The Political Theology of Migration

The Emperor with no clothes. It’s trending. Saying that the swindling of taxpayers is economically sound. Justifying austerity. Justifying torture. Lauding ethnic cleansing as democratic freedom. Praising interventionism.

Australian PM Malcolm Turnbull produced one of the most chilling examples of the Imperator’s lack of vestments when he extolled the virtues of Australia’s barbaric refugee policy at the UN refugee summit. The fig-leaf for the tragedy unfolding in Nauru and elsewhere is that of ‘multiculturalism.’ Australia is a diverse and open society. It is ‘managing’ refugees in its 21sr century concentration camps (where it’s illegal to report abuse). Some of those asylum-seekers may even be bent on destroying Australia’s wonderful country. And like the Emperor, Turnbull will have his allies to conceal his naked deceptions.

Of course, Turnbull is not the only one talking tough on immigration and he is definitely not the worst in the world. Neither are all his points completely of no worth. That the ‘natives are restless’: that is undoubted. More importantly, he also pointed out that the world is experiencing a massive circulation of refugees. That is a home truth.

But the Aussie PM did not say why there are so many refugees. This ‘why’ is important.

There are two major reasons for increasing immigration. Firstly there is the globalisation project instituted after the end of the Cold War and exemplified by agreements like NAFTA. 25 years on and globalisation really looks like a method of maintaining the hegemony of the wealthy countries while impoverishing the poorer or weaker ones.

We have seen globalisation at work in the Asian crisis of 1997 and the recent Eurozone financial crisis. In both of those crises, wealth was transferred from the poorer countries to the richer. Across the world, more and more people in poorer countries can’t survive and are taking greater and greater risks to secure a livelihood.

Then there is the issue of interventionism. Countries like Australia have been keen supporters of attacking nations they don’t like, doing ‘their bit’ as allies in the ‘coalition of the willing.’ The ensuing instability has produced an upsurge in militancy, power vacuums, ethnic cleansing, and of course refugees. Migrants are either fleeing warzones or are able to pass through nations like Libya with relative ease, availing of the weak or null border controls.

Greed and destructiveness by ‘enlightened’ Western nations; these are the root causes of mass migration. It is nothing to do with wanting to ‘taste freedom.’

Despite this, those like Turnbull subscribe to a political narrative, a political theology if you will, concerning mass migration. Those from other countries are bonded in modern-day Egypts. They are fleeing to Promised Lands, overflowing with milk and honey (and tekkie gadgets). Of course, there are ‘baddies’ who ‘hate our freedoms’ (that’s nothing to do with Western interventionism, according to those like Turnbull). And, then there are criminals. Why, oh why, can’t immigrants come without criminality? (did I mention that Australia was a former British penal colony? Or that organised crime took root in America by the hands of immigrants?).

Discerning the source of this political theology isn’t difficult. It comes from the British Protestant tendency to conceptualize Christian life in terms of the Old Testament. The liberty of Protestantism is that everyman can interpret Scripture as he sees fit. English people since the Reformation have come to see their national existence in biblical terms.

For instance, a cynic like yours truly would see WWII as an age-old tactic of the British to prevent any continental power from dominating Europe. And, after all, didn’t the British befriend Stalin? But in British discourse, WWII is seen (by many intelligent people, even) as the UK ‘saving’ the world as part of their historic mission. British people genuinely see themselves as akin to the Children of Israel in the time of David.

The Statue of Liberty, standing erect in a a WASP nation, is the most famous ezpression of this political theology. However, the famous words – “Give me your tired, your poor, huddled masses …” – was added to the statue after it had been shipped over from France (the lines taken from a poem by one Emma Lazarus). Thus was the statue turned from a commemoration of the Enlightenment, into the harbinger of a new Jerusalem. Gallic love of pagan-style art became an expression of Anglo-Saxon exceptionalism.

Beyond the spin and religious ecstasy, immigration is all about economics, the greasy till. Australia and other countries in Europe and America don’t want ‘foreigners,’ i.e. non-Northern Europeans. They want workers, both highly skilled and low-skilled, because the natives want nice jobs in offices or are keen to set up businesses.

Those nationals whom Australia wants, e.g. citizens of the UK and Ireland or other Northern European countries like Germany, won’t immigrate to Australia in sufficient numbers. Therefore immigrants have to be brought in from other countries where the wages are low. There has to be a ‘mix’ of immigrants so that the majority and traditional population, in Australia the descendants of Irish and British immigrants, won’t be displaced. Nothing wrong with all this. Just that it’s not as romantic as the spin of Turnbull the unclothed Emperor or a whole slew of Western leaders.

While some Western leaders, like the UK’s Theresa May, talk tough on immigrants, don’t be suckered in. The global establishment is broadly happy with the status quo. Globalisation has provided cheap or highly skilled labour to the richer nations. It’s merely a case of managing native unrest. That’s where the propaganda of political theology enters. Keeping on portraying Babylon as Jerusalem.

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