Sweden’s Decades-Long Failure to Integrate: Leonid Bershidsky

Excerpt from a good long and balanced read, along with the reminder of the links between integration and economic outcomes:

Media Vs. Reality

Having walked around Tensta after dark, I must admit it’s far nicer than any other bad neighborhood I’ve ever seen (I grew up in a concrete wasteland on the edge of Moscow). There’s no trash on footpaths between the boxy but well-maintained three- and six-story apartment blocks, built in the 1960s as part of Sweden’s “Million Homes Program” to provide affordable housing to workers. Socialist urban planning is often an underlying reason for the emergence of problem neighborhoods, but Tensta is fetchingly human-scale with a lot of small parks and footbridges spanning lanes of traffic. The absence of graffiti gave this Berlin resident an eerie feeling, and the lack of bars on ground-floor windows made me recall the complex gridwork necessary to keep out burglars in my country of birth.

From what I’d read in media accounts, I’d expected to see drug deals in progress, a common sight in some areas of Berlin. But no one lounged around Tensta looking like a dealer or offering illicit substances for sale. The area around the subway station used to have a lively scene, I’m told, but surveillance cameras, which are generally rare in privacy-minded Sweden, drove it to someplace I couldn’t find.

This isn’t just my impression or a situation unique to Tensta. The 176-page report of the National Council for Crime Prevention is based on a door-to-door survey of two “particularly disadvantaged” areas that yielded 1,176 completed questionnaires, a massive exercise conducted by young female field researchers. Johanna Skinnari, the project manager, told me that team members received strict instructions not to walk alone and not to knock on doors in the late evening, but learned to ignore these precautions because they never felt threatened. “These places are a long way from the banlieues,” Skinnari said, referring to the notorious Paris suburbs.

The “vulnerable areas” aren’t no-go zones in the sense that police and other emergency services avoid going there. “I’d have no problem going to Tensta with my daughter,” said Erik Akerlund, chief police superintendent for the Botkyrka municipality outside Stockholm, which includes a “particularly vulnerable” area of its own. The neighborhoods are, however, no-go zones in a different sense. Locals in Tensta complain of a shortage of government services and doctors’ offices. The neighborhood of 19,000 people doesn’t have a police station of its own, the nearest one is about four kilometers away in Sollentuna. The shopping center at the center of the area was nearly deserted at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, and the few shops open there looked like they were hanging by a thread. The area’s reputation doesn’t make it a desirable place of business or posting for a civil servant or, say, a tax-funded dentist.

The violence and insecurity are real, too. Skinnari’s survey showed that a greater share of people in the vulnerable areas are exposed to crimes, especially property ones, than the residents of other Swedish neighborhoods. Protection rackets are common, and teachers often face the threat of violence at school. Street gangs can be visible and abusive. As a result, 55 percent of the women and 24 percent of men in the disadvantaged areas reported feeling unsafe going outside, compared with 27 percent of women and 8 percent of men in other neighborhoods. After 7 p.m., there are barely any women on the streets of Tensta.

The oppressive atmosphere can be easily linked to the neighborhoods’ economic profile. The employment level in the ghettos was 47 percent last year compared with 67 percent nationwide; between 40 and 67 percent, depending on the neighborhood, make less than 100,000 kronor ($11,000) a year.

That’s an integration failure. According to official data, 50 to 60 percent of residents in vulnerable areas are immigrants or children of immigrants, compared with 17 percent nationwide. In hours of wandering around Tensta, I didn’t meet a single person who looked like a Swede.

The Swedish government has tried to get more ghetto residents into the labor market, even subsidizing employers who gave newcomers their first job. But the program backfired as the foreigners lost the jobs as soon as the subsidy period ran out.

“The government has often just thrown money at the problems — with good intentions, but now there’s a degree of project fatigue,” Skinnari said.

There are constant attempts to improve schooling in the vulnerable neighborhoods, but official statistics say that 40 percent of young people in the disadvantaged areas leave school before graduating.

The Sources of Gang Violence

No wonder the ghetto kids end up in gangs. Though Tensta is visibly segregated — you won’t see any Kurds sitting in the Somali cafe, and vice versa — researchers, locals and police officers told me that the modern Swedish gang is surprisingly multiethnic.

