For the past few days I have been in Germany traveling and exploring the cities of Munich, Manheim, Ludwigshafen, Stuttgart, and Mosbach. Lately this region has been in the news. There have been a number of attacks on the population here in Germany. In that time I have been talking with and watching the people of Germany during this very difficult period.
On the day of the Sunday attack in Ausbach I was attending a similar music festival in an open public square in Mosbach. These two regions are very close together, only being an hours drive apart through the countryside. People have become more apprehensive and fear is starting to take hold. As people walk around the public places and grand plazas of these great and smaller cities and towns, citizens are watching each other; fearing the unthinkable, the imagination runs wild.
While in Munich I stayed in a hotel that was also serving as temporary housing for refugees from Syria. They sounded happy and hopeful for the future. The vast majority can be seen to be playing with their children, having good conversations, and trying to build a new life. I could not imagine living in a hotel room with my entire family and yet still feel a sense of relief, that things are going to get better. I would probably be complaining, but I am lucky in that I was not living in a war torn nation and in a refugee tent city.
Germany faces great challenges in both the short term and the long term. In the short term, Germany’s security forces are working to prevent the next attack without undermining civil liberties. The long term, there is the question of whether refugees will returning to their countries of origin, or will they now become German citizens? Keep them separate, or move down a path of integration?
One of the defining features of Canada is that anyone can be Canadian, and that people can have their own faith or culture, which mixes in with other Canadians while still holding on to the language and values that makes us unique. We have often stumbled in our own history, but many European countries, may feel that their national identities are being challenged and may ask what it means to be French, German, Dutch, Belgian or English.
Currently the German state seems to be challenged in trying to educate and train the refugees, with too many who seem to left on their own in large cities.
Each of these countries are still democracies, and with or without the approval of European leadership, the collective will of the people will choose the fate of refugees.
While being here, my greatest concern is that political opportunists will try to capitalize on uncertainty, fear and anger to turn people against each other, and turn our backs on the best of what Western Democracies represent: freedom, tolerance, openness. By painting refugees as a dangerous “other” unlike ourselves, demagogues lead us to our worst instincts. Despite ourselves, good people may find themselves thinking the worst of each other. We think to ourselves, “Why are you here, what do you want? Don’t bring your problems here.”
In times like this it become hard for voices of restraint and reason not to be drowned out, to be lost, to be told to shut up. This is why we must reject fear and hatred, and recommit to recognizing the humanity of others, and to say “There but for the Grace of God go I.”
I often think the opening line of “If” by Rudyard Kipling, “If you can keep your head – when all about you are losing theirs, and blaming it on you-” only then will you have demonstrated leadership and a commitment to the ideals of humanity.
It is easy to divide through fear and anger: it is hard to unite through hope and inspiration. It is easy to judge, and harder to forgive. It is easy to make empty promises and hard to keep real ones. But as it has been said, when faced with difficult choices, the hard decision is often the right one.
It takes courage and strength to stay calm when provoked by the banality of evil and hysteria of our imagination. Canada is not immune to fear, and we need to stand on guard for it here as well. But I also believe Canada can set an example to the world, in proving that we can stay true to our democratic principles of freedom, justice and tolerance.