Never has the nattering of a builder outside my living room window been so welcome. As he chirps away in an endearing Aussie accent that once intruded on my concentrated efforts to read my emails, I now alternate between listening to the details of the timing on a new window that he has to install outside, and reading about those in Paris who, within minutes, killed 129 people and injured over 300 others. The beers shared at a pub in Shoreditch, London, last night are in stark contrast to those enjoyed at "La Belle Equipe" or "Le Carillon" just days ago, whose drinkers ended up prostrate, in pools of blood. Everyday noises like the washing machine, the hoover and the mail falling through the slot, have become signs of safety.
Sudden loud noises, however, punctuate what we know to be true; that to integrate Syria's refugees, now that we have been smacked with death on our doorstep, is to understand that tragedy is indivisible if we are to safeguard our way of life. It appears that six of the assailants were Europeans who had traveled to Syria and returned to carry out attacks at home. Some of those boat-loads of Syrian children might well carry members of Daesh yet, like us, the vast majority are innocent and represent, in the words of 19th century historian Francis A. Walker, "the worst failures in the struggle for existence"; theirs and ours. Our success depends now on their success when soft targets cannot be unanimously protected by hard borders of rejection.
Events have asked of us to take a leap of faith; from trusting those who escape horror, and those who impose safety nets through de-encryption and surveillance, to those who decide politically on the next course of action. Increased military effort in Syria and Iraq seems inevitable, though an urgent, concerted effort to find a political solution, including between factions of International and internecine regional hostility, would be a sign that this crisis has not been wasted.
Refugees have also been asked to take a leap of faith in coming to our shores. Germany pays for refugee "integration classes", teaching teenage refugees about life and values in the country they will call home. Germany might be providing generous sanctuary, yet those arriving, bewildered and traumatized, need to walk into the cultural divide before they can leap. It takes time to assimilate western values in which equal rights extend to women, religions and sexual preferences, and when an Afghani or Syrian youth from a rural area could well have grown up not to eat in the same space as women and dogs.
So taking a group of them to a fund-raising party at a gay club in Berlin, as happened last week, was at best, insensitive, and at worst, confounding, especially when two men started having sex in front of them. A nightclub, whether filled with partying 18-year-olds, the heterosexually middle-aged or gays, with or without people openly having sex, can be unappealing, even for those who are not rural refugees. These places are fun for many, to be enjoyed as part of a wider element of a society that still restricts the young in what is age-inappropriate, and what, in the case of refugees, should encompass an essential understanding.
A mentoring program involving, for example, a conversational exchange in a cafe with Germans of all sexual persuasions, a walk in the park, a movie, a meal in someone's home, a visit to the market or a football match, are surely more indicative ways to help integrate those seeking asylum as future fellow-citizens. If and when they have the desire and means to enjoy a gay night club, it will be a decision taken by their personally acquired freedom of choice, or indeed by an acceptance that for some, they can finally be themselves.
Culture might be a form of resistance to oppression, but culture shock can block access to that culture when it is by means of a few weeks of systematic exposure. A piano piano proviso within our humanitarianism would be welcome, perhaps a tough ask under the duress of thousands in our neighbourhoods, but simpler, and more effective, than we think.