Trying to Read Into the Crises of Refugees and Immigration

Thursday, 21 June, 2018 - 07:45 Issue Number [14450]

Gradually, taboos have disappeared.

For the first time since the defeat of Hitler’s Nazis and Mussolini’s Fascists, it is no longer ‘shameful’ to use racist arguments in self-proclaimed ‘civilized’ societies. No ‘shame’ in classifying people according to color, religion, race, gender and wealth.

It is true that after the end of WWII, the USA went through the era of ‘McCarthyism’ as a reaction against the ascendence of the victorious Soviet Communism in eastern Europe, the ‘Yellow Giant’ created by Mao Zedong in China and its reverberations in Indochina after Dien Bien Phu as well as the Korean war. But, it is also true that soon afterward the Civil Rights Movement emerged in the USA, and ‘wise’ European leaders strived to give Europe - as a bloc - a political clout that transcended pure economic interests in order to stop being a ‘theatre of confrontation’ between Moscow and Washington.

No doubt, too, that Western ‘alliances’ - led by NATO - went beyond the classic European ‘nation-state’ model, bolstering the ongoing economic cooperation that developed the European Steel and Coal Community (1951) and European Economic Community (1957) into the European Union. However, the political boundaries were not drawn precisely along ethnic lines, thus, they contained several minorities, while other minorities were scattered over more than one independent entity.

This was the case in Western Europe; while in eastern Europe, the Soviet Union (USSR) attempted a pioneering experiment that was designed to recognize the racial, linguistic, and religious specificities of its minorities. The country was horizontally subdivided into 15 ‘Soviet Republics’, below which there were ‘Autonomous Republics’ followed in lower level ‘Ethnic Departments’ known as ‘Oblasts’ or ‘Krais’. However, this idealist principle did not always work out. Furthermore, historical relations between the peoples scattered over the vast lands of the country under the Tsarist rule were rarely peaceful; indeed, the Russians were always the dominant group throughout most of the ‘internationalist’ and ‘inter-communal’ Soviet entities. Hence, ‘demographic engineering’ became one of the main causes of the USSR’s fragility, and later of ethnic friction within its ‘Soviet Republics’.

As for the USA, which has always been a ‘nation of immigrants’ with a federal structure rather than a classic example of a ‘nation-state’, a feature of which has been the ease of internal movement across the states with no linguistic or ethnic hurdles or sensitivities. However, Donald Trump’s USA under the rule of the ultra-conservative Right seems worried about the future, given the rapid population growth of the Hispanics that has reached around 58 million. They are now the country’s second fastest growing ethnicity after the Asians, compared to the slow growth of the ‘white European’ majority. During the Trump election campaign, as well as those of other extreme Right candidates, there were many claiming that “America was at a watershed” and that the 2016 elections were “its last chance to save itself from the unknown”.

Since the end of WWII, the USA witnessed three major changes that affected its economy and demography:

The first has been the fast technological change and the massive move from classic industries to advanced hi-tech ones requiring less employment.

The second has been the population change and distribution, whereby the population center has moved steadily from the northeast towards the southwest. ‘Anglo-Saxon/Germanic’ states of the northeast, such as New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Ohio and Illinois were the major states. Today, however, the most populous, fastest growing and richest are the three major ‘Latino/Hispanic’ states of California (west), Texas (southwest) and Florida (south).

The third is the huge effect of ‘globalization’ that has brought down America’s economic ‘defences’. One simple example is the automobile industry. During the early 1950s, the USA had no less than 10 automakers producing around 30 marques, and American-made automobiles almost monopolized the national market. The situation is quite different now; as there are only 3 automakers producing only 10 marques. After the first ‘foreign’ breakthrough by the German makers led by Volkswagen in the 1950s, the Japanese penetrated the market in the 1960s, followed by the South Koreans in the late 1970s; and it may not be long before we see the globally-advancing Chinese forcing their way in.

Thus, as the winds of ‘globalization’ blow hard, immigration – not excluding refugees – increases Europeans’ and Americans’ worries and fears, and shake what were, until recently, fixed givens, including the concept of a ‘nation’ and the distinction between ‘Right and Left’.

In Europe, the concept of the ‘nation-state’ is under threat as secessionist movements are becoming stronger in many countries among which are Spain and the UK. Isolationists and ‘Populists’ in Italy, in the meantime, have made a qualitative shift as the ‘Lega’ (former Lega Nord) ‘moderated’ its secessionist position in order to broaden the appeal of its new pan - Italian xenophobic anti-immigration strategy; while, the racist Right in Germany, Denmark, Austria and Hungary is unequivocally living by its slogans.

As regards the distinction between ‘Right and Left’, it is a fact that many supporters of the extreme Right ‘National Front’ in France came during the last few decades from the traditionally Left-voting, blue-collar worker constituency and former radical Leftist groups. Many of the Labour ‘Leftists’ in the UK voted in favor of leaving the EU (Brexit) because they feared the influx of East European workers. In Italy, even Matteo Salvini, the new deputy Prime Minister (and de facto leader) and the staunchly anti-immigrant ‘Lega’ leader, is an ex-Communist!

In the USA, one notices a similar trend. Traditionally pro-Democrat blue-collar workers began supporting the Right when they voted for Ronald Reagan in the 1980 presidential elections, deserving the sobriquet ‘Reagan Democrats’. In November 2016, Donald Trump won after carrying Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin; three northern states with strong blue-collar unemployment, and attracted to his protectionist anti-foreign business slogans. Incidentally, it is worth recalling that Trump’s campaign speeches - especially his protectionist agenda – were closer to those of the traditional European Left than to the policies of the monetarist laissez-faire Right.

We are, thus, at a historic intellectual and existential crossroads, in terms of defining the binary of ‘us’ and ‘them’. Unfortunately, we are living its worrying consequences in our Arab World.