Merkel’s party slumps in Berlin election, but don’t count her out for 2017

By Daniel Hough, University of Sussex

Angela Merkel’s CDU is having a tough time of late. The latest blow came via the Berlin state parliament election, where the party managed to cling on to second place but was dumped out of the city’s government.

This was the CDU’s worst ever performance in an election in the German capital. It took a meagre 18% of the vote (down from 23.3% in 2011).

The Social Democrats (SPD) also lost votes (down from 28.3% to around 22%), as did the Greens (from just over 17% to around 15.5%). The one consolation for the SPD and Greens is that they are likely to be key players in the next Berlin government – even if as part of a rather broad and unwieldy left-wing coalition alongside the Left Party.

The main winners, as had been widely predicted, were the populist Alternative for Germany (AfD). The AfD was nowhere in sight in 2011, but took around 13% of the vote this time round. A heavily anti-immigration (and particularly anti-refugee) rhetoric has chimed with parts of the electorate beyond Berlin, and the party now sits in 10 of Germany’s 16 regional parliaments. It is almost certain to add Saarland, Schleswig-Holstein, Northrhine-Westphalia and the federal parliament to this list in 2017.

[Read more…]


I’ve become a racist’: Migrant wave unleashes Danish tensions over identity

The New York Times reports: Johnny Christensen, a stout and silver-whiskered retired bank employee, always thought of himself as sympathetic to people fleeing war and welcoming to immigrants. But after more than 36,000 mostly Muslim asylum seekers poured into Denmark over the past two years, Mr. Christensen, 65, said, “I’ve become a racist.”

He believes these new migrants are draining Denmark’s cherished social-welfare system but failing to adapt to its customs. “Just kick them out,” he said, unleashing a mighty kick at an imaginary target on a suburban sidewalk. “These Muslims want to keep their own culture, but we have our own rules here and everyone must follow them.”

Denmark, a small and orderly nation with a progressive self-image, is built on a social covenant: In return for some of the world’s highest wages and benefits, people are expected to work hard and pay into the system. Newcomers must quickly learn Danish — and adapt to norms like keeping tidy gardens and riding bicycles.

The country had little experience with immigrants until 1967, when the first “guest workers” were invited from Turkey, Pakistan and what was then Yugoslavia. Its 5.7 million people remain overwhelmingly native born, though the percentage has dropped to 88 today from 97 in 1980.

Bo Lidegaard, a prominent historian, said many Danes feel strongly that “we are a multiethnic society today, and we have to realize it — but we are not and should never become a multicultural society.”

The recent influx pales next to the one million migrants absorbed into Germany or the 163,000 into Sweden last year, but the pace shocked this stable, homogeneous country. The center-right government has backed harsh measures targeting migrants, hate speech has spiked, and the anti-immigrant Danish People’s Party is now the second largest in Parliament. [Continue reading…]


How should we live in a diverse society?

Kenan Malik writes: Debates about immigration are… rarely about numbers as such. They are much more about who the migrants are, and about underlying anxieties of nation, community, identity and values. ‘We should not forget’, claimed Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán, as Hungary put up new border fences, and introduced draconian new anti-immigration laws, ‘that the people who are coming here grew up in a different religion and represent a completely different culture. Most are not Christian, but Muslim.’ ‘Is it not worrying’, he asked, ‘that Europe’s Christian culture is already barely able to maintain its own set of Christian values?’

Many thinkers, Christian and non-Christian, religious and non-religious, echo this fear of Muslim immigration undermining the cultural and moral foundation of Western civilization. The late Oriana Fallaci, the Italian writer who perhaps more than most promoted the notion of Eurabia – the belief that Europe is being Islamicised – described herself as a ‘Christian atheist’, insisting that only Christianity provided Europe with a cultural and intellectual bulwark against Islam. The British historian Niall Ferguson calls himself ‘an incurable atheist’ and yet is alarmed by the decline of Christianity which undermines ‘any religious resistance’ to radical Islam. Melanie Phillips, a non-believing Jew, argues in her book The World Turned Upside Down that ‘Christianity is under direct and unremitting cultural assault from those who want to destroy the bedrock values of Western civilization.’

To look upon migration in this fashion is, I want to suggest, a misunderstanding of both Europe’s past and Europe’s present. To understand why, I want first to explore two fundamental questions, the answers to which must frame any discussion on inclusion and morality. What we mean by a diverse society? And why should we value it, or indeed, fear it?

When we think about diversity today in Europe, the picture we see is that of societies that in the past were homogenous, but have now become plural because of immigration. But in what way were European societies homogenous in the past? And in what ways are they diverse today?

