Friday, 22 April 2016

Western Xenophobia, Islam and the Third World

Xenophobia in the West 

Xenophobia has been on the rise in the last two decades in the Western World and it has influenced the political arena not just of conservative parties moving toward a more right wing course, but even centrist ones under pressure to “protect” the nation from perceived external threats. Is rising xenophobia a reflection of rising nationalism and conservatism in the age of globalization, or is it a reaction to a tangible threat posed by non-whites from the Third World, some who are Muslims, trying to settle in the West and diluting the “purity” of white Judeo-Christian society?  Would the Western media, politicians and xenophobes of our era react the same way if instead of Muslim refugees and undocumented Mexican workers the migrants were from the Scandinavian countries?

Because they come from the Middle East, Africa, and Latin America, Western xenophobia assumes racist characteristics, while humanitarianism is tossed aside no matter what the Vatican and the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees have to say on the matter.  In other words, it is not the immigrant and refugee to which many in the Western World object, but that “outsiders” are perceived as a threat to the “purity of the native culture” diluted with influx of people with different skin color, culture and in many cases religion.
Many European analysts have been warning that the influx of immigrants, especially Muslim refugees fleeing war-torn Syria and Iraq, could tear apart the European Union as one after another member is becoming more nationalistic and tries to protect its national borders and its economic and cultural integrity. 

Just as many Europeans are concerned about the immigrants undercutting the continental bloc that has taken decades to build, many US analysts agree with politicians from both the Republican and Democrat party contending that illegal immigration from Mexico and Central America undermines security and takes away jobs from American citizens.  Anti immigration arguments on either side of the Atlantic have become part of the political arena. Right wing populist politicians embrace positions not much different than one would expect from neo-Nazis, thus moving the xenophobia debate issue into the core of what would be otherwise mainstream politics. 

What exactly is the scope and magnitude of the so-called European Muslim refugee problem that has its causes in Western military intervention in Muslim countries and in Mexican illegal aliens? Of the 4.5 million Muslim refugees mostly from Syria and Iraq, an estimated 850,000 have crossed from Turkey for various European destinations. Of those, the US has accepted 2,290 in the last five years to join the approximately 3.3 million Muslim Americans that make up about 1% of the US population.

As a percentage of the total population, Muslims in France are 7.5%, Netherlands and Belgium, 6% each, Germany 5.8%. Greece 5.3%, UK and Sweden at 4.6% each, Italy and Slovenia 3.6% each, Bulgaria 13.7% and Russia 10% with the largest total number of 14 million. The total Muslim population in the European Union is 19 million or 3.8% of the total. US Muslim population is roughly 1% of the total, or 3.3 million. This compares with 11.4 million illegal aliens, of which about half are from Mexico owing to the common border.

In the age of the US-led war on terror, which has replaced the old East-West conflict, xenophobia reflects not just a deliberate political orientation and cultural prejudice owing to ignorance on the part of xenophobes. At the same time, right wing politicians and businesses have been using the issue to deflect attention away from structural problems society faces owing to downward socioeconomic mobility. However, this is also a manifestation of a far-reaching anxiety on the part of the mainstream society, the media, and the political and social elites. It clearly signals that they lack the means to forge a broad popular consensus around the weakened political economy. Therefore, xenophobia as a means of scapegoating becomes a convenient tool toward that goal.

Migration of people from poor countries, especially Islamic ones in the last decade or so, is symptomatic of imperial policies that the West has been pursuing toward non-Western countries and most certainly not the result of any clash of civilizations as many would opportunistically argue. After all, Muslims co-existed harmoniously with all religions for many centuries from the Emirate of Cordoba in the mid-8th century until the early 16th century when the Spanish Christians expelled the Moriscos (Moors) of Granada to the Kingdom of Castile, Extremadura and Andalusia between 1568 and 1571. 

If one deconstructs the “clash of civilizations” theory it is evident that behind it rest Western views of hegemony and transformation policy intended to perpetuate the Islamic countries and indeed even the non-Islamic developing nations under permanent political, economic and strategic dependency on the West. After all, the entire Islamic world was under European colonial control that transformed into a neo-colonial relationship after WWII when the US became the world’s preeminent superpower. Moreover, the long-standing Israel-Palestinian conflict in which the US has always sided with Israel against the Palestinians and their Muslim allies has helped to mold xenophobia in the form of Islamophobia. The Iranian Revolution in 1979 that attempted a neutral course between East and West was another step in molding Western anti-Islamic views. This was followed by the US decision to use counterterrorism as the pretext to perpetuate the military industrial complex and Cold War policies after the end of Communism.

