What do we owe to distant strangers

What do we owe to distant strangers?
Case study: Refugees in B&H

By Ajla Keško

Contemporary Political Thought/Philosophy
IRES 206

Assist. Prof. Adis Maksi?, PhD

May 2018
Table of Contents
Introduction 3
Equality 4
What fits the definition of justice? 4
Multiculturalism 5
Refugees; What if our ‘distant strangers’ are coming to us? 7
Conclusion 9
References: 10


In order to make a choice in our life on the basis of “good” and “bad”, one must have a sense of morality, therefore indirectly or not, everything revolves around ethics.
“When we speak about morality, we speak about the system of behavior that determines our standards of right or wrong behavior.” Morality carries with itself concepts of moral standards, moral responsibilities, and moral identity (one who is capable of right or wrong action).
However, ethics as a discipline of philosophy was discussed by many philosophers during the past. It greatly deals with the distinction of “what is morally good and bad, right and wrong”.
Without these principles that govern our behavior, societies wouldn’t survive for a very long time. Even though in nowadays world morality is usually connected with religion, and therefore people would have to be religious to be moral, however, personally I don’t think it’s completely correct because moral principles should be part of everyone’s life, whether that person is religious or not, rich or poor, male or female, educated or not, or whether a person belong to certain minority group or not. There are no rules that determine our sense of morality, but rather it’s the inner characteristic which depends upon every individual.
I believe that everyone in this society should be treated equally. Factors that determine our identity (religion, gender, race, and ethnicity, origin or material status) should not determine our status in society. Justice should be the same for everyone, and no one should be prioritized; no one should have privileges over the other, not even the members of our own nation. However, it is important to help and to contribute to society. It is important to start somewhere, to mark the beginning, and sometimes it is easier to start with someone who is close to you. It is easier to start from our own nation if it’s in need.
In my sense of morality, it is our (moral) obligation to help others. The moral obligation should not be limited and/or prioritized to members of our own nation. To help people in need should be the basis of that (moral) obligation without looking at someone’s identity. However, as I will explain further in my paper, multiculturalism is leading toward favorizing members of “our own nation”, but if we consider our fundamental principles of justice, then how can we permit it?


Firstly, it is important to emphasize what exactly equality means. Sometimes, equality is not about treating all people equally, rather it is about treating different people in some different ways, but it is important that the outcomes for everyone are the same. This means that things need to be put in their place in order to support people to achieve the same or similar outcomes. It’s all about the adjustment to the situation and to the need of people.
We cannot treat equally a blind person and a person who is completely healthy but belongs to some minority group. The point is to make them feel comfortable in society. To make sure you treat them that way, for a blind person you might remove some upcoming obstacles, but for someone who belongs to Roma people, for example, you might have to make him or she feels more welcome and emphasize that you accept and respect diversity and difference.
As shown in the example, this equality can be achieved through acts that will provide to every individual its personal treatment depending on the circumstances around him. It is important that everyone “is supported to have access to resources and decision making and to be recognized, valued and respected.”

What fits the definition of justice?

From the concept of equality, moving on to the concept of justice. For the most people, justice is one of the most important moral concepts. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, a just person is someone who is usually doing things that are “morally right” and is disposed to “giving everyone his or her due”. In the words of Aristotle, justice in a wide sense is connected with the way we treat other people, in the narrow sense is connected with goods through which we can acquire some sort of advantage relative to other people. Essentially, justice is a principle in which every individual receives their due. If we compare, nothing much changed, isn’t it?


“The idea of multiculturalism in contemporary political discourse and in political philosophy is about how to understand and respond to the challenges associated with cultural and religious diversity. While the term has come to encompass a variety of prescriptive claims, it is fair to say that proponents of multiculturalism reject the idea of the “melting pot” in which members of minority groups are expected to assimilate into the dominant culture in favor of an ideal in which members of minority groups can maintain their distinctive collective identities and practices.”
However, in 1994, the UN declared the European Conventions for the Protection of Minorities, and the international community under the promotion of cultural diversity implied protection and promotion of human rights of the members of national minorities.
International community more agrees with liberal multiculturalism. A model of liberal multiculturalism is represented by Canadian philosopher Will Kymlicka, who, in spite of his criticisms, is trying to demonstrate the foundation of his philosophy of protecting minority rights in liberalism and that strives to build righteousness without breaking the dominant culture and national structure of the country. Will Kymlicka mentions multiculturalism in the view of “group-differentiated rights”, which relate to the legal rights that the state gives to the members of the community with ethnical groups. Kymlicka also emphasizes that the term of “group-differentiated rights” doesn’t imply to the community as a whole, but rather to the individuals of the community.
However, multiculturalism has been utilized as an umbrella term to describe the moral and political claims of an extensive variety of marginalized groups, including African Americans, women, LGBT people, and also people with some sort of disability.
Nowadays, some of the theories of multiculturalism turn their focus towards immigrants of ethnic and religious minorities. Proponents of multiculturalism emphasize that multiculturalism is compatible with, and not opposed to, the integration of immigrants into society; multiculturalism policies provide fairer terms of integration for immigrants.
As any other ideology, multiculturalism has its own “good” and “bad” sides. I think that allowing immigrants to join and “blend” into certain the country with a certain culture, where they would be a minority, is good and a positive side of this ideology. However, I also think that by allowing them to become part of any culture, majorities are indirectly allowing them to make a change in their culture.
By exposure a country to a multiculturalism, people are tossing their own culture. One of the things that everyone should be aware in our country, and in our culture, is that the basic principles of liberty, as well as human rights, are taken for granted most of the time. But if that liberty is taken away from us, it would be a shock to us. Therefore, every individual should have the right to his fundamental freedoms and it is important to allow everyone to exercise them the way they want. If we allow “bad” multiculturalism to prevail, meaning if we are isolating minorities from influencing our own culture, we’re taking away parts of their very own freedoms.
But if we take a look at different perspective, where minorities demand special group of citizenship and where they don’t want to accept common culture, it may cause many more problems and negative than positive things, one of which being the possibility (or will) of secession (case of “will” being our own country). In this case only, I would personally agree with Will Kymlicka’s way of protecting minority rights without breaking the dominant culture, because it’s for the sake of “common good”.

