Op-Ed # 2: The New Enemy? The Misconception of the Muslim “Invasion” of the West

The rise in nationalist movements seems to be directly tied to the perceived invasion of Western spaces by Muslims. There is a deep-seated fear of “losing” their culture in the heart of many Westerners due to an increase in refugees and immigrants since the Arab Spring of 2011. There have been reports that hate crimes towards Muslims have increased dramatically in recent years, and the topic of immigration and refugees is still a largely controversial and divisive topic. Islamophobia seems to be at an all time high, and there have been dire consequences, not just for those at the receiving end of these damaging stereotypes, but also within Western society as well.

Doug Saunders, journalist and frequent writer for the Globe and Mail, discusses in his book The Myth of the Muslim Tide: Do Immigrants Threaten the West? many of the common misconceptions circulating that fuel the belief of the “Muslim invasion of the west”.

This fear of “losing” culture seems to partially stem from the belief of high reproduction rates of Muslim people. To some, Western culture will literally be engulfed by Middle Eastern culture due to exponential growth of their populations. Saunders references research completed by the Pew Research Centre in 2011 that studied Muslim population growth. Though statistics vary by country, they estimate that by 2030 the Muslim population will account for 7.1% of the European population. These numbers are not as high as many make them out to be. Saunders states that “none of these studies project anything close to a Muslim majority…even the highest estimate of these trends would not produce a Muslim majority in any Western country during the twenty-first century” (Saunders, 2012, pg.42-43).

Additionally, their ability to integrate is brought in question. The answer to this is varied and complex, but studies seem to indicate that assimilation is embraced by most Muslims and this is especially true of their children raised within Western society. Furthermore, many who do wish to integrate may find a very difficult time doing so due to language barriers, prejudice and the need for adjustment to Western labour markets. Saunders quotes a Canadian study that indicated that skin colour, and not religion, was a major influence on the ability for an individual to assimilate into Western society and mentioned the existence of “ethnic penalties” within job markets (Saunders, 2012, pg. 75). Are immigrants refusing to adjust, or are we not giving them the tools to do so?

Image result for islamophobia cartoon

image source: https://5pillarsuk.com/2015/02/19/will-europe-ever-take-islamophobia-as-seriously-as-anti-semitism/

There are also claims of an increase in violence (specifically sexual assaults) and susceptibility to terrorist attacks within Western countries who have accepted refugees. The Swedish government has stated that “studies show that the majority of those suspected of crimes were born in Sweden to two Swedish-born parents. According to the most recent study, people from foreign backgrounds are 2.5 times more likely to be suspected of crimes than people born in Sweden to Swedish-born parents” (http://www.government.se/articles/2017/02/facts-about-migration-and-crime-in-sweden/). They do point out that there has been an increase in crime in Sweden, but that the number is actually equal to levels in 2005 – which was before the current refugee crisis. There doesn’t seem to be any indication that an increase in migrants from the Middle East has contributed to this increase in crime. If anything, they are more likely to commit crimes such as theft due to a lower socio-economic status as a result of language barriers, discrimination and adjustment to a new country.

This fear of invasion and the “take over” by a minority group is not something new, and we have seen xenophobia and isolationism rear its monstrous head time and time again throughout history with other immigrant minority groups. I am hesitant to compare this situation to other historically prejudiced parts of history like the Holocaust and the African slave trade as the circumstances, victims and motivations are different. But, the psychological and sociological causes and effects are hauntingly similar, and this is not an issue that, in my opinion, should be swept under the rug and allowed to fester any more than it already has.

I am not arguing for a certain solution to this issue, for the answer is undoubtedly multifaceted and more complex than I can begin to imagine as a third-year university student, but I think it’s safe to say that our attitude towards the discussion and deliberation surrounding this topic could be more empathetic and less prejudiced. I also believe that open-mindedness and respect for others’ cultural beliefs is something that is inherently lacking from this conversation, which is ironic considering we pride ourselves so much on having the autonomy and freedom to do as we please in the West.

I believe that we should try and learn from history instead of playing into the patterns that we’ve seen time and time again, and the first step is to properly educate ourselves on the reality of the current situation and not give into hyperbolic claims.

