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Migration - Choosing Freedom Over Xenophobia

Xenophobia is a prison - a Robben Island of mind and matter - that can never lead to peace or happiness. Of mind, because society is a reflection of the images we create of each other, and it is these perceived images that fight and hate.
Diane Bondareff/Invision/AP

In September 2012 we wrote together warning about the rise of xenophobia, intolerance and political scaremongering (the blog can be read here "God is not a Christian". The situation has become worse. South Africa's long walk to freedom is now threatened by xenophobic violence. Our universal human rights are being eroded in Europe on the basis of scaremongering and "national security". Desperate migrants are drowning in the Mediterranean and mass migrant graves have been found in Asia. Xenophobia and migration are now urgent worldwide issues.

What do we do about migration? How do we move from a world of "terror" to peace? We must, as Mahatma Gandhi said, be the change we want to see in the world. This feels like an aged statement by now - but one we have yet to enact. In order to have peace, we must truly, be peace. The good news is that this is not at all impossible. In fact it is within immediate reach if we just think and listen differently, because as we know, we cannot solve a problem with the same kind of thinking that created it in the first place.

Isn't seeing others suffer, knowing that we can help, just another form of violence towards others, and a violence towards our inner-selves, our souls, depriving us of our own happiness? No one chooses to be a refugee or migrant. Facing poverty, discrimination, violence, war, corruption and malnutrition is a prison, because it renders you helpless to live a full life. Migration is the only escape.

Xenophobia is a prison - a Robben Island of mind and matter - that can never lead to peace or happiness. Of mind, because society is a reflection of the images we create of each other, and it is these perceived images that fight and hate. Of matter, because we can never build walls high enough to keep destitute people out - and even if we could - would that not be a prison in itself?

Xenophobia is defined as hatred and fear of that which is foreign or "strange" to us. The definition of a phobia is according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary "an exaggerated usually inexplicable and illogical fear of a particular object, class of objects, or situation" (italics ours). This is what xenophobia is - exaggerated, inexplicable and illogical. This is actually great news because this is also the way out of this mental prison.

This phobia can be conquered with education and familiarity. We can be realistic about our fears and help others overcome theirs. We can educate ourselves and others, check social and economic facts about immigration, get to truly know one-another without wearing inflammatory blindfolds produced by scaremongering. We can realise that by hating or fearing others we are corroding our own inner peace and happiness.

We can consciously liberate our minds. What political messages do we choose to listen to? What kind of news do we read? What kind of movies, games, books and even people, do we subject our minds to? Our children's minds? Our inner peace? We can remain passive and continue to subject ourself to violence and fear - or we can choose those sources that come from love. We can remind ourselves that all revered and unforgettable leaders in history; Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi, Mother Theresa, Martin Luther King, people like John Lennon - stood for one thing - LOVE - not fear or scaremongering.

It is so easy to be negatively influenced by hatred and violence. We hear or see what we want to hear and see, as a result of what we have been influenced by. If we look for the "terrorist" we will surely find him in the foreigner. If we look for the human being in the migrant, we will find her too. If we look for love - we find love.

Born a slave, the greek philosopher Epictetus said: "No man is truly free who is not a master of himself.". We can free our minds from the pollution of hate and fear. With free minds we see that there truly is nothing to fear but fear itself. Fear will lead us to imprison ourselves in our own countries by trying to keep others out. Fear will lead to more wars and violence. Fear will erode our human rights and our privacy. By choosing to break free from our imprisoned state of mind, we become not only free and happy - we actually become peace.

This is an "Oprah Aha" moment and it only takes a second! This is how, if we want it, peace is within our immediate reach.

"Freedom makes a huge requirement of every human being. With freedom comes responsibility. For the person who is unwilling to grow up, the person who does not want to carry his own weight, this is a frightening prospect." --Eleanor Roosevelt, Human Rights Champion.

But surely we cannot accommodate the world in a few countries? Surely we cannot afford to help everyone in the world? We can, because the financial cost alone of "terrorism" and wars is far greater than dealing with the issues at source. We don't have to be accountants to figure that out. Spending on war and "anti-terrorism measures" is a fallacious argument when we need to solve the real sources for conflict. With freedom comes responsibility and we must help people at home and in their own countries. Most people actually want to stay in their home countries if they could. This is where the focus should be.

In order to choose freedom over xenophobia we need development and growth as if human beings mattered. Not more economic development based on Gross Domestic Product (GDP) or arbitrary monetary values (see also blog "About What Peter Buffet Said on Philanthropy, ROI and Understanding". Wealth doesn't "trickle down" to the poorest and there is no equal "level playing field" to begin with in unequal societies. After decades of economic growth and numerous happiness studies, we know now that happiness doesn't come from economic growth itself, but from our human relationships, showing and receiving compassion and love, and things like spending time in nature.

We need to free people from their "unfreedoms", similarly to what Amartya Sen argued so well in his 1999 book Development as Freedom. We assert that as long as anyone suffers malnutrition, lacks access to clean water and proper education, are discriminated against, violated, suffer from corruption or environmental contaminations, have unequal rights or unequal opportunities and similar "unfreedoms"- no one can be truly free or happy. We are all one human family.

We can actively choose freedom over xenophobia, or put another way - choose to love and not to fear. We can start this journey in a split second by thinking differently, seeing things differently.

We can be peace now.


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