Fear and paranoia lead Finns to form vigilante groups that ‘protect women’ from asylum seekers

The Washington Post reports: On a frigid night in this industrial city, three local men pulled up to a curb in a beat-up van sporting the stars and bars of the American Confederacy (because, they said, they just liked the look of it). Soon, they joined a dozen other beefy vigilantes gathering on a sidewalk for their first patrol to keep “our women” safe.

These are the Soldiers of Odin, a new far-right citizens group sprouting chapters across Finland. Its members are multiplying as this northern nation becomes a case study in the fear and suspicion gripping Europe after multiple sexual assaults allegedly committed by asylum seekers and others on New Year’s Eve.

Those incidents, in cities across central and northern Europe, included hundreds of complaints of sexual harassment in Cologne, Germany, as well as 15 alleged sex-related crimes in the Finnish capital, Helsinki. They have quickly altered the debate over a record wave of asylum seekers arriving in Europe from the Middle East, Africa and Asia. Fresh barriers to new migrants are going up from Sweden to Greece. [Continue reading…]


Masked men in Stockholm threaten to ‘punish’ refugee children

The Guardian reports: A gang of masked men have been detained in Stockholm after distributing leaflets threatening to punish “north African street children roaming” the Swedish capital.

Police said one man had been charged with assaulting a police officer and the others had been charged with wearing a mask in public, which is illegal in Sweden, and for causing a public disturbance.

A police spokesman told local media the men detained were believed to have gathered “with the purpose of attacking refugee children”.

According to the Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet, up to 100 masked men marched into central Stockholm on Friday to hand out leaflets carrying the message “It’s enough now” and threatening to give the “north African street children who are roaming around” the “punishment they deserve”.

This week an employee at a refugee centre for unaccompanied youths in Mölndal, near Gothenburg, was fatally stabbed, allegedly by a young man living at the centre.

The killing of Alexandra Mezher, 22, has led to questions about overcrowded conditions in some refugee centres, with too few adults and employees to take care of children, many of whom are traumatised by war. [Continue reading…]


Donald Trump and the ‘rivers of blood’

Sarfraz Manzoor writes: Until recently, Donald J. Trump was best known in Britain for “The Apprentice” television series, the Miss Universe contest and a controversial golf course development in Scotland. And most Britons would probably have viewed his decision to enter the presidential race with no more than mild envy: Why can’t British elections be as much fun as American ones?

Thanks, however, to his incendiary comments about immigrants and Muslims, Mr. Trump has moved from being a buffoonish figure on the margins of British consciousness to the center of political debate. After Mr. Trump said that he, if president, would stop Muslims entering the United States, more than half a million people signed a parliamentary petition, thus requiring a debate in Parliament on whether to bar him entry to Britain. (The debate, which was held this past week in a committee, generated plenty of indignation but had no issue because the power to refuse Mr. Trump admittance is held not by Parliament but by the home secretary.)

Mr. Trump also drew condemnation from leading British politicians, newspapers, the Metropolitan Police and the mayor of London. Even the leader of the UK Independence Party, which campaigns on a strong anti-immigration platform, said Mr. Trump had “gone too far.”

When Mr. Trump speaks of barring Muslims from entering the United States, I hear an echo of a British politician from another age, one who is largely forgotten here but whose views on race and immigration were as polarizing in their time as Mr. Trump’s are now. Enoch Powell was a politician whose career spanned most of the postwar period, first as a Conservative and later as an Ulster Unionist. He had grave reservations about mass immigration and frequently spoke in apocalyptic language about its consequences. [Continue reading…]


Fearmongering around Muslim immigrants echoes anti-Asian hysteria of past

Murtaza Hussain writes: On May 6, 1882, U.S. President Chester Arthur signed into law the Chinese Exclusion Act, the first in a series of discriminatory legal measures aimed at curbing immigration from Asia. Speaking at the time of its passage, California Sen. John F. Miller, a leading proponent of the law, declared that the Chinese were “an inferior sort of men” and that “Chinese civilization in its pure essence appears as a rival to American civilization. It is a product of a people alien in every characteristic to our people, and it has never yet produced and can never evolve any form of government other than an imperial despotism. Free government is incompatible with it, and both cannot exist together.”

