Walking the walk

The carnage in Syria has gnawed at my conscience since the bloodbath began in 2011. But unlike the Bosnian war, which was up close and personal, or the slaughter(s) in Gaza, Syria seemed just far enough out of reach for me to conveniently put it on the back burner. The flow of Syrian refugees just to the east of here has changed that. It has challenged the very principles we purport to live by. With some of us failing miserably at it. But not Germany.

Germany all too often gets a bad rap.

My wife’s family sought refuge from the brutal war in Bosnia in the early 1990’s. After short stints in neighboring countries they finally made it to Germany in 1993. Germany welcomed them with open arms. My mother-in-law Vasva, who is a stickler for good education, wanted her kids to go to the best schools. In the community they had relocated to, Koblenz, the Catholic school was apparently the best. The hitch was that only Catholics actually go to Catholic school in Germany. A Muslim had never attended that Catholic school in its century-plus old history. That changed with Sabina. She was accepted without prejudice and became the first Muslim to be admitted and graduate from there.

I admit it, Sabina’s appreciation and admiration for Germany has certainly rubbed off on me.  But it’s more than that. The German people are living proof that people can change. That we don’t have to be slaves to parts of our ugly past. That we can be better. That it takes a lot of work and discipline to heal the collective wounds of the past. And that there is redemption in taking responsibility, collective responsibility.

For all the jokes on how mechanical, orderly and anal the Germans can be and insist on being, there is a lot to learn from them. They certainly rank among the most progressive nations in the world today. They shine in domestic policies such as the environment, food production, renewable energy, education, health, child-care, and housing. They nurture a capable and fairly paid labor force. Germans fly German airlines. They buy German products. They collectively live rather modest lifestyles.

We can give them shit about their treatment of Greece. And yes, they were too harsh. But I honestly believe they would do the same thing to themselves if they got themselves in such a mess. And besides, nobody’s perfect (just ask the Greeks).

There is a genuine humanity that resonates from Germany, however, that is rare for a contemporary world power. The US and UK no longer welcome the tired, the poor and the huddled masses yearning to breathe free like they did for my ancestors. The Russians and Chinese never have. France did so reluctantly. Some will dismiss Germany”s generosity as a way to strengthen their blue-collar work force. But people coming to Germany are coming first and foremost for humane treatment. And that they will most certainly get. They undoubtedly come for work but also for fairness, for a good education for their kids, and for the opportunity for a normal life. For the most part, Germany delivers on that promise.

Now I am no Germanophile, trust me. That would be my wife. But I do tip my hat for them leading by example and exemplifying progressive European thought. What the Syrian people have been through is no less than a torturous half decade of evil and brutality. Germany has the might to front the bill…and they are doing so in fine fashion. Imagine getting off a train after escaping war, living in a Turkish desert refugee camp, crossing into Greece on a dingy, and then walking through four countries to be met by this:

welcome to germany

Credit should be given where credit is due. Kudos to Deutschland…and danke schon for showing the world that Europe still has a heart and is capable and willing to walk the walk.  .

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