Global Terrorism and Brexit Challenge Educators
Edith W. King
Every day the worldwide media informs us about the horndous acts of terrorism with headlines such as: “Europe Arrives at a New Chapter of Violence;” “Terror Spree Unsettles Europe;” or “Brexit Causes Immigrants To Feel Town Turning Against Them” Due to terrorists’ acts breaking news constantly reports the numbers of deaths, the injured, destroyed buildings, damaged communities, and, of course, the shattered lives of citizens and of migrants. It is human damage that terrorism and major legislation such as Brexit, bring to disrupt a once secure society. The level of outrageous terrorism carried out and attributed to followers of ISIS (Islamic State) produces circumstances that bring on a rise of racism, anti-Semitism, and Islamophobia.
Those educators in Britain, concerned about the conditions in the UK in the summer of 2016 after Brexit, cautioned that the climate of rhetoric, hatred and insularism is clearly in the ascendency on both sides of the Atlantic. They stressed that fear, distrust, and barely disguised racism are infecting society, noting that incidents of verbal and physical violence towards minorities and immigrants are on the increase. In the US some politicians engaged in the heated presidential election have used the threat of illegal immigrants as the source of terrorism, to further their electoral ambitions. These opinions on the precarious status of democracy and tolerance in Western nations are evidence of the turmoil and fears violence and terrorism have brought throughout the contemporary world.
Worldwide migrations of desperate refugees, legal and illegal immigrants (as well as internally displaced people) show no sign of letting up in the 21st century. People, entire families, unaccompanied children, young adults, as well as the elderly are fleeing the wars and the collapse of governments in Middle Eastern and African countries. In 2016 the United Nations Refugees Agency released data that showed 65 million people were displaced worldwide, setting a new global record. The Refugee Agency went on to state this amounted to 34,000 people a day and doubled the number of displaced people since 1997. Conflicts in Syria, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and other African nations, as well as continuing conflagrations in Afghanistan and Pakistan are reasons for driving up these numbers.
About half of the refugees are children, some unaccompanied minors. News reports told of youngsters who drowned trying to escape from the flimsy and overturned boats they were in. The headlines “European refugee crisis” are now a familiar slogan. The migrants and asylum-seekers have placed enormous burdens on affluent western European countries, as well as the rest of Europe. By summer, 2016 Germany had accepted over 52,000 unaccompanied refugees under the age of 18 according to official reports. Most of the children live in group homes, but some are placed with foster parents and later can apply for asylum. When the Syrian conflicts began in 2011 through early 2016, it is estimated that 4.6 million Syrian refugees had fled to neighboring countries with another 7.6 million estimated to be internally displaced people (IDPs). Studies have examined the socio-economic effects of such extensive migrations. This has shown that people living outside their country of origin, experience more prejudice and discrimination than the native born citizens. The unpredictable status of global financial affairs has exasperated conditions of inequality for these asylum-seekers. The economic and political implications of persons and families migrating outside their country of origin, now more than in any other time in history are challenging many nations.
Germany is an example of the European countries where there exists uncertainty, inconsistency and shifting attitudes on the status of huge numbers of migrants. Further it appears that these vast numbers are overwhelming the government provisions offered those seeking asylum as the following comments and opinions of German educators and other German citizens attest. They spoke with my colleague who was teaching in a German higher education institution in the summer of 2016.
“Many Germans have sympathy with the fugitives because at the end of World War II more than 12 million of Germans were fugitives themselves and had to endure similar experiences. So we want to help and show a friendly, welcoming face. Luckily the attitude of a vast majority of the German population is still very positive.”
“We have to cope with these huge numbers of un-controlled inflow by neighboring EU states. They are simply guiding the masses through their territory towards northern countries like Germany and Sweden and without offering real help to the migrants.”
“As far as we see and know there are not only refugees from war zones – like from Syria – who have a right of asylum according to the Geneva Conventions. Most immigrants are young men with smart phones and without families.” There is just not enough room to house all of these hundred thousands of migrants. Kids in school have no sport education anymore because school gyms are used for makeshift migrant camps.”
