This week’s lecture and readings were all about multiculturalism in Europe, and how we tend to fall into certain narratives because of our own biases. This may be why it is so difficult for us to recognize a multi-cultural and multi-denominational Europe and why we tend to overlook the long historical past Europe has had with Islam.
The readings discussed the many different responses to multiculturalism. In the Wekkers’ article we see the rise in criticism of the Black Pete figure which leads us to believe that people are more open minded. Yet the anti-immigrant sentiment from right-wing parties in the Beauchamp article may lead some to think otherwise. In class we discussed the Bershidsky article which gave an interesting take on the high rates of sexual violence among asylum seekers in Germany. The readings and lecture asked us to consider looking at Europe as something influenced by many cultures in a multipolar world. One example is how Islam has had a long historical presence in Europe that we often to not discuss. One reason for this could be that it was often believed that European modernity was mature, yet Islam more backward thinking.
This bring us to a point that our class discussed in detail. The relationship between secular and sacred. The idea that a modern society may be separate from a public life.
While we may believe that religion does not have to play a role in everyday life, we can see religion in many aspects. From political norms, to holidays and school systems, there is no doubt that our society incorporates religion into the public sphere, especially when it comes to Christianity. So why are we so uncomfortable with outward displays of religion? What is it about religious signs that makes us so uncomfortable? Is it the a sign of a religion, or perhaps a sign of the “wrong” religion? Is Europe becoming more multicultural?
During the discussion, our group mostly focused on Europe’s current “refugee crisis.” I put it in quotation marks because our team could not agree on the correct definition of the problem. I and others believed that a large part of the influx of people coming into Europe are trying to escape Isis or other deadly situations in Africa. Others believed that the majority of these people are leaving by choice not because they fear for their life.
This became important when discussing the multicultural nature of the problem. We agreed that an immigrant has a particular responsibility to integrate into his new country. Therefore, the nations can stay similar and evolve by immigrants partly integrate and adding to its culture and beliefs.
However, this integration responsibility is not inherently present for refugees due to their inability to choose which country they wish to go. Unlike immigrants, they do not have the opportunity to stay. Therefore more relaxed rules of integration should apply.
Thus, when discussing Europe’s multicultural problem, we must discuss whether the individuals and families coming in have the responsibility to integrate and if so how much do they need to integrate.
However, we must first agree whether immigrants are coming here by choice or being forced to come here. Furthermore, we need to decide how generous we grant people refugee status. We were not able to get into all of this during our discussion. But I believe we should air on the generous side. Hopefully, Europe will be able to diagnose its problem so that it can solve it.
The theme for this week was the idea of a multicultural Europe. Given anti-immigration sentiment that has been on the rise in Europe, this idea of a “proper European identity” has emerged, as if there were never integration from other countries. As our readings this week demonstrated, specifically with the influence of Islam in Europe, this simply is not true.
After an examination of the readings and the first responses, the main issues that were prominent in our discussion was the role of ethnicity and religion. While they can both be categorized under ‘identity’, they both present different challenges, as one does not necessarily link to the other.
Furthermore, one of the readings discussed anti-immigration sentiment in Europe as a result of a combination of the weak traditional elite, the refugee crisis, and recent terror attacks. In my opinion, this critiqued the structure of that the European Union, which was my leading question. The group responded with recognizing the importance of the EU structure in creating unity within countries, and emphasized how context [i.e. Euro Crisis] plays a role in larger events like the refugee crisis. This also developed into a conversation about the cultural schism in Europe between Western and Eastern Europe, given how Eastern Europe is more aligned with the Middle East given influences with Russia and immigration statistics.
In our in class discussion, one aspect of the readings we brought up centered specifically around the idea that Gloria Wekker put forward in her discussion on Black Pete. In her piece, Wekker discussed how the tone of response to criticism of Black Pete had shifted since 1998. She identified 10 themes of both set of responses and in 1998, people were dismissive but not nearly as aggressive as they are now.
In class we discussed why this might be the case and what about this issue had changed to make this more aggressive. One idea we came up with is that with the rise of social media and the recent rise of populism in the west, political discourse was becoming much more focused on personal attacks rather than disputing other people’s ideas. We can see this in the responses Wekker describes. In response to the criticism of Black Pete, the artists who spoke out against it were often mocked for being women and ‘leftists’ these attacks on a person’s personal character rather than their arguments have become increasingly common in our political climate.
Throughout the course we have discussed the implications of populism on a population and a countries approach to political critique. All of the countries and regimes we have discussed responded harshly to any deviation from their own ideas and we can see similarities to this in the response to criticisms of Black Pete. Regardless of whether or not Black Pete is racist seems to be irrelevant to these people as they feel more that their traditions are being attacked directly.
The question of borders and freedom of movement is forever facing increasing pressure especially in the midst of the refugee crisis. Europe has some of the most secure borders are are constantly re-evaluating their immigration policies. In his article Zack Beauchamp consults an expert to discuss the anti-immigrant sentiments which are appearing among radical right parties. While anti-immigrant opinions appear in front-page news, this may not necessarily reflect the actual stance of individuals and parties, and government policies should be more closely examined to see how the issue is really treated.
Cas Mudde, an American expert on European politics stated that there are a few characteristics which seem to reoccur within radical right parties in Europe. I personally find the left-right spectrum ambivalent and troublesome, as every individual and party has slightly different views and even within one party you could have members on the ‘far right’ on some issues while on the ‘left’ for other issues. However Mudde claims that nativism, authoritarianism and populism are reoccurring characteristics for European parties of the radical right. Mudde describes nativism as a xenophobic form of nationalism, a belief that a state should be inhabited by members of one nation. In the contemporary globalized world is it nearly impossible to find an example of a nations consisting of only people who were born within the state. Furthermore as discussed in class, Immigration helps grow the economy and could be critical to help a declining population as seen in many European countries.
