Why we need to start discriminating again

Why we need to start discriminating again

The European Court of Justice has ruled that Britain and Ireland cannot return asylum seekers to Greece because their human rights would be jeopardised.

An Afghan had challenged a British decision to remove him to the first safe country he had arrived in, and the court stated that “an asylum seeker may not be transferred to a member state where he risks being subjected to inhuman treatment.”

The case is significant because the convention on refugees has always been that they must seek asylum in the first safe country in which they arrived. But now the EU’s own court says that Greece does not pass that basic test, mostly because it is too poor (because Ireland is rolling in money right now). It is also significant because it suggests that refugee policy is now going to be pooled.

It is interesting how far the logic behind the asylum system has shifted down the years. The first UN Convention, in 1951, dealt with people made homeless by the changing map of Europe (including millions of Germans driven out of Prussia). It was never intended, nor even imagined, that vast numbers of people from failed states would move permanently into Europe, marking the continent’s greatest movement of people since the barbarian invasions.

There are many arguments to be made against our current policy, the prime one being that it enables dictators to rid themselves of troublesome elements, and for failed societies to avoid confronting their problems; more pertinently, with birth rates in the most disastrous countries far outstripping death rates, there is no simply no foreseeable end (Afghanistan, for instance, has a fertility rate of 6.42 children per woman).

And next year, as conditions worsen in the Middle East – Iraq is surely going to collapse, as anyone not on the political equivalent of lithium could have predicted – libraries across Europe will start to notice increasing demand for history books about the fall of Rome.

There are, of course, many other similarities between our age and the late Roman Empire: a declining birth rate, especially marked among upper-class women; a collapse in religious belief and the growth of a more vital and passionate monotheistic faith from the Middle East; a shrunken attachment to the ideal of the country – patriotism – and increased attachment to the state, a state which virtually all ambitious, educated people wished to work for.

Today the large taxpayer-funded charitable sector is one area of the state that attracts well-educated and idealistic people. On the radio this morning Donna Covey, Chief Executive of the Refugee Council (88 per cent state-funded) argued that refugees have a “right to protection in Europe and we have to do our bit to uphold that”. (One thing I will say for the Refugee Council – unlike many politically active charities, they do not appear to take money from the EU).

Do Afghans have a “right” to protection in Europe? Who granted them such a right? God? Nature? The UN? What right do I have to live in, say, Afghanistan, assuming I was insane?

This is, in reality, a distortion of the English language. An Afghan has no rights to England; if he is within its borders he enjoys the human rights that English law and custom ensures (well, used to), but he has no civil rights, including the right to reside. (I remember a particularly dim-witted individual on Question Time claiming that government policy made refugees “second-class citizens”.)

An Afghan who arrives here is, in fact, a guest, and the system takes into account thousands of years of custom whereby guests are protected; this featured strongly in ancient Jewish and Greek culture, with Zeus being the patron and protector of all strangers. Likewise a Pathan will look after you if you stray on to his turf, but in no sense do you have any “rights” within his society.

That’s because the asylum system is by nature contradictory, taking that ancient custom of hospitality and confusing it with the very modern concept of rights, rights which can only be derived from citizenship (and in a modern democracy asylum seekers, assuming they stick around, must inevitably become citizens).

And the idea that an Afghan has “rights” here is based on the totally fraudulent idea of indiscriminate altruism. In his famous 1982 essay, “Discriminating Altruisms”, Garrett Hardin wrote that a world without borders, barriers or distinctions is impossible.

The success of countries such as England can be partly attributed to their ability to widen the spheres of trust within society, beyond family, clan and tribe, allowing vast numbers of people to co-operate and trade through a common culture and law; the failure of Afghanistan is much down to its rigid old clan and tribal codes (this makes it impossible to build any sort of civil law or to counter corruption). Yet there are limits to how far the sphere of trust can extend. Hardin wrote that “altruism practised without discrimination of kinship, acquaintanceship, shared values, or propinquity in time or space” was impossible, because the benefits of belonging would cease to exist. Eventually, if we continue down our path of universalism, the benefits will disappear for us, too.

As the 19th-century French philosopher Pierre-Joseph Proudhon once put it: “If all the world is my brother, then I have no brother.”

This article was published in The Telegraph

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