Challenges in Preserving a Myth

By: Julia Aguiar

While mass migration in Europe is often put in the language of crisis and of the now, it is hardly a new phenomena. Indeed, we can track the migration of people throughout Europe alongside the creation of national borders back to the Middle Ages. In the contemporary context, mass migration has taken on a different shape as anxieties towards Islam have sprung. The myth of European autonomy and whiteness begin to falter not only as migration from the east continues throughout Europe but as these migrants become more established and vocal in their experiences. Moreover, as these readings call us to take a more intersectional approach, we must also consider how the meeting of gender, sexuality, and migration threaten the myth of European identity.

Migrants of colour are often placed outside of conceptions of nationhood and citizenship. This is true still for the children of migrants despite the fact that their birth is often the one that their parents migrated to. Ultimately, the very existence of the children of migrants challenges the country’s myth of whiteness. Moreover, as Nilüfer Göle writes in her article, “Decentering Europe, Recentering Islam,” muslim women in particular contest the ideal of secularism in European Public Spheres through the practice of veiling. However, as Göle demonstrates as much as veiling is viewed as a symbol of oppression by mainstream society, muslim women associate veiling with professional opportunity and other ideas that do not jive with the European ideal to other and victimize them. As much as European countries like to put migrants in opposition to ideals of secularism, the hybrid existence and experiences of second and third generation migrants as well as the way that the practices of Islam changes with migration as exemplified through the experience of muslim women, demonstrate that the myths of nationhood are becoming tenuous.

The intersection of sexuality and migration in the experience of Queer migrants in several European countries challenges the ideals that neoliberal cities like to project. In her case study of Amsterdam, Fatima El-Tayeb makes clear the marginalization that Queer migrants face if they do not meet certain neoliberal criteria like having a coming out narrative. It becomes clear that to be freely Queer is something that is often relegated to white, middle class men. Importantly, this has not gone unchallenged as demonstrated by the work of the Strange Fruit collective.

Cracks in the myth of European identity have always been present. As migrants further establish themselves and make their, often intersectional, experiences known, these cracks will only grow deeper.

Europe and the Other

 

When Corneliu Zelea Codreanu formed the Romanian Fascist movement in 1927 under the guise of the Legion of Archangel Michael it indoctrinated a generation of young Romanian men into a space that they took ownership over. The process codified a ‘mens club’ that would articulate the rules of a new Romanian man while satisfying the need for belonging; a new nation, as Roger Griffin has argued, was birthed through these ‘new’ men. The movements for newness have a long history of supporting Fascist regimes throughout Europe and have been used to attract those left vulnerable to uncertainty to an ultra-nationalist cause.

Groups of people have been defined by who they are not; incorporating histories across times and spaces into re-remembered ideals that constitute the public memory, take root in the discourse of the public domain, and crystalize the identity of European states and folks positioned within them.  As Fatima El-Tayeb wrote, “through the process of civilizing the East, the West defines itself, creating an internal coherence impossible to achieve without the external Other”. Those who exist outside the tangible population and are not ‘proper Europeans,’ as El-Tayeb termed them, and the existence of the so called ‘not proper’ Europeans gives credence to a uniformed European-ness.

Those on the periphery of the mass population are forced to internalize the established rules of the ‘new’ order or exist beyond it. In context of sexuality, this is what Lisa Duggan calls homonormativity: “internalizing a conceptualization of LGBT identity that constructs legitimacy and rights along established lines, challenging neither the exclusion of those who do not or cannot play by the rules”. In context of race, it is an invitation for individuals of color to be one of ‘them’ however, as educator Gloria Wekker described whether those of color opt in or do not ‘they’ are never one of ‘them’.

Normativity is a privilege of white liberals submitting to western doctrine and not only ignoring but taking aim at the Others who remain on the periphery. El-Tayeb, notes that white gay men can often be part of the established ‘new order’ order through participation in the ‘creative’ economy. Yet their participation is accepting that those groups beyond the ‘proper’ population, such as Muslims, are an active opposition to the established order. As white gay men align with liberal western doctrine, they sanction the use of homophobia as a theoretical attack against those on the periphery i.e. Muslim populations.