There are echoes of Miller’s demagoguery, and of contemporaneous warnings about the supposed “Yellow Peril” posed by East Asians, in the warnings politicians and prominent media figures issue today about allegedly unassimilable immigrants and refugees from Muslim countries.

“The type of rhetoric we’re seeing today about Muslims is both very similar and also slightly different from that which was used to describe Asian immigrants in the past,” said University of Minnesota professor Erika Lee. A specialist in immigration studies, Lee is also author of the 2015 book The Making of Asian America, which chronicles in part the anti-Asian sentiment that new arrivals often had to contend with. “Like Muslims, Asian immigrants were characterized as a slowly creeping civilizational threat to the security and integrity of the United States, but today, with Muslims, there is also the additional allegation that they have a violent intent to overthrow the existing order.” [Continue reading…]


Germany’s right-wing AfD party surges to new high amid concern over refugees


The Independent reports: Germany’s eurosceptic right-wing party has hit a new all-time high in the opinion polls as concern about migration rises in the country.

Alternative for Germany (AfD) would take 11.5 per cent of the vote is a federal general election were held today, according to a poll for Bild magazine.

The party is in third place after Angela Merkel’s CDU/CSU, who are on 35 per cent. The centre-left social democrats are on 21.5 per cent.

The Green Party and the Left Party are on 10 per cent each, while the centre-right liberal FDP would re-enter parliament on 6 per cent after it was wiped out in the most recent Federal elections. [Continue reading…]


Anti-immigrant ‘Soldiers of Odin’ raise concern in Finland

Reuters reports: Wearing black jackets adorned with a symbol of a Viking and the Finnish flag, the “Soldiers of Odin” have surfaced as self-proclaimed patriots patrolling the streets to protect native Finns from immigrants, worrying the government and police.

On the northern fringes of Europe, Finland has little history of welcoming large numbers of refugees, unlike neighbouring Sweden. But as with other European countries, it is now struggling with a huge increase in asylum seekers and the authorities are wary of any anti-immigrant vigilantism.

A group of young men founded Soldiers of Odin, named after a Norse god, late last year in the northern town of Kemi. This lies near the border community of Tornio, which has become an entry point for migrants arriving from Sweden.

Since then the group has expanded to other towns, with members stating they want to serve as eyes and ears for the police who they say are struggling to fulfil their duties.

Members blame “Islamist intruders” for what they believe is an increase in crime and they have carried placards at demonstrations with slogans such as “Migrants not welcome”.

While most Finns disapprove of the group, its growth signals disquiet in a country strained by the cost of receiving the asylum seekers while mired in a three-year-old recession that has forced state spending and welfare cuts.

Finnish police have also reported harassment of women by “men with a foreign background” at New Year celebrations in Helsinki, as well as at some public events last autumn. [Continue reading…]


Why we can’t stay silent on Germany’s mass sex assaults

Maajid Nawaz writes: Recent mass migration patterns across Europe have meant that misogyny has finally come head to head with anti-racism, multiculturalism is facing off against feminism, and progressive values are wrestling with cultural tolerance.

Yes, it is racist to suspect that all brown men who look like me are rapists. It is bigoted to presume that all Muslim men who share my faith advocate religiously justified rape. It is xenophobic to assume that all male refugees are sexual predators awaiting their chance to rape. But let me be absolutely clear: What will feed this racism, bigotry, and xenophobia even more is deliberately failing to report the facts as they stand. Doing so only encourages the populist right’s rallying cry against “the establishment.”

If liberals do not address such issues swiftly, with complete candor and courage, the far-right and anti-Muslim populist groups will get there first. They have been doing so for a while now.

The far-right street protest group Hogesa, or Hooligans Against Salafism, continues to cause consternation on the streets of Cologne, while the populist-right Pegida has already responded to the New Year’s Eve attacks by announcing a protest in Cologne on Jan. 9.

