Trump and Brexit have brought an increase of selfishness and isolationism. We cannot turn our back on the world.
“We must look after our own”. Every activist, everywhere, will have heard this phrase a dozen times whenever questions about foreign aid spending arise. In fact, the idea of cutting off from the rest of the world was what propelled Trump to the presidency and helped bring about Brexit. Make no mistake; isolationism is a position entrenched in racism.
The concept of “looking after our own” is based on the concept of us vs them. Perhaps we’ve forgotten our own history. The UK became one of the richest nations on earth, and remains so to this day, because we plundered other nations. We stole resources, wealth and even people. That is why we are in the privileged position of having nations ask us for support, and that is why so many nations need support at all. Foreign aid arguably could be seen as the bare minimum of debt that we owe (the real figure of what we owe the world is in the trillions). Our wealth and resources are not our own and to hoard our own stockpile while watching the rest of the world is a repugnant thought.
We are also more than capable of “looking after our own” as well as increasing spending for foreign aid. The idea we are on our last few pounds is ludicrous. If we are in such dire straights then how did Prime Minister May manage to find £1.5 billion for the DUP in exchange for their support of her feeble government? And as the old argument goes, how can we afford bombs whenever we want but not aid? We make billions by selling arms to Saudi Arabia, who then turn that destructive power onto Yemen which has brushed the country into a humanitarian disaster. Is that to be our role in the world? For us to only get involved if we can make a profit from death?
We are so quick to want to bomb than to engage in diplomacy. Even after Iraq and Afghanistan which were conflicts widely criticised, the routine opposite to foreign aid shows that we haven’t learnt to engage peacefully with hostilities. We want to look after our own because we prize white Western lives more than any others. Perhaps there isn’t a way to try to make people more compassionate or to give a shit about someone else other than themselves. So many of the people who don’t support foreign aid, also vote Conservative, oppose pay increases for public sector workers and oppose efforts to tackle racism and queerphobia at home. They don’t give a damn about looking after any community. So here’s the thing, because clearly trying to make people care is just too difficult a task, but foreign aid keeps us all safe.
Even if you don’t buy the idea that we have a role to play in this world, even if you believe in the most selfish philosophies, you should champion foreign aid. It works. It keeps people safe. The biggest disaster right now that is looming is foreign aid. Overwhelmingly, we have seen inaction from Western governments because it will be largely poorer communities across the globe (primarily comprised of people of colour) who will be hit hardest and first – it’s already happening. Climate change however, makes life unsustainable, and so do bombs and war. People will leave their homes and go somewhere that seems safer. We’ve already got two migrant crises – one within Europe, and one Bangladesh is having to deal with thanks to Myanmar – and that figure is set to sharply increase as climate change worsens. Experts are even saying climate change could cause 30 million people to be refugees. It doesn’t take an expert though to see how alarming that figure is. The UK has already handled one migrant crisis appallingly but so many millions of people will need somewhere to go and will need support. To avoid such a horrendous scenario, we must invest in foreign aid so that communities globally can work to tackle the very worst of climate change.
The UK generally acts like the fool of Europe. We have wealth, and we drop bombs fuelling the refugee crisis and then we act as though we’re taken by surprise that so many people are fleeing conflict zones such as Syria and Libya. The world doesn’t buy it. We don’t have to make love instead of war, but conflicts don’t stay within their zones. People flee from the destruction. This is logical so why do we continue to act shocked when it happens?
Our campaign of interference in democracies though has also bred ill will throughout the centuries. There are many who threaten the West, such as Daesh (or ISIS). Daesh itself isn’t just made up of people who wish harm to the West, however. It’s a terrorist group that forces vulnerable people to join up. Daesh blackmails people, threatening to murder them or their families, if they don’t join the terrorist organisation. It grooms disenfranchised young men who have seen the horrors of Wester drones. It preys on young people without any prospects other than a life of poverty.
Money invested goes towards international development which sees the build up of communities, and to protect people at risk of being recruited (or forced into) dangerous groups.
Foreign aid can also be used to go into the pockets of farmers so that they have no need to grow opium and join the illegal drugs trade. The war on drugs as we know it, hasn’t been successful. Getting to the root causes of poverty and isolation could combat it far more effectively. Those drugs come here. By tackling the source of the trade, then people will have a more difficult time purchasing the product (although, we must also truly invest in rehabilitation services to tackle our drugs epidemic too).
We cannot shut the doors to the UK and expect the world to disappear, as much as some Leavers may claim otherwise. We share one planet, and we do have a duty to one another. If compassion, human rights and responsibility aren’t arguments that defeat opposition to foreign aid then let us start saying that foreign aid keeps us safe. This isn’t an argument about being nice. This is about moral obligations to the world, and to the citizens of the UK. The two cannot be separated.