How ‘Multiculturalism’ Became a Bad Word in South Korea

Highlights some of the challenges to previously insular societies:

Inside the dimly lit house, young Muslim men knelt and prayed in silence. Outside, their Korean neighbors gathered with angry signs to protest “a den of terrorists” moving into their neighborhood.

In a densely populated but otherwise quiet district in Daegu, a city in southeastern South Korea, a highly emotional standoff is underway.

Roughly 150 Muslims, mostly students ​at the nearby Kyungpook National University, started building a mosque in a lot next door to their temporary house of worship about a year ago. When their Korean neighbors found out, they were furious.

The mosque would turn the neighborhood of Daehyeon-dong into “​an enclave of Muslims and a ​crime-infested ​slum,” the Korean neighbors wrote on signs and protest banners. It would bring more “noise” and a “food smell​” from an unfamiliar culture, driving out the Korean residents.

The Muslim students and their Korean supporters fought back, arguing that they had the right to live and pray in peace in Daegu, one of the most politically conservative cities in South Korea. “There is a difference between protest and harassment,” said Muaz Razaq, 25, a Ph.D. student in computer science who is from Pakistan. “What they were doing was harassment.”

The fault line between the two communities here has exposed an uncomfortable truth in South Korea. At a time when the country enjoys more global influence than ever — with consumers around the world eager to dance to its music, drive its cars and buy its smartphones — it is also grappling with a fierce wave of anti-immigrant fervor and Islamophobia. While it has successfully exported its culture abroad, it has been slow to welcome other cultures at home.

The mosque dispute has become a flash point, part of a larger phenomenon in which South Koreans have had to confront what it means to live in an increasingly diverse society. Muslims have often borne the brunt of racist misgivings, particularly after the Taliban executed two South Korean missionaries in 2007.

The arrival of 500 Yemeni asylum seekers on the island of Jeju in 2018 triggered South Korea’s first series of organized anti-immigrant protests. The government responded to fears that the asylum seekers were harboring terrorists by banning them from leaving the island.

“Their rules on the hijab alone are enough reason that they should never set foot in our country,” said Lee Hyung-oh, the leader of Refugee Out, a​ nationwide anti-immigration network that opposes the mosque in Daegu.

Many Koreans explain their attitude toward foreigners by citing history: their small nation has survived invasions and occupations for centuries, maintaining its territory, language and ethnic identity. Those who oppose the mosque and immigration more broadly have often warned that an influx of foreigners would threaten South Korea’s “pure blood” and “ethnic homogeneity.”

“We may look exclusionist, but it has made us what we are, consolidating us as a nation to survive war, colonial rule and financial crises and achieve economic development while speaking the same language, thinking the same thoughts,” Mr. Lee said. “I don’t think we could have done this with diversity,” he added. “We are not xenophobic. We just don’t want to mix with others.”

Some say the country does not have much of a choice.

South Korea’s rise as a cultural powerhouse has coincided with a demographic crisis. Years of low birthrates and rising incomes in urban areas have led to shortages of women who want to marry and live in rural towns. Farms and factories have found it difficult to fill low-wage jobs. Universities lack local students.

To help alleviate the challenges, South Korea opened its doors to workers and students from other nations. Some rural men began to marry foreign women, especially from Vietnam. Yet when the government introduced policies to support “multicultural families,” there was a backlash. Suddenly, words like “multiculturalism” and “diversity” became pejorative terms for many South Koreans.

And the antipathy has not been limited to Muslim students in Daegu, a city of more than two million people.

Last year, an anti-China uproar forced a local developer to cancel its plan to build a Chinese cultural center west of Seoul. In Ansan, south of Seoul, all but six of the 450 students in Wongok Elementary School are immigrants’ children because Korean parents have refused to send their children there. In 2020, a Ghanaian entertainer sparked a backlash when he criticized a blackface performance by high school students. He eventually apologized.

“Koreans have deep-rooted xenophobic beliefs that foreigners are inferior,” said Yi Sohoon, a professor of sociology at Kyungpook National University who supports the mosque. “But they value foreigners differently according to their origin. They treat Black people from the United States or Europe differently from Black people from Africa.”