“There is fear of right wing populist movements which could totally change our systems not only regarding the attitude towards migrants. We already see this in some EU states like e.g. in Denmark which had a very migrant friendly system but changed when populist, nationalistic politicians were elected recently. I do hope that in Germany we are able to manage without giving up our open and liberal society. Angela Merkel keeps to being optimistic and tells people: yes, we can manage. All of this calls for a common European policy approach, which is not really recognizable at the moment – a tough test for solidarity among EU states!”
(Interviews by Professor Liu Ming, Sichuan University, Chengdu, China, at the Hochschhule Bremen City University, Bremen, Germany, Summer, 2016)
The above comments including: “we have to cope with large numbers of immigrants”; “most immigrants are young men with smart phones”, “there is fear of right wing populist movements” echo and reinforce the information discussed in this article. What do these conditions and tensions, now apparent in daily living, impose on teaching and the education of all children — citizens, migrants and asylum seekers? Here are suggestions I have gathered from various sources to respond to this question.
Helping students cope with terrorism — suggestions for home educators:
- Children should have a climate of acceptance and openness so they can ask difficult-to-discuss questions about terrorism and related controversial issues. Setting forth guidelines for small group discussions such as: not allowing put-downs or making fun of other’s points or contributions. Dissuade them from interrupting each other. Keep to the rule of allowing each one to finish the remark or statement. Stress confidentiality of the discussion and the assurance that the conversation stays within the group.
- Listen for concerns about terrorism and acts of violence. Give children a chance to say what is troubling them or what is on their minds. Try to understand their point of view because young people sometimes cannot find the words to say what they mean. Probe more deeply by asking where did you hear or learn that “all terrorists are…” or “that a terrorist is in the neighborhood or near our house?” It is helpful and reassuring to re-phrase or re-state what has been said by noting that “what it seems you are saying is…” Watch for nonverbal messages as well, such as facial expressions, gestures, tone of voice, or emotional signals. You can remark that it is frightening for everyone to think about terrorism.
- Correct misinformation about conditions surrounding mass shootings, gun violence, terrorists, and the Brexit legislation. Try to explain incidents and crises reported in the “breaking” news reports in direct and simple language. Make clear that many of us are also concerned about the problems associated with violence and unpredictability. It is essential that we do not indicate that we are burdening youngsters with the tasks of solving the predicaments and dilemmas of the Brexit decision or global terrorism.
- Recognize and discuss the problems and issues that arise in the local community due to threats of terrorism. You can ask for example: Has someone’s family member joined a group to fight conflagrations where violence has occurred? Has someone they know been concerned about their rights as a legalized citizen? Do they know of undocumented persons threatened by deportations of illegal youths and adults? Are some travel plans for their family curtailed due to concerns about Brexit or terrorist acts and violence abroad?
- Locate and read stories that recognize and recount those who work for human rights, freedom, and safety for others. Such as the media accounts of Malala Yousafzai, the young Pakistani woman who advocates education for girls and women and the youngest person to receive the Nobel Peace prize.
- Promote youngsters sense of social responsibility and understandings of others’ perspectives through art activities. Locate museum exhibits and other art displays in libraries or universities that focus on international and cross-cultural themes. This provides students with diverse expressions of cultural traditions, folkways, ceremonies, and customs. Integrate education about human rights into teaching by approaching topics from a global perspective.
- Bring in human rights through cross-cultural topics and themes including use of languages spoken by peoples around the world. Create opportunities to discuss and use differing languages. Find out if languages other than English are spoken, read or written in your neighborhood and community. Watch for signs or notices distributed by the community in languages other than English to use for examples.
These suggestions can apply for students of all ages, those that are home schooled and those in traditional education. Today, it is acknowledged that migration within and across nation states is a worldwide phenomenon. Never before in history have people from all over the globe attempted such waves of migration in search of racial, religious and economic freedom. We know that terrorists are not a new phenomenon. They have been present in our midst for centuries. The extremists that confront us today, in whatever part of the world they operate, are not unique. It is widely acknowledged that current acts of terrorism are not condoned by Islam or the Muslim religion. Terrorists use suicide attacks that spurn their own demise. These extremists profoundly believe that their causes are right and just. As long as there is a “war on terrorism” it brings attention to the various causes that use violence as a means to gain power. In opposition those who advocate education for an enduring peace, seek an appreciation of difference and equality for all humankind.