No, my fellow liberals, these issues cannot be brushed under the carpet or simply willed away. They are not going anywhere, anytime soon. So how can we address this sensibly, without bursting a blood vessel in our Right eye, or missing the blind spot in our Left? [Continue reading…]


Donald Trump and the politics of disgust


Alexander Hurst writes: In 2012, a team of academics from Europe and the U.S. — Yoel Inbar, David Pizarro, Ravi Iyer, and Jonathan Haidt — published a paper titled “Disgust Sensitivity, Political Conservatism, and Voting,” looking at the role disgust plays in political orientation. The researchers posited three different types of disgust: interpersonal disgust (i.e., the feeling produced by drinking from the same cup as someone else); core disgust (the response to maggots, vomit, dirty toilets, etc.); and animal-reminder disgust (how we react to corpses, blood, anything that evokes our animal nature).

Disgust, they write, “serves to discourage us from ingesting noxious or dangerous substances,” but also plays a role in moral and social judgments. Those who feel more disgusted by unpleasant images, smells, or tastes judge more harshly that which violates their subjective moral code.

The team had respondents position themselves on a political scale from conservative to liberal. The respondents then stated how strongly they agreed or disagreed with statements like “I never let any part of my body touch the toilet seat in a public washroom,” and rated other hypotheticals according to the level of disgust they generated. Even when controlling for age, education, geography, and religious belief, individuals with higher “disgust sensitivity” were found to be more likely to tolerate wealth inequality, view homosexuality negatively, and place more belief in authoritarian leaders and systems.

Most strikingly, interpersonal disgust was an important predictor of anti-immigrant attitudes.

Trump, of course, is a well-known, admitted germaphobe. “One of the curses of American society is the simple act of shaking hands,” he wrote in The Art of the Deal. “I happen to be a clean hands freak. I feel much better after I thoroughly wash my hands, which I do as much as possible.”

Trump even described shaking hands as “barbaric” in an interview with Dateline in 1999, saying, “They have medical reports all the time. Shaking hands, you catch colds, you catch the flu, you catch it, you catch all sorts of things. Who knows what you don’t catch?”

Beyond the aversion to hand-shaking, Trump used to pre-test his dates for AIDS, and reportedly avoids pushing elevator buttons.

The connection between modern xenophobia, disgust sensitivity, and the strength of Trump’s campaign is fairly easy to make. As Inbar, Pizarro, Iyer, and Haidt point out, “Disgust evolved not just to protect individuals form oral contamination by potential foods, but also from the possibility of contamination by contact with unfamiliar individuals or groups.” And after all, Trump’s success has come not from presenting voters with detailed policy proposals, but from connecting with them on a gut level. [Continue reading…]


When my Japanese-American family was treated as less than human

Mike Honda writes: In the aftermath of the Paris and San Bernardino, California, terrorist attacks, the dangerous and destructive discourse about Muslims and Muslim Americans has reached a tipping point. Some Republican presidential candidates are calling for a ban of Muslims entering the country, and a Democratic mayor in Virginia is demanding the internment of Syrian refugees.

I can’t help but fear that history could be on the verge of repeating itself.

I am a third-generation American of Japanese ancestry, born in Walnut Grove, California. Yet my family and I were classified as enemy aliens simply because we looked like the enemy. In the days before we were taken from our communities, the life we knew was ripped from us.

In the aftermath of the attack on Pearl Harbor, on Dec. 7, 1941, the United States blamed us for the Japanese attack. Because of what the 1988 Civil Liberties Act labeled “war hysteria, racism and a failure of political leadership,” President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, which confined the Japanese-American community in internment camps — and forever changing our lives and our community. [Continue reading…]


The new face of racism in Germany

Anna Sauerbrey writes: Germany is not lacking in right-wing sentiment these days, but most people are careful about how they deploy their anti-immigrant rhetoric. And then there’s Björn Höcke.

Last month Mr. Höcke, a leading figure of the right-wing populist party Alternative für Deutschland, gave an openly racist speech on the “differing reproductive strategies” of Africans and Europeans. It was not the first time he had drawn on National Socialist themes, but this time he caused uproar, even in his own party, which has asked him to resign his membership.

