Commentary on the discussion on sea rescue: the creeping self-abandonment

Restricting human rights in order not to endanger their fundamental acceptance? Those who discuss sea rescue in this way are proving demagogues right

"Sea rescue is not a crime" Photo: dpa

In social media, there is currently a heated discussion about a text by Mariam Lau in Die Zeit. Under the headline "Or should you leave it?" (which was then changed on online and for which the editor-in-chief has since apologized), the weekly newspaper had published a pro and con on the private sea rescue of refugees in the Mediterranean.

Mariam Lau wrote there why the rescuers "increase the problem" and the civilian sea rescue should be stopped. Why in the concrete argumentation is pretty much everything wrong, to this colleague Christian Jakob has already said on Friday on all the essentials.

One sentence, however, stands out. About the rescuers, Lau writes, and this is meant as the harshest criticism: "Their understanding of human rights is absolutely uncompromising."

Lau apparently picked up the thinking behind this sentence from John Dalhuisen, until recently the European director of Amnesty International. He has since left the organization – because it is too uncompromising for him.

Dalhuisen told the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung: If you insist on rights whose realization a large part, even a majority, of the population now rejects, you will lose everything. His example: the outcome of the Italian election, but also the overall strengthening of the right in almost all European countries.

Giving up on trying to convince people

Mariam Lau follows this pattern of thinking when she writes: "Those who try to prevent any securing of borders by referring to human rights will end up playing into the hands of those who no longer want any right to asylum at all."

Does anyone really think the racists will give up if you let people drown in the sea?

Both cite as an example the question of what might have happened if Europe had not closed itself off after 2015, but had followed the advice of NGOs and human rights organizations, i.e. created open borders and safe escape routes. "How long do you think it would take for the last democratic government to fall?" asks Lau.

Anyone who argues like this has given up on trying to convince people and create majorities. After all, it is not a law of nature that more and more people in the Western industrialized countries see migration as the biggest problem of their time. It’s an effect created by volkisch demagogues, which some established politicians exploit to distract attention from their own sociopolitical failures.

But the feelings of these people are real, one could argue, so one must react to them. However, backing down in order to stop the opponent does not work. Anyone who demands this is committing self-sacrifice.

Sacrificing the rights of refugees

This text comes from the taz am wochenende. Always from Saturday on the kiosk, in the eKiosk or immediately in the practical weekend subscription. And on Facebook and Twitter.

Impressed by the right-wing election successes and the avalanches of commentary on the Internet, it is postulated that it is simply not possible to defend all human rights, because this cannot be communicated to the majority. Therefore, some rights – namely those of the refugees – must be sacrificed in order to protect the majority – that is, one’s own.

Because, as Dalhuisen explains it, "No one should assume that international human rights conventions are immutable. They are changeable and will be changed if a majority wants them to be."

But this is only true if those who understand the concept of human rights no longer even attempt to defend and explain it, but instead chase after the regulars. Applied to sea rescue, does anyone really believe that the new volkisch right will give up its racist offensive if Europe lets people drown in the Mediterranean?

Does anyone believe that the remaining democratic majority in Germany and Europe will find it easier to defend the social consensus against the right when their own governments throw the most elementary self-evident facts overboard? When democracy and the rule of law do that, the right wins without a fight.

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