Xenophobia in Europe

Published April 26, 2017

AS the results poured in late on Sunday evening, the future of France seemed dire. Marine Le Pen, the leader of France’s far-right National Front, would face off with newcomer centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron. The pundits on CNN have already called it an “earthquake” for European politics and for Europe in general.

Like the British far right, Le Pen favours ‘Frexit’, France’s withdrawal from the European Union. If this happens, then the EU will disintegrate as an entity and the European landscape will change forever. Macron is seen as a political outsider who does not have a party structure that would help propel him to victory. The run-off election is scheduled for May 7. Many predict Marine Le Pen will win.

The rise of populism in the West, starting with Brexit, solidified by Donald Trump and now seen in support for Marine Le Pen, has been much commented upon. The anti-globalists are angry. The British poor, who feel left out of their own country’s economy, see immigrants from the East European countries as the basis for their exclusion, just like laid-off factory workers in America blame illegal Mexicans for their plight. Now France, also angry at immigration, also unsure about how to create a truly cosmopolitan and yet equal society, has joined the fray.

The French have been particularly inept in creating the multicultural society that they, or at least the globalists among them, touted as a goal in the heady days when the EU was newly formed. France’s Muslim population is roughly five per cent and has long been sentenced to a marginalised existence in the country’s suburban and post-industrial towns. The French flair for fashion, the arts and architecture is not visible in those places — there are only decrepit concrete blocks making up depressing housing for depressed individuals.

What Jews suffered then, Muslims will suffer now. And as in the case of the Jewish population of Europe, few will come to help them.

Those who cling to religious practices such as wearing a headscarf are banned from state-run schools; if they do manage to get schooling, they are unable to get jobs. Unemployment among them is said to be nearly double what it is for the rest of the French population. They are a hapless lot, born French with very French problems and yet not French enough. The entire burden of France’s many problems, its stagnant economy, its struggle with terrorism, is laid at their doorstep.

While Marine Le Pen may be the hard-liner who has described the ‘Islamisation’ of France as one of the country’s biggest problems, her competitors have been no better. Emmanuel Macron has also declared that he would like to “help Muslims restructure the Islam of France”, suggesting that state-run reform is required.

While the trend among Western commentators is to bunch together the populist verdicts of large segments of the population in the United States, Britain, Turkey and France, there are differences between the EU’s turn towards the far right and the others. An important factor is that France and Britain are both social welfare states. This means that the ire of their particular voting publics is generated in large part by sharing citizenship benefits with those who, in their view, “do not share their Anglo-Saxon culture”.

It is an ironic statement. The largesse that first enabled the social welfare state, with the long lazy vacations the French love to enjoy and the free healthcare that the British are used to relying upon, was generated in no small part by the colonial enterprises of the past century. It is immigrants from those same colonies who are considered usurpers for claiming them as part of their more recent French and British citizenship.

This is not the only reason that makes European xenophobia distinctive. The last big war in Europe was, after all, generated by xenophobia. The years immediately following were years of contrition after the massacre of millions of Jews. Many of the remaining ones did not stay in Europe but made their way to the Middle East to found Israel.

Even while Europe created transnational organisations like the United Nations and wrote down the Geneva Conventions to prevent a repetition of what Hitler had done, little, it seems now, was accomplished. With the reality of dwindling birth rates and the frittering away of surpluses, scarcity has moved in and displaced the ideals of tolerance and equality. What Jews suffered then, Muslims will suffer now. And as in the case of the Jewish population of Europe, few will come to help them.

Countries such as Saudi Arabia that could plead the Muslim case before the West are uninterested in anything other the survival of their own monarchies, and the Gulf states are dealing with their own economic slowdown. The remaining Muslim-majority countries are busy squabbling among themselves over sectarian or similar issues. If a Western country wants to wipe out or marginalise its Muslim population, well, no one is going to stop it.

The Muslims of Pakistan, an Islamic republic, are no different. Even while they lynch bloggers, their rulers empty the coffers and their judges deliver pointless decisions, the population remains largely asleep. What France and Britain may be doing to Muslims now, Pakistan has done to its own minority populations for decades. The people who get annoyed and enraged at the denial of visas to these foreign countries rarely have a moment of outrage for the regularly hounded, accused and discriminated against populations of their own countries.

Now this sentiment of intolerance and exclusion that is the basis of Pakistani justice, or lack thereof, for seven decades, is the way of the world. Everyone, it seems, has devolved, sinking to the lowest depths, preparing quite possibly for another global conflict.

The writer is an attorney teaching constitutional law and political philosophy.


Published in Dawn, April 26th, 2017



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