Those on the periphery are “pulled between two paradoxical civilizations, as Nilüfer Göle wrote building on the work of Samuel Huntington. While modernity is reserved for the west the Others are placed in an artificial chronotype: an alternative positioning of time and space. Confronting this positionality may revel how hollow the alliances that gave rise to ‘new men’ and ‘new’ order really are and reposition diverse gay or Muslim or Othered groups from the periphery.

 

Against Multiculturalism

The rise of illiberal national populist movements across Europe somehow find commonality, while at the same time being rooted in sentiments of superiority. Whether that superiority derives from an identity connected to Europe or an identity that differentiates itself from all other cultures, it inherently relies on the “othering” of perceived differences. The works of Dan Stone and Nilüfer Göle grappled with this very idea. They approached the topic from different angles, as Stone dealt with ‘collective memory,’ while Göle examined ‘chronotope’s’ in order to explain how perceptions of past events have the ability to influence present and future realities. They did so in through analyzing the treatment of Muslims in Europe. These two differing approaches are in fact quite complementary, and will be examined in greater detail to display their similarities.

Stone compared Europe’s experience with the Holocaust to the ongoing migrant crisis, and pointed to the differing national ‘collective memories’ to display the varying degrees of treatment that migrants experience across Europe. He articulated that the differing degrees of reception to migrants is possibly ingrained in the treatment of how each nation dealt with its past connections with fascism in the twentieth century. The more a nation has come to terms with its involvement, the more receptive they might be. However, for nations that have not done so, the Holocaust is only viewed as the defeat of the Nazi’s, and has neglected to reconcile their own involvement or complacency. While it is fair to criticize the differences between the two events, the risk is to yet again become complacent in responding to a true tragedy.

Unlike Stone, Göle focused on how events that occurred at the same time and space can be perceived entirely different through the use of ‘chronotopes.’ These chronotopes are socially constructed, and can be both complementary as well as contradictory. When they transcend cultural divides, they often oppose one another. She utilized the examples of laws against burka’s and Europe’s experience with Turkey to convey her point. For Europeans, burkas are frequently viewed as oppressive against women, however the very fact the Muslim woman were empowered to have the choice in these nations made the selection all the more powerful. Nonetheless, because these chronotopes interact in a social setting, nations such as France have placed a ban on face-covering veils. As for Turkey, it exemplified an Islamic nation that has been part of Europe’s history and adheres to its values, yet has been hotly contested when considering its entry into the European Union.

These two works display how differing interpretations of shared historical events give life to present day issues. The migrant crisis has undoubtably strained what constitutes not only European identity, but also national identities across Europe. The new illiberal national populist movements are relying on the ‘othering’ of Islam, along with other factors, in order to legitimize their very being. However, it is entirely possible that these issues derive from how these nations are treating their past.

Anti-Migrant Rhetoric in Europe

The pendulum of sociopolitical change reaches extremes in order to reach progress. Across Europe as a pancontinental hole, while scholarship is adamant in its refusal to accept homogeneity, the political structure has been composed to reflect and adhere to common issues. A pervasive issue of contemporary Europe that is fed by systemic discord is that of the rise of extreme politics.

Across Europe (some of the most concerning examples being in Austria, Hungary, France, Cyprus, Greece, and to a certain extent the Netherlands) far right parties and their support has ballooned as a secondary characteristic from far right hegemonies grasping political discourse and thought. The core ideology of the radical right, as Mudde attests to, is in three prongs of thought: nativism, authoritarianism, and populism. As defined by Mudde, nativism is a xenophobic genre of nationalism and the belief in homogeneity (in the context of religion and race). Authoritarianism is a strictly ordered society with severe punishments for deviance. Populism is a society constructed into two factions: a corrupt elite and a “pure” civilian base. The European radical right has employed an amalgamation of these ideological concepts and have begun to grow both their platforms and voter bases. During the Austrian election, as Mudde cites, the far right Freedom Party was within one percentage point of winning the federal election.

