It may not please a great many people to hear that the greater part of the negative response to the current refugee crisis is rooted in fear. While some are happy to admit that they worry refugees, especially those of Syrian origin, may bring with them terrorists, many others do not like to think of themselves as afraid. Our sense of self is so often constructed on notions of our essential goodness and personal strength. This is only natural. Yet in reality, in times of extreme danger, we honour heroes precisely because they do what few others were willing to in the situation. It takes an exceptional individual to run into a burning building to rescue a perfect stranger.

When faced with the reality of the refugee crisis, and all of the government and media hysteria surrounding it, fear is a predictable response. Yet this is not to say that it is the right response; only that it is predictable. It would not be right to reduce the negative responses within Europe to simple racism, even though there are truly racist responses, but racism – or much of the racism we are witnessing – is itself a mechanism triggered by fear, and neither does this mean that racism is a good response. The evidence of this fear, as that is all we have to go on, from governments, the national media, newspapers and such like, and public opinion on social media, is in what is being said and written.

Politicians and media pundits – who all have their agendas – have fuelled the misconception that these people are migrants rather than refugees; ignoring the facts of the war and violence in Syria and implying that they are coming to steal our women and take our jobs (to cite an old trope). This is an irrational and unfounded fear built on a distortion of the facts (a lie in other words). Then there is the admittedly more plausible concern that in their number are dangerous terrorists who will wreak havoc once within our borders. Only a fool would not take this possibility seriously, but it is a fear nonetheless. While this is not an irrational fear, there are two things worth bearing in mind: Refugees have been and continue to be vetted rigorously by the most sophisticated intelligence apparatuses in the world, and that the overwhelming majority of the people on our borders are where they are because they have been the victims of the terrorists we fear.

One other fear which is increasingly more commonly voiced on social media is that an influx of foreigners will breed and soon dominate our society. This is just simple racism, and of the very worst kind. It is still worth addressing here however. Never in the history of human civilisation has there been a people of a single homogenous ethnic purity. It has always, and without exception, been the nature of human beings to migrate. Since the arrival of the first human beings to Europe and Britain and Ireland people groups have migrated back and forth; the population of the British Isles is the product of countless arrivals and departures, and this pattern will continue to shape and reshape the countries where we live for so long as there are people. The arrival of a new group of people will change where we live, but where we live is always changing anyway. It is irrational in the extreme to imagine an eternally changeless and pure people living in any locality.

At some point we must recognise our collective response and inaction as a symptom of fear and so come to know that fear can and must be overcome. We cannot tolerate a reality where our character and behaviour are governed by fear; it fundamentally contradicts everything we have come think of as defining of our society – openness, freedom, democracy, and the rule of reason. Our continuation of this contradiction can only undermine and ultimately destroy what we have created. Moral cowardice at a time like this will indelibly mark us and mar us. Overcoming this climate of fear and terror is the only way we, as a society, can say with sincerity that we did not allow evil to prevail.

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