“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy – Matthew 5, verse 7 “
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. This is one of the eight so-called “beatitudes” of Christ’s “Sermon on the Mount”. This is without question, the most widely known and admired of Christ’s teachings. I am not a Christian; I am not a religionist, but I regard Jesus as one of the greatest moral reformers and visionaries that ever lived. This does not satisfy fervently religious prayer warriors like my older brother, Elder Ben Ade Jeyifous, for whom both the divine conception and birth of Jesus, together with the narrative of his ascension to heaven are matters of both revealed truth and transcendent faith. To each man or woman his or her faith, his or her belief; it is enough for me that what Christ preached in his Sermon on the Mount remains as valid today as they were then and will be until the end of time – if such an end will come.
These thoughts, these reflections have their origins in a report that I heard on the World Service of the BBC three Saturdays ago, on August 22, 2015. Unfortunately, I caught only the last or closing segment of the report which was about a Nigerian-born woman who is an immigrant in Greece and had formed an incredibly vigorous and effective advocacy group comprised mostly of women to struggle for and obtain humanitarian relief for the thousands of refugees and migrants streaming into Europe at the present time. According to the report, this woman was until a few years ago herself a migrant or refugee; she does not have a high-paying job and her social and economic conditions are only slightly better than dire. And yet, she gives nearly all she earns together with total devotion in body and spirit to helping others who, like herself only a couple of yeas ago, are caught in this unfolding tragedy of waves of human beings fleeing form homelands that have become too dangerous to live in to foreign lands that are reluctant to give them humane and dignified welcome.
Since I heard only enough of that report to know that this woman is Nigerian-born and has an advocacy group that she co-founded, I have been engaged in a seemingly endless search on the Internet for her name, her identity and her life story, at least since she arrived in Greece. So far, my searches have yielded no concrete facts or accounts about this woman and her group. But I will keep searching for I have no doubt whatsoever that I will eventually come across a source of information that will reveal all the relevant facts of this woman’s life and experience. But meanwhile, she remains anonymous in my imagination, which is why I have no other or better way of thinking about her than thinking of her in the words of the title of this piece: a Dr. Stella Adadevoh in the debacle of the European refugee crisis. For of a truth, my head swelled with great national pride when I heard that report of this woman on the BBC, just as I had been powerfully and ineffably moved by the accounts of the heroic role that Dr. Adadevoh played in rising selflessly and courageously to the threat of the Ebola pandemic contagion in Nigeria slightly less than two years ago. Then as now with the story of this woman in Greece, we have ample proof that Nigeria, like other national communities in the human family, can and does produce heroines that are made of the stuff of legend in the scale of their humanness, most especially in their mercifulness.
Mercifulness or compassion is very special because it is the most selfless and the least calculating of all the virtues enunciated in the Sermon on the Mount. True enough, Christ said that the merciful are blessed because they shall receive mercy. But what mercy did Dr. Adadevoh expect to get when she gave her safety, her life, to prevent the spread of the Ebola virus in her country? What mercy does this “anonymous” Nigerian-born woman in Greece expect from the acts of mercy she has expended in alleviating the suffering and the trauma of the refugees streaming into Greece and other European countries in the wake of the wars raging in Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya? There is of course the theological or ethical consideration that some acts of mercy may be predicated on the presumption that acts of goodness increase one’s stock of benefaction or recompense from the divine powers that are deemed to rule the universe. But in the lived and concrete immediacies of life and existence, true acts of mercy do not come from expectations of what one may get later in this life or in the life hereafter when the final reckoning, the final computation of moral and spiritual profit and loss is made by God or Providence. Indeed, we might ask here why genuine acts of mercy and human solidarity have been so sorely lacking in the European and more broadly, Western response to the debacle of the migrant or refugee crisis. Are these not, for the most part, Christian nations, these Western countries that have been so slow, so disinclined to show mercy, compassion and solidarity to the refugees and migrants?
Here, it might be productive to highlight the case of Germany which has, by a long shot, been the most “merciful”, the most welcoming to the tidal waves of the refugees and migrants. In comparison to someone like the British Prime Minister, David Cameron, Chancellor Angela Merkel has been almost saintly in the compassionate statements she has been making about the plight of the migrants and refugees. While Cameron has more or less capitulated to the extreme paranoia of the British far right on the influx of the migrants and refugees, Merkel has repeatedly spoken very sharply against the racism and xenophobia of Germany’s far right. More significantly, she has stated that Germany is wiling to take about 800,000 refugees every year for the next few years. Here, you might say, is genuine, “Christian” mercy and compassion expressed in the idiom and the protocols of formal state policy. That is until you learn that this policy is actually calculated to be demographically and economically beneficial to Germany. This is because Germany has an increasingly aging population profile in which the birth rate and the youth population are not demographically robust enough to offset the percentage of the population that is growing too old for the effective workforce. In other words, Germany’s “mercy” here is predicated on the calculation that she will receive “mercy” in return from the consolidation of the stable workforce that is needed to ensure her economic supremacy in the European Union.
Perhaps the thing that most clearly and incontrovertibly distinguishes the “mercifulness” of Chancellor Merkel and that of the “anonymous” Nigerian-born woman in Greece who is committing virtually all she possesses to the relief of the suffering and trauma of the refugees and migrants is the fact that while Merkel and the other European political leaders insist on making distinctions between “refuges” and “migrants”, the Nigerian-born humanitarian activist and others like her make no such distinction. In the context of the horrendous exploitation and trauma inflicted by traffickers on all those arriving in European countries from the Middle East and Africa, it is almost obscene and inhuman to make and insist on such distinctions. Putatively, a “refugee” is someone fleeing from dreadful war zones, especially the zones dominated and terrorized by ISIS. Conversely, a “migrant” is someone fleeing from the ravages of extreme or dire poverty with no end in sight for present and future generations. But in many cases, war and poverty are linked, whether they occur in states embroiled in full-scale war or post-conflict countries that are more or less failed states. Indeed, in the world we live in at the present time in this new millennium, poverty in the global south is often the extension of war into the domain of terribly unequal economic conditions within and between the nations of the world. And indeed, the late Marxist scholar and thinker, Giovanni Arrighi has determined, through rigorous research, that inequality in our world comprises two-thirds (or 66.6%) between nations and only one-third (or 33.3%) within nations. In other words, on this account, poverty is the continuation of war in the domain of economic production: the distribution and consumption of goods and services in our world are structured by great and incommensurable inequalities between the nations and peoples of the planet. The best and the most honest and humane among European thinkers and activists are very much aware of this fact and indeed make it the basis of their advocacy on behalf of the hundreds of thousands streaming into that continent at the present time.
Nonetheless, Germany has stated clearly that it has room and space only for “refugees” and none at all for “migrants”. Ditto Sweden, Denmark and the Netherlands. Some countries will take in neither “refugees” nor “migrants”, Hungary being perhaps the most intransigent and vociferous on this insistence. For the humanists and activists and their organizations, such distinctions, such language games used to mask outright racist and xenophobic sentiments and policies, amount to the collapse of genuine compassion and solidarity in a time of unprecedented crises of community and fellowship in our world. In this traumatic and traumatizing historical context for our world, one anonymous Nigerian-born woman, far away from home in a new home, is making a difference that is measured in the large-heartedness of the small acts of mercy and compassion that she and her advocacy group are taking to relieve the suffering and trauma that she sees all around her. I hope in time to find out who she is and thereby replace her present anonymity with the concreteness of a name, an identity.