The discourse perpetuated by the radical right uses similar tactics to more classical examples of the far right, and even more radically fascist governments (although Mudde does state that contemporary far right parties distance themselves from the “heritage of fascism”). The dissonance between core far right parties of Western and Eastern Europe is cemented in discourse. Focusing on the East, radicalism stems from a communist history and a drastic revolution in 1989, relative isolation from immigration and those outside of majority groups (save for the Roma), higher levels of political incorrectness (one can refer to Viktor Orbán and rhetoric from his politics or the three neo-Nazi parties in Slovakia, Greece, and Cyprus), and general anti-Semitism and Islamophobia. The rise of radicalism spiked concurrently to worsening conditions across the Mediterranean and irregular immigration in 2015.

The plight of progress is brutal and does not come without a cost. The pendulum of progress will continue to teeter back and forth trying to maintain tethers to tradition, however unrealistic tradition is in the face of globalization. The radical right is attempting to present itself as an answer to globalization, despite the solution needing to come from holistic and altruistic methods.

Exploring the Dangers of Collective Identity and Othering in European Society

By Christine Collins 

According to Stone, collective memory refers to the “images and representations of the past that circulate in society and shape a group’s self-image.” When considering this week’s theme on how myths surrounding European identify are challenged with the increased polarization of the rhetoric surrounding mass migration, this definition emphasizing the selective nature of collective memory rings true. 

The selectiveness of collective memory to fit a particular image is showcased by Göle in her comparison of the commemorations (or lack of thereof) of the Berlin Wall and the Moster Bridge. While both structures are historically interconnected, the fall of the Berlin Wall symbolized the end of Communism, and is thus celebrated. By contrast, the destruction of the Mostar Bridge— a symbol connecting the Muslim and Christian communities in Bosnia—was “stripped of its symbolic and historical significance” after being shelled by Croatian gunman while fighting the Bosnian Muslims. In choosing to honour a monument symbolizing a Europe freed from Communism while forgetting the continent’s history with Islam, we are presented with a European self-image that overlooks inconvenient moments of its history. 

Depending on national, international, or transnational contexts, collective memory can take different forms and emphasize certain aspects over others. As articulated by Marhoefer, a Holocaust memorial in Berlin commemorating the persecution of gay men was argued to be a “falsification” of history if it simultaneously portrayed lesbian women. Since women did not face the same persecution as homosexual men under Nazi Germany, there were debates on whether they should be included in this collective memory. Ultimately, in 2012, the video memorial was changed to show both female and male same sex couples kissing. However, we must consider how the intersectional, diverse makeup of modern-day Berliners would support this inclusion as a result of their present outlook and values. Based on arguments made by El-Tayeb, it is reasonable to assume this same inclusion would not be extended to homosexual Muslims in Amsterdam. 

Stone further builds his analysis of collective memory by considering why, after swearing “never again,” Europeans have failed to draw connections between the Holocaust and the Syrian refugee crisis. Stone agrees with other historians that the current refugee crisis does not parallel the atrocities of the mass genocide of Jewish people. However, he astutely notes that a consequence of this differentiation is that Europeans have distanced themselves from the Syrian refugee crisis, and thus excused their underwhelming response. One reason for this could connect to El-Tayeb and Göle’s articulation of the Othering of Muslims in Europe, creating an “us vs. them” dynamic routed in collective identity.

So while it is important to respect the diverse histories of secular groups in Europe, at the same time, we must be aware of the impacts memory may play in shaping future actions—political or otherwise—that impact our current society. 

Echoes of Colonial Thoughts in the Othering of Islamic Communities?

Historically, the “Other” used to be the East. East as in Russia, Asia, east of the Western European Countries, simply East. Now, the context has shifted and the “Other” has become the “Islamic Other”. Why? Fatima El-Tayeb argues that the attempt in Europe at founding an overarching European identity by uniting different European states with the goal of forming transnational alliances backfired as it simply created more divides. It founded its “European identity” by clinging to a core of values leaning towards that of the Judeo-Christian traditional values.