Earlier this month, Rostami published a report for the Stockholm-based Institute for Futures Studies in which he attempted to quantify Swedish organized crime and extremism by combining information from several government databases. He found “business” links spanning seemingly vast cultural divides, including between Islamic extremists and the Swedish nationalist far right. Of the 15,244 people who are part of the gang scene, according to Rostami’s data, 67 percent were born in Sweden. But many of them are second generation immigrant kids who grew up together in disadvantaged areas. They went into the drug business together, too.

This new generation is more violent than its predecessors. Rostami, an Iranian refugee who lived in a ghetto-like area in Gothenburg and worked as a cop before he became a researcher, told me that in recent years, competition from the new generation of gangsters has wreaked havoc with the self-policing of the traditional mafias — the Russians, the Italians, the Bosnians.

“They didn’t see the new generation coming up,” Rostami said. “There’s a cultural shift: For the new kids, violence is the language they speak. They don’t dream of becoming godfather, they want to be king for one day. They don’t care if they’re killed tomorrow, next week or next month.”

Akerlund, the police superintendent, has noticed the shift, too. “When I talk to older criminals,” he said, “I see they’re sometimes afraid of the younger members of their own gangs. They have a different mindset, more violent.”

This change has been brewing for years. Akerlund remembers how he started as an officer patrolling a difficult neighborhood in 2005; almost the first thing he remembers is a riot. The police made an arrest and stones were soon flying at the officers. Car burnings and rock-throwing, often in retaliation for a drug bust, were a frequent occurrence until the middle of the current decade. Now, they’re relatively rare: Akerlund says the police have a better idea of how to counteract rumors and inform the neighborhood what’s really going on.

But violence hasn’t gone away; it’s made a comeback in the shootings. The cutthroat gangland competition is a new phenomenon and researchers and police officials struggle to explain its roots or figure out why firearm use is growing despite restrictive gun laws. They all say, however, that the recent wave of immigration has nothing to do with it: The newcomers haven’t had time to integrate into the gang culture.

Trapped by Decades of Bad Policy

Although Skinnari’s report indicates some statistical improvement in the vulnerable areas — slightly less exposure to crime, more feeling of safety compared with a few years back —the prospects for residents may actually be getting worse. For decades, the bad neighborhoods were gateways for immigrants into the rest of Sweden. People settled in them for the ethnic support networks, learned the language, got better jobs and moved out in a few years, always replaced by more immigrants.

Now, people get stuck. Everyone I talked to named the Swedish real estate market as the reason. It’s almost impossible to rent an apartment in Stockholm or other big urban centers, and few can afford to buy one. Swedish housing prices were up 44 percent last year compared with 2012, and they’ve almost tripled since 2000.

“I remember, 20 years ago one could save, borrow and move out,” said Rostami, who’s done just that. “Now that’s a challenge: You need a very stable job and a high income.”

Fixing the housing market requires investment, political will and planning so skillful that I doubt it exists anywhere. Last year in the Netherlands, often touted as a model when it comes to creating neighborhoods for people with different income levels, residents of these mixed neighborhoods told me of powerful class and ethnic tensions. Sweden has even less experience with such projects.

Inadequate policing is at the core of the problem. Despite safety gains made in the past four years, Rostami said there aren’t enough officers to “shrink the space that organized crime occupies.” According to him, Germany has twice Sweden’s number of police officers per 100,000 residents.

Skinnari’s survey showed that in the vulnerable areas, the police and the court system often are mistrusted because they’re perceived as too soft: Known gang members are let out quickly and prisons lack space to accommodate everyone who’s sentenced, giving convicted gangsters a chance to keep terrorizing neighborhoods.

More prison cells — and, yes, a tougher deportation policy, as the Sweden Democrats suggest, could help.

Not even the nationalists propose going as far as neighboring Denmark with its infamous ghetto laws aimed at assimilating the immigrant population. The Sweden Democrat Bieler said she’d balk at the Danish idea of increasing punishment for crimes committed in problem areas. But it’s not unreasonable for a country to deport foreign nationals who have committed serious offenses. Though it offends liberal sensibilities, it’s also reasonable for a receiving country to try to instill some unifying values in newcomers, especially children. Not doing that has led to the emergence of parallel societies in the vulnerable areas, in which it’s normal to collect funds to refurbish a school in Baghdad but local schools are left to the Swedish government to worry about.