Alienation and Xenophobia in Europe: Where Do We Go From Here?

Many of the arguments that are dominating politics today seem to be discussed as extremes – a middle ground is almost never considered or is sometimes even dismissed as being unobtainable.  I believe that this is the common theme among the readings assigned for this week and could quite possibly be a solution to many of the issues being discussed around the world today. The readings make you wonder: it is that a middle ground is truly impossible, or is it our own limited thinking that is preventing us from obtaining it? Furthermore, it could be argued that it is from this tendency to look at issues as black-or-white that we are seeing a political shift and an influx of populist movements which, some argue, are threatening democracy as we know it today. I think that the driving force behind these polarizing issues, when really boiled down, is a lack of empathy and a willingness to put yourself in someone else’s shoes – regardless if you like or agree with the other person or culture.

For example, think of the refugee crisis and rise of anti-immigration protests. When this is being discussed, many people fail to remember and visualize that these are real people who are being bombed and driven from their homes. In the instance of Black Pete, many people who expressed outrage over anti-Black Pete protests failed to think for a moment how a person of color might feel and instead were hyper focused on what they perceived as an attack on their culture as a whole. In the instance of homelessness, someone may see a person on the side of the road and easily reduce them down to a good-for-nothing bum and walk by, instead of thinking of the culmination of instances and experiences that may have pushed that person to be in this situation (childhood abuse, lack of resources for mental health and substance abuse issues, etc).

The Black Pete reading resonated with me as I am biracial with a predominately black family, and I found myself offended and extremely saddened by the responses from the Dutch in regards to the anti-Black Pete protests (the author describes it as like taking a dose of undiluted poison and I have to agree). But, I made myself imagine the viewpoint of the Dutch and how Black Pete and has been embedded in their culture – thus their national identity – even though I don’t agree with what they are saying. It saddened me as well that so many people claimed it was an attack by immigrants on Dutch culture, while almost forgetting that not everyone born and raised in the Netherlands is white. There are some Dutch people who might be offended and feel rejected by their own culture! This made me question if there could be a middle ground that would appease both sides of the debate. Could it be possible to keep Black Pete, but instead of having him portrayed offensively as a white person in black face with exaggerated lips and idiotic mannerisms, maybe he could be portrayed, in the media and in-person during parades and other celebrations, as a person with soot on his cheeks? Black Pete wouldn’t have to be erased from the culture but would be portrayed in a way that is less offensive and objectifying and also more true to the original story (for he is apparently only black because he is covered in soot).

Finding a common middle ground is so important if we want to be able to co-exist peacefully. I know that there are some who do not want to co-exist (racists, xenophobes – but that is another problem altogether, unfortunately). The argument over Black Pete could be compared to virtually any other majority versus minority struggle as the underlying psychology remains the same. Empathy and the ability to truly listen and compromise (instead of alienating ourselves and sticking our heads in the sand) is the key to many of the issues we are facing today and might be the solution to some of the troubling populist movements we have seen. I don’t claim to have all of the answers, but approaching disagreements from a common ground and attempting to see the common humanity among all groups of people from all walks of life seems to be a good start.

You’re Either With Me, Or Against Me: the Death of Healthy Debate Within The Modern Era of Mass Misinformation

Every morning I like to lay in bed reading the news of the day, enjoying the peace and quiet of my apartment before begrudgingly forcing myself out of bed to face the chaos of the outside world. I usually avoid scanning over the comments on these articles as they are often a place void of healthy debate and mostly full of immature tactics such as name-calling. Recently, I started to think that maybe I shouldn’t be ignoring what these people are saying. It demonstrates how much trouble we’re really in. To my dismay, the art of the healthy debate is dead.

My pessimism is generated not only from what is being discussed in the news, but how it’s being discussed by the public. From personal experience, it seems that this kind of toxic discussion is not only present in comments on articles online but has made a home in many other parts of political discussion. It appears both ends of the political spectrum, the left and the right, are alienating themselves. This “us-versus-them” dynamic is creating an aggressive political climate that is lacking constructive debate over policy.