Runaway housing prices, a lack of social mobility and a widening income gap have contributed to the tensions. In a recent Facebook post, Yoon Suk-yeol, a leading conservative candidate in the March 9 presidential election, vowed to stop immigrants from getting “a free ride” with national health care. Lee Jae-myung, his more left-leaning rival, accused Mr. Yoon of fanning “xenophobic right-wing populism.”

The number of foreign residents in South Korea grew to 1.7 million, or 3.3 percent of the total population, in 2020, from 1.4 million in 2017. The government has predicted that the number will grow to 2.3 million by 2040. The overall population fell for the first time on record in 2021, increasing the need for foreign workers and students.

“Human beings are naturally biased, but don’t let the bias lead you to depriving other people of their fundamental human rights,” said Ashraf Akintola, a Ph.D. student in biomedical engineering from Nigeria and one of the Muslim worshipers in Daegu. Mr. Akintola said he felt sad when a Korean protester followed him last year shouting, “Leave our country!” Back in Nigeria, he said, K-pop was so popular that his friends learned to speak Korean.

The Muslim students had prayed at an ordinary house in Daehyeon-dong for seven years. In late 2020, after tearing the house down, they began building a mosque, using a building next door as a temporary house of worship during construction. That’s when Korean residents and activists joined forces to make the neighborhood the center of an anti-immigrant campaign.

In January, the neighbors hung a large black-and-white banner across from the proposed mosque site: “Korean people come first!”

“We are not against their religion,” said Kim Jeong-suk, a 67-year-old Korean resident who opposes the mosque. “We just can’t have a new religious facility in our crowded neighborhood, whether it’s Islamic, Buddhist or Christian.” The neighborhood already has 15 Christian churches, including one roughly 30 yards from where the mosque would be.

Many of the offensive signs were removed after the government’s National Human Rights Commission intervened last October. Construction remains suspended as both sides take their case to court, but human rights lawyers say discrimination against immigrants can also be found in South Korean law.

“It’s one thing that Koreans want to be recognized globally, get rich and successful abroad,” said Hwang Pil-gyu, a human rights attorney who tracks abuses against immigrants. “It’s quite another whether they are willing to embrace foreigners.”

An anti-discrimination bill has stalled in Parliament for years amid opposition from a powerful Christian lobby. Under current policy, undocumented people are not afforded the same rights as those who are in South Korea legally, and foreigners detained under immigration laws are not entitled to habeas corpus.

Last year, disturbing closed-circuit TV footage from a detention center for undocumented immigrants showed a Moroccan man hogtied in solitary confinement. The Justice Ministry admitted to human rights abuses and promised reform.

Still, accepting Muslim refugees has become so unpopular that when the government gave asylum to 390 Afghans last year, it refused to call them refugees. Instead it called them “special contributors,” signaling that the country would only welcome those who contributed to national interests.

“Globalization has a positive connotation among South Koreans,” said Ms. Yi, the professor. “But they need to realize that it involves an exchange of not just money and goods, but culture, religion and people.” Ms. Yi was among the liberal politicians, professors and activists who staged rallies supporting the mosque.

Residents, however, appear to be united in their opposition. More than 175,000 people signed a petition addressed to Moon Jae-in, the president of South Korea, warning that “If we lose Daehyeon-dong, we will lose Daegu.”

“I had never seen people like them before, and I saw no women, only men, swarming in there,” said Park Jeong-suk, a 60-year-old resident who lives next door to the proposed mosque site.

Ms. Park’s neighbor, Namgung Myeon, 59, said he opposed an influx of foreigners as South Korea’s own population declined. “It will unsettle our national foundation,” he said, “enervating our national character and values.”

Source: How ‘Multiculturalism’ Became a Bad Word in South Korea

British people have become startlingly less xenophobic

Of interest:

In june 2016 Nigel Farage, then the leader of the uk Independence Party, unveiled a poster showing a line of refugees. “breaking point”, it screamed, in red letters. “We must break free of the eu and take back control of our borders.” Boris Johnson, a leading light in the main Leave campaign, sniffily described it as “not my politics”. But perhaps it revealed something, he suggested. If Britain left the eu, people might calm down about immigration.