Certainly, if you had asked a Frenchman or an Englishman or a Spaniard in the nineteenth or the fifteenth or the twelfth centuries, they would certainly not have described their societies as homogenous. And were they to be transported to contemporary Europe, it is likely that they would see it as far less diverse than we do.

Our view of the Europe of the past is distorted by historical amnesia; and our view of the Europe of the present is distorted by a highly restricted notion of diversity. When we talk of European societies as historically homogenous, what we mean is that they used to be ethnically, or perhaps culturally, homogenous. But the world is diverse in many ways. Societies are cut through by differences, not only of ethnicity, but also of class, gender, faith, politics, and much else. [Continue reading…]


Canada is the least xenophobic country in the Western world. Here’s why

Zack Beauchamp writes: While most of the Western world is seeing a surge in nativism and Islamophobia, the Canadian government has become more and more open to minority groups and immigration.

“The only real outlier [to the nativist trend] is Canada,” Cas Mudde, a professor at the University of Georgia who studies nativism and far-right politics in Europe, tells me. He continues:

[Trudeau] has handled, so far, the Syrian refugee crisis incredibly well, having taken in 25,000 Syrian refugees against the majority will. Initially, he wasn’t supported by the majority — but when they finally arrived, a majority of Canadians did support it. That’s one of the few encouraging lessons that we have seen over the last several years: that if you have a positive campaign, which is supported by a large portion of the media, that you can actually swing public opinion in a positive direction.

Why? It’s because Canada is genuinely different from other Western countries in terms of its attitude toward immigrants. It’s far more welcoming than basically everywhere else.

“Compared to the citizens of other developed immigrant-receiving countries, Canadians are by far the most open to and optimistic about immigration,” Irene Bloemraad, a sociologist at UC Berkeley and its chair of Canadian studies, wrote in a 2012 study published by the Migration Policy Institute.

“In one comparative poll, only 27 percent of those surveyed in Canada agreed that immigration represented more of a problem than an opportunity. In the country that came closest to Canadian opinion, France, the perception of immigration as a problem was significantly higher, at 42 percent.”

Why? According to Bloemraad, the Canadian government has spent decades attempting to foster tolerance and acceptance as core national values, through policies aimed at integrating immigrants and minority groups without stripping them of their group identity. [Continue reading…]


In a traumatised Netherlands, faith in the EU is plummeting

Joris Luyendijk writes: Once a beacon of progressive politics, the Netherlands today is a traumatised, angry and deeply confused nation. Support for immigration and the European project are at all-time lows. Synagogues and Jewish schools need police protection from homegrown jihadists, and freedom of expression is under serious pressure. Leading pundits and comedians incite hatred against Muslims in much the same way that antisemites rage against “the Jews”.

It seems a long time since “Dutch” was synonymous with tolerance. A founding member of the European Union, the Netherlands developed from the 1970s onwards into a laboratory for social and cultural change, boldly pioneering the legalisation of prostitution, soft drugs, euthanasia and gay marriage.

Those were the days when Dutch politicians and opinion-makers would refer to the Netherlands, without any apparent irony, as a “gidsland”, or “guide country”: a small nation leading by example. Its proudest moment probably came in June 1988 when an ethnically mixed team of Dutch footballers won the European Championships, beating the all-white teams of arch-rival Germany and then Russia. It felt like the ultimate vindication of multiculturalism.

Fast-forward 28 years, and heading the polls today is Geert Wilders’ PVV or Freedom party. Elected “politician of the year 2015”, Wilders is the sole member of the party he founded, ruling over it as undemocratically as the Arab dictators he so despises. He wants the Netherlands to drop the euro and leave the EU. Like Donald Trump he demands an end to all immigration from Islamic countries. A typical Wilders tweet: “As long as we have ‘leaders’ such as [Dutch prime minister] Rutte, Merkel, Obama and Cameron denying Islam and terror are one and the same, there will be more terrorist attacks.”

Of course there was racism and intolerance in the Netherlands during the 70s, 80s and 90s, too, and the country of old has not entirely disappeared. A slim majority continues to vote for pro-EU parties that abhor discrimination against Muslims. The popular mayor of Rotterdam, Ahmed Aboutaleb, is openly and proudly Muslim. The speaker of parliament, Khadija Arib, is of Moroccan descent; and in 2007 Dutch readers voted the book The House of the Mosque by Iranian-born Kader Abdolah to be the second “best Dutch book ever”.