People assign themselves as “left or right”. Then, rigid like the roots of a tree, “plant” themselves on one side of the political fence and refuse to move (all the while cursing those on the other side). In their unwillingness to allow their world view to be challenged by obtaining information from varied sources, people have made themselves vulnerable. Many people don’t demand better policies as they only care about the party itself. Blind faith has allowed citizens to fall into the popularity trap. It doesn’t matter what the right does because it’s not left, and vice versa.

Fake News Image

image source: HTTP://WWW.PHILLY.COM/PHILLY/OPINION/SIGNE/20161204_DAILY_SIGNE_CARTOON_12_04_16.HTML

Sure, politics has always been deeply dividing as a person’s political beliefs are often a large part of who they are. And true, disagreements over major political opinions have often created friction – but this over-aggressiveness seems to be preventing actual progress and change. But why is this occurring? Has this always been a consequence of democracy? Is this a recurring cultural phenomenon that has been placed under a magnifying glass by social media – and the ability to comment, sometimes anonymously, on news articles?

In their book, Liars! Cheaters! Evildoers! – Demonization and the End of Civil Debate in American Politics, Tom de Luca and John Buell discuss the rise of malice in current American political debate. They state that the growing divide between the left and right has its roots in the 60s. The Civil Rights Movement and the Cold War ear have had a major impact on political discourse. Minority groups have been gaining a platform on the political front and are challenging the historically “conservative” way of life.

The rise of movements like Black Lives Matter, the increase in LGBTQ rights, and a more sexually free and racially diverse Western society is pushing previous boundaries. This seems to have increased fear on both sides of the political spectrum: those who fear that their way of life is being threatened, and those who believe their rights are being denied by allowing the current way of life to continue. It doesn’t help that both sides are being radicalized by one another (If you support BLM you hate white people! If you support Trump you’re a bigot!).

I believe we are reaching a boiling point as society is coming to terms with the fact that these extremes cannot coexist. This paranoia has caused aggressiveness out of desperation, and this desperation has eroded the ability to see the “other” as a fellow human with a difference of opinion and unique perspective on life.

So where do we go from here? How can we create better political discourse if now all the other side has to do is scream “fake news” when they don’t like what they read? Is it possible for people to view political matters through an impartial lens, one that isn’t clouded by race or “left” and “right”? Many people are willingly keeping themselves in a bubble consisting of only information from their end of the political spectrum – how do we pop that bubble? How do we restore the art of healthy debate in modern society? If we can dissolve the tendency to reduce each other down to simply “left” or “right” stereotypes and attempt to look at the larger mechanisms at work, we might be able to create a future that is more inclusive and eradicate the recent trend of demonizing the “other”.

First Responder: It Can’t Happen in the USA – Or Can It?

 

Many people believe that the United States is immune to populism due to their strong beliefs of personal freedom, democracy and their political and military history (for example, fighting with the Allied Forces against Hitler’s regime in WW2). Unfortunately, we are now seeing that this belief has generated a false sense of security. This has allowed populist roots to take hold in many different aspects of the country. Some citizens seem to be downplaying the presence of these roots – almost as a form of willful ignorance. This is reinforced by the belief that the United States oversees the policing of other parts of the world (they are labelled as leaders of the free world), but they themselves do not require intervention as they are the supposed role model. On the other hand, there are many who are not ignorant to the changes taking place but justify this shift as a necessary extreme for the greater good of the American people and to protect the American way of life (consequentialists).

This is further complicated by the great divide that is taking place not only in America, but all over the world. Not all, but some, label those on the other end of the political spectrum as extremists and state that they are out of touch with reality. They dehumanize each other and don’t see each other as fellow human beings with differing view points. All they see is red or blue, liberal or conservative – an enemy. Some are extremely indoctrinated in their nationalism because of the system that they were raised in. When a child acts inappropriately we don’t usually blame them, we blame the parents – can the same be argued for those on the extreme right and left? We cannot excuse the behaviour as it has severe (and sometimes violent) consequences for many marginalized groups, but this demonstrates the difficulty in bridging the gap between the two extremes and opens the door for understanding both ends of the political spectrum.