Interestingly, some of the younger immigrants, who yearn to become Swedes, don’t mind adopting a new identity as much as the previous generations of immigrants have done.

Ahmed Abdirahman, a 32-year-old integration policy expert at the Stockholm Chamber of Commerce and the founder of a non-governmental organization called the Global Village, was born in Somalia and lives in Tensta. He believes the immigrant areas, with a much higher proportion of children and young people, “are producing the future of Sweden,” a country with a low fertility rate. So the civil society in these areas shouldn’t aim simply to maintain the culture of the old home country, as has often been the case.

“We are the next generation, and for us it’s about being Swedes: we want to be part of the political conversation,” Abdirahman says.

Even if the Sweden Democrats ever become part of the establishment and succeed in restricting immigration, Sweden is stuck with a large, segregated immigrant population that both its high achievers and its criminals won’t let the rest of the country ignore.

Sweden has lived for decades with a blissful sense that a wealthy, tolerant society can iron out all its kinks. Now, there’s a widespread sense that the country’s social and law enforcement infrastructure is overburdened because too many immigrants are coming in, and time is needed to assimilate the earlier arrivals. But time isn’t the best doctor here: Problems with previous generations of immigrants and their kids were swept under the rug for too long.

What’s needed now is clearer awareness of where the problems really are. The police and researchers affiliated with them lead the way here with their attempts to pinpoint and study the problem neighborhoods and the gangs that operate in them. Superintendent Akerlund firmly believes that in 10 to 15 years, there won’t be any vulnerable areas in his district. But he understands that dream can only become reality with constant effort and learning.

The rest of Swedish society should concentrate on the real problem, too: It’s not the recent refugee wave, it’s decades of complacency and half-hearted integration policies. For Sweden, proud of its world-leading social policies, that’s a bitter pill to swallow, but better late than never.

Source: Sweden’s Decades-Long Failure to Integrate

International stories that caught my attention

One of the advantages of having a break from blogging (not tweeting) is that one can gather the various news items and commentary together to have a more complete picture. Here is what caught my eye over the past few weeks.

UK

An interesting looking back at Enoch Powell’s ‘rivers of blood’ speech, how elements remain today (An Anti-Immigration Speech Divided Britain 50 Years Ago. It Still Echoes Today) and how these perhaps help explain the inexplicable treatment of long-term immigrants and others as exemplified by Windrush immigrants (post World War II immigrants from former British Caribbean colonies).

There was considerable and justifiable on the callousness of UK immigration and citizenship policies, including both news articles and commentary, highlighting some of what I would consider ethical lapses in developing and implementing policy (British Citizen One Day, Illegal Immigrant the Next, UK removed legal protection for Windrush immigrants in 2014, Immigration scandal expected to spread beyond Windrush group,  Woman told she is not British by the Home Office despite living in UK all her life), ‘Not British enough’: ex-high commissioner’s baby denied UK passport in 2011Damian Green ‘dismissed Windrush citizenship pleas’.

Nesrine Malek’s It’s not just Windrush. Theresa May has created hostility to all immigrants makes perhaps the harshest critique:

If you are angry about the treatment of the Windrush generation it is important to understand that this anger cannot be selective, if there are to be no more violations. There is no cross-party, cross-media support for a different type of immigration policy victim than the Windrush scandal has managed to muster. Not for those who are illegally detained, those on hunger strike in protest against poor conditions. Not for those whose illnesses were treated as lies and to which they later succumbed. Not for the sexually exploitedand not for the children separated from their parents. Not even for those British subjects separated from their families by unreasonably high income visa requirements.

During my own long battle with the Home Office to secure residency, I spent many hours in Croydon. I went on one occasion to withdraw my passport, which had languished unprocessed for months, to travel to see my sick mother. Driven wild with fear that I would not be able to see her if the unthinkable happened, I was ready to risk not being allowed back in the country. The waiting room was a holding pen of quiet individual tragedies, full of people whose personal and professional lives had been thrown into turmoil by loss of documents, technical glitches and glacial incompetence. The cruelty we all experienced was not a bug, it was a feature.

The scandal of the Windrush generation is the kind of thing that happens when this rot sets in so deep that the infrastructure of a civilised society begins to fall apart. The rise in the number of the persecuted is analogous to the doubling in deaths of homeless people. There is only so much austerity an economy can take before the human toll rises. And there is only so much ideological fixation on “sending people home” before we are deporting grandmothers who arrived in this country when they were children.

