It being the 60th anniversary of Auschwitz, I fancied a read of Primo Levi, so I dug out a copy of The Drowned and The Saved. It’s his last book (before his odd suicide), and it feels more like a series of polemics and essays than his other books.
“Anyone who has been tortured remains tortured. Anyone who has suffered torture never again will be at ease in the world…faith in humanity, already cracked by the first slap in the face, then demolished by torture is, never acquired again.” Levi quotes Amery, who was also in the camps and who, as an anti-nazi intellectual, was tortured. Amery killed himself in 1978, ten years before Levi. The Guantanemo bay detainees, also claim to have been tortured, which renders all the testimony elicted from them by the US inadmissible in UK courts. Nice one, Uncle Sam. (Incidentally, the USA funds torture through the SOA – the School of the Americas, regularly pastiched as the School of Assassins. Originally based in Panama, this has trained over 60,000 Latin American soldiers in “counterinsurgency techniques, sniper training, commando and psychological warfare, military intelligence and interrogation tactics.” In 2001 it was renamed the “Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation,” and relocated to Fort Benning, Georgia, US.)
Many Jews, fleeing persecution in Germany in the 1930s, were turned back from western countries. Hence we signed into international law after the war the convention on refugees, which obliged us to take a proportion of the fleeing, no matter what. Michael Howard, a descendant of these refugees, wants to put limits on Asylum Seekers (a word the right-wing press has managed to convert from something that should elicit sympathy to something pejorative). Not economic immigrants; asylum seekers; people who claim to be fleeing persecution. He wants us to pull out of this convention, and I’m with the Prime Minister here in calling this ‘not-racist’, but just, just… I just don’t have the words to express the rage that a man could put quotas on human lives. Even rejecting economic migrants is putting a value on the quality of human lives, something we are simply not justified in making; I will not have an aristocracy introduced by the back door of oligarchy. We’ll have birth control for the poor next.
Certain people say we’re being ‘swamped’, and I’ll admit I’ve not had first-hand experience of the areas of the UK that are suffering (which seems, unfairly, to be mainly poor, urban hellholes; what sort of introduction is that to Britain’s society for incomers?) In amoral economic terms, we should always take as many migrants on board as possible, as their cheap labour drives down prices and fills jobs no-one else will take (perhaps because we’ve been over-educated.) In social terms, valid asylum seekers have to be accepted one and all. Yet there’s an increasing propensity, even amongst the most tolerant societies, that integration is failing. I was listening to Broadcasting House on Radio 4 this morning, and they were reporting on liberal Holland’s worries that tolerance has failed for them, with the murders of Pim Fortuyn and Theo Van Gogh. Can we tolerate those who are intolerant themselves? Is integration really necessary for a successful economy/country? What is the problem with a state within a state? Are not the symptoms that provoke a failure of tolerance (physicial and moral squalor of city areas, violent crime) ones symptomatic of poverty rather religious extremism?
My answer, and I’m sure I’ve not thought it through, is that we take the tolerant, we take the economic migrants (cos, hey, we were lucky to be born here – they’ve worked to get here – who deserves it more?), but we do not accept those who preach intolerance; whether they be young Islamic extremists or old leaders of the conservative party. Can we revoke citizenship? We have to go down the inclusive route, as otherwise we could be the next to be evicted from the UK. It’s John Rawls ‘veil of ignorance‘ at work. (see halfway down that post for Tom Paine’s quick summary of the veil of ignorance argument.
Addendum: I agree completely with Frederick Forsyth in what he says here; a little polemical, but accurate.