Hobbes, Rousseau, and Kant’s Thoughts on Closed Borders of Gulf States for Syrian Refugees

The rise of Syrian refugees number in Turkey for instance, leads me into a very heart-breaking fact that they risk their life fleeing from their country to save their life. I see them in every corner in this city. That is such an irony. Syria’s neighbor like Turkey could provide shelter for the refugees who successfully make it to the borders. Even some other Europe states i.e. Germany, France, Sweden, Italy, and United Kingdom show a quite incredible number of refuges accepted. Yet, why the Gulf States (Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman, and the UAE), in which geographically close with Syria, precisely did not do the same thing? Why these Gulf States keep their doors shut for Syrian refugees?

According to BBC, the citizens of these Gulf States have collected charity individually or collectively with total around $900M (£600M) through charitable organizations, and individual donations.[1] Yet when it comes to open their doors for refugees, these Gulf States remain silent. I set these questions to keep me on track while comparing Thomas Hobbes, J.J. Rousseau, and Immanuel Kant thought. I would come up with a conclusion about them in a simple line.

For Hobbes, war is not only a physical thing, but also something to do with insecurity. Where this insecurity comes from? Please put aside the insecurity that is caused by the ability of killing each other within the states among its citizens, this ‘now’ insecurity is referred to the refugees entering the states. He believes that outside world is chaotic and full of anarchy like what is now happening, i.e. in Syria. It is also being emphasized on that fear of instability that makes the Gulf states are reluctant to release an explicit policy related to refugees until now. It needs to mention that mostly Syrians are Shia and those Gulf States citizens are Sunni, which is in Hobbes’ lens will be a cause of insecurity inside the territory. We also have to notice the long history of a long-run conflict between these two ideologies.

When Hobbes believes that when you keep your chaotic neighbors outside, you will be protected by what he called sovereign. It will put the anarchy outside the locked door. As long as those refugees (as I consider as the citizens of other state) do not enter the territory and the state remains in their territory, then peace is achieve-able. These Gulf States will enjoy the peace when their enemies keep fighting each other outside. He underlines the function of a government to provide the security for its citizens –or peace­– and that is exactly the Gulf States are doing right away, not to emphasize on the absolute power of the state. This reminds me that there are two main features that Hobbes always emphasizes: the absolute sovereignty from the inside manifested in a central authority and a strong kind of demarcation to outside anarchy. The first point I might not elaborate any further but second point is the most important. Keeping outside world as the common enemy for the ‘maintained’ peace inside is the best reason to stay in peace.

The capability of killing each other of Hobbes’ statement is challenged by Rousseau by saying that the first thing men would like to do when facing a danger is fleeing away. According to his statement, I will rather see that Rousseau points a pro with refugees. Rousseau agrees with refugees who flee to save their life. Yet when it comes to the peace itself, Rousseau believes that a peace could be asked from the society. If the society agrees to put their private interests behind and public interests in the front, then the peace is established. However, something bothered my mind when he states that the more state grows bigger in terms of territory or citizens, the clash of interests is more intense and the peace is disturbed. Connecting it to refugees issue, when a number of refugees enter the states there will be a clash of interests not only among the natives but also between the natives and refugees. The Gulf States are quite not sure about the chance they could manage these competing interests. Thus, he would be rather in the somewhere in between of agreeing the incoming refugees or not. But for this point, I consider that he is more moderate compare to Hobbes.

Not all the interruptions of peace will lead to war. Accepting refugees is considerable as long as they will not challenge the maintained peace within the states where I personally see it is quite impossible according to his proposed exception. Thus, he would say that the refugees might interrupt the peace in the Gulf States, yet it would not lead to war in those states. But when these states consider that all the refugees are enemies whom the states (or the citizens) never feel insecurity with, then states would have to decide whether to accept these enemies inside the border or keep them outside. This Rousseau’s standpoint is likely a flexible and confusing one compare to Hobbes and Kant.

Through the ideas of Kant, outlining his perspective on the need for hospitality for every refugee he considers that friendliness eventually becomes a way for a solidarity. It was born from an ancient intuition in man’s inner that according to Kant as a moral law. A deontological ethic that leads every good deed must help refugees. Kant assumes human behavior is always guided by the ancient intuition, a perspective of a very decent man, to treat the refugees not with hostility. In the term of morality compared to other two philosophers, Kant will be the top one. His idea affirms the metaphysical assumptions including the rights of cosmopolitan hospitality. Cosmopolitanism carries demand for a global federation to ensure that every person who visits or flee to another country should be treated graciously. He believes that nobody has the right for occupying any part of the earth, in this case I refer it to the states that are govern by human. However, Kant through reason and moral law also presupposes self-sufficiency in human beings, free from the confines of attitude structure and others. Man is expected to decide and build an understanding of autonomy with his rationalism.

Kant would definitely curse the policy of closing border for refugees that the Gulf States are doing right away. Even they offer the humanitarian help in some other forms, Kant still considers that Gulf States are not rational. The Gulf States possess no part on earth, they have borders but there is also a rational thinking that should be done by these states. There are questions they should answer, “What would they do if they are in the refugees’ shoes? What will they think and do if their neighbors close their door for them?”. If they follow their rationality, they will open their door. Yet, they do not open the door means they do not follow their rationality based on Kant.

So..

When I try to be in their point of views, I would say that mostly the context of the world and international relations now are different compared to their era. Yet, their thought somehow still fit for some cases, one of them is refugees issue. The common point that they have is put the human life (our life) in a very first place, yet they come up with different way to answer my questions with their different sight in seeing this issue. For me, Hobbes is very strict in this sense with his insecurity, Kant with his morality will come with a loose tight and Rousseau is in between them with his quite confused standpoint.

[1] BBC. Michael Stephen. 2015. Migrant crisis: Why the Gulf states are not letting Syrians. [Online] inhttp://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-34173139. Accessed on November 29, 2015.

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