And make no mistake, it is ideological. The Conservative party has been consistent in its aggressive immigration policy since 2010, when David Cameron decided that a tough stance on immigration was a flagship party offering to its base supporters. No ifs, no buts, he said. Detention, deportation and NHS treatment refusal is the culmination of the party’s most lucid positions. It is not incompetence, it is not even malice. It is an enthusiastic strategy that over the past decade has become a cornerstone, a defining element of Conservative governments. An immigration policy, very much like austerity, unafraid to be brutal if the deserving, whether they are the “indigenous population” of the country or hardworking taxpayers, are to be protected from those who are after a “free ride”.

There has been no bureaucratic snafu. The only miscalculation was that everyone got a little bit cocky, and who can blame them. The error was that the dragnet picked up some people who fall into a popular sympathy sweet spot. The elderly ones who came here from the Commonwealth to rebuild Britain and who even the Daily Mail can look kindly upon. They appeal to a patrician nostalgia and have a humanising narrative that others who come to this country in different circumstances do not enjoy. An apology and exceptions made for Windrush cases alone is not enough. If we are to be content with only this, then the government’s furtive shimmy away from the crime scene will be successful, and the Home Office’s daily violations of human rights will continue. If we are to prevent the assaults against those we can relate to, we must also be angry for those we cannot.

The UK government was forced to reverse its policy given the public backlash.

And a few articles on UK perceptions of multiculturalism: Multiculturalism has failed, believe substantial minority of Britons‘Multiculturalism is defunct’: British Government signals U-turn on 70 years of social policy – Dr. Jenny Taylor.

US

Yet another article on the effect of Trump administration policies on the tech sector (Silicon Valley is fighting a brain-drain war with Trump that it may lose) but with one study suggesting the Valley is not as dependent on immigration as may appear (Shocker: San Francisco Tech Companies Not So Reliant On Immigrants):

A surprising survey by Envoy Global suggests that while San Francisco is not giving up on the H-1B, companies there need it less than they have professed to need it.  Call it an adjustment to the immigration policies of the new President. But despite a historical reliance on highly skilled foreign-born talent, most San Francisco employers say they do not consider sourcing foreign national workers as a top talent acquisition priority.

The San Francisco Insights on Immigration Report, conducted by Harris Poll on behalf of Envoy, aggregated the responses of 171 San Francisco-based HR professionals and hiring managers regarding global hiring practices. Key takeaways from the survey showed that local companies view hiring foreign talent is still very much a business norm, but today only 8% of San Francisco tech companies say they proactively seek out foreign employees compared with 24% of tech companies in other tech hubs who say they are looking abroad for talent. Some 54% of San Francisco tech companies said sourcing foreign national employees is not very important to their company’s talent acquisition strategy at the moment.

The de-emphasis on immigrant workers this year is the fact that the H-1B application process has become more cumbersome under Trump.  Trump has promised to make it harder for tech firms to hire foreign workers, though the companies all still insist they need them.

In response to changes in immigration regulations, 33% of San Francisco employers say they are hiring fewer foreign nationals compared to 26% of employers nationwide.

A further tightening of citizenship rules for children born abroad and out of wedlock to US parents USCIS tightens rules on US citizenship for children born outside America is being implemented.

Australia

A series of articles based upon the Australian race commissioner’s report on the appalling lack of diversity among Australian leadership (In a Proudly Diverse Australia, White People Still Run Almost Everything‘Dismal’ diversity among Australian business and civic leadersWhy we should look at targets to get more non-Europeans into top jobs: Tim Soutphommasane):

Based on the 2016 Census data on ancestry, we estimate about 58 per cent of Australians have an Anglo-Celtic background, 18 per cent have a European background, 21 per cent have a non-European background, and 3 per cent have an Indigenous background.

However, our examination of almost 2500 senior leaders in business, politics, government and higher education shows only very limited cultural diversity. Almost 95 per cent of senior leaders at the chief executive or “c-suite” levels have an Anglo-Celtic or European background. Of the 372 chief executives and equivalents we identified, 97 per cent have an Anglo-Celtic or European background.