Yet the influence of the PVV is widely felt, particularly because the steadily growing far-left Socialist party shares many of its views on the EU. And with every new terrorist attack, wave of refugees or expensive euro bailout, the forces of regression grow stronger, both on the far right and the far left. [Continue reading…]


‘Good Muslims’ or ‘Good citizens’: How Muslim women feel about integration

By Line Nyhagen, Loughborough University

A great many things have been said about Muslims as UK citizens, mainly by non-Muslims. The prime minister, David Cameron, believes that if more Muslim women became proficient in English, for example, it would help beat extremism and terrorism. Meanwhile, Trevor Phillips, the former chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, says that UK Muslims “See the world differently from the rest of us”.

Phillips also presented a controversial Channel 4 programme called What British Muslims Really Think, which put across the message that Muslims are more conservative than the majority population and don’t want to integrate into wider society.

The debate is often highly intemperate – and both Muslim and non-Muslim voices alike have suggested it contributes to further stigmatisation of an already marginalised and disadvantaged Muslim population. In this highly politicised climate, the relationship between Islam and citizenship has also come under scrutiny by Citizens UK, a charitable voluntary organisation with churches, mosques and unions among its members.

In July 2015, Citizens UK launched its Commission on Islam, Participation and Public Life headed by conservative MP Dominic Greave. Greave somewhat unfortunately framed the Commission’s work as aiming to “help tackle extremism”.

[Read more…]


Behind disputed views of Jewish identity looms a much larger question about the future of inclusive societies

The Guardian reports: The US State Department has moved to back America’s ambassador to Israel in a febrile and escalating row over his remarks on Monday that Israel applied law in the occupied West Bank differently to Palestinians and Israelis.

Ambassador Daniel Shapiro’s unusually critical comments drew harsh criticism from ministers in Israel’s rightwing government – including from the Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu.

Shapiro was also publicly lambasted on Israeli television on Tuesday by a former aide to Netanyahu who used the deeply offensive Hebrew word “yehudon” – which translates as “little Jew boy” – to disparage the ambassador. The term is used by rightwing Israelis against other Jews – particularly those in the diaspora – whom they regard as not being sufficiently Jewish or pro-Israel. [Continue reading…]

The remarks by Aviv Bushinsky, who served as Netanyahu’s chief of staff when he was finance minister in Ariel Sharon’s governmen, are reminiscent of an incident reported by the Washington Post in 1997.

U.S. Ambassador Martin Indyk, still seething at a two-week-old slur, ran into his accuser Thursday and fixed him with a glare. According to Ephraim Sneh, a Labor Party member of Israel’s legislature, this is what happened next:

“The last time someone called me a Jew boy,” Indyk said, harking back to school days in Australia, “I was 15 years old and he got a punch in the face.”

A right-wing legislator, Rehavam Zeevi, had indeed called Indyk a yehudon — Hebrew invective translated variously as “Jew boy,” “yid,” or “kike” — at a parliamentary caucus late last month. He looked up from his seat at a memorial service for the late Yitzhak Rabin and glared back at Indyk. “Try me,” Zeevi replied. Then, taunting Indyk, he added distinctly: “yehudon, yehudon.”

Zeevi, a retired general who is chief of the ultranationalist Moledet (Homeland) party, apparently meant to say that Indyk, the first Jewish U.S. ambassador here, betrayed his coreligionists by pressuring the Israeli government for concessions in peace talks with the Palestinian Authority. Zeevi’s political platform, the most extreme of any party in the parliament, calls for expulsion of Arabs from the West Bank to make room for Jews.

A.B. Yehoshua, one of Israel’s most famous novelists, has for many years been among the most vocal in promoting this view that Jews who remain living outside Israel are only, as he says, “partial Jews.”

But instead of being preoccupied with where Jews plant their bodies, he and those who share his views, might consider where the Jewish conscience may better thrive.

In 2003, Avraham Burg, former member of the Knesset, a chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel and a Speaker of the Knesset, who was born in Jerusalem, wrote:

It turns out that the 2,000-year struggle for Jewish survival comes down to a state of settlements, run by an amoral clique of corrupt lawbreakers who are deaf both to their citizens and to their enemies. A state lacking justice cannot survive. More and more Israelis are coming to understand this as they ask their children where they expect to live in 25 years. Children who are honest admit, to their parents’ shock, that they do not know. The countdown to the end of Israeli society has begun.

It is very comfortable to be a Zionist in West Bank settlements such as Beit El and Ofra. The biblical landscape is charming. From the window you can gaze through the geraniums and bougainvilleas and not see the occupation. Traveling on the fast highway that takes you from Ramot on Jerusalem’s northern edge to Gilo on the southern edge, a 12-minute trip that skirts barely a half-mile west of the Palestinian roadblocks, it’s hard to comprehend the humiliating experience of the despised Arab who must creep for hours along the pocked, blockaded roads assigned to him. One road for the occupier, one road for the occupied.

