Where there’s a humanitarian crisis, there will be a celebrity getting involved. This in itself is not to be derided: the freedom to have an opinion on or intervene in any issue is a very basic right. Any help, moreover, that can be given to solving the refugee crisis is more than welcome. Despite what they would have you believe, the famous people who concern themselves with these matters don’t do so purely because they are compassionate.
Take, for example, the Gary Lineker case. More famous for scoring goals and presenting Match of the Day than for his political views, Lineker has recently put his oar into the refugee debate. Again, this not a problem; he’s allowed to express his thoughts, regardless of how relevant and informed they may be. The manner in which he’s conducted himself over this issue, however, is something of a cause for concern.
It all started when he described the treatment of some refugees as “hideously racist“. This was the first example of Lineker using the refugee crisis for personal gain. That tweet is something of a non-statement—it doesn’t have any real meaning and certainly doesn’t do anything to solve the problem at hand—but it sounds very dramatic and makes it look like he’s concerned.
Lineker clearly wants to do something to help refugees. This cannot be denied and should not be derided. What is problematic, however, is the wholly unnecessary use of the “racist” label and how sanctimonious he is in approaching the debate.
In the echo-chamber that is Twitter, Lineker received a lot of praise for the various remarks he made over the next few days. But unsurprisingly, several people criticised him. Instead of debating the criticism rationally, he chose to insult people and tried to claim the moral high ground. This reached its climax when he said that the people who support him are “decent, caring human beings“. Trying to claim ownership of the argument by suggesting that no one could possibly disagree with you is one thing, but saying that only those who are not “decent, caring human beings” could possibly disagree with you is frankly a bit insufferable.
Never one to shy away from an argument, regardless of his knowledge on the matter, Piers Morgan intervened by suggesting that: “The way to make room in Britain for desperate refugees is to deport all the white trash racist scum.”
There are several problems with this statement. Firstly, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), there are approximately 21.3 million refugees and 65.3 million forcibly displaced people worldwide. You’ll struggle to find that volume of “white trash, racist scum” to deport in Britain; unless your definition of those three adjectives is very broad.
Secondly, presuming that the majority of these people that Morgan wants to “deport” are British, it would be very difficult—legally speaking—first to deport between 21.3 million and 65.3 million natives from their homeland and to find somewhere to house them. Following this approach would actually create a fresh refugee crisis which would be even more difficult to manage, considering these displaced people would be “white trash, racist scum”.
The biggest problem of all with Morgan’s suggestion is that he uses a derogatory term to describe poor white people. If he’d only said “racist scum” his comments still would have been incredibly stupid, but at least he’d have shown slightly less disdain for a large number of British people. Ignorance and “virtue-signalling” is one thing, but being so vitriolic towards people he’s never met is most unpleasant.
Singer Lily Allen made a very messianic trip to the Calais migrant camp a few weeks ago, and has recently claimed that she is looking into utilising a spare room to foster some refugees. If she does go through with her promise, it will show that she genuinely cares about the crisis, even if it feels like she is trying to make a statement.
The proof of these three’s desire to show the world their righteousness lies more in what they’re not saying than what they’re saying—or, in Lily Allen’s case, doing. It seems that Lineker and Allen in particular do have genuine concerns about the matter, but they aren’t offering any solutions.
The simple fact of the matter is that Britain won’t be able to take in all of the millions of refugees on its own. This doesn’t seem to interest many celebrities. They are much more concerned with being seen to be taking a stand than ending the crisis.
One of the best solutions which has been tried to date—by the British government, no less—is to help out the Syrian refugees closer to home. Looking after them in places like Jordan will discourage refugees from making the perilous voyage to Europe, cost the countries trying to help a lot less (according to Rob Williams, CEO of War Child) and, when the conflict is over, make it easier for the refugees to return home.
In an ideal world, the refugees would never have to leave their home; they do not want to leave. Forcing them to risk their lives to travel thousands of miles away will mean that many will spend the rest of their lives in countries where they don’t want to live. “Compassion” has been the buzzword used most commonly by supporters of people like Lineker and Allen, but the irony is that their “compassion” may not be of much help.
Why doesn’t this solution interest any celebrities? Because it’s not close enough to them. They can’t be seen to be helping if all the work is being done thousands of miles away. They’d much rather the refugees were being “helped” in their own country, as otherwise it minimises their involvement in the affair.
If they are merely trying to help and show some compassion, are they doing anything wrong, even if they are doing a bit of “halo-polishing”? Unfortunately, yes. By behaving with such superiority, particularly in the case of Piers Morgan, they are making it very easy for those who do not want to take in refugees to accuse them and, by association, any of the “Refugees Welcome” crowd of virtue-signalling and caring more about their own image than the crisis itself. The moment a viewpoint becomes associated with celebrity smugness, it becomes incredibly difficult for it to win the day.
All this matters because public opinion has an effect on what governments do, even outside of elections. Though it has done a good job so far with the camps in places like Jordan, it would be fair to presume that the government would rather this issue would blow over, as it’s very difficult to deal with. By continuing to put pressure on them, the public—if it so wishes—will convince the powers that be to do even more work in solving the refugee crisis, for the simple reason that they want our votes.
Whether or not Britain needs to do more to help refugees is a separate matter. What needs to be made clear is that people like Gary Lineker and Piers Morgan are not helping when they insult people who disagree with them and say nice-sounding things that do nothing to help anyone.