Here’s a breakdown. Within the ASX 200 companies, there appears only to be eight chief executives who have a non-European background – enough to squeeze into a Tarago. Of the 30 members of the federal ministry, there is no one who has a non-European background, and one who has an Indigenous background. It is similarly bleak within the public service, where 99 per cent of the heads of federal and state government departments have an Anglo-Celtic or European background (that’s one of 103). Universities don’t fare much better: just one of the 39 vice-chancellors of Australian universities has a non-European background.

All up there are 11 of the 372 chief executives and equivalents who have a non-European or Indigenous background. A mere cricket team’s worth of diversity.

These are dismal statistics for a society that prides itself on its multiculturalism. They challenge our egalitarian self-image. And they challenge our future prosperity as a nation. If we aren’t making the most of our multicultural talents, we may be squandering opportunities.

I often hear from people that it will only be a matter of time before cultural diversity is better represented. We should be encouraged, for example, that there doesn’t appear to be any lack of European backgrounds among senior leaders. Just as it took time before we saw Australian chief executives from Italian or Greek backgrounds, we may have to wait a little longer before we see more from Asian, Middle-Eastern, or African backgrounds.

Time alone may not resolve the problem. Economists at the University of Sydney, in a recent study involving resumes, found those with an Anglo name are three times more likely to be invited for interview, compared to candidates with a Chinese name. (The study also found that those with Chinese names who had an Anglicised first name doubled their chances of receiving a job interview.)

If we are serious about shifting numbers, it may be necessary to consider targets for cultural diversity – if not quotas. Such measures don’t stand in opposition to a principle of merit. After all, meritocracy presumes a level playing field. Yet do we seriously believe that a perfectly level playing field exists, when there is such dramatic under-representation of cultural diversity within leadership positions?

Multiculturalism can be as superficial as food and festivals. But if we’re serious about our diversity, we must be prepared to hold up a mirror to ourselves – and ask if what we see looks right for an egalitarian and multicultural Australia.

Hungary

Lastly, relevant and disturbing commentary on the recent Hungarian election and the country’s descent into autocracy (Hungary Is Winning Its War on Muslim Immigrants: Leonid BershidskyA Democracy Disappears: Andrew Sullivan), with Sullivan noting the parallels with the US under Trump:

The recipe is a familiar one by now. In a society where social mores, especially in the big cities, appear to be changing very fast, there is a classic reaction. More traditional voters in the heartland begin to feel left behind, and their long-held values spurned. At the same time, a wave of unlawful migrants, fleeing terror and deprivation, appear to threaten the demographic and cultural balance still further, and seem to be encouraged by international post-national entities such as the European Union. A leftist ruling party in disarray gives a right-wing demagogue an opening, and he seizes it. And so in 2010, Orbán was able to exploit a political crisis triggered by an imploding and scandal-ridden Socialist government, and, alongside coalition partners, win a supermajority for the right in parliament.

Once in power, that supermajority allowed Orbán to amend the constitution in 2011, reducing the number of seats in the parliament from 386 to 199, gerrymandering them brutally to shore up his party’s standing in future elections, barring gay marriage in perpetuity, and mandating that in election campaigns, state media would take precedence over independent sources. He also forced a wave of early retirements in the judiciary in order to pack the courts with loyalists.

As Mounk notes, Orbán also tapped into deep grievances rooted in Hungary’s loss of territory in the 20th century, by giving the vote to ethnic Hungarians in neighboring Romania and removing it from more culturally progressive expats. But it was in response to the migration crisis in 2015, that Orbán truly galvanized public opinion behind him. Hungary, as Paul Lendvai noted in The Atlantic, had been deluged with asylum claims: 174,000 in 2015 alone, the highest per capita in the EU. Orbán responded by spreading fears of an influx of terrorists and criminals, of a poisoning of Hungarian culture, and expressing visceral nationalist hostility to the diktats of the European Union. Added to all that, of course, was a generous salting of classic central European anti-Semitism. Voters especially in rural areas flocked to him.

He further shifted the public discourse by creating and advancing new media outlets that amplified his propaganda, while attacking, harassing, and undermining all the others. He erected a huge fence to keep Muslim immigrants out, and refused to accept any of the 50,000 refugees the EU wanted to settle in his country. His political allies began to get very rich, as crony capitalism spread. By last year, Orbán had turned George Soros into a version of 1984’s Emmanuel Goldstein — an “enemy of the state” — with billboards and endless speeches, demonizing the Jewish billionaire and philanthropist, and vowing to protect the nation from external, malignant forces.

