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The West Has the Blood of Drowning Migrants on Its Hands

24/04/2015 17:47 BST | Updated 24/06/2015 10:59 BST

The drowning of 800 people in the Mediterranean is a crime against humanity, the ultimate responsibility for which lies not with the people traffickers operating the boats involved, as some assert, but Western governments that have destabilised the nations from which those refugees are so desperate to escape they are willing to risk their lives in the process.

Not only have we in the West destroyed - or aided and abetted the destruction of - countries such as Libya, Iraq, and Syria, we have allowed those trying to flee the destruction we have wrought to perish in the most cruel and unforgivable manner, turning the Med into a mass grave to rank with those that have stained human history throughout the 20th Century.

This tragedy comes as the culmination of the campaign of demonisation that has been conducted against migrants across Western Europe over the past few years. It is a campaign driven by a resurgent right and ultra nationalist political parties and forces, and has achieved mainstream acceptance, serving to dehumanize the victims of the West's foreign policy.

Migrants are human beings. They are not the untermenschen commonly depicted, and their plight shames every citizen ruled by governments who speak democracy while practicing 'democratism', the new imperialism that differs from the old only in the way it is sold and packaged.

Consider Libya. Nato's air war against the country in 2011 was unleashed on the back of a UN Security Council Resolution pledging to 'protect civilians' with a no fly zone. It was then used to effect regime change with the consequence that, four years on, Libya has descended into an abyss of extremism, chaos, and terrorism. It has become, in effect, the shop window of Western foreign policy, sitting alongside Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria in this regard.

The scaling down of the number of rescue ship operating in the Med, towards the end of 2014, was based on the ludicrous assertion that rescuing migrants when they ended up in the water was a 'pull' factor responsible for encouraging them to make the attempt to reach European soil. It was a decision tantamount to murder, and those responsible should be held to account.

In 2014 the total number of deaths of migrants in the Mediterranean was 3,600. So far, this year, the death toll is 1,600, with the near certainty that it will climb exponentially in the coming months unless a drastic and comprehensive humanitarian response is put in place to prevent it.

However, based on European Commission's ten-point action plan on migrants, announced after a hastily organized joint meeting of foreign and interior EU ministers in Luxembourg to discuss the crisis, such a humanitarian response will not be forthcoming anytime soon. What is being proposed instead is a military and police response - in other words the criminalization of migrants whose only crime is attempting to flee the catastrophic consequences of Western military and political intervention in their countries.

On one level it is so utterly absurd it is Kafkaesque. On another it reeks of barbarism.

Western governments have perfected the art of presenting itself as the champion of human rights around the world, while working to subvert them. The fact they can and continue to do so without betraying even the slightest evidence of embarrassment is a phenomenon to behold. When Orwell wrote, "War is peace, Freedom is Slavery, and Ignorance is Strength" in his iconic novel, 1984, he could have been describing the mantra of the EU and Nato.

Those drowning migrants reflect the drowning moral authority of those in the West who claim the mantle of progress while standing on the bones of the countless millions who've perished and/or seen their lives reduced to unremitting despair over the past decade, victims of governments that regard the world as a chessboard in which entire peoples and societies are pushed around and destroyed as they see fit.

Compounding the horror of this mass tragedy in the Med has been the public description in the UK of fleeing refugees and migrants as "cockroaches" by a woman - Katie Hopkins - whose celebrity over the past few years has been based on nothing more than the airing of views and opinions that have no place in a civilized society.

The word "cockroaches" employed to describe human beings calls to mind Hitler's dehumanization of Jews and Slavs prior to their mass extermination in the Holocaust. It also calls to mind the dehumanization of the Tutsis by their Hutu murderers during the Rwandan genocide. It is not free speech, it is hate speech, and the fact that she is able to enjoy a mainstream platform as a newspaper columnist and radio presenter is an indictment of British society and immorality of a reactionary media that is swimming in sewage.

But it would be a mistake to depict Katie Hopkins as a lone voice. She is not. She is in fact the product of a worldview that is more common than many would like to think among opinion formers in the UK. Consider the emergence of Nigel Farage and his anti-immigration party UKIP. The influence that he and his party has had in shaping the political discourse when it comes to immigration has combined with the British Tory government's policy of austerity to create ideal conditions for the politics of fear, division, and xenophobia to gain traction.

The whipping up of a moral panic over immigration - not only in the UK but throughout Europe - has resulted in the most reactionary and regressive period the continent has experienced since the 1930s, when fascism emerged and gain traction in similar conditions of economic recession and austerity.

Here the warning of the German playwright Bertolt Brecht, writing at the end of the Second World War, remains apposite: "The womb from which this monster emerged remains fertile."