In her classic study On Death and Dying, Elisabeth Kübler-Ross proposed the famous scheme of the five stages of how we react upon learning that we have a terminal illness:denial (one simply refuses to accept the fact: “This can’t be happening, not to me.”); anger(which explodes when we can no longer deny the fact: “How can this happen to me?”);bargaining (the hope we can somehow postpone or diminish the fact: “Just let me live to see my children graduate.”); depression (libidinal disinvestment: “I’m going to die, so why bother with anything?”); acceptance (“I can’t fight it, I may as well prepare for it.”). Later, Kübler-Ross applied these stages to any form of catastrophic personal loss (joblessness, death of a loved one, divorce, drug addiction), and also emphasized that they do not necessarily come in the same order, nor are all five stages experienced by all patients.
Is the reaction of the public opinion and authorities in Western Europe to the flow of refugees from Africa and Middle East also not a similar combination of disparate reactions? There was denial, now diminishing: “It’s not so serious, let’s just ignore it.” There is anger: “Refugees are a threat to our way of life, hiding among them Muslim fundamentalists, they should be stopped at any price!” There is bargaining: “OK, let’s establish quotas and support refugee camps in their own countries!” There is depression: “We are lost, Europe is turning into Europa-stan!” What is lacking is acceptance, which, in this case, would have meant a consistent all-European plan of how to deal with the refugees.
So what to do with hundreds of thousands of desperate people who wait in the north of Africa, escaping from war and hunger, trying to cross the sea and find refuge in Europe?
There are two main answers. Left liberals express their outrage at how Europe is allowing thousands to drown in Mediterranean. Their plea is that Europe should show solidarity by opening its doors widely. Anti-immigrant populists claim we should protect our way of life and let the Africans solve their own problems.
Which solution is better? To paraphrase Stalin, they are both worse. Those who advocate open borders are the greater hypocrites: Secretly, they know very well this will never happen, since it would trigger an instant populist revolt in Europe. They play the Beautiful Soul which feels superior to the corrupted world while secretly participating in it.
The anti-immigrant populist also know very well that, left to themselves, Africans will not succeed in changing their societies. Why not? Because we, North Americans and Western Europeans, are preventing them. It was the European intervention in Libya which threw the country in chaos. It was the U.S. attack on Iraq which created the conditions for the rise of ISIS. The ongoing civil war in the Central African Republic is not just an explosion of ethnic hatred; France and China are fighting for the control of oil resources through their proxies.
But the clearest case of our guilt is today’s Congo, which is again emerging as the African “heart of darkness.”
[Extract. Appeared in In These Times, on September 9th, 2015. (full text).]