Although in the first part of the 21st century, Western xenophobia is associated largely with Muslims, xenophobia is hardly a new phenomenon in politics and culture. Naturally, the influx of Muslim refugees primarily from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya into Europe has intensified not just strong sentiment among racists, but exacerbated the xenophobic rhetoric in the political arena and media. Serving as a convenient distraction from practical solutions to society’s systemic problems because it scapegoats migrants, xenophobia engenders fear about a specific tangible enemy. Instead of pointing to the structural flaws in the political economy, politicians and media point to someone to hate for undermining society – the Syrian refugee family that is a potential terrorist, the Mexican family that takes away American jobs and feeds off the welfare system.

Europeans and Americans hardly have a monopoly on xenophobia and this is not a recent phenomenon considering there is evidence of it throughout history in many parts of the world. There are more than 700 books and several thousand articles on this subject that has been prominent from the Golden Age of Pericles in 5th century Athens to the so-called post-racial Obama era that has in reality experienced a sharp rise in xenophobia.  Just as the Athenian city-state had formalized the status of foreigners known as Metics and treated them as lesser citizens, the modern state is not much different in so far as it has the power to marginalize legal and illegal immigrants from the mainstream as well as project a negative image of them to society regardless of their contributions to the economy and culture. 

Besides fear, ignorance and the irrational in human beings prompted by media indoctrination that molds the dominant culture, mainstream institutions from businesses to churches do their part to keep xenophobia in the public debate. However, the relative decline of the Western middle class and rise of the Asian economy, especially China amid a new Gilded Age when capital is so thoroughly concentrated accounts for the rise of xenophobia. In other words, when the middle class fears its future and that of its children it does not blame the capitalist economy under globalization and neoliberal policies but refugees and immigrants who take low-end jobs to survive in their adopted land.

 ‘Scapegoating psychology’ becomes an integral part of the mainstream because it is simply politically and socially unacceptable to challenge the root causes of mass migration from poor and politically unstable countries to richer and more stables one. “In scapegoating, by definition, the enemy must be weaker than those on the attack — which is why even at the height of the financial crisis, popular anger at bankers never became as strong as current Islamophobia. It’s the same as the way a guy who’s treated as a drudge at work then finds his “strength” by abusing his wife. The more that Muslims can be made to feel like outsiders, the more those who have defined them as other can feel empowered.” (Paul Woodward, “Scapegoating-psychology and rising xenophobia in America” September 14, 2010)

Besides the mass psychology of scapegoating that the media and politicians create and perpetuate, the world-economy’s weakened core in northwest Europe and US plays a catalytic role in convincing a segment of the masses that their “real enemy” is not caused by domestic and foreign policies intended to continue capital concentration at the expense of the vast majority. The shifting capitalist core from the West to East Asia affects the Western social structure in so far as middle class living standards historically high in industrialized countries have been sliding downward in the past four decades and they are unlikely to improve. In fact, downward socioeconomic mobility will continue across the entire Western World. This trend will only exacerbate xenophobia and afford the opportunity not just the right wing, but even mainstream bourgeois political leaders to blame influx of immigrants for all calamities befalling society. It serves the interests of the political and economic elites to blame the illegal immigrants and Muslim refugees rather than fault the political economy that results in downward socioeconomic mobility.

The “war on terror” has added to the culture of fear surrounding xenophobia that only makes it more legitimate rather than an issue neo-Nazis and other extremists espouse. This allows xenophobes to argue it is all about national security and their ideological position has nothing to do with underlying racism. When the state is itself xenophobic and racist in its policies despite employing democratic rhetoric to present an image of an open society, why would the masses, at least a segment of them, be much different?  This is as true in the US that leads the world in “war on terror” with policies intended to justify the continuation of the waning Pax Americana, as it is for the European countries.  

