The Tale of ‘But’


‘But’ can be a venomous word. An evident truth may be expressed only to be overturned by a ‘but’.

Well-meaning Germans may acknowledge the need to help refugees, only to add ‘but we need a plan’. That we need a plan is as self-evident as our obligation to help those in distress. Yet, ‘but’ turns deadly when the implication is that we need a plan before we help. Unfortunately the latter is normally what is meant. ‘Please try not to die while we are pondering our plan’.

Angela Merkel is no stranger to conditionality, yet in the refugee crisis her support has been unwavering and no caveats have been allowed. Her enemies are now seizing on this, trying to convince us that the cautious Ms. Merkel has suddenly become a ‘careless skier’. Nothing of the sort is true – Ms. Merkel has only accepted that there is a humanitarian imperative and that no dithering is allowable. When Nansen issued his famous passports after the Russian civil war and the First World War there was no plan; when millions of ethnic Germans had to resettle in the Bundesrepublik after the Second World War there was no plan, only hunger and despair for refugees and hosts alike; after Hungary 1956 there was no plan; when the Iron Curtain was pierced there was no plan; and when German reunification took place there were only fragments of a plan. Still, the crises were always managed in some way or another.  Fact is that when seismic shifts take place very rarely time is given for proper planning. But this does not make it acceptable to close one’s eyes to disaster, only to open them again when a good plan has been agreed and everything can proceed in an orderly fashion.

So it is hard to understand how ‘but’ can be justified in the refugee crisis but it is equally hard to understand why those who agree with Ms. Merkel do not jump to her defence. ‘Progressives’ are a funny bunch because they tend to find much happiness in criticising, and little happiness in defending their standard bearers. Defending Ms. Merkel is extra uncomfortable because progressives are unaccustomed to her being their standard-bearer. Yet Angela Merkel deserves utmost respect, and all those agreeing that humanitarian concerns must come first must try very hard to avoid that her reward for doing the right thing will be the loss of power.

In the last few days we have started experiencing a further lethal ‘but’. Many people (and some high-ranking politicians) acknowledge that the Syrian refugees are fleeing exactly the sort of tragedy we saw in Paris and Beirut, only to follow this by ‘’but even if most refugees are not terrorists we need to start closing our borders’ in order to keep out the rotten apples. That is conditional humanitarianism of the worst kind.  ‘We will not give you sanctuary because those who persecuted you continue to abuse you even after you have left your home and your country’.

The response to the terror in Paris should not be a ‘but’. It should be a ‘we understand even better what you have been going though’. We are part of the same family and we are in this together! This is a time for action – a time for solidarity, even when it hurts!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s