This clearly implicates the divisive manner in which European states have oppressed and persecuted “racialized minority” under the pretext that their values acted against the core European values. It is interesting to note the assumption by European states that values outside that of the stated European ones are inherently a danger. This evokes or reminds of colonial assumptions that the “uncivilized world” (anything outside Europe) was a danger for the “civilized nations”.

Nilüfer Göle argues similarly to El-Tayeb, in that the community of Muslim in Europe are constantly being discredited under the pretext of “civilizational incompatibility.” But what happens when one starts to look at European history from an Islamic perspective? Both authors are urging understand the importance of European and Islamic histories as interconnectedness and accept that this also means a decentralization of Europe as “the” main acting agent of history. One question remains unanswered, in today’s political climate, how is it still possible to reject multiculturalism on the basis of what still echoes as colonial thought? Surely, it is important to notice the fact that with this need for rewriting history decentralizing Europe, there is a rise of populist far-right movements invoking the prominence of a conservative Judaeo-Christian white tradition. Is this a coincidence?  

Progressive and Populist?

In Fatima El-Tayeb’s article she brings up the symbols that have been used to “other” Muslims from what white western Europeans considered to a requirement for immigrating to their country. She looks at how these symbols, particularly the hijab and honour killings are symbols illustrate the repressive and sexist aspects of Islam. That these are viewed as non-European and threaten the values of what it means to be European.  That when immigrating to a (western) Europe they should fully assimilate to these values. El-Tayeb,  focuses on how this is done specifically with Queer Muslims, she writes that they are viewed as having to repress their own sexuality because of the repressiveness of the Islamic faith, and that they can only be liberated from this with the assimilation into European culture.

What is interesting about this, as El-Tayeb points out is how this thinking, while their “investment is…more that doubtful,” by nationalist parties across Europe have used these sentiments to fuel their anti-Islamization of their cities. It goes back to the question posed for these readings: How might progressives as well as populists reinforce similar platforms?  It is interesting that that in Western Europe, the argument being made for anti-Islamization is based off topics like the freedom of expression of sexuality and sexism when it is not typically a stance that nationalist parties focus on, it rather more progressive. There is once again this concept that we see this transnational union of Europe, using minority groups of people that are more inline with the European values (essentially white values). This is done for the purpose of pushing anti-Islamic sentiments. 

This is something that can be seen in the other readings. Nilüfer Göle makes the same connection as El-Tayeb, though it is surrounding the discussion if Turkey should be apart of the EU. He focuses on the use of repression of women through their hijabs, burkas or Niqabs as a reason for illustrating reasons Turkey would not fit among the EU. We see others pulling from progressive ideas, and values to fuel anti-Islam ideas. In Gloria Wekker’s article where through an analysis of emails sent in by white dutch citizens who fight back on the claims that Zwarte Piet is a racist figure. She notes that while those who oppose Zwarte Piet publicly are typically Surinamese, Antilleans, and Africans it is Muslims that the blame gets put on for trying to “change their country.” Here it is seen that progressive protests give an opportunity for the Dutch to critique Muslims and their “inability to assimilate”.

This leaves me with some questions, if progressive stances can reinforce populist platforms what does that say about many of the progressive stances illustrated in these readings? Does it have to do with the fact the Europe is a continent and Islam is a religion, not a designated groups of people? And finally, what does it mean to be European?

Works Cited

Fatima El-Tayeb, “”Gays Who Cannot Properly be Gay.’ Queer Muslims in the Neoliberal European City” European Journal of Women’s Studies 19/1, (2012): 79-95.

Nilüfer Göle, “Decentering Europe, Recentering Islam” New Literary History, Volume 43, Number 4 (Autumn 2012): 665-685.

