Analysis

Arab Author: We Are Also to Blame for Europe's Refugee Crisis

Algerian Kamel Daoud says Arabs share responsibility for European backlash over immigration: 'I’m fed up with hearing that we’re victims and that the West is our hangman'

Asylum seekers on a rubber boat leaving from the coast of Libya to Europe.
Santi Palacios/AP

When it was reported last week that Denmark’s government had decided to deport 100 refugees and other “undesirable” migrants to the remote island of Lindholm, which used to serve as a refuge for contagious animals, it seemed an excellent opportunity for Israel to file a petition against Denmark at the International Court of Justice in The Hague for stealing its patent.

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Lindholm is the equivalent of Israel’s Holot detention facility. Migrants are not welcome in Denmark, which is currently ruled by a moderate, center-right government.

The migrants have become a major political issue in a country that once had a reputation for being a compassionate place that had saved its Jews. But, as in other European countries, anyone in Denmark wishing to win elections must now make refugees suffer. This is the aim of the Danish decision, as explained by its Minister for Immigration Inger Stojberg: “They must understand that they’re not wanted here.”

This would seem like yet another nasty action originating in the right wing of a European country anxious about the integrity of its homeland, society and culture, one more incriminating item in the book of abuses committed by the “West” on the miserable people of the East and South, who only wish to better their lives, or to avoid death.

Lindholm Island in Denmark, December 6, 2018.
\ RITZAU SCANPIX/ REUTERS

However, a few days prior to that decision, a soul-searching account by the Algerian intellectual, author and journalist Kamel Daoud was published in an article entitled “It’s not enough to blame the West; we’re also responsible for this tragedy.”

“For me, the West is neither just nor unjust,” writes Daoud. “I don’t enjoy waiting for justice, as if this were something depending on someone’s generosity towards me, as if it were a gift. I’m responsible for my world, and this responsibility cannot hide behind post-colonial discourse. I’m fed up with hearing that we’re victims and that the West is our hangman, the only one responsible for our present tragedy.”

Daoud does not absolve the West from responsibility for its treatment of refugees, but he pins most of the blame on the circumstances that led these people to flee their countries. He pulls no punches in harshly criticizing those Arab intellectuals who not only rush to place all the responsibility on the West, but who regard anyone disagreeing with them as a traitor.

“Every day, in my country, I read articles in the conservative Islamist press in which migrants arriving from the sub-Sahara are called Africans, as though we in the Maghreb were Japanese. These articles say that these migrants are guilty of crimes and violence, of spreading disease, and that they are all in all a threat. These are the same insults hurled in Europe at migrants coming from the Maghreb.”

Daoud maintains that anyone wishing to criticize the West should come with clean hands, adding, “and mine aren’t.” He relates how he considered emigrating to a European country with better medical services when his 1-year-old son contracted a serious illness.

Algerian writer and journalist Kamel Daoud poses in Paris on April 14, 2016 after receiving the Jean-Luc Lagardere prize for journalist of the year.
JOEL SAGET / AFP/ ג'ואל סא

“I was ready to leave in order to save my son, to go into exile, even though I’d always opposed the notion of leaving.” Despite understanding the motives of these migrants, Daoud admits that when he sees hundreds of African migrants close to his house in Oran, he finds it difficult to reconcile his fear [of them] and his indifference [towards them] with his humanistic feelings and generosity.

“I’m anxious about the comfortable life I’ve invested so many years into building, I worry about my safety. Suddenly, I’m at the same time a Western person and a person who’s arrived from the sub-Sahara. … I understand those who don’t want to welcome the Other, as well as those who leave their countries.”

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The migrants who have arrived en masse in Western countries have created a new political reality, which is expressed in the election results in some of these countries. The rise of the right, the reawakening of classical racism, the violence against migrants and the defensive walls put up by Europe around itself is only part of this cultural revolution.

Arab states and intellectuals do not usually deal with the implications of the rise in refugee and migrant numbers for their own countries. These societies believe they are only waystations, and as such they have no responsibility for caring for these refugees.

Daoud poses a polished mirror in front of Arab society’s face when presenting the following pointed paradox: “The West is an imaginary space encompassing a multiplicity of perceptions held by the South. We dream of going there, but also of destroying it, living there and bringing about its demise, converting its religion but also enjoying the opportunities of freedom it provides. … Arab states exploit the West, especially in order to dodge responsibility for their own world.”

Daoud has no practical and immediate solution for these dilemmas or for the emotional ambivalence created by the phenomenon of migration. He proposes that the West and the Arabs embrace culture as a means of bridging gaps. He suggests learning about cultural differences not just through reading, but by shaping one’s own culture. “If one can go to war in the name of a holy book, one can also make peace in the name of that book.”

It’s doubtful that the Danish minister of immigration has read Daoud’s article, despite his willingness to empathize with her distress. She doesn’t need his understanding or forgiveness. Her dilemmas are not his dilemmas. She’s committed to protecting her culture, even if it is being warped because of those who wish to save themselves and their children.