Authoritarianism believes that society should be strictly ordered with severe punishments for criminals. According to Mudde Authoritarianism perceives every issue first and foremost as a security issue, which can range from controlling the drug trade, to immigration policies.
Modern communications and social media have created a platform where actions of people and parties are easily publicized and criticized. This hopefully means that negative radical ideas can be condemned, and positive ones reinforced. It is up to the citizens of each nation to create and defend their own laws and policies, and social media can help bring issues within society to public attention. Every individual has a different opinion on immigration. We cannot force others to change their minds because we believe we know what is right. We can only show them through success of our own practices. It is difficult for a Canadian to criticize European immigration policies, as Canada has very high barriers to entry, and lets in a fraction of immigrants Europe does, despite having similar geographic area. What we can do however especially public media is draw attention to hateful ideologies such as xenophobia which turn fellow humans into the Other and can cause serious harm and suffering.
There are a lot of ways the migrant population has affected Europe. Especially since the recent refugee crisis, the EU has seen some tension resulting in the distribution of migrants. Values are one of the issues that are seen to be facing the Europeans that encounter the refugees, ie. can they be integrated into a culture that is secular when they are from a country that does not have that system? It was viewed by some in the group that if a person chooses to go to a country then they must adopt the values that are held there and this was agreed to work for migrant workers, such as is often an issue in the EU due to freedom of movement. However, refugees do not get the luxury to choose where they want to go. Being forced from their homeland, which they may very well want to remain in, refugees are fleeing death so accepting the values of another country is a point that is not as easy to think about.
As many Europeans are opting to not take refugees regardless of what the EU expresses there is the increasing feeling that Europeans are looking to protect their countries from some outside influences that are seen as negative. It is possible that if countries such as Germany had a clear strategy and openness with the public in dealing with refugees people may feel like their culture is less attacked. With openness and clarity, citizens would have the ability to understand what the future will look like with refugees in it.
This week’s discussion was a particularly interesting one because it reflected hugely on the intersection of politics, race, religion, and nationality. Historically, Europe was not as homogeneous as popular narratives would have us believe. While predominantly white and Christian, there was also significant cohabitation and intermingling with other peoples, including Muslims. As Zach Beauchamp describes in this article, far right movements have equated Islam with backwards, oppressive ideas and actions, making it the universal enemy to democracy and liberalism. By doing so, they are able to continue to paint themselves are liberal, open-minded countries that promote progressive values while still being incredibly exclusive of and discriminatory towards other faiths and ethnicities.
This notion of European moral superiority is not a new one, and dates back long before their colonial efforts. Whether through religion or state, Europe has a longstanding habit of painting itself as the best, the most moral, the most progressive. In the case of immigrants and refugees, they attempt, and often succeed, at painting a picture of an incredibly moral, modern nation that must close its doors in order to maintain its own values.
This is an example of European nations ignoring their own racism. European countries don’t want immigrants, but instead of coming out and saying it, they hide behind excuses and placations. This notion of mass ignorance is seen in Gloria Wekker’s White Innocence: Paradoxes of Colonialism and Race. The Dutch people self-describe as an inherently anti-racist people with no negative intentions, despite a long colonial past and a present fixation on the character of Black Pete. Black Pete is not a case of white innocence, it is a case of white ignorance.
The topics of discussion that would have been explored this class are: the continuation of the theme of in-groups and out-groups in terms of refugees. One response in particular was calling for a sense of balance in this debate: between safety and inclusion of refugees. In a way, this is adhering to the idea in global politics that sovereignty and borders do have meaning. An out-group, refugees, are assigned a separate value in the nation than the people born inside the borders. The second topic of discussion would be religious diversity inside a nation and the tolerance principle. The last was a personal anecdote with my own grandmother coming to Canada as a refugee and a comparison to the last major wave of displaced people after the Second World War.
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.
The article “An expert on the European far right explains the growing influence of anti-immigrant politics” is a transcript from an interview with Cas Mudde an expert on the far right. Cas describes the recent far right parties to be nativists, authoritarian and populist. He uses the example of a Dutch migrant to France as being acceptable because they have a more European culture. The far right parties are not to be confused with fascists. He outlines the perfect storm, the refugee crisis, the terrorist attacks and the European crisis go together to fuel these movements.
The question the comes from reading this interview is can these parties be stopped. Looking at the recent Italian election populism is roaring forward with the Five Star Movement party winning over 30% of the vote. The parties will be in an issue until the public that votes for them becomes distrustful of them.
The article “Decentering Europe, Recentering Islam” looks at the changing dynamics in Europe through an increased presence of Islam in the region. It uses Turkey as an example of how Europeans view Muslims as others. Discussions on Turkey joining the EU have spurred the debate on Islam and its effect on Europe, and how allowing Turkey to join the EU would cause Muslims to flood into Europe. Western society views Turkey as a moderately Islamic country which makes the assumption that there is a violent Islam. Allowing Turkey to join the EU would mean that Europeans would have to rethink their identity which is built around the idea that they are a modern society. States outside the west and Europe are considered to be lacking in their modernity.
These two articles are linked in that they look at how European identity is being threatened. The far right parties from the first article would be opposed to Turkey joining the EU because it disrupts their idea of a homogenous Europe. It seems that these parties are fighting an uphill battle as Muslims are becoming more integrated into Europe even without Turkey’s EU membership. Will far right parties ever accept the Muslim communities in Europe? How are minds to be changed about Islam in Europe?