To those naïve and immature, the sound of the Pied Piper’s flute was too entrancing to ignore. After the Mayor of the town refused to abide by his promise of payment, the Piper left, but then returned, wearing a grim suit and a red hat. He started to play his tune in the centre of the town square, and before long the young children of the town ran towards him, and continued to follow as he crossed streets and fields and hills. They were ultimately led into a remote cave, still chasing after the beautiful tune, but never seen again.
Escaping the Darkness
It was on a cold February afternoon that I met Elena. I was spending a few weeks working with a human rights charity as part of my University degree. Each day dozens of asylum seekers and refugees entered the building of the Foundation to receive psychiatric help, legal support, or even English lessons, to help them adapt to their new life. For many however, having suffered great traumas, the troubles of their past still followed them wherever they went, lingering in their minds during the days and haunting them in the nights. I heard Azar’s story, an Iranian man in his late twenties who protested peacefully against governmental injustices, only to see his family perish at the hands of his oppressors. I met Han, a Vietnamese lady who put her trust and her love in the wrong man, suffering unbearable domestic violence for many years. I spoke to Kalu, a Nigerian who was subjected to horrific primitive spiritual practices, and whose eyes still betrayed a profound sense of fear, mistrust and emotional turmoil.
But it was Elena I remembered most. She was a nineteen year old Albanian girl, who had been trafficked, made to stay in hotels for months at a time and forced to work as a prostitute for several years before eventually managing to flee. She was a softly spoken and kind soul whose horrific experiences reflected in her withdrawn demeanour. As we started a conversation however, she grew in confidence, and told me a little about herself. Mostly however, she asked about me, and began asking in detail about the technical aspects of the medical school application process. I was initially surprised about her knowledge and her interest, until she revealed that pending her asylum and visa applications, she was hoping to start a dentistry course at a London University.
I remembered Elena because though her life and her struggles were so distant, so remote from my own, her hopes and ambitions for the future were almost identical to mine. Neither she, Azar, Han, Kalu nor any of the other asylum seekers I met had chosen the life that they had been given. It hit me then, stronger than ever, that there is no ‘them’ and ‘us,’ rather, we are all the same, in that each moment in our lives is decided as if by a lottery, and though we appear to possess control over our existence, in reality we have very little. We all suffer losses and misfortunes and sadness, and when we personally struggle, even to a small degree, we hope, or even expect, that other individuals or communities will come to our aid and relieve our sufferings.
What this EU referendum has taught us, however, is that when those of other colours or nationalities or faiths need our help, we are not prepared to provide it. To preserve the quality of our life, we are willing to break away from other countries so that their citizens cannot enjoy what we possess. Though many ‘Leave’ voters had noble and reasonable concerns about the EU, and were neither voting out of bigotry nor intolerance, the fact remains that the campaign itself was filled with xenophobic sentiment, and its victory represents a triumph for the extreme right-wing, who are now becoming further emboldened across Europe.
The Piper’s Song
Why is this happening? Perhaps it is because of the growing dissatisfaction with the ‘establishment,’ and at the worsening social and economic inequalities within society. Political lies, austerity measures, welfare cuts and unemployment have led to people demanding a revolution, and the EU referendum result was just that. Though these problems are very real, they are caused by a failing economic system, self-interest and corruption in the highest levels of society. These problems are not caused by Elena or Kalu, Han or Azar or any of the other millions of people searching desperately for a better life for themselves and their families. A real revolution with lasting benefits requires morality in all sections in society. It requires people coming together to help others simply out of goodness, rather than a desire for reward. The kind of right-wing revolution we now face, however, is only a deception. Those propagating it, telling us to view foreigners through a lens of mistrust, are playing a flute like the Pied Piper. The flute seems endearing, even beautiful, but as in the story, if we follow for too long, we head only for disaster.
By Damir Rafi