Migration – Emigration – Fleeing And the winter has yet to come.

Correspondence | Photo: © Colourbox.de/Goethe Institut Max Mueller Bhavan New Delhi

Dear Aman,

Thank you for your mail, which sent me in two different directions. Way back to Mesopotamia, to where everything started. And to a future which is only just beginning to take shape. But that’s the way we live at the moment, time moves simultaneously backward and forward. This in turn – so goes the rapid script for our cascade conversation – reminded me of something that I read a couple of days ago, an article in the New York Times about the new findings of quantum mechanics. According to the report, physicists at the Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands conducted an experiment in which they proved that objects – in this case, the smallest of particles – affect each other even when far removed from each other.

Albert Einstein always rejected this theory, claiming it was as though God were playing dice. What bothered Einstein was the question of whether, in addition to the universe we know, there could be more – potentially infinite – universes. Whether, in addition to the reality we accept, there are other – potentially infinite – realities. Whether, in addition to the world we call our own, there are other – potentially infinite – worlds. Or as John Markoff describes it in the New York Times: ‘……the existence of an odd world formed by a fabric of subatomic particles, where matter does not take form until it is observed and time runs backward as well as forward.’

The wording is fascinating in many ways. Particles that take shape, in other words become reality and are therefore perceptible only when observed. Perception constitutes reality. And time that runs backward and forward. Here we have the question of whether time that runs backward processes all that went before. The modern in reverse – the results, forms and triumphs of the modern age change back into what was there before. However, what would this mean for democracy, human rights, individualism, secularism, nation and state? Is this what you mean when you speak of the crisis of the idea of the state, of a new way of thinking, other words, other philosophies and a freedom that does not come from the arbitrariness of a nation or from ‘German’ being randomly attributed to one who is born as a German and ‘Syrian’ to one born as a Syrian? That suffering, to some extent, must be accepted by birth and that freedom applies only to those who are free to claim it?

Yet atoms, particles that are separated, correspond, react to each other even when they are thousands of kilometres apart, as proved by the tests conducted by the physicists from Delft. Yet what does this mean for the way we think? What you said was right – money flows freely, people falter at borders. This is an untenable situation, a personal and moral insult representative of all of humanity. For a long, long time, columnists and other professional know- -alls have been saying that everything is linked to everything in a globalised world. But this reasoning was shaped purely by an economic perspective and it reduced everything to economics. It simply blanked out what it would mean if people were also to move as freely as capital. Money was released, and that had consequences. Now it is being followed by people. This has consequences too. In a certain way, both stand naked today, drastic in their existential rigour: the market and the human being.

For the people who are coming, are reduced. They are no more than what they are. They have nothing more than what they have and if even their dignity were to be taken from them, they would be left with nothing more than a plastic bag with which they have been on the move for months. They are naked existence, devoid of all civilisation. And civilisation responds by pretending they don't exist. Some at least, and I fear there could be more. This is the daily shock of the images, the daily pain when looking at them. The people in long lines, wandering through no-man’s land, sometimes Slovenia, sometimes Croatia, sometimes Austria, the rain, the mud, the green of the landscape cruel, almost cynical, immobile, eternal, while the human being, the people, the families move on, vulnerable and in vain yet defiant, uncertain of what lies ahead, certain only of the fact that what they have left behind was what they found frightening, painful and threatening. 

A trek of nomads in a world that left the nomadic way behind thousands of years ago. At least that is what is said. But perhaps it is different. And what you say is correct: the human being is old, something stirs in him, he sets forth, again and again, an old story currently being repeated. Time is there throughout, the entire history of mankind, in these pictures, breaking through the surface of the present that wanted to forget – and forgot ­– the multi-layered anthropology. Something is forcing its way through, and we are afraid. They walk and walk and walk, and it seems this is the way people originally were, walking, and yet to see it like this is surprisingly new and unexpected. 

We must allow this shock to enter our language and thought. Only then can we perhaps understand what we are seeing, what is happening. Yet Europe is resisting the shock, in word and thought. We see destinies being transformed into policies, suffering into rules, need into measures. It is a sad, tragic spectacle, oppressive like Greek tragedy. 

The six-year-old boy sleeping on the pavement, he is this boy and he is all boys, he has just arrived and he was always here. His mother, tired, his father, can he protect him? They are all parents, always have been, and are still pushing a rickety baby stroller through the dirt, right here, in the centre of Berlin, where we see scenes familiar only in Hollywood’s dark films, the end of civilisation as a fable, best enjoyed with plenty of popcorn.

Man is afraid of nothing as much as he is afraid of himself. Who is this musafir you talk about? A refugee, a wanderer, a traveller, a guest? Why is he travelling? What drives him? These are old, fascinating questions. The newspapers that write against the refugees no longer speak of ‘refugees’ but of ‘migrants’. This makes the masses controllable, bureaucratically manageable. They have started questioning basic human rights. They say this cannot continue, yet have no ready answer other than fences where people will die, and camps in which people will wait, wait, wait until they wait no more and run away. 

I don’t know if this, what we are witnessing, is a ‘Völkerwanderung’ or rather a concrete reaction to concrete circumstances that have come about in the last 10 to 15 years, because of the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, of the failure of the West, of the iron hand of rulers in the Middle East, of poverty and injustice, of a war in Syria that was ignored, refugees who should stay where they are, that was the plan, the mistake, the moral betrayal. The countries there have already collapsed, the state here, in Germany, is also under threat, or so they say. I don’t believe it. It seems to be some sort of self-fulfilling prophecy, almost like conjuring up a state of emergency, that’s how extreme vocabulary is here now. They are talking yet again of Weimar, because here Weimar is the great shock of the past century. Those are the images they can recall. But the new events escape them. As does humanitarianism. 

Yet there is so much that could be done now, that one could learn, there is so much that gives us courage. This is an old country in an old continent. It could open up, could re-invent itself. What does it mean for thought and thus also for politics if there is a shift in the world view? When things, people, separated by thousands of kilometres start to move? Does something like the discovery of a multiple truth, as shown by quantum mechanics, also have consequences for a different code of ethics? Many worlds exist only if observed by us. That is the shock that is starting to make itself felt, that is what explains the hatred and the aggression that are coming to the fore once again.

That’s the situation. And winter has yet to come. 

All the best,

Berlin, 25th of October 2015