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Cannonball Read 09/10 IV

Discussion in 'BoM Blogs' started by Fabius Maximus, Dec 2, 2009.

  1. Fabius Maximus Gems: 19/31
    Latest gem: Aquamarine

    Feb 18, 2003
    Likes Received:
    Book 4: A Suitable Enemy. Racism, Migration and Islamophobia in Europe. By Liz Fekete

    In recent years, literature about immigration and integration of immigrants, especially of Muslims, has swamped the book market in Europe. Obviously, the terror attacks in New York, London, and Madrid have something to do with this phenomenon. Of course, due to the sheer numbers of said publications, it is quite difficult to filter out those few that aren't populist, fear-mongering crap. Fekete's book isn't one of those pamphlets, but suffers from a number of other problems.

    Liz Fekete works for the UK-based Institute of Race Relations (IRR). It sees itself as independent and focuses on studying contemporary racism in the UK and Europe. Fekete acts as deputy director, and editor of the institute's quarterly magazine, the European Race Bulletin.

    I stumbled over the book through a positive review in my daily newspaper and subsequently bought it, since I myself am a specialist on (im)migration and integration issues.

    It is obvious from the start that Fekete is somewhat left-leaning in her premise. The gist of her work can be summarized by her own words:

    Fekete starts of with a description of how racism changed over the last 60 decades. It's modern forms are not only based on race anymore, but defined by a sense of other-ness. Natives reject immigrants especially if they are culturally different, follow a different religion, etc. Financial status is also a factor. Destitute and illegal immigrants are seen as parasites and harmful to the own country, while those with money or a way to support themselves are receive a bit more warmly, as long as they don't show that they come from another culture. Fekete calls this new form of racism 'xeno-racism', because it is directed against everything that's strange to the native population. Strangers (or aliens, as they are called, too) face no enmity if they assimilate, i.e. give up their own culture. In Fekete's eyes, this has nothing to do with integration. The reasons for this behaviour are fear. Fear for one's job, fear for the future of one's children, fear for one's life, etc. These fears are often very diffuse, but the get constantly reinforced.

    Fekete goes on to show that media and politicians are responsible for dissemination and amplification of these fears. Starting with the growth of right-wing populist political movements in the last 20 years in Europe who built their success on conjuring a spectre of myriads of strangers wanting to come to the western world to leech on it's wealth, 'taking our women and taking our jobs' (as Bloc Party so sarcastically put it). The media – especially the yellow(ish) press – took up these allegations to ostensibly check them. Out came dozens if not hundreds of biased articles, reports and films that sold very well, but also reinforced the prejudices in the majority of the population. It was not long before established politicians also started to share these concerns, either because they believed them themselves, or because they saw them as an easy way to gain votes. Fekete describes the whole affair as an giant vicious circle that culminated in discriminatory politics to keep out and deport immigrants and asylum seekers.

    Here follows the book's strongest part. Fekete describes the European Union's industrialized deportation system to a great detail. Here, failed asylum seekers and illegal immigrants are detained in camps, quick-processed and often sedated and immobilized when they are deported. It's low-profile system that does not follow human rights standards. Living conditions for detainees are poor, they get no real trials (or none at all) and even are deported to countries where they may be tortured or killed, despite what international law says about dealing with refugees.

    After 9/11. the situation became especially difficult for Muslims. Their collective profile became higher, and they were collectively seen as a threat to the native population, despite the fact that many of them lived in European countries for decades and even were naturalized. The medial and political public saw them as a monolithic bloc, which they of course are not. Suddenly, every Muslim was a potential terrorist to many people. Now, pure allegations on passive contact to an islamistic group or circumstantial evidence is enough for a Muslim to get deported without a trial. Fekete makes it clear that it is totally acceptable to deport people when there is concrete evidence that they are a danger. But the Rule of Law must be followed.

    All these factors reinfoce each other, so that Islamophobia is on the rise. The Swiss decision to ban minarets on mosques is the most recent event of discrimination against a minority that is completey disproportional, considering the ratio of Muslims to non-muslims in Switzerland and Europe as a whole.

    As I wrote above, A Suitable Enemy has a few problems. In the first three chapters, Liz Fekete makes the mistake to present facts without coming up with a source. That is decidedly unscientific and only serves to hurt her work. I don't know the reason for this. Wether it's sloppiness on her part or bad editing does not matter. It shouldn't happen in science. The second problem is Fekete's tendency to mix her political point-of-view with the presentation of her facts. It does not happen often, but when it happens, it's glaring. At one point, she resents the black-listing of mujaheddin who fought in the Yugoslavian civil war on the Bosnian side, in Chechnya, or in Afghanistan against the Soviet invasion. These people are known to have used violence in a religious context. They certainly are not the choirboys Fekete seemingly thinks they are.

    Fortunately, these occurrences are rare. The rest of the book is pretty good. You can ignore Fekete's political opinions quite easily. Her descriptions in latter parts are detailed, forceful and coherent. She manages to channel her fury about the injustices of European immigration practices and political sentiments among it's peoples into an eloquent essay for treating all people the same, regardless of religion and origin.
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