Gloria Wekkers, “….For Even Though I am Black as Soot, My Intentions are Good”: the Case of Zwarte Piet/Black Pete” in White Innocence. Paradoxes of Colonialism and Race (Duke University Press, 2015), pp. 139-167

Immigration and Europe : A Difficult Co-Existence

Mass immigration presents a problem to Europe : how can so many people from various ethnicities and religions coexist in a Europe which foundation relies on modern democracy and secularism ? Islam becomes  the centre of the debate as it is its violent perception that divides many countries in Western and Eastern Europe. Using the example of Turkey as a modern country where secularism is used as a model for other Muslim countries, Nilüfer Göle argues that decentering Europe entails reaching outside of its actual borders but also acknowledging a religion that carries a long legacy in history. She mentioned the term chronotope to highlight the notion of time and space and ties it to the place that Islam occupies as a disrupting agent in secular modernity.

The same argument of time and space is used in a different perspective with Dan Stone as he correlates the situation of refugee crisis and the position of Eastern European countries to the Holocaust. He uses the term collective memory to comment on two scholars (Jan T. Gross and G. M. Tamás) who demonstrated that “the failure to come to term with the past” was a reason why Eastern Europe was not ready to deal with the refugee crisis.  But his argument reflects the error to only limit the sphere to Eastern Europe and rather to include Western Europe as well. Building arguments on mythologies and collective memories is at risk of ignoring or segregating other events in different categories and to perpetuate an exclusion rather than  an integration.

The Göle article does not mention the refugee crisis which aggravates the already sensitive immigration situation in many European countries but rather focuses on the religious and gender elements that suffer from incomprehension or rejection in neo-liberal urban settings. This limitation in searching for a consensual answer to the problem of immigration is also present and denounced in Stone article. By focusing on a specific past ( the migration of Jews during the Third Reich) , we set ourselves to miss the transnational repercussion of the recent migrations and to lean toward indifference or to feed nationalist movements with stronger arguments against immigration.

The main questions seem to be : how to face massive immigration as a whole continent and leave aside ultra-nationalist sentiment to focus on multicultural and transnational Europe ? How to depart from the past to better integrate the future ?

Works cited :

Nilüfer Göle, “Decentering Europe, Recentering Islam” New Literary History, Volume 43, Number 4 (Autumn 2012): 665-685.

Dan Stone, “On Neighbours and Those Knocking at the Door: Holocaust Memory and Europe’s Refugee Crisis.” Patterns of Prejudice 52, no. 2/3 (May 2018): 231–43.

Europe’s Paradoxical Relationship with Tradition

By Absalom Sink

As Gloria Wekkers writes in her book White Innocence, the celebration of Zwarte Piet—Saint Nicholas’ “Moorish helper” usually portrayed by a white person in blackface, and played as a —remains a mainstay of Dutch Christmas celebration, despite increasing controversy over the racistracial’ implications of the character. Supporters of the Zwarte Piet minstrelsy often wrap their defense of the practice in the flag of tradition; white Dutchmen and women perceive themselves at risk of being “deprived” of a tradition that reaches back into their youth and beyond. Wekkers gives the example of a woman who “introduces herself as a sociocultural worker and says that black people do not realize how much pain it causes whites to hear that Black Pete is a racist figuration.” Wekkers’ interlocutor, a stand-in for countless other Dutch, imagines herself and her family the victims of “blacks [who] do not realize how hurtful it is to have to give up a figure that you have grown up with and who has given you so much joy.” Forget the people who actually feel uncomfortable or hurt by the depiction of Piet; forget that, as Stuart Hall says, “stereotyping tends to occur when there are gross inequalities of power.” This is a matter of tradition! Europeans clearly must hold traditions to be sacred, right?