It was a potent formula, especially when backed up by the rigging of the parliamentary seats. Last week, in a surge of voter turnout, Orban won almost 50 percent of the vote, but two-thirds of the seats, giving him another supermajority (this time without coalition partners) in parliament, with further chances to amend the constitution in his favor. His voters in the heartland swamped a majority for the opposition in Budapest. One of two remaining opposition newspapers, Magyar Nemzet, shut down on Wednesday after 80 years in print. Orbán had withdrawn all government advertising in it. Some wonder whether there will ever be a free election again.

If you find many of these themes familiar, you’ve been paying attention. In the middle of a reaction against massive social change and a wave of illegal immigration, a right-wing party decides to huff some populism. A charismatic figure emerges, defined by hostility to immigration, becomes an iconic figure, and even though he doesn’t win a majority of votes, comes to office. His party is further shored up by gerrymandering, giving it a structural advantage in gaining and keeping power, including a seven percentage-point head start in the House of Representatives. That party does what it can to further suppress the vote of its opponents, especially ethnic minorities, and focuses on packing the courts, even rupturing long-standing precedents to deny a president of the opposing party his right to fill a vacant Supreme Court seat.

Openly propagandist media companies emerge, fake news surges, while the president uses the powers of his office to attack, delegitimize, and discredit other media sources, even to the point of threatening a company like Amazon. A mighty wall is proposed against immigrants on the border, alongside fears of a mass “invasion” from the South. Social conservatives are embraced tightly. The census is altered to ensure one party’s advantage in future district-drawing. Courts are disparaged and the justice system derided as rigged by political opponents.

The difference, of course, is that Orbán is an experienced politician, and knows exactly what he’s doing. Trump is a fool, an incompetent, and incapable of forming any kind of strategy, or sticking to one. The forces arrayed against the populist right, moreover, are much stronger in the U.S. than in Hungary; our institutions more robust; our culture much more diverse. Our democracy is far, far older.

And yet almost every single trend in Hungary is apparent here as well. The party of the left has deep divisions, and no unifying leader, while the ruling party is a loyalist leader-cult. The president’s party is a machine that refuses to share power, and seeks total control of all branches of government. It is propelled by powerful currents of reaction, seems indifferent to constitutional norms, and dedicated to incendiary but extremely potent populist rhetoric. The president’s supporters now support a purge in the Department of Justice and the FBI, to protect the president from being investigated.

The president himself has repeatedly demonstrated contempt for liberal norms; and despite a chaotic first year and a half, is still supported by a solid and slightly growing 42 percent of the public. Meanwhile, the immigration issue continues to press down, the culture wars are intensifying again, and the broad reasons for Trump’s election in the first place remain in place: soaring social and economic inequality, cultural insecurity, intensifying globalization, and a racially fraught period when white Americans will, for the first time, not form a majority of citizens.

History is not over; and real, profound political choices are here again. My hope is that the descent into illiberalism across the West might shake up the rest of us in defending core liberal democratic principles, wherever they are threatened, bringing us to the ballot box in huge numbers this fall, and abandoning the complacency so many have lapsed into.

Geddes tries to explain former PM Harper’s congratulations to Orban (Why Stephen Harper congratulating Viktor Orbán matters: John Geddes):

Tone matters. If this were only a pro forma note, Harper is more than capable, as anyone who followed him in Canadian politics can attest, of draining any message of liveliness or affect. And, by his own stated standard, he would have had grounds for keeping any hint of enthusiasm out of this one. After all, Harper has said that his aim as IDU chair is partly “ensuring that we address the concerns of frustrated conservatives and that they do not drift to extreme options.”

If we’re talking extreme options, Orban looks like a prime example these days. Numerous credible critics charge that he has coopted Hungary’s courts and schools, skewed its electoral system to his advantage, all while voicing admiration for Turkey and China, and criticizing Western European tolerance for Muslim immigration. Still, political science professor Achim Hurrelmann, director of Carleton University’s Institute of European, Russian and Eurasian Studies, says Orban’s core message—beyond his destructive domestic tactics—is being heard by conservatives outside Hungary. “[Fidesz] has primarily been anti-migration, emphasizing the Christian roots of Europe, and being very much against diversity,” Hurrelmann told me in an interview. “In that position, they find common ground with some other mainstream conservative parties.”