Whatever happens to Mr. Höcke, though, his willingness to use overtly racist language has revived an age-old fear in Germany. He is, by all accounts, a typical German, an upright middle-class citizen — what we call a “Biedermann.” They are the core of our national self-perception. If they turn to the dark side, what does that say about Germany?

For years, racism and hate in Germany mostly came with clear social markers. In the minds of most, racists wore their heads shaved, feet heavily booted and arms rune-tattooed. They lived on the fringes of society, often in public housing, and made their living illicitly.

Not so Mr. Höcke. As a young man, he was a member of “Junge Union,” the youth organization of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s center-right Christian Democrats. He’s a high school history teacher on leave and a married father of four. He lives in the countryside and is invariably well dressed, though never in a showy way.

Is this the new face of hate in Germany? [Continue reading…]


Crimes against Muslim Americans and mosques rise sharply

The New York Times reports: Hate crimes against Muslim Americans and mosques across the United States have tripled in the wake of the terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, Calif., with dozens occurring within just a month, according to new data.

The spike includes assaults on hijab-wearing students; arsons and vandalism at mosques; and shootings and death threats at Islamic-owned businesses, an analysis by a California State University research group has found.

President Obama and civil rights leaders have warned about anecdotal evidence of a recent Muslim backlash, particularly in California. But the analysis is the first to document the rise, amid a crescendo of anti-Islamic statements from politicians.

“The terrorist attacks, coupled with the ubiquity of these anti-Muslim stereotypes seeping into the mainstream, have emboldened people to act upon this fear and anger,” said Brian Levin, a criminologist at California State University, San Bernardino. [Continue reading…]


As Poland lurches to the right, many in Europe look on in alarm

The New York Times reports: In the few weeks since Poland’s new right-wing government took over, its leaders have alarmed the domestic opposition and moderate parties throughout Europe by taking a series of unilateral actions that one critic labeled “Putinist.”

Under their undisputed leader, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, they pardoned the notorious head of the security services, who was appealing a three-year sentence for abuse of his office from their previous years in power; tried to halt the production of a play they deemed “pornographic”; threatened to impose controls on the news media; and declared, repeatedly and emphatically, that they would overrule the previous government’s promise to accept refugees pouring into Europe.

But the largest flash point, so far, has been a series of questionable parliamentary maneuvers by the government and the opposition that has allowed a dispute over who should sit on the country’s powerful Constitutional Tribunal to metastasize into a full-blown constitutional crisis — with thousands of protesters from all sides taking to the streets.

Countries across Europe have seen nationalist movements rise in popularity, particularly in the wake of the refugee crisis and the terrorist attacks in Paris. But Poland’s rightward lurch under the newly empowered Law and Justice Party is unsettling what had been the region’s strongest economy and a model for the struggling post-Soviet states of Eastern Europe. [Continue reading…]

Bloomberg reports: Poland’s government replaced the head of NATO members’ training facility in Warsaw after Defense Ministry officials and military police entered its provisional office after midnight on Friday.

The Counter Intelligence Center of Excellence was staffed with officials who weren’t supported by the Polish government, Deputy Defense Minister Bartosz Kownacki told RMF radio. The ministry appointed Colonel Robert Bala as the acting director of the center, which hasn’t yet been accredited by NATO, an alliance official said. [Continue reading…]

On November 12, AFP reported: Tens of thousands of protesters poured into Warsaw’s streets on Wednesday for a demonstration organised by the far right, marching under the slogan “Poland for the Polish” and burning an EU flag.

Police said 25,000 people joined the march, which marked the anniversary of Poland’s return to independence after the First World War, while organisers put the numbers at 50,000.

“God, honour, homeland,” chanted the protesters as they marched under a sea of red-and-white Polish flags.

Demonstrators trampled and burned a European Union flag at one point, while a banner added to the anti-EU theme with the slogan “EU macht frei” (“Work makes you free” in German), a reference to the slogan over the gates at Auschwitz.