As an integral part of a “Nativist” ideology, xenophobia has become part of the mainstream because it has the stamp of legitimacy from the state that rhetorically opposes it but whose policies and practices promote it not just domestically but globally. Although it could be argued this is just a case of nationalism, there are degrees of nationalism ranging from moderate to neo-Nazi aspects that have become part of the political mainstream both in Europe and US. 

European and US Protest of illegal immigration

In an open society citizens ought to have the right to protest for just about anything. However, only as long as such protests do not translate into: a) random vigilante acts; b) populist rhetoric of stereotyping and demonizing entire groups of people that leads to social and institutional marginalization; c) becomes a pretext for racist policies targeting minority groups; and d) impedes social justice in the rest of society and/or runs counter to the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) of which all Western nations are signatories. 

If social justice is a fundamental right for the protester of illegal immigration and refugees, it is equally the case for the immigrant who has basic human rights according to the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Does this mean that the US and EU must open their doors widely for all to enter? Of course no country can possibly have a complete open door policy. However, the advanced capitalist countries are in the position to pursue policies that do not force people from their native lands where they desire to live with their loved ones. Such policies range from economic exploitation to warfare, from supporting authoritarian regimes to regime change operations; all which are the root causes of mass migration whether from Islamic countries to EU or from Mexico and Central America to the US. 

It is essential to ask why there was a low level of inter-European immigration from the promulgation of the Schengen Agreement in 1985 until 2010, and why such a sharp rise after the EU led by Germany changed the inter-dependent integration model that essentially relegates the southern and Eastern European countries to virtually neocolonial areas of the northwest core region. Just as significant, why do we have so few Syrians, Iraqis, Afghans, and Libyans trying to cross over to Europe before the US and its NATO partners intervened directly or covertly in these countries to topple their regimes and destroy their countries in the process? 

While the Europeans are concerned about Muslim refugees, the US whose military solution policies caused the crisis is constantly warning about terrorism threats. At the same time, the US is also focused on the Mexican and Central American illegal immigration. One cause for the Mexican and Central America immigration is the chronic uneven terms of trade between the US and its southern neighbors. This means that the value of labor south of the Rio Grande is much lower to the benefit of more affluent US consumers and domestic and foreign corporations realizing higher profit margins because of low wages. After all, the goal of neoliberal policies is to reduce “wage costs” and raise profit margins globally. These economic refugees are created by Western policies as much as the political ones in the Muslim counties.

Globalization under neoliberal policies since the Reagan-Thatcher decades of the 1980s has actually contributed to the rise of xenophobia ideologically and pushed the issue into the mainstream. This is because of the steady decline of the middle class that feels threatened by low-wage immigrant workers taking jobs considered undesirable by the native population. Despite the fact that immigrants usually take low-paying jobs, there is no shortage of protests against them, even against their babies born in the US. This is because of fear and prejudice but also because the media and right wing politicians directly or subtly promote cultural biases of religion, race, and ethnicity.

The situation is not very different in Europe where people of color, invariably Muslim from Africa and Asia, work for much less and live in ghetto areas. In major European cities such as Paris, London, and Brussels there are ghettos because there is systemic, institutional and cultural racism and xenophobia against people already on the margins of society. Europeans of course have had the long-standing experience of racism with the Romani (Gypsy). For centuries gypsies have survived on the margins of the institutional mainstream. They have engaged in legal and illegal activities, as one would expect of a nomadic people not integrated into the mainstream. It is not a stretch of the imagination for xenophobes to place gypsies and Muslims in the same category and attribute to them stereotypes rooted in Social Darwinism. 

Naturally, “political correctness,” yet another treacherous brick on Liberal society’s wall of hypocrisy, does not permit them to be as bluntly xenophobic as neo-Nazis. In many respects, the liberal political mainstream is even more dangerous than the conservative that is more open in its criticism of illegal aliens. This is because the liberals maintain a façade of the open society concept but legislate to discriminate. If there is social upheaval, and sociopolitical polarization, as far as the liberal and conservative mainstream is concerned it is not because the richest people are engaged in tax evasion; it is not because banks are laundering money and corporations are engaged in bribery while receiving government subsidies, including the European Central Bank propping them up buying corporate bonds. The fault rests with the lumpen-proletariat, gypsies, and Muslim refugees who lack the social, political and cultural respectability of the elites causing structural problems in society. 

