First Responder – Eastern Europe

In a couple of this week’s readings I found that there was an interesting connection in theme between a couple of the assigned pieces. Looking at G.M. Támas’ article as well as the speech from Viktor Orbán there is a somewhat shared idea that liberalism, as we understand it, is on the way out. Now, both these pieces address this in very different ways, but the fact that it is present in both readings is interesting.

Much of Támas’s piece looks at how the term populism is applied to broadly, and that many people who are labelled this are just repeating old patterns of life. I found it especially interesting that he questioned whether or not Donald Trump was a populist. In the final paragraphs of his article, he notes that the political left are disappearing and that this is in part due to the fact that the practice living up to their own standards and ideals has been corrupted.

The speech given by Orbán is much less academically critical in its description of liberal politics, but rather states that being liberal and economically prosperous and content are incompatible things. At one point he states that liberalism can only be put into practice in the realm of ideas.

Both these pieces are interesting because they highlight the feelings about liberalism in Eastern Europe. Orbán’s speech does not seem out of place, seems relevant when considering more recent issues such as debates about free-speech in Poland. These readings raise interesting questions about the function of liberalism, and whether it is truly suffering in the way that these authors say it is, or whether these opinions are based on the history of their own political climates. I was interested to see how different these perspectives are from those we commonly see when discussing Western Europe and North America.

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.

Cultural Tensions in Europe: Sweeper

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.

First Responder: Multicultural Europe?

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?

First Responder: Multicultural Europe?

This weeks readings provide an interesting picture of Europe as a place that has an undercurrent of xenophobia and racism. Zack Beauchamp discusses the anti-immigrant policies of Europe’s far-right groups. Gloria Wekker addresses the pervasiveness of the image of Zwarte Piet (Black Pete) in Dutch Culture. Nilüfer Göle examines how the presence of Islam in Europe destabilizes its postcolonial identity. These readings bring into question whether or not Europe can be as multicultural as it may seem, because it cannot handle the challenging of norms.

Göle’s discussion of European hegemony makes the actions regarding the issues addressed in the articles make more sense because it highlights a sort of inherent desire to hold on to that power. For instance, in the case of the Dutch and Black Pete, those in favour of the figure often argue that it is an important part of their culture, but fail to recognize that this attitude is unintentionally racist because it seeks to continue caricaturizing non-white people. There seems to be no understanding of the postcolonial power dynamic in these assertions.

In Beauchamp’s article, there is the explanation that anti-immigrant sentiment and far right parties began to rise as a result of increased immigration and multiculturalism. To me, this signals a desire of these groups to hold on to the past and an imagined way of life where nations are full of only the “right” kind of people. These views are inherently problematic, as we have seen, because they lead to violence and oppression against minorities. Europe is home to many liberal democracies, so it is important to recognize these issues in order to prevent this type of democracy, that is supposed to protect all citizens, from being undermined.