“Yesterday it was Moscow, today it’s Brussels which takes away our freedom,” chanted one group of protesters.
Other banners read “Great Catholic Poland” and “Stop Islamisation”. [Continue reading…]

Ivan Krastev writes: The new government has pushed forward three staggering changes. The man chosen to oversee police and intelligence agencies is a party stalwart who received a three-year suspended sentence for abusing power in his previous role as head of the anti-corruption office, signaling that political loyalty is above the law.

The government has purged European Union flags from government press briefings, demonstrating that it sees Polish national interests in opposition to European values.

And it has weakened the country’s separation of powers by rejecting the previous Parliament’s nominees to the constitutional court — and instead appointed its own candidates, provoking a constitutional crisis.

Why has Poland, the poster child of post-Communist success and Europe’s best economic performer of the last decade, suddenly taken an illiberal turn? Why, despite the profound public mistrust of politicians, are people ready to elect parties eager to dismantle any constraints on government’s power?

For one thing, the Law and Justice Party bet on a form of illiberal democracy because it succeeded in Hungary. The Orban model of rebuking the European Union while accepting billions in aid money has worked. So have Mr. Orban’s efforts to consolidate power by demonizing his political opponents. Hungary’s economy has not collapsed as critics predicted; nor did Mr. Orban’s party lose at the ballot box. [Continue reading…]


How does it feel to be told you are welcome in your own country?


Ever since I became a U.S. citizen, I’ve got a kick out of the fact that when re-entering this country (after visits to the UK), after presenting my passport, the immigration official commonly returns it to me, saying: “welcome back.”

Maybe this happens more often for travelers coming through laid-back Atlanta than somewhere like New York City, but it’s an endearing friendly touch where one otherwise confronts the cold face of bureaucracy and security.

Across the globe, crossing a border tends to be a dehumanizing experience when who we are is so sharply defined by a piece of paper.

As a dual national and British citizen, it’s frankly unimaginable that a representative of the government there would offer any kind of greeting.

Once back in the U.S., however, I would find it a bit disturbing if a fellow citizen wanted to reassure me that I’m welcome here, since, supposedly, we both share equal rights and an equal claim to American identity.

Even so, since I wasn’t born here and since I “have an accent” (to which I like to respond: who doesn’t?), it’s not difficult for me to understand why I might be viewed by some Americans as an outsider. Indeed, the term “naturalization” has always struck me as being an oxymoron. An innate attribute is either there or it isn’t — I don’t see how it can be inserted.

For that reason, I’m inclined to defer moderately to those Americans who feel like an American who was born in this country is in some sense more American than those of us who were born elsewhere.

That shouldn’t imply any discrimination in terms of status or rights — it’s simply an observation about depth of enculturation.

Which brings me to Muslim Americans, a large proportion of whom were indeed born in this country and have never lived anywhere else.

When someone such as Mark Zuckerberg reaches out to Muslims and says, “I want you to know that you are always welcome here,” I realize this kind of message is well-intended, but it isn’t deeply inclusive.

One American should never be so presumptuous as to tell another American that they are welcome here.

What is called for at this time is something much more radical. What is being contested is the meaning of solidarity.

Some Americans are saying that we now need to stand together to protect ourselves from foreign threats. This kind of unity divides humanity into two camps: Americans and non-Americans. And this division undercuts the very notion of humanity.

It becomes clear then, that the actual rift here is between those for whom their experience of being American is subordinate to their experience of being human, and those for whom their identity as Americans, trumps all others.

Is someone who gives such preeminence to national identity, really capable of any genuine expression of solidarity?

If you’re ability to empathize with another person depended on first knowing what kind of citizenship they held or which religion they practiced, how could such empathy be heartfelt?

I have to wonder whether those Americans who are afraid of Muslims are not also, to a lesser degree, afraid of each other?

Empathy is the core human recognition. It is the knowledge that your experience of pain is the same as mine; that love, joy, grief, and anger are universal emotions.

Where this knowledge is lacking, or where it gets buried beneath a rigid national identity, xenophobia and Islamophia are merely symptomatic of a degradation of an underlying sense of humanity.