If popular protests were to focus on the root causes of the Muslim refugee crisis in Europe and the illegal alien issue in the US instead of demonizing the migrants, it means that people would then turn their attention to government policies rather than blaming the victims of those policies. However, the politicians and the media manipulate public opinion so that people focus on the Syrian man carrying his daughter in his arms while trying to cross the border from Greece into Macedonia so he can reach Western Europe.   

Islam and Democracy

Fear of Islam is a manifestation of a long-standing successful political propaganda in the Western mass media and political arena. If we simply stick to the empirical evidence we find that Islamic countries are not invading Western ones; Islamic countries are not exploiting the Western World through multinational corporations in every sector from energy to minerals; Islamic countries are not trying to overthrow Western governments because they want to install puppet regimes in Washington or London; Islamic countries are not forcing a transformation policy intended to exploit not just the economy but all of society in the West as the latter has been doing for decades in Muslim countries. The West has manufactured fear of Islam just as it manufactured fear of Communism because there is a struggle for Western hegemony on a world scale. 

There is no doubt that Islam like Judaism and Christianity has doctrinal biases that favor men over women and promote sociopolitical conformity. There is no doubt that those practicing Islam are just as hypocritical when it comes to the gap between what they preach and what they practice no different than Jews or Christians. The idea that Islam as old organized religion is somehow much different from Judaism and Christianity implies ignorance of its doctrines on the part of those making such an argument.  

The idea that Islam is incompatible with democracy implies a cultural and political bias that relegates Islam to an inferior religion than Christianity and Judaism. If Islam is indeed incompatible with democracy, then all religions are as well because Islam is hardly much different than the other two monotheistic religions. Besides, how often do Western politicians ask if Israel under a majority Jewish population is a theocratic or secular society considering it behaves as a theocratic state with the full backing of the US and EU while systematically persecuting Palestinians. If Israel behaves like a Zionist state in its policies, why has the argument about the inherent contradiction between Judaism and democracy not been raised in the West, except by a handful of intellectuals? 

If democracy implies unfettered materialism, consumerism, and hedonism, then many in the Islamic world reject the identification of democracy with such values. But so does Pope Francis who is as critical as many Muslims about the Western decadent value system rooted in materialism. If democracy means violating the national sovereignty of other nations, toppling their regimes, interfering in their internal affairs, then Western nations would fit the profile in this respect much better than Islamic nations. Oddly enough, the imperial powers have no qualms about violating the national sovereignty of developing Muslim and non-Muslim nations on which they impose economic, political, strategic and cultural hegemony, but they vigorously protest the symptoms of imperialism that include economic exploitation and refugee conditions owing to societal instability that results in emigration on the part of people seeking safer and improved conditions in the country that caused problems in their homeland. 

The glaring contradiction and hypocrisy of xenophobia inexorably intertwined with underlying racism is that the hegemonic power invokes its own right to self-determination and democracy but then denies it to the nation and people of countries whose population is fleeing hardships caused primarily but not exclusively by the hegemonic power. Even worse, Western xenophobes raise the question of compatibility of Islam and democracy, thus blaming the victim of imperialism for the absence of democracy.

US proposals to force out illegal immigrants

The political rhetoric about Mexican illegal immigration is as hollow and hypocritical as those advocating it for the simple reason that illegal immigrants are the cheapest labor force that capitalists exploit in every sector from farming to construction to domestic work. It is hardly ironic that politicians who take such a position usually have or had illegal aliens work for them.  While most Republicans have a harsh anti-immigrant policy, Democrats support low-cost labor force coming from south of the border rather than sending them back or building walls as Israel has done in the West Bank to isolate Palestinians.

According to US official studies, the cost to the US GDP if undocumented workers are expelled would be $850 billion in a period of 10 years, adding $40 billion annually to the federal budget deficit. One could argue that $40 billion increase in a deficit of $19 trillion is not significant, just as the $850 billion additional boost in GDP over ten years. However, in an international competitive environment and downward pressure on working class and middle class incomes, those figures are important.

There is no doubt that the monetary cost of physically deporting, let alone building a wall would be very high versus the benefits US businesses derives from cheap undocumented laborers. It is hardly surprising that labor unions are against such workers who take any job for below minimum wage scale, thus putting downward pressure on wages of American citizens. Some of the union workers direct their anger toward the undocumented workers rather than the employers who hire them at below minimum wages, just as they direct their anger at technology that replaces them rather than the employer who keeps wages low and politicians who refuse to raise the minimum wage.

