Glasgow Refugee Asylum and Migration Network (GRAMNet)

Bringing together researchers, practitioners and policy makers working with migrants, refugees and asylum seekers in Scotland

The Divides That Are Breaking Us

by Naomi Head


Recent attacks in Nice, Munich, Normandy, Wuerzburg, Reutlingen, Ansbach and Paris have shocked European citizens to the core. Some of these attacks have been linked to ISIS/Daesh while others have not yet been proven to have terrorist links. Some have been committed by asylum seekers and some by individuals with mental health problems. All of them have seen calls by politicians for measures to “do whatever is necessary to protect our citizens“. What I believe these attacks share in common is a desperate rejection of the divisions which increasingly govern experiences between those who have lived and suffered through violence, insecurity, marginalisation, poverty, and conflict, and those who do not. We should ask ourselves what might drive people to do commit such terrible violence against strangers, neighbours, against other human beings? What circumstances might they feel and experience that provides the incentives, despair, and lack of perceived alternatives necessary to drive individuals to commit such acts?

This is not, for one moment, intended to excuse the horrific and violent nature of these crimes. Instead, it is to suggest that we should turn inward and reflect on the unacceptable levels of inequality and injustice within Europe and elsewhere that is being reinforced by right-wing rallying cries for control of our borders, by harsher immigration policies, by the money invested in European naval patrols to turn back desperate asylum-seekers, by the deal Europe struck with Turkey to prevent asylum-seekers reaching European territories, by the dire conditions of the refugee camps in Calais and Dunkirk which are policed by the British and French states, by the fences constructed by eastern European countries, by the legal and institutional obstacles facing asylum-seekers, by the thousands of people who have died crossing the Mediterranean, by the discursive violence enabled by politicians and the racist attacks experienced by citizens, immigrants and asylum-seekers alike, and by the lack of willingness to share our wealth, resources, homes, and communities with those who have lost so much (and so frequently as a result of wars that we have been intimately involved in).

So this is not just about wars ‘over there’; it is about the links which have been constructed over many years between those of us with power and security and those whom we have disempowered and made vulnerable. It is about the need for us to re-examine the social, moral and political values on which we build our societies and through which we frame our relations to others in the world. Maintaining our own security requires sharing our wealth and resources, learning and practising humility, refraining from adhering to doctrines of military force which contribute to cycles of violence, considering how we attribute value to humans beyond the economic, and reflecting on the kindness and hospitality which shape our daily interactions and mitigate our collective anxieties. Our security rests on understanding the desperate needs of others and being willing both to recognise how we have been involved in creating those needs as well as opening our hearts enough to meet those claims, rights, and needs.

Our security depends upon politicians and the media being challenged for the lies and the rhetoric they seek to blind us with, it depends on contesting negative and derogatory portrayals of different religions, cultures, and beliefs, and it depends on our courage to witness the harms and injustices that our governments enact upon those within and outwith our societies on a daily basis. Everywhere we look, there are people of different colours, languages, cultures, and beliefs, who are coming together to mourn the impact that these violent acts have imposed on their communities. There are calls for non-violence, community, co-existence, welcome, love, hospitality, and solidarity amongst communities across Europe and beyond. These are the voices which must be heard above the tired, angry, predictable, alienating and dehumanising rhetoric of so many politicians who talk constantly of security but who fail to ask the soul-searching questions of ourselves wherein lie political alternatives.


Naomi Head is a Senior Lecturer in Politics at the University of Glasgow. Her research explores the politics of empathy and emotions in international relations with a focus on Israel and Palestine.


Cover image: Barbed Wire Sunset by Matt Niemi licensed under CC by 2.0


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This entry was posted on August 9, 2016 by in Comment and tagged , , , , , , , , , .
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