Americans who do not see themselves as indivisibly part of humanity, should be less concerned about how they protect America than what they think it means to be human.

And since so many American-firsters describe themselves as Christians, they might begin a process of self-inquiry by reminding themselves that according to their own belief system, they are the descendants of a human lineage that traces back to a single source preceding all national identities.


Marine Le Pen lost this time, but the mainstream is still flowing in her direction

Christopher Dickey writes: So, Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Front party, which placed first in six of 13 French regions last week, failed to win the second round in a single one this week.

But there’s no joy in the mainstream French political establishment, or in the mainstream French media that worked hard to defeat Le Pen and her candidates, because the mainstream is still flowing in her direction, and everyone knows it.

Indeed, traditional politicians here regard Le Pen with something like the same horror that the American mainstream regards Donald Trump, and for some of the same reasons. Seen as sly, anti-immigrant, implicitly racist populists, both are portrayed in the political language of Europe as “fascists.” But there are limits to the analogy.

The National Front, whose platform would do away with open European borders, the euro currency, and indeed “Europe” itself, has become not just a third party in the multi-party French system, it has become the third party. And when presidential elections roll around about 18 months from now, there is every chance that Le Pen will make it into the sudden-death second-round run-off. [Continue reading…]


The rise of right-wing populists

The New York Times reports: Mass shootings by Islamist militants. Migrants crashing borders. International competition punishing workers but enriching elites.

Across the Western world, a new breed of right-leaning populists like Donald J. Trump, Marine Le Pen in France and Viktor Orban in Hungary are surging in popularity by capitalizing on a climate of insecurity rivaling the period after the First World War.

Many of them — as Mr. Trump did this week — have made headlines by railing against Muslim immigrants, calling them a threat to public safety and cultural identity. Left-leaning critics have compared the populists to the fascists of the early 20th century. Some riding the wave, like the Freedom Party in Austria or Golden Dawn in Greece, have specific neo-Nazi roots.

Unlike earlier right-wing movements, this generation of populists disavows the overt racism, militaristic rhetoric and associations with fascism that until recently scared away many mainstream voters.

Before the recent terrorist attacks or the European migrant crisis cast a spotlight on Muslim immigration, the populists had built support as trade protectionists or economic nationalists appealing to working-class voters who felt disaffected from established parties and political elites. And, for the first time in nearly a century, established parties across Europe and the United States are struggling to fend off or counter the populist insurgents as their competition pulls the mainstream to the right.

“What you are seeing here is quite a radical shift,” said Roger Eatwell, a political scientist at the University of Bath who studies right-wing parties.

Ms. Le Pen is the best-known figure from more than a dozen right-leaning populist parties across Europe that have scored big gains over the last two years. This week, her National Front party won the largest share of the vote in the first round of regional elections in France, with 30 percent, making her a contender for the presidency in 2017. She campaigns against what she calls the Islamization of France and has compared Muslims praying in French streets to the Nazi occupation.

But Ms. Le Pen fuses her cultural chauvinism with appeals to the economic anxieties of working or lower-middle class voters who — like their counterparts across Europe — have suffered from high unemployment, stagnant wages and growing income inequality, especially since the financial crisis of 2008.

“They are pulling out all the stops for the migrants, the illegals, but who is looking out for our retirees?” Ms. Le Pen asked in a recent campaign appearance. “They are stealing from the poor to give to foreigners who did not even ask our permission to come here.”

Mr. Trump on Monday evoked comparisons to Ms. Le Pen and her European counterparts with his call to close American borders to all Muslims “until our country’s representatives can figure out what the hell is going on.”

Ms. Le Pen said that was too much for her, perhaps in part because she feared jeopardizing the progress she had made in shedding her party’s previous image as racist and anti-Semitic.

“Seriously, have you ever heard me say something like that?” she asked on Thursday when questioned about Mr. Trump’s comments during a television interview. “I defend all the French people in France, regardless of their origin, regardless of their religion.”

Others in Europe’s right-leaning populist parties, though, are applauding Mr. Trump for breaking with what they call the multiculturalist orthodoxy of dominant political elites. [Continue reading…]