This cannot work. Even if the Arabs lower their heads and swallow their shame and anger forever, it won’t work. A structure built on human callousness will inevitably collapse in on itself. Note this moment well: Zionism’s superstructure is already collapsing like a cheap Jerusalem wedding hall. Only madmen continue dancing on the top floor while the pillars below are collapsing.

As much as all of this might sound purely like a struggle over Jewish identity, it mirrors an affliction in which people across the globe withdraw into their various ethnic, religious, or ideological ghettos of identification and their cherished definitions of my people.

The testing ground for challenging this trend is now Europe.

Last year, Burg wrote:

In a generation in which we Israelis have forgotten how to be sensitive and empathetic to minorities, to those who are different, to the persecuted, and many American Jews are swallowed up in their comfort zones of white society and are abandoning their partnership with the “others,” in America, the “United States of Europe” is presenting a new model of identity – a union between those who are different, and the “other.” It’s a model no different from the American one which seeks to assimilate all into a monochromatic American democracy.

Further, Europe is the current meeting point between Islam and the West. Some of that encounter involves clashes, and some involves learning. The Christian continent is learning to make space for other, rich and varied identities. My friends, Ziya from Bangladesh, Shaida whose family is from Turkey and Rob from Jamaica, are impressive Europeans, and Europe is better off with them. Just like Shaul from Venice, Yoop from Amsterdam and Brian from London – there is no dissonance between their Jewish heritage and their European identity. The discourse between white, Christian Europe and those who are different is fascinating. More important is the dialogue between Western Europe and the Muslim forces in its midst.

The Muslim world and some of its members are embarking on a long journey toward the Western values of freedom, equality and brotherhood. The institutionalization of Western Islam in the heart of Europe – that which is absorbing values of democracy while remaining true to Muslim tradition – is where the strategic potential exists for bridging the gaps peacefully in the generations to come. It’s not happening in the Middle East or North America, but only in Europe. That is where the vanguard of humanity and humaneness is to be found.

Since Burg wrote this, the vision of Europe has become profoundly challenged by an expanding refugee crisis, acts of terrorism, growing nationalism, cultural protectionism, and the drumbeats of xenophobia and Islamophobia.

Both in Europe and the U.S., it often seems like the political momentum favors those who promote retreat in its various forms — through strengthening borders, heightened national security, and disengagement from foreign affairs.

At the same time, the inexorable global trends point in the opposite direction as populations expand and people choose or are compelled to cross borders.

In such a world, the task of building more inclusive societies is not an idealistic goal; it has become an urgent necessity.


How British do British Muslims feel?

By Saffron Karlsen, University of Bristol

The prime minister, David Cameron, has launched a number of measures aimed at improving integration among Muslims – in particular, Muslim women – in the UK. Polls show that around 70% of people don’t think Muslims are well integrated into British society and concern that Muslim people living in Britain do not feel British has long been part of broader discussions around extremism.

So, now seems like a good time to take a closer look at how British Muslims actually feel about their place in society and to explore the link between segregation and extremism in greater depth. Along with Professor James Nazroo, I conducted research into these issues using nationally representative data, collected in 2008/09 from almost 5,000 people with different ethnic and religious backgrounds, as a part of the Home Office Citizenship Survey. We found that these ideas about British Muslims are not backed up by evidence.

[Read more…]


Is Marine Le Pen in bed with Putin?

The Daily Beast reports: On May 11, delegates from Europe’s political fringes travelled to Donetsk, the occupied ‘capital’ of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR), for a forum to mark the first anniversary of the proclamation of the Russian-backed separatist entities in Ukraine. This in itself is unsurprising since far-right politicians have been used on several occasions to lend a veneer of legitimacy to Russia’s puppet statelets and sham votes since the invasion of Crimea last year.

The attendance roster for this confab included some familiar pro-Putin faces such as French far-right Member of European Parliament Jean-Luc Schaffhauser, Italian nationalist Alessandro Musolino and German neo-Nazi journalist Manuel Ochsenreiter, who moonlights as Kremlin propaganda channel RT’s German “expert” on the Middle East. But this time there was one surprising name in the bunch: Emmanuel Leroy.

Leroy was billed as representing the French charity, Urgence d’Enfants Ukraine (UEU), led by Alain Fragny, a former member of the extreme-right Bloc Identitaire. UEU is a suspicious organization that promotes pro-Russian and pro-separatist propaganda on its websites and is rather opaque with regards to its structure and operations. Leroy was also named by the official site of the DNR leadership as one of the initiators of the forum back in March this year.