Populism functions on a variety of levels, but the largest and most powerful motivating factor, in my opinion, is victimization. If people felt empowered and didn’t feel like victims, the tactics used by many populists wouldn’t be able to take hold in people’s minds. It seems that the large majority of people still clinging to Trump and his beliefs are those who feel as though they don’t have any other options available to them. For example, there are those who state that the “liberals in the big cities” have forgotten about those inhabiting the rural areas. The most vulnerable to indoctrination of populist beliefs are those who feel as though they have nothing to lose (and everything to gain); this is further complicated by some of those who have racist and xenophobic tendencies. As discussed in the article, there was a heavily racialized aspect of the victimization process during the second wave of the KKK (and now, especially in regards to the topic of immigration and refugees), not solely economic disparity between the large “liberalized” cities and rural areas. There was – and arguably still is – a belief that the American dream and true freedom was only for a select group of people, and that allowing outsiders to take part would tarnish America. This mixture of denial and victimization, in addition to the dehumanization and constant labelling of everyone who doesn’t share the same opinion as themselves as the alt-right or the alt-left is a deadly combination, one that has created an environment that is allowing hatred to flourish and one which is further dividing us instead of allowing us to come together to create a dynamic society that attempts to cater to the different needs of each socioeconomic group.

 

Jay Countaway

Week Two Reading Reflection

At the core of the articles assigned this week is an attempt to explain and better understand the current political climate and “rise” of the alt-right and white supremacy. In the article Birth of a Nation by Amy Kaufman, the history of the KKK and the embrace of medievalism allows for insight into the psyche of the modern white supremacist. Current events, such as the election of Trump and the embrace of his campaign “Make America Great Again”, have been labelled as anomalies in American history, but this is simply not true. As demonstrated with the rise – and fall – and rise again of the KKK, progress and racial equality in the United States has not been an “unbroken upward trajectory,” but rather a slippery slope along which small progress has been made.

Political nationalism, as outlined in chapter one of The Myth of Nations by Patrick Geary, has further strained relationships between groups of peoples by stressing their differences instead of their similarities. It has allowed for politicians to take advantage of historical grievances and use them as tools to create solidarity amongst people of a certain geographical area against a common enemy. As we have seen in North Korea, many of the devoted followers to the oppressive regime are united by their distrust of Americans after their role in the Korean War. Another example, though there are many throughout history, would be the Germans who were united under Hitler by their beliefs about Jews and the importance and superiority of the Aryan Race. Despite the hardships they may face underneath the rule of their often-authoritarian leaders, many will suffer through it for the perceived benefits of their people and their nation. Large numbers voted for Trump not necessarily because they liked him, but because they believed he would save their country and right past wrongs (in other words, “Make America Great Again”). The end justifies the means, even if people suffer along the way; the common humanity between groups has been dissolved during this pursuit of greatness.

It could be argued that Trump is a consequence of the Obama administration: just as white supremacists were fearful of not being at the top of the “hierarchal ladder” after the Civil War, white supremacists were currently terrified of losing their dominance after two consecutive terms of an (arguably successful and well-liked) black president. It seems that many alt-right view the Trump-era as a necessity in order to protect their beliefs and to restore “order”. Many cry that there has been an assault on their country through the establishment of programs like Obama-care and the acceptance of refugees from countries that are not predominantly white. Just as there were perceived injustices then, like the supposed rape of white women by freed slaves, there are perceived injustices now. Terrible inaccuracies such as an increase in crime after accepting Syrian refugees and claims that Mexicans and “illegals” are stealing jobs from Americans have allowed fear to grip a large section of the population. This, in my opinion, highly motivates the actions and beliefs of many of these alt-righters and has fostered animosity and hatred, while also allowing those who already had bigoted opinions to feel more lax and comfortable about expressing those opinions. In the United States we have seen the rise of groups such as the Three Percenters, who claim to have their roots in the American Revolution and similar groups in Europe. Yet, even in Canada we have seen our own rise in arguably alt-right groups, like the Sons of Odin – we cannot state that this is simply an American and European phenomenon.

At the root of the issue is the inclination to categorize based on the things that divide us, instead of the things that unite us. This must be addressed before we can see any permanent and substantial changes. The question is how do we go about changing something that is all most people have ever known?

Jay Countaway