10 January 2012

A question of belief.

     A huge practical problem of political debate is that especially unpleasant facts used to illuminate a particular subject will often be rejected outright; those you are talking to will refuse to believe you. So it was when the conversation turned last week, in the course of one of my group conversation English lessons, to the topic of how Hamburg treats its asylum seekers. Our SPD government has just announced its reneging on a previous promise, and will continue to farm 180 of its asylum seekers out to the back of beyond in Mecklenburg, rather than house them within the bounds of its own state. (See article in die Taz from 30.1.2011.) (Go here for the free tool to translate German websites into English).

    And what then? There, out there in the sticks, the kids have no school - although Hamburg state law stipulates that all children of asylum seekers must attend school, in the same way as German kids. This was the point that some participants in my lessons simply would not believe. And after the disbelief, comes the defence: being in a refugee camp anywhere in the world is a horrible experience. Many older Germans who make this statement are talking from the heart: they may have experienced life in a refugee camp in Hamburg as a child, after coming as part of the movement of displaced persons after WW2. After that there were later refugee camps in Hamburg to house the influx of refugees - often fleeing with few possessions - from East Germany in the 1950s. Might personal experience of life as a refugee - however brief - increase ones sympathy for refugees in your state today? Why should it - distancing yourself from them by denying the details of their daily lives must be the most efficient way of dealing with the unpleasantness. Better to belief that a journalist in a renowned newspaper got a key fact of her article wrong, perhaps willfully.

     Which perhaps prooves that politics is not about facts, but rather about belief-systems which contradict each other so strongly, that in the clash of steel on steel it's near impossible to hear what the other side is shouting. You're back with James I of the UK, not wanting to hear the Catholic's say, but rather wanting to drive a Protestant wedge, in the form of Ulster & the Ulster Scots, between the Catholic south of Ireland & the Catholics in Scotland's western Isles. For James I, for those who choose to be interested in asylum-seekers and for those who cling hard to the rock of disinterest, the facts were & are a side-show: talking politics is a question of belief.

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