Common Humanity - Guest Post
Of the world’s 7.7 billion inhabitants, 68.5 million have been forcibly displaced, victims of persecution, human rights violations, conflict or violence; of that number, 25.4 million are registered as refugees, 52% of whom are children; 40 million are IDP’s, internally displaced from their homes, and 3.1 million are asylum seekers waiting to receive refugee status. The difference between refugees and IDPs is that IDPs remain in their home country. An additional ten million, who have been denied nationality, education, healthcare, employment and freedom of movement, are stateless.Every two seconds, somewhere on our planet another human being is displaced.Most refugees have little opportunity to free themselves from poverty and its dire consequences.
Africans and Middle Easterners make up a disproportionate number of the displaced and most of the assistance they receive comes from the world’s poorest countries. Ten countries, which together account for 2.5% of the world’s economy, currently administer to more than 50% of the world’s refugees.In sheer numbers, Turkey, which has accepted over 3.5 million Syrians since 2011, and Jordan, with 2.7 million refugees, mostly Palestinian, host the greatest number of refugees. Lebanon, however, hosts the greatest number as a percentage of its population. Many refugees receive food aid in cash or in kind from the UN World Food Program (WFP). UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine refugees in the near east) provides education, health care, food security and other essentials to more than five million Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Syria, Lebanon and Jordan.
What I have described is the worst refugee crisis since World War II, yet the United States recently announced that it is revising the Obama administration’s cap on the number of refugees it will allow onto its shores, from 110,000 to 30,000. The Trump administration has been vocal in its opposition towards Muslims and people of color so this reduction is an example of how ideology “trumps” humanity.
Additionally, as part of its permissive attitude toward Israel’s right-wing government, the U.S. is politicizing humanitarian aid by canceling its annual funding to UNWRA. Other nations have stepped in to fill the deficit left by America’s cancellation of $300 million annually, but it is unlikely they will make up its entirety. The American goal is to make living conditions so unbearable for long-suffering Palestinians that their leaders will surrender to Israel most of their rights that have been enshrined in international law for more than half-a-century.
There is so much suffering in the world, be it material and economic or emotional and psychological, that we must ascertain the causes. Is a lack of resources the reason for the suffering? Given that 50% of the world’s wealth is controlled by 1% of the world’s population that is not a convincing answer.What is at the very root of the selfishness that induces us to value money over humanity? Why do some people, who willingly open their hearts to strangers who come from the same ethnic, social or religious group as they do, close their hearts to people who come from different ethnic, social or religious groups? I do not believe that lack of compassion is inborn. I believe it is learned through indoctrination into one’s culture and society and, sadly, into one’s religion. Therefore, the root cause, not only of man’s inhumanity toward his fellow man but of suffering in general, is the attachment to a presumed limited and mortal identity and to the beliefs and images that emanate from and reinforce that presumption. The root of this problem is not political. It is psycho-spiritual. It is a problem of the mind, which refuses to take responsibility for its role in the world’s suffering; and it is a problem of identity or how we define ourselves and our so-called group — what conforms to our self-definition and what does not conform, what is perceived as safe and what is perceived as a threat. Whether we define ourselves as Christian, Jew, Muslim, Israeli, Palestinian or American, black, white, brown or yellow, however we define ourselves, our presumed identities bind themselves emotionally to seemingly relevant beliefs and images that dictate how we perceive the world and that induce us to create worlds of Us against Them.
We can heal this problem. Self-inquiry can help us to see our common humanity with all peoples. By inquiring into our beliefs and images and by recognizing that they are just thoughts and ideas that we have either absorbed into our nervous systems through immersion within our societies or that were taught to us by mentors as indoctrinated as we are, we can begin to free ourselves from the separative thinking that creates such heartbreak for so many people. The truth is that before we are Christians, Jews, Muslims, Israelis, Palestinians or Americans, we are human beings. Our common humanity is and will always be our true nature, prior to any ideology, nationality or religion. We just have to get in touch with it.
Richard Forer is the newest board member of Beirut and Beyond. He is the author of Breakthrough: Transforming Fear into Compassion — A New Perspective on the Israel-Palestine Conflict.
UNHCR, The UN Refugee Agency, http://www.unhcr.org/en-us/figures-at-a-glance.html.
Carol Morello, “U.S. slashes the number of refugees it will allow into the country,” Washington Post, September 17, 2018.