Ah, but then we get to Nilüfer Göle’s article, “Decentering Europe, Recentering Islam.” Here we read of European Islamophobia, which pits Europe as a “secular site of modernity” against the foreignness of Islam, which no less a figure than Pope Benedict XVI implied to be incompatible with “reason” and “rational values.” As Göle explains, “many Muslims defend Islam as the religion of their parents; Islam them with a source of resistance to acculturation and an opportunity to bind with their heritage.” The tradition of Islam both provides a link to ancestry and acts as a bulwark against the cultural alienation of trying to acculturate in a society that insists on recognizing immigrants as Other. And from thence springs the fear, the “phobia” in Islamophobia. By presenting an alternative to the European ‘secular’ consensus (which nonetheless frequently makes reference to a Christian cultural basis), Islam brings with it the spectre of counter-hegemony. Recognizing a Europe in which Islam has a place—not just in its present, but throughout its history, first in Spain, then in the Balkans, and now across the continent—means “become aware that the hegemony of European chronotopes (time-space) over the definition of modernity is weakening.” Islam is a threat to that hegemony, just as the controversy around Zwarte Piet is a threat to the white Dutch hegemonic culture within the Netherlands.

So, one could suppose that the threat of erosion of hegemony is what leads to the disconnect on the subject of tradition. But questions remain. How do Europeans—Western Europeans, in particular—reconcile their progressivism with their own cultural conservatism? How does Belgium ban the niqab while neighbouring Netherlands clings to blackface Zwarte Piet? Could it have anything to do with the fact the former is seen as a mark of the foreign Other while the latter is a Dutch tradition, ostensibly “indigenous” in nature? What makes some traditions, even those rooted in religion, compatible with ‘European secular modernity’ while disqualifying others?

… ‘he asked rhetorically, already having a good idea as to the answers.’

Works Cited

Göle, Nilüfer. “Decentering Europe, Recentering Islam.” New Literary History 43, No. 4 (Autumn 2012): 665-685.

Wekkers, Gloria. White Innocence: Paradoxes of Colonialism and Race. Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press, 2015.

Reflections on Holocaust Memory and Europe’s Refugee Crisis

By Alex Wittmann

The Dan Stone Article assigned for this week was written right at the height of the Refugee Crisis which has engulfed Europe since 2015. The influx of Middle Eastern refugees have triggered various responses across the continent. There have been humanitarian responses committed to upholding the UNHCR with those who claim that refugees should be let in. There have been nationalistic responses proclaiming refugees as a threat to the stability and in some cases “ethnicity” of the nation. The article highlights the main point of memory of the Second World War and the Holocaust as factors for the various responses for the way in which refugees have been accepted. In the explanation of the German (and particularly Western German) response to the crisis, the article asserts that because Germany was forced to come to terms with its history, it has been more accepting to those fleeing persecution and hardship such as the Middle Eastern refugees. Eastern Europe (particularly Poland) have not been welcoming of refugees due to the fact that after years of communist dictatorships in the Cold War, they have not been afforded a chance of coming to terms with history. The article uncovers the fact that under years of communist oppression, ethnic nationalist sentiments were largely repressed, when Communism fell, they became ignited once more. This is why Poland now has a militant Right Wing populist government that refuses refugees and sees them as a threat to their security and identity. In terms of the concept of coming to terms with the past, I can largely agree with how this can impact the way European countries have handled the refugee influx. Germany has the benefit of coming to terms with its Holocaust past. Therefore it understands the dangers of displacement and persecution, and how it can lead to genocide. Combined with a commitment to upholding the EU standard on refugee acceptance and the UNHCR, Germany has taken a proactive approach in providing homes for and welcoming Middle Eastern refugees. Under the former Communist East, Poles and other Eastern Europeans were taught to absolve themselves of War Crimes such as the Holocaust with an alternative focus on defeating the monster of Nazi Germany. As a result, countries such as Poland have not yet fully come to terms with their own involvement in the Holocaust genocide. It shows that when countries fail to come to terms with the past, it is repeated in different forms. The Right Wing populist movement in Eastern Europe raising an anxiety regarding refugees and the potential “threat” they may have on traditional European society and culture is a primary example.

Source Cited: Dan Stone, “On Neighbours and Those Knocking at the Door: Holocaust Memory and Europe’s Refugee Crisis.” Patterns of Prejudice 52, no. 2/3 (May 2018): 231–43.