Thursday, 17 September 2015

Refugee crisis tests Islam’s fundamental tenet of Ummah
Published on Islamic Monthly 
German Chancellor Angela Merkel recently stated that the migrant crisis is testing European core values and that Europe is facing a humanitarian crisis that shows no sign of letting up. With Germany expecting to receive the most number of asylum applications this year — 800,000 — Merkel called on all European Union countries to show an equal willingness to help.
Strangely, in the Muslim world, there is a deafening silence from Syria’s neighbor: the Gulf region. The oil-rich countries have not offered asylum to their Muslim neighbors. Not only is the Gulf much richer than many EU countries still deep in the financial crisis, it is closer to Syria, shares the same language and, most importantly, the same religion that dictates a strong community (Ummah) of Muslims as a basic tenet. Yet, the Gulf has closed its doors, turned away from the tragedy, and assumed that giving some money to refugee camps is enough to show empathy.
Since 2011, the U.S. has given $4.3 billion to Syrian refugees, Kuwait $1.2 billion, Saudi Arabia $597 million and Qatar $244 million. Gulf countries can arrange to bring in a large number of expatriates that perhaps would double or triple their population, but have refused to make resettlement or employment an option for a single Syrian refugee.
The media and public are focusing on Europe in calling on it to open its doors to refugees and European leaders are tackling the question, but no such calls are being made of the Gulf’s responsibility, something activist Faisal Saeed Al Mutar calls “the racism of lower expectation.” Ignoring the responsibility of the Gulf means that we expect Europeans to be naturally kinder and more humane than people from the Gulf.
To assume that this difference is a default is demeaning and degrading for anyone from the Gulf countries. We should refuse to accept the assumption that all our friends and colleagues in the Gulf have less empathy, less of a human heart than those in Europe.
The refugee crisis is also testing how Muslim countries are genuinely practicing the true meaning of Ummah. Used by Prophet Muhammad in his Constitution of Medina, the term “Ummah” originally meant a community where people from all religions — regardless of whether one was a pagan, Jew, Christian or Muslim — can live peacefully together. Based on this definition alone, Europe has more potential to become a much better Ummah than the homeland of Islam.
With Iraq bordering Syria, the Gulf is much closer than Europe, which is months of walking, a sea of sharks and drowning away. If the Gulf continues to close its border to Syrian refugees, the countries are proving that they deserve the racism of lower expectation and fall behind Western countries in creating a true Ummah. Muslims and non-Muslims, wealthy Western countries and wealthy Gulf countries should show their humanity to this horrendous refugee crisis.
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Trong đạo Hồi, khái niệm Ummah vô cùng quan trọng. Khi Muhammad rời Mecca chạy tị nạn đến Medina, ông nhanh chóng chiếm được sự tôn trọng của cộng đồng dân cư ở đây, lúc đó là một thành phố đa sắc tộc gồm rất nhiều người Do Thái, Thiên Chúa, Pagan (đa thần giáo), và những tín đồ cải đạo đầu tiên của Hồi giáo. Họ bầu ông làm người lãnh đạo trong các cuộc đàm phán. Với tư cách là một người ngoài cuộc, Muhammad đã thể hiện sự công minh của mình khi thiết lập Hiến Pháp thành Medina, trong đó từ Ummah được dùng để chỉ một cộng đồng đa sắc tộc sống với nhau hoà bình, hữu nghị.
Từ Ummah sau đó bị bóp méo, và dần dần ý nghĩa của nó hoàn toàn thay đổi, không dùng để chỉ một cộng đồng đa sắc tộc chung sống tương trợ lẫn nhau nữa mà để chỉ bó hẹp trong cộng đồng Hồi giáo, gạt các tôn giáo khác ra ngoài định nghĩa. Medina, Mecca không còn là những thành phố tự trị của cộng đồng đa sắc tộc mà dưới quyền cai trị của chính quyền Ả Rập Saudi (vốn là một bộ tộc ở nơi khác đến đánh chiếm ở thế kỷ 19) hiện nay thậm chỉ chỉ cho phép người Hồi đặt chân vào.
Khái niệm Ummah chỉ là một trong vô vàn triết lý và khái niệm của Hồi giáo đã dần dần bị đổi thay theo dòng lịch sử. Tệ hơn nữa, Ummah còn bị các phần tủ cực đoan dùng như thể một lý tưởng đế quốc Hồi giáo toàn cầu (Islamism) với mục tiêu cải đạo và đặt cả thế giới dưới luật lệ Hồi giáo.
Nếu chúng ta quay trở về ý nghĩa nguyên bản của Ummah thì chúng ta có thể nhìn nhận cuộc khủng hoảng tị nạn hiện nay từ một góc độ rất khác. Trong khi rất nhiều nước châu Âu đau đầu với việc làm sao có thể tiếp nhận số nạn nhân chiến tranh khổng lồ thì những quốc gia giàu có vùng Vịnh đóng chặt cửa, từ chối không nhận bất cứ một nguời tị nạn nào. Những quốc gia này có thể phân phối công ăn việc làm cho một khối lượng người nước ngoài lớn gấp đôi, thậm chí gấp 10 lần số dân bản xứ, nhưng lại từ chối giúp đỡ chính những tín đồ cùng tôn giáo. Ả Rập Saudi sở hữu những chiếc lều hiện đại có cài đặt máy lạnh với sức chứa 3 triệu người, nhưng kiên quyết bỏ không. Lưu ý là toàn Syria có 4 triệu nguời chạy tị nạn. Hài hước hơn, Saudi còn tuyên bố rằng họ sẵn sàng giúp Đức (nhận 800.000 tị nạn năm nay) xây 200 thánh đường Hồi giáo - một cử chỉ thể hiện âm mưu truyền bá tôn giáo cực đoan dòng Wahhabism của Saudi hơn là một nghĩa cử giúp đỡ đồng loại. Xây thánh đường cho nạn nhân chiến tranh thì có khác gì đưa kinh thánh cho người chết đói?
Thật vô lý khi chúng ta kêu gào các quốc gia châu Âu giàu có phải khoan dung, phải độ lượng, trong khi mặc định chấp nhận các quốc gia vùng Vịnh giàu có gấp hàng chục hàng trăm lần nhưng lại có thái độ dửng dưng với nỗi đau của nguời vừa là hàng xóm, vừa là tín đồ cùng tôn giáo. Về nguyên tắc, đây là sự phân biệt chủng tộc, bởi chúng ta mặc định đã là Tây Âu thì đương nhiên là tốt hơn, tình người hơn các sắc dân khác.
Tôi không chấp nhận. Tôi phản đối việc phải chấp nhận rằng những người bạn, người đồng nghiệp của tôi ở vùng Vịnh là những kẻ không có nhiều tình thương và sự khoan dung bằng những nguời bạn và đồng nghiệp của tôi ở châu Âu. 
Nếu căn cứ vào ý nghĩa nguyên bản của Ummah, thì châu Âu đang trở thành một Ummah tốt đẹp hơn nhiều lần chính quê hương của Hồi giáo. 