I can’t guess if Harper’s calculation in issuing that tweet took into account an awareness that Orban, dangerous as he may be, isn’t irrelevant beyond Hungary. Whatever Harper’s reasoning, he has undoubtedly damaged his reputation among many who view Orban with justifiable distaste and alarm. I’m reminded again of the steep learning curve Harper had to climb after barely travelling outside Canada, and concentrating almost entirely on domestic issues, rather than foreign policy, before his 2006 election win. “Since coming to office,” he told Maclean’s in 2011, “the thing that’s probably struck me the most in terms of my previous expectations—I don’t even know what my expectations were—is not just how important foreign affairs/foreign relations is, but, in fact, that it’s become almost everything.”

It’s worth noting that Andrew Scheer seems to be on his own version of that learning curve now. In this recent interview with my colleague Paul Wells, the Conservative leader surprised me by going on at some length about his reasons for supporting Brexit. Scheer spoke about how staying in the EU impinged on British sovereignty and embroiled Britain in the Brussels bureaucracy. He scoffed at “this notion that somehow they would lose access to the European market.” He repeated the debunked canard that EU rules required a certain curvature on bananas.

To my ear, all this pro-Brexit blather was by far the least convincing part of Scheer’s performance in that interesting conversation. Conservatism’s most treacherous currents are global, especially in the age of Donald Trump. In Harper’s congratulatory message to Orban, and Scheer’s laudatory position on Brexit, the difficulty finding a solidly respectable place to stand in that international discourse becomes glaringly obvious. These issues might not seem central to Canadian voters in any federal election, but, as Harper reminded us, they soon are to whoever wins one.

 

Turns out the French government can’t take a joke either

Leonid Bershidsky on the French government’s overkill in arresting Dieudonne and others for hate speech:

Like the other 53 people arrested for hate speech in France since the Paris terror attack, Dieudonne did not wield a gun — he just typed words on a keyboard. If all those cartoons of pencils versus Kalashnikovs that proliferated after the Charlie Hebdo killings are worth anything at all, these people must be freed.

Words do not kill, and it’s always the reader’s or listener’s choice whom to listen to. Charlie Hebdo is not a publication for radical Islamists, Christian fundamentalists or the far right. I bought Charlie Hebdo when I lived in France, but I am not a Dieudonne fan, for obvious reasons. Freedom, however, is about recognizing that, while some wouldn’t touch Charlie Hebdo with a barge pole, they might flock to Dieudonne’s sold-out shows.

Today, Charlie Hebdo sold out its extraordinary 3 million print run in a matter of hours. (Two million additional copies will be printed.) As we stock up on the magazine with a cartoon of the prophet Mohammed on the cover, it would be a good idea to listen to Luz, the artist who drew that cartoon. Here’s what he said in a recent interview:

“The symbolic actions of today are what Charlie has always worked against, to destroy symbols, remove taboos, flatten fantasies. It’s great that people support us but that’s contrary to what Charlie cartoons are about. The unanimity is useful to Hollande when he wants to unite the nation. It is useful to Marine Le Pen when she calls for the death penalty. Everybody can do whatever they want with symbolism in a broad sense.”

Instead of using the Charlie Hebdo attack as a pretext for a crackdown on the freedom of expression, the French government should set an example to others by repealing hate speech laws and concentrating on preventing the truly deadly attacks — those that use bullets. There are far more dangerous people around than anti-Semitic comedians.

Turns out the French government can’t take a joke either

And Andrew Sullivan makes similar points:

…. particularly religion, which should be open to the most merciless attacks and denunciations and mockery precisely because of the grandeur of its claims and the power of its social authority. A true believer is relieved to see the all-too human institutions of church or mosque or synagogue ridiculed, precisely because those institutions are prone to corruption on a vast scale. And faith should easily survive mockery. Jesus himself encouraged his followers not to be dismayed when they are maligned or disparaged because of their faith. It is not something Christians should avenge; it is something that at times Christians should even seek. But even a spiritual figure like Jesus was ignored for millennia once Christianity got worldly power. When Muhammed himself authorizes a hit on someone who insulted him and Allah, the journey is going to be considerably longer.

France Cracks Down On Free Speech