When Passion Trumps Truth
“There’s always another story. There’s more than meets the eye.” ― W.H. Auden
“It’s not right to send people to hell,…” Elin Ersson
“I’m doing what I can to save a person’s life,” said the young Swedish student, Elin Ersson, as she confidently defied the authorities in order to rescue a 52-year-old Afghan man who was being deported by the Swedish government back to his homeland of Afghanistan. After her 15-minute FaceBook live-streamed stand off, the young woman was rewarded with her goal. She had “rescued” the Afghan refugee. He was taken off the plane and his deportation delayed for yet another day. You can watch an abbreviated version of that encounter here: https://youtu.be/ZSJ7du-EC9w.
On one level, I applaud Elin Ersson’s passion and commitment to making a difference. I too, have devoted the past five years of my life to helping refugees across Europe find peace and a better life. This young angel-faced, caring woman does an amazing job of capturing the world’s attention with her tears and cause. Though I admire her zeal, this whole incident reminds me of Paul’s admonition to the Romans: “For I testify about them that they have a zeal for God, but not in accordance with knowledge.” (Romans 10:2) The protagonist of our story, though driven by passion got a lot of the facts confused along the way.
There’s more to the story above, than just a tearful and dramatic demonstration of a youthful civil-activist. This story reveals much about Western civilization today. The world has come to a place where everyone is considered right, as long as they believe wholeheartedly that they are right. Relativism has reached new heights. Because a person is sincere, they are automatically considered to be right, if of course, what they believe is not personally offensive. There is little room for being sincerely wrong. Let’s take a look at some of the facts that went overlooked in both the unfolding of the story and the relating of it by mainstream press.
On the morning of July 23rd, young Elin Ersson was informed that the man she had been working with in a refugee camp had been taken from the camp and was being sent back to Afghanistan. In collaboration with several of her friends, she bought a ticket and attempted to get on the same plane as the refugee. As it turned out, the young man she was hoping to rescue was actually on a different plane than the one Elin ended up boarding. Elin decided to stand for a second man, a refugee of whom she knew nothing, simply because he was on the same flight. Unknown to Erin, the man being deported had been convicted of a violent crime and rejected for asylum because of that crime. This older man is most likely still in Sweden awaiting deportation although one source pointed to the possibility that he could have already been deported by charter aircraft. The truth is unknown at this point. The younger man who Elin attempted to defend is now in Kabul.
In the above true stories of refugee men who are being deported, there is a comedy of errors which were committed along the way.
- Elin attempted to rescue the wrong man.
- The man she did rescue is a 52-year-old, convicted, violent offender, now in custody in Sweden.
- Elin’s assumptions all along the way, statistically do not hold water.
- Elin fundamentally misunderstands how democracies work.
- Elin probably did not calculate that she may spend up to six months in jail for her actions.
A deeper look:
- The wrong man– Elin either miscalculated the correct plane to get on or a change was made at the last minute. Either way, she had a decision to make. She didn’t see her man, but she did see another deportee and her assumptions kicked in that the government was making a mistake with this man’s life as well. She probably thought: why not stand up for him since I am already here?
- Elin did not know that the beneficiary of her demonstration was a convicted criminal. She made a decision on the fly, perhaps not realizing that she was going to live with the consequences. In her mind the consequences for the man were too high to do nothing.
- “I’m not going to sit down until this person is off the plane. Because he will most likely get killed. … I’m doing what I can to save a person’s life.” Elin made another gross assumption by deducing that whoever was going to be deported to Afghanistan would likely die. This was the heart of her argument. The only problem is that she was discounting the lives of 36,373,176 other Afghan people who live out their lives every day in Afghanistan. I am not trying to discount the difficulties of the Afghan people; they are certainly immense, but her assumption that the man will die if he goes to Afghanistan is rather overstated and miscalculated. There are many legitimately displaced Afghani people. Statistically, she should be demonstrating the deportation of anyone to Chicago as well. One is as likely to be killed, statistically, in Chicago by violence as someone in Afghanistan. (Verify me on that data; I couldn’t believe it either.)
- Here is an interview statement by Elin, which reveals her understanding of civil disobedience and democracy. “By empowering the authority and divisive policies, we are responsible for trying to change how the world works today to counter human rights violations worldwide. This can only be achieved if people’s perspective become more global and is louder than the grievances. After all, when did governments and leaders give up without being forced to do something about it?” -When? The last time a democratic country had an election. Call me idealistic, but I thought that was the whole point. If a citizen doesn’t like how things are going, they should run for political office. If 51% of the population agrees with them, they make the needed changes. If not, we submit ourselves to that government for the next four years until the next election. Then we try again. That is called democracy. I am not saying that there is never a time for peaceful civil disobedience. Clearly, throughout even the history of the United States, there was such a time. It was the courage of the Martin Luther Kings and the Rosa Parks that brought about real change in our culture. Elin clearly feels that she should act out of disobedience when she disagrees with the prevailing government position.
- Though Ersson says she did nothing wrong, Swedish authorities see the matter differently. According to the Swedish Aviation Act, passengers who refuse to obey a pilot’s orders while on board a plane can face fines or up to six months in jail. Ersson may now face charges for violating air traffic regulations. The Swedish Prosecution Authority has initiated a preliminary investigation, according to a press release. She probably didn’t see that coming. Up to this point the Swedish government has been so sheepish in upholding law, that she most likely felt that she would just be slapped on the wrist.
Meanwhile, what a difference a few miles makes! Aino Pennanen, the legislative secretary of the Green League, one of Finland’s largest political parties, has been arrested after he protested against the deportation of an asylum seeker on a Finnair flight at Helsinki Airport on Tuesday. The Finnair pilot simply called the police; they came on the plane and escorted Mr. Pennanen off the aircraft. (It appears that someone’s courage is not worthy of coverage by the mainstream press unless one garners several million youtube viewings. This Finnish story surfaced only on page 12 of a Google search. There was literally nothing from US mainstream media. The story simply does not fit the mainstream media narrative.)
Once again, I am sure that Ms. Ersson is a sweet person with great intentions, however I believe, she is misled. She misunderstands democracies and has, as many do, a high level of distrust for her government. This same level of distrust exists in the USA. Everyone wants to do what is right in their own eyes, but nobody wants to pay the price for genuine change. It is easier to stand on an airplane and complain than to run for political office and effect genuine change through the legislative process. This is just another sign that democracies are failing. Our governments are crippled by corruption and bureaucracy. Our citizens are crippled by despair, hopelessness and an unwillingness to do what is necessary to enact real change.
It is time for us as Christians to stand up and become part of the solution rather than part of the problems that surround us. It is easy for us to point to all the problems without doing the hard stuff. For example, instead of learning the facts, we just do something reactionary rather than substantive.
1. Never make decisions without studying the facts and trying to see situations from multiple perspectives. We would do well to heed the counsel of the writer of Proverbs. “He who gives an answer before he hears, it is folly and shame to him.” (Proverbs 18:13) “The first to plead his case seems right, until another comes and examines him.” (Proverbs 18:17) Making important decisions without the right information is folly.
2. Question your own motives when you make decisions. “All the ways of a man are clean in his own sight, but the Lord weighs the motives.” (Proverbs 16:2) I have learned to question my own motives harshly as it is often easy for me to convince myself I am right, even when all the facts align themselves against me.
3. Always consider the consequences of your actions. “A prudent man sees evil and hides himself, the naïve proceed and pay the penalty.” (Proverbs 27:12) Go into your decisions with the long game in mind. It is simple to go for the short win, not considering what the long-term consequences will be. Think through the second and third order effects of your decisions.