Friday, 11 September 2015

QUICK FACTS ON THE ASYLUM SEEKER CRISIS

Published on Islamic Monthly and Tiếng Việt on BBC

1. Why does Hungary prevent asylum seekers from going to Germany?


According to the European Union’s Dublin Regulation, asylum seekers are expected to register at the first EU country they reach. In this case, it is Hungary. The main disadvantage of this system is that it unfairly places a disproportionate amount of responsibility on frontline states like Greece and Italy. Greece has been overloaded with applications since hundreds of thousands of asylum seekers first arrived in the Greek Islands across the Mediterranean Sea. Germany has suspended the Dublin rule and will consider asylum cases passing through other EU countries. Finland has stopped sending people back to Greece. 

2. Why do refugees want to go to Germany?

Once asylum seekers have been registered, they will wait to receive a decision. According to Eurostat, the highest number of positive asylum decisions in 2014 was in Germany (48,000), then Sweden (33,000), Italy and France (each 21,000), the U.K. (14,000) and the Netherlands (13,000). These six countries made up 81% of the positive decisions that the EU issued that year. The likelihood of being granted refugee status in Germany is the main reason asylum seekers want to lodge their claims there.

Asylum seekers presently stuck at a Budapest train station say they consider Hungary to be similar to Serbia and Macedonia, “having a thin veneer of prosperity, but being fundamentally relatively poor and still developing. And Greece, though developed, is in economic crisis.”

