By Randall Margo, PhD
G.L.O.B.A.L Justice Commentator/Global Economy & Administration Adjunct Faculty, Golden Gate University; Public Administrator
Chaotic times require clarity and wisdom. Yet, ambiguity and confusion surrounds western nations grappling with the onslaught of migrants seeking refuge from war torn areas and impoverished lands during this summer of 2015. Can guidance toward a future based upon global justice be discerned from past insights?
As migrants from the Middle East and North Africa flee danger and oppression, seeking sanctuary in Europe’s more peaceful and prosperous nations, the notion, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” springs to mind. In its original context, this assertion from Genesis, Chapter 4 was simply a derisive comment from Cain attempting to conceal the murder of his brother Abel from the Lord. Since then, it also served as a greater metaphor to ask this simple question, what obligations do we have toward our fellow man?
With the dawn of civilization, societies erected borders for protection and prosperity. However, borders were frequently breeched to quench man’s avarice and his quest for domination. Through perpetual conflicts among men came the observation conveyed in the Latin proverb, Homo homini lupus est, meaning, “A man is a wolf to another man.” In early Roman times, the play Asinaria by Plautus uses the phrase “Lupus est homo, non homo, quom qualis sit non novit,” translated more precisely, “A man is a wolf rather than a man to another man, when he hasn’t yet found out what he’s like.” In essence, this viewpoint contends that men who grow up in a similar society and culture typically treat one another impartially if not charitably, whereas those who are different from the common culture or strangers with dissimilar customs are viewed warily, if not fearfully.
The year 2015 has sharpened the focus of these proverbs, as refugees stream out of warring areas of the middle east and Africa. Meanwhile, under less dire circumstances, economic opportunity beckons for the many impoverished south of America’s border. In both instances, adaptations of the question, “Am I my brother’s keeper” clash with concerns and mistrust over whether ‘strangers’ with different language, customs, culture, or religion can or must willingly accept the predominant mores of the western societies they seek to enter. The assimilation struggles of previous immigrants from Africa and the middle east into European nations in particular give pause to even the most generous and compassionate citizens, as these nations wrestle with Islamic terror acts, high unemployment, and the significant costs associated with liberal welfare benefits bestowed to these immigrants, and to some, an assault on their very culture. More pointedly, does asking the question, is there a level of immigration of ‘strangers’ so high that it changes the nature of existing society, suggest one is uncharitable or perhaps more damming, prejudicial. Is there even a larger question of whether host countries should emphasize integration in manners and forms as the price of admission for those of different faiths, customs, traditions and languages seeking asylum. And, does that type of inquiry not assume that certain cultures are better, or at least preferable to others?
Within this context of immigration, the meaning of what constitutes global justice and what path it should follow is unavoidably complicated as philosophical values collide with practical considerations. Still, conflicted minds can recognize injustice and seek to change that which is immoral. To that end, images like the one below evoke the ecclesiastic vision of John Donne when he wrote: “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or thine own were: any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”
Perhaps the clarity and wisdom Donne implicitly coveted was for men to acknowledge that their commonality is of greater importance than their differences. For the Global Justice community dedicated to the virtue of all men, the bell has tolled. For Aylan Kurdi, may you rest in peace, and may God have mercy on your soul.
The views and opinions expressed are those of the author(s) and do not imply endorsement by G.L.O.B.A.L. Justice. We are a faith-based, nonpartisan organization that seeks to extend the conversation about justice with a posture of dignity and respect.