The current stream of refugees to Europe from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and other conflict zones is just the tip of a growing iceberg. Most major news outlets focus on the struggle to resolve how the Europeans can absorb the current rush of migrants to Europe fleeing death and destruction. Distinctions are made between economic refugees and political or war refugees. Those deemed to be migrating to flee poverty and seek economic opportunity are more likely to be turned back. Those acknowledged to be fleeing political persecution are more likely to be welcomed. That is understandable, but much more is involved. News stories focus on the events of the moment and in this case are “Eurocentric.” Historians will later reflect on the role of such events in the larger flow over time. Meanwhile, there is more to come.
Some major newspapers, such as Great Britain’s The Guardian and The Independent, have begun to look also at the larger picture of which the current crisis is a mere symptom. There are several important connections between crises of war, poverty, climate disruption, and agricultural failures than commonly acknowledged, especially in the U.S. corporate media. Here and in Europe refugees are often seen as being of questionable character and possibly criminal intruders.
Blaming the Victims
We need not listen to Donald Trump to recognize the prejudice against Mexicans and all Central Americans, which permeates discussions of immigration in the news. Yet most refugees from Central America are fleeing violence in countries whose militaries were trained by the infamous U.S. military run “School of the Americas.” The results were clandestine but official death squads that tortured and murdered rebels and civilians alike. Their brutal actions are still taken in support of dictatorships in Central America that the U.S. has propped up for decades. And, of course, Mexican farmers, driven out of business by NAFTA enabled cheap corn dumping on the Mexican food market by U.S. corporations, have sought employment north of the border.
The refugees from Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan, as well as smaller numbers from war torn regions in Africa are conceived by many Europeans as invaders. Other kind souls have held up welcome signs and handed out food to the immigrants, recognizing both their plight and their humanity. But the conflicts they flee have resulted largely from neocolonial attempts to exert geopolitical control over regions rich in oil, minerals, and materials needed for the failing endless economic growth of the Global North. The U.S. “war on terror” is inextricably entangled with its undead pretensions to Empire, cloaked in the phony ideological veneer of “bringing democracy” to the developing nations of the world. In a fundamental way, these immigrants are refugees from the consequences of empire.
Merchants of Death
Not much is said about the connections between the international arms trade and the current wave of immigration from the Middle East to Europe. It is common among humans to attribute the problems of other humans to assumed defects in those who suffer with the problems. This is no less true of the current situation and the geopolitical events leading up to the current surge of migration. In the U.S. it is commonly assumed that the problems of Sunni-Shiite violence stem from age-old animosities attributed to these groups. We ignore the fact that before the U.S. invaded Iraq, Sunnis and Shiites lived peacefully in the same neighborhoods and intermarried peacefully in Baghdad and elsewhere. In fact the U.S. demolish-divide-and-conquer approach to its occupation of Iraq forced Iraqis into conflict relations by destroying the civil society that sustained peaceful relations. That civil society existed under the prior dictatorship and certainly could have been sustained under a democratic regime the U.S. government claimed to be bringing to Iraq. But the U.S. destroyed civil society and most of the basic infrastructure upon which it depended.
The geopolitics of war is immensely influenced (and stimulated) by the international arms trade. In most conflict zones, little violence would be occurring were it not for the saturation of arms among conflicting groups supplied and sponsored by outside entities. The so-called “great powers” set up conflict situations by their attempts to control extant or potential “client nations.” The proliferation of arms results from loans or grants for sales by the dominant suppliers such as the U.S., China, Russia, and Germany, with significant sales from Eastern Europe as well. These nations facilitate sales by private arms dealers as well as making direct “loans” for purchases by client states and non-state actors. The U.S., for example, has contracted with various arms dealers to supply Afghan troops to fight the Taliban. Most of the arms used by ISIS are U.S. made, some confiscated from fleeing Iraqi troops and some purchased on the private arms market. The U.S. government does nothing to restrict sales by U.S. arms manufacturers and their dealers around the world – after all, that might upset the NRA.
Climate of Collapse
With the impact of global warming causing climate disruptions including regional drought and flooding in developing nations, food production is already being severely damaged. Some refugee camps in Lebanon, crowded with Syrians who fled their destroyed homes, have run out of food. The common idea that migrants are merely poor people seeking better economic opportunities is for these reasons both inaccurate and simplistic. Most poor rural Africans or Afghans –or middle class Syrians for that matter – would have had little or no motivation for leaving their homes for Europe or anywhere else if it were not for the threat of death by war and starvation.
It is the convergence of the externally stimulated armed conflicts – and imperious resource seizures – with growing disruption of regional agriculture and the destabilization of local political and economic structures that makes life in such places unbearable. Most of the destabilization in the world today is the result of “great powers” vying for power over nations rendered weaker by prior colonialism. The nations of the industrialized Global North compete to control the world’s resources. They destabilize weaker nations, as they charge headlong and indifferent, causing climate chaos and planetary destruction.