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.

Olympics and Nationalism: Is North Korea another example? Op-ed

Recent headlines for the Olympic games have North Korea as their subject. What will happen to the Athletes that have failed to win medals is in question. It seems that in the past, North Korea has sent athletes who represented their country and failed to win medals to what has been termed “gulag” like places. There the athletes are to be to be punished for their poor performance and thus a poor representation of North Korea at the Games. Along with a large number of cheerleaders that accompanied the athletes to the Games, there is something to be said for how important it is for authoritarian regimes to project a certain appearance of unity and nationalism which is what will be seen here.

 

It appears that participating in the Olympic Games is certainly a way to create nationalism as many countries experience the excitement behind cheering for one’s own country while their representatives compete. Social media battles ensue and everyone is talking about their country and how well they are doing or how well they should have done. However, The Olympics have had a historical connection to being propaganda for countries with authoritarian regimes as was seen in 1930’s Germany as well as in the 2008 games held in China (although technically a communist regime has many similarities to a fascist regime) and now with North Korea as examples.

 

For many countries, this is a fun and exciting time but when a fascist regime looks at something like the Olympics there is a much more serious tone put over the event. Nationalism can be seen through fascist history has an important component to keeping the support of the people and creating a feeling of unity. Many efforts can be seen in Nazi Germany, for example, to keep the people unified and promote nationalism.The 1936 Olympics is just one of the many ways this was done. Nationalism was promoted in Nazi Germany sports as they were seen to create unity among the youth. Another way the Olympics were used at that time was, as these games were the first ever to be televised, to show German ideals to the world and certainly how great Germany was including a stadium that was built with 100 000 seats to top the last Olympic games that were held in another country. North Korea, on the other hand, may not have been successful at winning metals but it did certainly show signs of its attempt to display unity and nationalism with its large number of cheerleaders.

 

The Olympics in China, (although not exactly a fascist regime it shares many similaterites to one) had some very negative headlines as well when it hosted the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing. There have been many controversies over whether it had open media as it had pledged and not to mention the many human rights violations that have been reported as a result of the games. The cost of the games is high, along with controversies that usually ensue but for a resume like China, it can be understood there is an importance of the nation wanting to portray itself as powerful and unified for its own citizens and the world to maintain control of the country. As a result, bringing home no metals to North Korea in this years Olympics can be devastating to the image of power North Korea has been trying to build certainly in the last few months with the missile controversy between it and the US.

 

In short, the Olympics have proven throughout history up until today to be a platform for countries to not only strengthen nationalism within their borders but to display strength to other countries. This does not manifest itself more strongly than in those countries that have authoritarian regimes such as in 1930’s Germany, China or currently in the competing North Korea. For most people, the Olympics are a fun way to have national pride and competition with neighboring countries, albeit at times with some issues over things like doping and corruption, but the thought of the use of the Olympics as propaganda is usually far from the minds of people just having fun.

First Response: Role of gender in populism today

This week’s reading addressed the ways in which race, gender and the identities of people were defined and utilized by authoritarian regimes and democratic societies to further a nationalistic agenda. All three of them share the notion that within each specific context, gender identities became tools to “advance” or improve the well-being of the state overall.

Can we observe the same kind of ideas if we were to assess gender roles and race today? What about in modern populism? This is something worth discussing in the present.

A concurrent theme from the readings was the concept of national value in regard to how one self-identified or was identified. Be it:

  • The feminized or masculine homosexual in early 20th century Germany (Claudia Bruns)
  • The linear success, male-dominated and non-individualistic discourse around people in postwar Japan (Rio Otomo)
  • The warlike, hardworking and socially committed “New Man” of interwar Romania (Valentin Săndulescu)

These ideas made me begin to think about what a democratic society such as ours today perhaps hold similar to these examples. The Bruns reading shows how in German life today, female or gay descriptions are still sometimes used in a derogatory manner and that the German LGBT(QI) community may exhibit racist discourses towards Muslim immigrants.

But can we think of other ways in which gender identities today continue to shape our collective thought processes? Terms like, “be a man,” or “act like a lady” come to mind. Could it be that we still subconsciously use the gender roles that are ascribed today to further our own conception of national value?

 

Op-Ed: “Greek and Polish nationalism is playing with fire”

Golden-Dawn-Zealots-AP-620x413

Places like Greece and Poland are on a slippery slope. By ignoring or not feeling concerned with these issues going on in the world, we turn a blind eye to history and what this has led to before.

Earlier this month in Athens, far-right demonstrators marched and shouted with torches, holding flags of the Golden Dawn – Greece’s right wing nationalist party. They were protesting the Greek government and its negotiations with the Republic of Macedonia, as they and many Greeks believe the name “Macedonia” should only belong in Greece.