But this infamously reclusive figure on France’s far-right is a far more interesting and important figure than any of the other political outliers to have participated in pro-separatist events.

Leroy is a former member of GRECE (Groupement de recherche et d’études pour la civilisation européenne, or the Research and Study Group for European Civilization), an extreme, ethno-nationalist think tank, formed in 1968 and headed by Alain de Benoist, whose name appeared in a leaked list of potentially sympathetic contacts purportedly drafted by the Russian ultra-nationalist, Aleksandr Dugin. GRECE promotes ethnic nationalism as a bulwark against race-mixing, placing great emphasis on pre-Christian Nordic culture, which left the group at odds with the Catholic mainstream of the Front National, France’s increasingly popular far-right party, which last year won two seats in the French senate. [Continue reading…]


Marine Le Pen and the French far right are ready to seize the moment

Jonathan Laurence writes: For the first seven hours after the attack on the Paris office of Charlie Hebdo, the National Front, France’s far right political party, kept an old feature about the influx of Roma and “gypsies” into French cities on its website. Then, shortly after noon, Marine Le Pen, the leader of the increasingly popular party with the slogan “The French Come First,” appeared in front of three French flags and hammered out her demands—and a selfless offer.

It is time for “frank and clear responses” against “inaction and denial,” she declared. In other words: The country’s two main political parties have failed to stem the Islamist tide, and you the voters now have all the evidence you need that France requires new leadership. “I intend to assume this vital responsibility so France can defend itself in the war that has been declared upon her,” she continued.

Populist parties in Europe have long done a fine trade based on the cultural and religious differences of Muslim citizens. That has been particularly true in recent years as efforts to integrate Muslims has become mired with controversy over headscarves, halal food, and the construction of mosques. The National Front, like other populist parties in neighboring countries, has emphasized the link between the cultural accommodation of local Muslims and recent political instability in Egypt, Libya, and Mali.

Mainstream French parties have tried to fend off the National Front’s advance ever since it unexpectedly made it to the final round of presidential elections in 2002. Last May, its nationalist, xenophobic message helped the party capture 25 percent of the vote in the European Union parliament elections. After Wednesday’s tragic attack, the party’s relevance can no longer be doubted. [Continue reading…]


The root cause of extremism among British Muslims is alienation

Afua Hirsch writes: Britain has a problem with terrorism. Nothing focuses the mind more than the image of an apparently British man addressing the world in high definition as he brutally beheads a fellow Brit. But while the numbers of violent extremists are, by all accounts, relatively small, the issues underlying their reasons for turning towards terrorism are widespread.

I’ve been talking to young Muslims for a documentary on the root causes of extremism, and it’s clear there are a series of common complaints. Primarily, even though David Cameron may have said the killers of David Haines “are not Muslims, they are monsters”, young Muslims still have a profound and consistent sense of being demonised by society, and as creating a source of fear.

Further, many people still fail to distinguish between the different motivations for Brits travelling to the Middle East. It struck me how many young Muslims want to travel to Syria to help with the desperate humanitarian situation, or to join rebels trying to bring down President Assad – a goal that until recently was in line with Britain’s own foreign policy. However, the people I spoke to fully expected to be welcomed back to the UK by being arrested, slapped with a TPim and stripped of their passport.

For a passionate teenager, watching the suffering in Syria and believing that they are barred from contributing because of double standards driven by Islamophobia can create extreme feelings of alienation. And for those who are converted to extremism, there are usually other factors: contact with a seductive and effective hate preacher, indifference towards or a desire for violence, a sense of purposelessness – in some cases the same factors that attract young people to criminal gangs.

For a generation of non-Arabic speaking Muslims for whom the complexities of their faith can be lost in translation, recruiters from groups such as Islamic State (Isis) can play on this vulnerability. [Continue reading…]


The most (and least) culturally diverse countries in the world

Pew Research Center: Looking for a real multicultural experience? Head to Chad in north-central Africa where 8.6 million residents belong to more than 100 ethnic groups or to Togo, home to 37 tribal groups that speak one of 39 languages and share little in the way of a common culture or history.

But if you find a kaleidoscope of cultures distracting, then consider a visit to Argentina, Haiti or the isolated Comoros islands off the southeast coast of Africa. They rank among the least culturally diverse countries in the world.

This multicultural map of the world is based on an analysis of data reported in a new study of cultural diversity and economic development by researcher Erkan Gören of the University of Oldenberg in Germany.