Main differences between the Syrian and Mexican immigration 

Europe’s refugee problem is monumental in comparison to that of the US-Mexico immigration issue. However, the common denominator in both cases is the obtrusive presence of Pax Americana as manifested in military action in Syria and economic policies in Mexico. Besides differences in scope, the obvious differences between Syrian and Mexican immigration are that the former are fleeing a war-torn country where the US, its European allies, Turkey and Saudi Arabia tried to overthrow the Assad regime in order to determine the regional balance of power. 

In the case of Mexico, a nation “so far from God and so close to the US”, the issue is strictly economic conditions of a very corrupt country with detrimental social conditions that some people try to escape. While the Hispanic population in the US is about 17.5%, about 7% of that comes primarily from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala. Mexicans make uproughly 10%, depending on various sources. The number of Caribbean immigrants is estimated at around 1.3 million of a total Hispanic immigrant population estimated at 55.4 million. Because politicians and the media in the US lump together the so-called “immigration problem”, and because Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump’s characterization of Mexicans as criminals and Muslims as terrorists, many people hardly bother with nuances of immigrant groups or the causes for their endeavors to reach the US. 
In September 2015, Eskinder Negash, former chief of the Federal Office of Refugee Resettlement stated that he had no serious concerns about allowing Syrian refugees into the US. By contrast, a number of Republicans at the federal and state level have argued in favor of a ban of such refugees, while they are also in favor of very tough measures against undocumented Mexican workers. In many cases, they link the two arguing that terrorists can and do come through the US-Mexico border thus posing a security threat. This fear mongering find fertile ground to fester like a disease that grows across America when middle class incomes keep dropping and the cost of living rises.


From the early overseas voyages of the Portuguese in the 15th century until the US-NATO direct and insurgent operations in a number of Islamic countries (Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria and Yemen), the predominantly Christian West has engaged in colonial and neo-colonial domination to secure markets, geopolitical and strategic hegemony over non-Western, non-Christian countries. In an interview with a TV network in February 2015, State Department official Marie Harf stated that the US government understands a military solution to Islamic terrorism is a futile exercise and only by addressing the root causes such as poverty and injustice, absence of social justice and human rights could there be progress. She argued that:  “We cannot win the War on Terror, nor can we win the war on ISIS by killing them. We need to find them jobs. We need to get to the root cause of terrorism and that is poverty and lack of opportunity in the terrorist community.” This candid admission illustrates that US government is well aware of the real causes and plausible solutions, but chooses the military option for various reasons that in turn create other problems such as refugee crises in the Middle East and xenophobia in the West.

Of course, Latin America is predominantly Christian, but the US considers it its “sphere of influence” since the US-Mexican war in the 1840s that gave us the “Manifest Destiny”, a long-standing doctrine running at the core of US foreign policy ideology. Like the Islamic countries that Europe initially subjected to colonial and neo-colonial conditions, and the US followed the European pattern of imperialism after 1945, similarly Latin America has been subjected to colonial and neo-colonial conditions under the patron-client integration model that permeates NAFTA and various other trade agreements inter-American economic relations.  

The changing demographics in the Western World clearly determine the level of xenophobia probably as much if not more than the steady downward socioeconomic mobility of the last four decades. Many xenophobes believe that the dilution of their “white race” will be contaminated and they will become a minority in the future so their culture will be bastardized and slowly effaced. Fear of losing their national/ethnic/religious/cultural identity because they could eventually become a minority is inexorably linked to the declining middle class and lack of prospects for upward mobility for the next generation. 

When xenophobes talk about “taking back our country”, or “restoring its values and honor”, or “preserve our heritage”, they are referring to underlying fear that cultural diffusion is the enemy when it comes in the form of people of a different race, ethnicity, and culture. Throughout civilization the process of cultural diffusion that takes place primarily through migration has been the catalyst for societal progress while isolation has been the catalyst for backwardness, decline and fall. Xenophobes and other varieties of racists clinging to the phantom of “purity” in race, ethnicity, and culture fail to recognize this reality tested throughout history across the world, thus inviting the demise the civilization they are trying to preserve.  

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