By the end of it thousands of anti-fascists and police were present, an anarchist squat was burned down and a Holocaust monument vandalized.

You might ask yourself, why should I care? Perhaps you feel the nationalist rhetoric being thrown around more and more frequently and confidently in places like Greece or Poland is far away and unimportant.

You should be worried, and here’s why. History shows us that fascism (and far-right populism) takes hold by normalizing its behavior using national and political myths to replace history. This comes from Federico Finchelstein’s book, “From Fascism to Populism in History.”

I was told once by an old mentor that it is not history that repeats itself, but the patterns of history. It’s not Germany or Italy this time, and that should not reassure us.

The “Polish death camps” law

The new law that was declared just last month in Poland punishes anyone who argues that there was Polish collaboration with the Nazi’s in WWII. At first, this does not appear problematic. Poland’s suffering during the years of Nazi occupation was enormous and remains impossible to reconcile.

The reason this law is alarming has to do with what it means for Polish nationalism and its thriving far-right movement.

Poland is currently dealing with a surge of ethnocentric nationalism that is on the rise. This is most easily recognized with the anti-immigration protest that occurred in Warsaw last November. 60,000 people attended, many espousing racist views. The mayor, a member of the ruling nationalistic Law and Justice Party (PiS) even paid for some of the activists travel.

The law represents an attempt to cleanse a nationalistic heritage and take the moral high ground moving forward. In spite of this, historians warn of the dangers of simplifying history. Events such as the murdering of Jews by the villagers of Jedwabne in 1941 or the expulsion of thousands more during the 1968 “anti-Zionist campaign” are at risk of being ignored.

Finchelstein’s book makes this danger clear, that fascism and modern populism will bend history and normalize nationalistic ideas in order to eventually overthrow the democratic system. Timothy Snyder’s book (On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century) similarly shows that fascism constructs creative myths over history in order to further agendas.

For far-right nationalists in Poland, this law may very well serve as a lightning rod to endorse and promote Polish nationalism to a higher degree.

Greece’s “Macedonia” issue

A similar situation is unfolding here. The Golden Dawn party currently holds 16 seats in the Hellenic parliament. The far-right protestors at the demonstration rallied against the leftist government and used a nationalistic agenda to advocate the historical Greek claim to the name “Macedonia.”

Greek nationalism runs deep on this issue and has been a problem for decades. The far-right nature of this demonstration reveals how Greek nationalists are utilising historic grievances and normalizing aggression to get their views across with success.

Maybe that’s why so many of us don’t seem to bat an eye at issues like these.

The patterns of history repeat themselves

What all of this means is that we are not safe from fascism in the 21st century.

Finchelstein’s book clearly states that modern populism is in many ways a direct reincarnation of traditional fascism, only this time working more closely with democratic institutions.

What’s going on in Greece or Poland may be far away, but that doesn’t mean the possible repercussions will be distant either. Populist movements at home are taking notes.

If southern and eastern European nationalism is playing with fire, who’s to say we won’t be susceptible either?

Works Cited

Davies, Christian. “Poland’s Jews Fear for future Under New Holocaust Law.” The Guardian, February 10, 2018. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/feb/10/polands-jews-fear-future-under-new-holocaust-law-nazi-atrocities.

Eglash, Ruth and Avi Selk. “Israel and Poland Try to Tamp Down Tensions after Poland’s ‘Death Camp’ Law Sparks Israeli Outrage.” The Washington Post, January 28, 2018. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2018/01/27/it-could-soon-be-a-crime-to-blame-poland-for-nazi-atrocities-and-israel-is-appalled/?utm_term=.18fe02d470e5.

Finchelstein, Federico. From Fascism to Populism in History. Oakland, California: University of California Press, 2017.

Kelly, Lidia and Justyna Pawlak. “Poland’s Far Right: Opportunity and Threat for Ruling PiS.” Reuters, January 3, 2018. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-poland-politics-farright/polands-far-right-opportunity-and-threat-for-ruling-pis-idUSKBN1ES0BK.

Noack, Rick. “How Poland Became a Breeding Ground for Europe’s Far Right.” The Washington Post, November 14, 2017. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2017/11/13/how-poland-became-a-breeding-ground-for-europes-far-right/?utm_term=.a57f74c3bb12.

Snyder, Timothy. On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century. New York: Tim Duggan Books, 2017.

Strickland, Patrick. “Tens of Thousands of Greeks Protest Macedonia’s Name.” Al Jazeera, February 5, 2018. http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2018/02/tens-thousands-greeks-protest-macedonia-180204141039260.html.

Strickland, Patrick. “Tensions High in Athens Ahead of Nationalist Rally.” Al Jazeera, February 3, 2018. http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2018/02/tensions-high-athens-nationalist-rally-180203221505840.html.