Sunday, June 22, 2008

Hatred towards immigrants is not just in the U.S.

detail of book cover from a novel by Randa Abdel-Fattah
link to photo

A few months ago I took a trip with a number of African immigrants living in Spain. We spent three days talking about everything. One conversation that came up frequently was about religion. They kept talking to me about how they were Protestant. One person told me he regularly listened to a radio show featuring by a Texas preacher. Several stated very clearly that they were not Muslim. I didn't think it through at the time. I just thought they were talking about American religions - it was not discussed with any passion.

Now I understand.

They were telling me this to be safe.

The avoidance is everywhere. Obama's campaign wants to make sure no women with head scarfs turn up in the video of his speeches. A major advertising company changes a photo shoot because the pattern on the model's scarf looks like the one Yasser Arafat used.

The west is afraid, and the fear is localized in the image of the Muslim. It would be wise for us to try to understand the complex nature of our fear - it's not about Muslims - its about our own capability for violence against fellow man (or woman). Both Europeans and Americans need to learn more about their nation's histories. Maybe this is happening because we haven't learned from out mistakes.

June 22, 2008
The Way We Live Now
New York Times

The New Pariahs?

No country is wholly free of anti-immigrant prejudice, whether it is the United States, where illegal immigration was a hot-button issue in the Republican primaries, or post-apartheid South Africa, where economic migrants were recently burned to death. But in many Western European countries today, something new and insidious seems to be happening. The familiar old arguments against immigrants — that they are criminals, that their culture makes them a bad fit, that they take jobs from natives — are mutating into an anti-Islamic bias that is becoming institutionalized in the continent’s otherwise ordinary politics.

... In Belgium, the Vlaams Belang deploys a clever variation, publicly praising Jews and seeking their support against Muslims, whom it tellingly describes as “the main enemy of the moment.” Meanwhile, the Dutch politician Geert Wilders calls Islam “the ideology of a retarded culture.”

Even Britain, which has afforded Muslims a more welcoming environment, has had some worrying moments. A few years back, a Labor M.P. called for an end to “the tradition of first-cousin marriages” among Pakistanis and other South Asians in Britain. The basis for her suggestion was the claim that Pakistanis in Britain were more likely than the general population to suffer from recessive autosomal genetic disorders. Of course, so are Ashkenazi Jews, but you can hardly imagine an M.P. proposing to limit Jews’ marriage choices for this reason, especially given the historic Nazi allegation of Jewish genetic inferiority.

What is so striking about these forms of prejudice, which go beyond ordinary anti-immigrant feeling, is that they are taking root in otherwise enlightened, progressive states — states where the memory of the Holocaust has often led to the adoption of laws against anti-Semitism and racism. The reasons, therefore, must surely go beyond economic or cultural insecurity...

...Generalized anti-immigrant feeling, they suggest, has come to rest on Muslims simply because they are increasingly visible. In France, the specter of the “Polish plumber” undercutting French workmen’s wages played a role in recent votes, suggesting the possibility of an equal-opportunity bias. But hostility to Eastern European migrants, though real enough, still does not run as deep as corresponding hostility to Muslims.

...Muslim immigrants are depicted in European political rhetoric as not merely backward but also illiberal, contradicting Europe’s now-prevalent commitment to tolerance of homosexuality and sex out of wedlock. At the same time, Muslims are thought to be forcing their children to maintain practices like the head scarf, which is banned in many French schools...

for link to complete NYT Magazine article click here

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