This is going to be a stranger than normal post and I ask the reader to bear with me. It brings together all sorts of matters whizzing around in my mind about matters foreign, in the light of recent events, with an attempt at the end to do what my favorite fiction writer, Charles Dickens, managed to achieve, which was to bring together and relate a number of seemingly unrelated happenings.
There used to be a joke told and banter exchanged from time to time, in my family, between me and my late mother, when it came to discussing foreigners. Being a proud Briton and having given her best years to fighting for our country in the War, it was with some consternation she observed the growing numbers of foreigners coming into the country, which she linked with the erosion of British values, a deterioration in the British way of life, and them somehow taking away from born and bred British folk. She was(is)n’t alone and this is borne witness to by the inroads being made by UKIP and extreme right wing groups in today’s political scene and the number of people I come across regularly who are disaffected and feel there is no one listening who can / will do something to remedy matters.
My tongue in cheek response to my mum when she articulated her foreigner concerns, besides pointing out “pussy cat is a foreigner”, was “I love foreigners”. This of course is true because if I take the parable of the Good Samaritan seriously, the neighbor I am required to love could well be foreign and, if we are to bring colour into it, black also. Besides subscribing to the notion that in Christ there is no distinction when it comes to ethnicity (and much else besides), I like the Old Testament law which while resolute on the necessity for God’s people to be upholding godly principles also required them to be compassionate in their dealings with foreigners. It is with some pride that having grew up in an almost entirely white British environment that when I went to university and found that one in every three students that I met was foreign, while my white student peers tended not to make an effort to befriend foreigners, I did. In my younger days, I traveled the world, making a lot of foreign friends on the way, including picking up a foreign wife. In later years, I had a lot to do with helping Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) communities and organizing diversity events. I hope it will go some way to setting the record straight given in this day of political correctness and obsession with equality and diversity what I am about to say may offend some. Thinking about it, I am coming round to a view that these days there are many who don’t say what to them is blindingly obvious and needful, not just out of apathy and a sense that it won’t achieve much, but also out of fear there will be recriminations in a climate of politically correct indoctrination.
In Thursday’s live TV election debate, there was three separate items relating to foreigners that came out that struck me and given UKIP’s purported anti-foreigner stance, which many would want to distance themselves from, some points UKIP made were dismissed and given short shrift by those engaging in and commentating on the debates. Firstly, there was the question of overseas aid and how much aid we as a country should be allocating overseas. UKIP had stated they would reduce this and use the money for other projects. While the devil is, as it generally is, in the detail, and I am neither about to support nor attack UKIP, I am inclined to agree with the suggestion that aid is not always appropriately given, yet the need in many poorer countries is undoubtedly there. However, being in contact as I am with all sorts of overseas projects where I know of many amazing things that help the needy, often done on a shoestring but helping many even so, it is with certain consternation when I sense that aid often doesn’t go to those projects that need it most and are able to make effective use it, and when there is corruption and politicization. I would rather we identify and help those who will put overseas aid to best use if we are to give aid, as I hope we would.
Then there was the question of to what extent HIV treatment should freely be given to foreign visitors, with the alarming statistic that 60% of the 7000 newly diagnosed HIV patients each year are foreign national (and as one person pointed out, quite likely as a result of a promiscuous lifestyle) and it can cost the NHS in the region of £20000 per patient per year to treat. In the debate Mr. Farage stated his intention to stop this and later, despite the righteous indignation aroused in certain quarters by his earlier remarks, unapologetically making the statement that it was the “sensible Christian thing to look after own first”, giving rise to further objections, not least that his theology was rather dubious. Again, it is not my intention to take sides in the debate but I would point out that we (this country) are far ahead of most others when it comes to giving free medical treatment, and if the NHS does have to operate with a finite pot of money (and it does), there are many other needs that could maybe should be met and, dare I say more meritorious, around folk who have paid into this pot for most of their lives and, moreover, I think of many other situations, not spoken of, when we don’t help distressed foreigners, when it is in our power to do so.
