tion. In as much as the four rea­sons stated above might have con­trib­uted to the fall of Rome, they were at best triv­ial. In fact, there were other fac­tors which ac­counted more for the col­lapse of Rome.

Over­spend­ing would be one. By the fourth cen­tury, Rome was over­spend­ing on mil­i­tary ex­pe­di­tions around the globe. A sec­ond would be po­lit­i­cal in­sta­bil­ity and gov­ern­ment cor­rup­tion within Rome it­self — a fac­tor which Colonel Hughes-Wil­son men­tions, al­though very lit­tle at­ten­tion is paid to the role it played in the col­lapse of Rome. One can­not un­der­es­ti­mate the ef­fects which po­lit­i­cal in­sta­bil­ity and in­fight­ing had.

Per­haps the most com­pelling rea­sons for the col­lapse of the Ro­man Em­pire have been given by Dr Patrick Hunt of Stan­ford Uni­ver­sity and Dr Kara Cooney of the Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­for­nia. Dr Hunt has since suc­cinctly posited that if a sys­tem is built on loot­ing and ac­quir­ing slaves, then it will even­tu­ally col­lapse be­cause it will run out of ter­ri­tory to con­quer. This is ex­actly what plagued the Ro­man econ­omy by the turn of the third cen­tury; a cash flow prob­lem. A sim­i­lar po­si­tion is echoed by Dr Cooney, who ar­gues that the Ro­man sys­tem broke be­cause it be­came too ex­pen­sive to keep. She goes fur­ther to state that, in fact, the so­called bar­bar­ians which many his­to­ri­ans re­fer to were ex-mem­bers of the Ro­man army, trained by the Ro­mans and used dur­ing its wars of ex­pan­sion around the globe. Yes, paci­fism, lux­ury, deca­dence, weak de­fences and in­va­sions from Ger­manic tribes con­trib­uted to the fall of Rome, but the root cause was not these in­va­sions, but this sim­ple truth: “a sys­tem based on ex­ploita­tion of oth­ers will al­ways col­lapse”. This is the real les­son which one should take away from the fall of Rome.

This be­ing the case, the premise upon which Colonel Hughes-Wil­son builds his case is very shaky and as such needs to be re­vis­ited. The dan­ger to Europe is not the im­mi­gra­tion cri­sis by and of it­self, but the so­ciopo­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic dy­nam­ics within Europe.

De­bunk­ing the premise of his the­sis is not suf­fi­cient, how­ever. It is im­por­tant that the hypocrisies of some of the other claims made in his write-up are ad­dressed. There is a need to first chal­lenge the no­tion of “bar­bar­ians”.

“Bar­bar­ians” in the sense of “un­like us” is quite un­der­stand­able, but when un­der­stood as “un­civilised” be­comes prob­lem­atic. In most cases, it is un­der­stood and used in­ter­change­ably to mean both, and this I find very prob­lem­atic. Who sets the stan­dard for civil­i­sa­tion? An ex­am­ple would be the Ro­mans claim­ing to be the “civilised ones” even though it was an em­pire built on the prac­tice of slav­ery and slave trade which one should not con­sider as a civilised prac­tice. I am not sure that the glad­i­a­tors who fought to the death in the Colos­seum saw this as a civilised prac­tice ei­ther. In to­day’s terms, Colonel Hughes-Wil­son refers to im­mi­grants as bar­bar­ians; un­civilised, dirt poor, un­e­d­u­cated, back­ward, ex­trem­ists, etc. This is not only a stereo­typ­i­cal way of think­ing, but the us­age of such racist and xeno­pho­bic lan­guage in it­self is dan­ger­ous and rem­i­nis­cent of lan­guage used by Nazi Ger­many. In to­day’s in­creas­ing glob­al­is­ing world, such vile “oth­er­ing” is in it­self a ma­jor prob­lem which needs to be ad­dressed. If we stop see­ing our­selves as bet­ter than oth­ers, then per­haps we might be­gin ac­cept­ing and un­der­stand­ing that our dif­fer­ences are not nat­u­ral but so­cially con­structed.

