Of course, as a Christian I know I should go with the whole "bring me your poor huddled masses" vibe (not that that is from the Bible; it's a poem by Emma Lazarus). The problem is that, as a pragmatist, I wonder whether, if all the poor huddled masses do come over here, we won't just end up recreating the conditions they have run away from in their own country.
In response to that concern, some people I've met have wanted to know what is so worth preserving about our own society, where American presidents can't be elected without amounts equivalent to the debts of various smaller countries being spent to win them votes and where big corporations buy influence and the young get so drunk they are sick in the streets of country towns on Saturday nights.
These are all flaws, I agree, but, as well as establishing well-run nations, with good health systems, roads et cetera (which some argue is something we've only managed as a result of our exploitation of other less advantaged countries - this whole field of argument is one that involves so many 'what-ifs' that I don't think either side can ever definitively prove that it is right), our culture has also produced wonderful things that are worth preserving. Yet these achievements of ours, in the last few decades, seem to have been increasingly ignored - or even denigrated. The argument that has been put to me often is that we should stop being so stuffy and embrace other cultures, opening ourselves to the vibrancy brought to us by foreigners.
I wonder whether the fact that a lot of our greatest cultural achievements are either associated with Christianity or the upper classes - both of which since, I suppose, the 1960s have been portrayed as pretty much entirely bad - has anything to do with their current undervaluation. European cathedrals, the Ghent altarpiece and the Book of Common Prayer are all marvellous but they were only created because of one or other branch of the Christian church. Mozart operas, Holbein paintings, the stately homes of England are equally reprehensible, having all been funded by Royalty or aristocracy. Literature gets away a little less scathed (if it is possible to use such a word), but even it is a bourgeois preoccupation generally, as is that other immensely important, rapidly disappearing element of Western civilisation: good manners.
I should point out that I do understand that embracing other cultures doesn't necessarily mean one's own culture needs to be extinguished. My recent impression though is that, in our eagerness to show a willingness to take in migrants, we do seem inclined to politely allow behaviours that offend our own principles, thus eroding our own way of life. The widespread acceptance of Halal butchery -for example, as far as I can tell all meat exported from Australia is now Halal, presumably because the main market for it is the Middle East - and the apparent acceptance that in predominantly Muslim areas of European cities it is virtually impossible to buy an alcoholic drink - go into any of the food shops within a half mile radius of Munich station and see if you can find a bottle of wine for sale if you don't believe me - may be seen as very minor things, but neither of them improve our society, in my opinion
To confuse matters further, in the midst of my muddled groping about for an intelligent and humane point of view about the migrant crisis, I took the Eurostar from Brussels to Britain last week. It was one of the ones that stops not just at Lille but also at Calais. Everyone in the carriage peered out, slightly furtively, at all the new enclosures and at the soldiers on the platform with alarming looking weaponry. It felt uncomfortably as if we were part of the elite moving through the countryside on the train in the film of The Hunger Games. That terrible question, posed by David Mitchell, formed itself in my head: "What if we are the baddies?":
Maybe we are. Maybe it is unfair to turn anyone back - if they've made the journey, they must be desperate, and if they are desperate, who are we to say that they shouldn't come in? As someone born with the privilege of both an EU passport and an Australian one, I am more aware than most of the extreme good fortune handed out to me by the accident of birth. The people all that barbed wire topped reinforced fencing at Calais is designed to keep out drew the short straw in the lottery of life, so who can blame them for wanting to make up for their initial disadvantage? Is it right to deny them what we have chanced to have been born into? Should we all commit ourselves to living equally, even if it means we all live miserably, or should those of us who unarguably live a more comfortable way of life than those in some other countries fight to protect that privilege? It's tricky, isn't it? Or is it just me?