Ishaan Tharoor writes: Some governments in Eastern Europe have even specifically indicated they don’t want to accommodate non-Christian refugees, out of supposed fear over the ability of Muslims to integrate into Western society.
“Refugees are fleeing fear,” urged a spokesman for the U.N. refugee agency last week. “Refugees are not to be feared.”
It’s important to recognize that this is hardly the first time the West has warily eyed masses of refugees. And while some characterize Muslim arrivals as a supposedly unique threat, the xenophobia of the present carries direct echoes of a very different moment: The years before World War II, when tens of thousands of German Jews were compelled to flee Nazi Germany.
Consider this 1938 article in the Daily Mail, a British tabloid still known for its bouts of right-wing populism. Its headline warned of “German Jews Pouring Into This Country.” And it began as follows:
“The way stateless Jews and Germans are pouring in from every port of this country is becoming an outrage. I intend to enforce the law to the fullest.”
In these words, Mr Herbert Metcalde, the Old Street Magistrate yesterday referred to the number of aliens entering this country through the ‘back door’ — a problem to which The Daily Mail has repeatedly pointed.
The number of aliens entering this country can be seen by the number of prosecutions in recent months. It is very difficult for the alien to escape the increasing vigilance of the police and port authorities.
Even if aliens manage to break through the defences, it is not long before they are caught and deported.
No matter the alarming rhetoric of Hitler’s fascist state — and the growing acts of violence against Jews and others — popular sentiment in Western Europe and the United States was largely indifferent to the plight of German Jews.
“Of all the groups in the 20th century,” write the authors of the 1999 book, “Refugees in the Age of Genocide,” “refugees from Nazism are now widely and popularly perceived as ‘genuine’, but at the time German, Austrian and Czechoslovakian Jews were treated with ambivalence and outright hostility as well as sympathy.”
Part of that hostility was fueled, as some of the European grievances are now, by stereotypes of the refugees as harbingers of a dangerous ideology, in this instance communism and anarchist violence. [Continue reading…]