Case study – Refugees; What if our ‘distant strangers’ are coming to us?

According to UNHCR definition, “a refugee is someone who has been forced to flee his or her country because of persecution, war, or violence.” Today, biggest causes of refugees leaving their countries are war, ethnicity, and religious violence. Most of them out of fear are not able to come back.
And then, a question of “who is a stranger?” needs to be asked. By the Oxford dictionary definition, a stranger is “a person whom one does not know or with whom one is not familiar.” And then the following question of why would we help someone we don’t know when we have “enough” problems in our own country? How do we determine our priorities, because technically, even the person in our own country is a stranger if it fits the definition?
By asking series of questions, we again come to one conclusion – our sense of morality. Our very own sense of is the right decision to help some stranger who’s close to us or some stranger who’s far away from us.
Today, the problem of refugees is not just a problem to themselves, but it’s a problem to us as well. Since most of them are running away from the war, it is our moral obligation to provide them with help.
As I mentioned at the beginning, it is important to start somewhere. It would be easier to start in your own country, it’s easier to provide help to the members of our own nation. But what if some other nations come close/closer to us? As it is the case currently in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
The current problem of refugee inflow into the territory of Bosnia and Herzegovina still remains unsolved. And wonder why? Because it’s an election year which makes a perfect playground for political games, which are apparently more important than the sense of morality. Are politicians of Bosnia and Herzegovina imposing policy choices to serve “our own nation” or their personal interest? Or is multiculturalism just a way of nicely wrapped package of something that is today called democracy? Seems like multiculturalism is actually one of the building blocks of democracy: without multiculturalism, there can be no functional liberal democracy in a nation.
After reading some anti-refugee commentaries, I researched the authors and determines that they are not generally well educated. Articles are mostly tasteless and while reading them all people can think about is fear and irrational hate. And why? Again, going back to the political game where everyone is promising something, and no one is doing anything.
On the contrary, there are people, which are citizens of B&H, who stick strongly to the values of justice, freedom, and equality, but no one is writing about them. These people don’t make any separation among people; they don’t care if someone’s Muslim or not, male or female, from Syria or some other country, because not that long time ago, members of “our own nation” were in similar situation, in a foreign country and different culture.
A series of such phenomena in B;H with which humanity is abolished and where fear and irrational hatred towards the refugees as minorities is demonstrated shows us the absence of the sense of morality. People don’t let them to “blend” into the society and culture, so the absence of multiculturalism is demonstrated as well.
We, as individuals should tend to promote common values along with fundamental principles of justice. It is important to spread awareness about their condition, and our morality. The media should play a key role in this ‘promotion’ because today the news is traveling so fast thanks to the development of technology. As the country that sees refugees as a number of “clicks” on their article, we are not the right country to spread awareness, aren’t we?
We as individuals should be obliged to help those who are currently in the worst position no matter if they are our ‘distant strangers’ or just strangers in our own country. However, no one should compel someone else to help refugees nor some other ‘distant stranger’. It is, and it should be our moral obligation, and nothing else. If the government, for example, increases the taxation in order to help someone in need, it would be a violation of people’s freedom of choice.
Therefore, everything comes down to one thing only, are you a moral person, or not. If you are, you shouldn’t make any division among people, regards their identity, religion, ethnicity, gender etc.
Mahatma Gandhi once said, “be the change you wish to see in the world” and I truly believe that these changes in our society, and this sense of morality and moral obligation toward other ones is a way of our progress in the future. Way towards brighter future.


When we summarize everything, is can be concluded that every individual has its own sense of morality; its own sense of “good” and “bad”. Morality, as a system of behavior carries with itself our moral identity.
Everyone in society should be treated equally, and if we have a sense of fundamental principles of justice, we shouldn’t let multiculturalism or any other ideology to determine the way of our behavior or any type of prioritization, not even if it’s for the members of “our nation”. Equality and justice are two important principles and each of them, on its own way, work in favor of multiculturalism.
However, my opinion is that every individual should make its own decision of how to use apply these principles; it shouldn’t be imposed by multiculturalism or any other ideology. Just as helping distant strangers, or any people in need should be our moral obligation only, and should not be enforced by someone else (government, for example, through taxations).
Our moral obligation should be to help others, to help people in need, without any ethnical, gender, religious or other distinction. Because at the end, once when we decide whether we should help someone, or on what basis, everything will come down to one thing, and one thing only – whether we are a moral people or not?


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