The hypocrisy of the piece also lies in the fact that its au­thor fails to ad­dress Eu­ro­pean mi­gra­tion in the past. In fact, the his­tory of Europe and the world be­tween the 17th cen­tury and the early 20th cen­tury is re­plete with Euro­peans mi­grat­ing to other parts of the world — the Amer­i­cas, Africa and Asia — flee­ing from re­li­gious per­se­cu­tion and wars, and in search of bet­ter lives. In fact, it is es­ti­mated that be­tween the 1800s and 1930s, about 60 mil­lion Euro­peans em­i­grated to the Amer­i­cas alone. There­fore, the claim that this “African ex­o­dus” will be of bib­li­cal pro­por­tions is false in the sense that in the past, there have been sim­i­lar move­ments, and in larger num­bers too.

Yes! I agree that Europe is fac­ing a cri­sis, but not in the sense that the num­bers of Africans and Arabs flee­ing to her shores are as­tound­ingly high or that this is a novel oc­cur­rence, but in the sense that “it is the refugees and mi­grants who are con­fronted with a cri­sis of Europe”, us­ing Natalie Nougayrède’s words. Europe is fac­ing a cri­sis; an iden­tity cri­sis with its peo­ple be­ing mis­led to for­get their his­tory of “con­stant pop­u­la­tion move­ment” and “mix­ing of cul­tures”.

There is no deny­ing the fact that in to­day’s world, there is a cri­sis of mi­gra­tion. Europe is cer­tainly one of the des­ti­na­tions for thou­sands of per­sons flee­ing war, poverty and hunger, as well as those search­ing for a bet­ter life, but it is hardly the main des­ti­na­tion. In or­der to solve this cri­sis of mi­gra­tion, we must col­lec­tively ad­dress the root causes of mi­gra­tion (wars, poverty, po­lit­i­cal in­sta­bil­ity, famine, hunger, cor­rup­tion, gov­er­nance and in­sti­tu­tional fail­ures etc) rather than the “fi­nal rings of the chain”. Ad­dress­ing these is­sues should be our main fo­cus, and in do­ing so, we must look at the root causes; so­cio-po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic crises in the host na­tions of mi­grants/refugees. Many West­ern pow­ers, France in par­tic­u­lar, which Colonel Hughes-Wil­son claims is fac­ing a “great re­place­ment” by Mus­lims, still con­trols the lives of mil­lions of Africans through neo-colo­nial eco­nomic poli­cies which should be il­le­gal. You would be sur­prised to learn that up to “50 per cent of the mon­e­tary re­serves of 14 African coun­tries is still un­der full French con­trol”. Of this 14, none of them have con­trol of their mon­e­tary or macroe­co­nomic poli­cies. These mon­e­tary poli­cies im­posed by France through colo­nial treaties and ig­nored by the EU have dis­cour­aged ex­ports and en­cour­aged im­ports which ben­e­fit euro­zone com­pa­nies, par­tic­u­larly those of France at the ex­pense of these coun­tries. Worse still, the money in the so-called “French re­serves” is lent back to these African states at ex­or­bi­tant in­ter­est rates.

You might also be sur­prised to learn that 61 per cent of the 76 coups in Africa have taken place in for­mer French colonies and been led by French le­gion­naires. It is hyp­o­crit­i­cal to desta­bilise the economies and so­ci­eties of these coun­tries and ex­pect their peo­ple not to move/flee in search of a bet­ter life. Mi­gra­tion, put sim­ply, is a nec­es­sary re­sponse to var­i­ous forms of vi­o­lence and ad­ver­sity (Heide Cas­tañeda).

Per­haps im­mi­gra­tion might change the de­mog­ra­phy of Europe, but this is not some­thing to be scared of; rather, this diver­sity should be em­braced. The ex­am­ple of the French mul­ti­cul­tural squad win­ning the World Cup in Rus­sia could serve as the way for­ward for us all.

So to an­swer your ques­tion, Colonel Hugh­esWil­son: the dan­ger to Europe lies not in the im­mi­grants flee­ing to its shore, but the re­fusal of Europe to ad­dress its iden­tity and eco­nomic cri­sis. If one is to learn any­thing from the fall of Rome, then it should be that a sys­tem based on ex­ploita­tion of oth­ers will al­ways col­lapse. The re­cent strikes or­gan­ised by the “gilets jaunes” in France come to mind.

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