This brings me to my third point and that is regarding immigration, and too often I find people are understandably confused. Some of my well-meaning friends have made the point that overall foreigners give more to this country than they take from it and point to our NHS as an example – if we take out of it foreign doctors and the NHS nurses would collapse immediately. I’m not convinced on the net gain argument realizing the strains we now see on every public service. It beggars belief (except it doesn’t nowadays) that there is a shortage of British born medical practitioners, meaning we import from overseas and at the same time deprive those countries where the need is even greater for those skills. One of the points made, again by Mr. Farage, is that one of the reasons we are facing a housing crisis (and don’t I know it given my work among the homeless) is we don’t have enough houses and we don’t have enough houses because not enough are being build, with the situation made worse because of the net import of foreigners, not just from countries with similar economies as our own but from many whose economies are a lot worst. And, it seems, we are doing little about it and being a member of the EU is a major reason.
One of the several important points that was made in passing (by the Greens) was how little the present administration are doing to help Syrian refugees e.g. by taking in refugees (ironically, UKIP and the Greens seem to be in agreement here). I have long been uncomfortable at the unsympathetic way we handle asylum seekers, and have written about the matter at length, of which this is but just one more example. While it is rather simplistic to say this, we do have too many foreigners coming to settle in this country and unless there are family or other exceptional reasons then in principle this should stop, not just by reducing benefits and making these harder to access, but disallowing entry too, simply because our national infrastructure: homes, schools, hospitals etc. cannot cope. On the other hand, there is a case to regularize the status of asylum seekers who are already living in this country, a number of which are destitute, and taking our fair share of those seeking asylum.
The Syrian situation, like that of Iraq, which I have written about earlier, is particularly distressing. I have been meaning to write on this matter for sometime but have refrained from doing so because I felt that I needed to understand the issues, which I see as complex and inter-related, a lot better. One of the tragic aspects is the way minorities, often Christian but not exclusively, are treated, in many cases leading to murder, and scandalously it receives little attention in our media and by our politicians. Once again, I find the Pope has hit the nail on the head with his Easter message: as he reflected on many a trouble place in the world where there is needless suffering:
“Pope urges world not to ‘stand by’ … Pope Francis has used his Urbi et Orbi Easter message to pray for peace in areas of the world where Christians are facing persecution. “We ask for peace, above all, for Syria and Iraq, that the roar of arms may cease and that peaceful relations may be restored among the various groups which make up those beloved countries,” the pontiff said”. In the case of Syria, just like Iraq, it has been subjected to a tyrannical regime, only for another form of tyranny, every bit as bad, to replace it. I regret, from what I have been able to make out, that our government has done precious little to help and might have done more (difficult I agree). The Syrian refugee situation, prone now to militant predators like ISIS, and an opposing Syrian army that is unsympathetic to their plight and when there is little else to offer protection, is a catastrophe, and the silence and inaction by our own government is deafening. But then again, sadly, I am not confident that whoever gets in power after May 7th will do much better.
So to wrap up … what can we learn from these assorted ramblings? It should be borne in mind that it is my opinion and, while believing I am right, there will be many who won’t see it this way. I suspect the main reason these will feature among the election issues is that minority parties like UKIP will continue to press the matter of immigration and the Greens will continue to press the need for an ethical foreign policy (and I wonder where I have heard that before). I write in the hope that I can encourage good people to take up the cause and enlighten (and sometimes shame) politicians to make these matters priorities. I do not support any of the parties partly because I have little confidence on any to deliver on these matters, but I will lend them my support when they do. I still hanker for the ideal based on what I read in the Torah – a country that is agreed about its identity, whose priorities are something akin to that based on judaeo-christian ones that were once taken for granted, where foreigners are made welcome and where we do have influence in the world to make an impression in its darkest corners. While I will be returning to making a difference in my own small corner of the world, I can still dream but then that is what old men do!