With the advancement of Internet and social media, asylum seekers can research other important factors such as the quality of the refugee camps, the length of the process, the level of freedom, language and how empathetic locals are toward refugees.

3. What is the process?

To gain refugee status, asylum seekers must prove they are fleeing persecution and would face harm or even death if sent back to their country of origin. While waiting for the decision, which may take months or years, asylum seekers have the right to food, first aid and shelter in a reception center. Also, asylum seekers are supposed to be granted the right to work within nine months of arrival.

They may be granted refugee status on the first try (first instance) or, if denied, can appeal the decision. According to Eurostat, 45% of first-instance asylum decisions were positive. Nearly 104,000 people received refugee status in the EU last year, nearly 60,000 subsidiary protection status (do not qualify as refugees but will be protected) and more than 20,000 authorizations to stay for humanitarian reasons (do not qualify as refugees but will be taken care of). If an asylum seeker is denied, he/she is expected to make an arrangement to leave the country, or will be forced to do so on a return flight.

4. What about other countries?

More than 4 million people have fled Syria. According to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees,  more than 1.9 million have gone to Turkey, more than 600,000 to Jordan and 1 million to Lebanon (one refugee for every four Lebanese).

In total, approximately 600.000 asylum seekers arrived in Europe in 2014 – a continent with the population of roughly 742 million, which makes a ratio of 1 refugee for every 1200 people. Although the number rises much higher this year, media is creating the idea that the refugee wave looks like a tsunami, while anti-refugee protests call them with "swarm", "virus", or "parasites", which is both untrue and inhumane.

According to UNHCR data, in the first seven months of 2015, there were 126,232 Syrian asylum seekers lodging applications in the EU: 39,254 in Germany, 38,002 in Serbia and Kosovo, and 10,847 in Hungary. There are also a large number of asylum seekers from Afghanistan (77,731), Iraq (61,463), Albania (33,767), Eritrea (21,631) and Pakistan (17,021).

The number of submitted applications does not correspond proportionally with the number of those granted refugee status. A table published by the Guardian shows that Bulgaria or Denmark are more likely to approve applications rather than Hungary or France, which explains why many asylum seekers do not want to register in Hungary or France.    

Neighboring oil-rich Gulf States have not taken any Syrian refugees. They are receiving increasing criticism from other countries and are being pressured to show more sympathy to their fellow Muslims. Officially, Syrians may apply for a work permit in the Gulf, but the process is expensive and many people believe that  unwritten restrictions make it difficult for Syrians to actually get a visa.

5. Why is Germany so generous?

Most of the Syrian refugees cannot speak the language, come from a very different culture, in many cases, are terribly traumatized and have limited financial capacity. They also need to be quickly employed, but their skills probably do not match with the labor market. Still, Germany doesn’t seem to mind: It is leading the chart and is expected to take 800,000 asylum seekers this year. One writer speculates that this relates to deep-rooted German psychology, as people are still shaken by the Nazis’ atrocities against the Jews. Syrians are the “new Jews.”

Germany is the most powerful and stable country in the EU, and has been a migrant economy since the mid-1960s. It is constantly in need of laborers, with up to 589,000 unfilled positions in July 2015.

6. Why are countries denying asylum seekers?

Apart from reasons listed above, there may be widespread Islamophobia in these countries, and government and public officials are concerned that radical or terrorist elements can infiltrate into their countries as asylum seekers.

7. What is the solution?

Accepting more asylum seekers may not be sustainable. Such a solution may encourage the now 30,000 human traffickers in Europe to continue to prey on the life and money of asylum seekers by not offering them sufficient safety or abandoning them halfway. It is also difficult and ethically controversial to draw a hardline between war refugees who flee death and economic refugees who flee poverty. With the Islamic State group increasingly becoming more of an inspiration, IS-motivated radicals can mix in with innocent refugees and eventually sabotage the safety of the host country.

What European countries can do is to impose a higher quota based on various factors, including the gross domestic product, unemployment rate, population, etc. We should call for the Gulf and developed countries in Asia, also Australia and New Zealand to share the burden. However, the ultimate solution for this crisis was best expressed by a 13-year-old Syrian boy told the press while he and hundreds of others were prevented from boarding a train from Hungary to Germany: “Stop the war! Just stop the war in Syria.”