He seems to have been right. On September 14th a poll by Ipsos mori revealed a markedly more relaxed nation. Excluding “don’t knows”, the share who want immigration reduced stands at 50%, down from 69% in early 2015 (see chart). A non-negligible 18% want more of it. Polls by other firms show much the same trend.

Source: British people have become startlingly less xenophobic

Stop stigmatizing racialized communities during the pandemic

More on stigmatization without recognizing the underlying socioeconomic circumstances but with little recognition that culture can also play a role:

Pandemics create fear — this is not new. 

The coronavirus disease has highlighted how fear and anxieties have driven racism and xenophobia as countries have dealt with outbreaks. The instinct to blame the unknown or the “outsider” is a pervasive outcome of outbreaks. Unfortunately, the blaming of immigrant communities for the rise in infections is causing more harm.

Anyone can be infected by COVID-19; in this sense the virus does not discriminate. However, it is clear that race and culture are significant factors in who gets scrutinized and who does not. We have seen some political leaders and decision-makers engage in misinformation to escape blame for how they handled the crisis.

Blaming the outsider and “othering” infectious diseases is not a new phenomenon. The “Ebola” virus and the “Spanish” influenza were both named after geographic locations. We even saw the U.S. president unsuccessfully attempt to brand COVID-19 as the “Wuhan virus” or “China virus.” Words from leadership matter — Asian Americans in the United States have reported a surge in racially motivated hate crimes.

The ramifications of villainizing marginalized groups for causing or spreading the infection is significant. Data compiled by a coalition of groups shows over 600 anti-Asian incidents since the pandemic began. A third of these incidents involved assault or physical violence — and so are considered hate crimes. Contrast this with previous StatsCan data from 2016-2018, which show roughly 60 hate incidents annually targeting persons of East and South East Asian backgrounds — the data is clear.

The rise of hate crimes is not the only issue. A study by the World Health Organization noted that the stigmatization is a “hidden burden” of disease and it is costly to patients as well as societies. Studies have shown that the SARS epidemic “generated feelings of extreme vulnerability, uncertainty and threat to life during its initial outbreak phase.” This is why I am so concerned about a recent interview that Alberta Premier Jason Kenney gave where he stated large family gatherings in Calgary’s South Asian community were to blame for the rapid spread of the virus. This type of rhetoric is not helpful, and only instills fear.

Since that interview, South Asians in Calgary have demanded an apology, and brought to light other compounding factors that have increased cases in their community. Many have service jobs and do not have the luxury of working from home. As front-line workers, they are our nurses, taxi drivers, grocery store clerks and warehouse workers.

In contrast to Kenney, when reports were circulating that South Asians in Brampton were holding large gatherings for Diwali and increasing virus case loads, Mayor Patrick Brown — also a Conservative — did not blame the entire South Asian community. Instead, he reminded us that many in the community are in fact our unsung heroes, as essential workers that keeping the local economy going. This is not to discount that some break the rules, but demonizing an entire community is false and harmful.

Our leaders need to be conscious of their impact on public narrative and behaviour, and do better. As we conduct more testing in targeted communities such as Thorncliffe that have a large population of precarious workers, we will see more cases — and we must ensure stigmatization does not occur. In these difficult times it is important to remain vigilant and ensure our leaders do not use their platform to incite hysteria.

How can we do better? Recently the City of Toronto made some recommendations to help address the disparity in COVID-19 cases among racialized and lower-income Torontonians. One of the most important recommendations is to communicate sociodemographic data in non-stigmatizing ways. This needs to be applied by all government officials and health care providers — especially as the city focuses on priority neighbourhoods and potential “hot spots.”

Improving our communication on information and issues related to COVID-19 is vital. As the vaccine is rolled out, we are already seeing misinformation being spread online. By tapping into all forms of communication — including multilingual outreach — and working closely with local community members, we can ensure an inclusive approach in fighting this virus.


Fearfulness is linked to reduced interaction with novel cultures for both immigrants and non-immigrants

Interesting and relevant study:

People who believe there are more dangers lurking in the social world are less likely to engage with cultures other than their own, according to new research published in Evolutionary Psychological Science. The new study indicates that this is the case for both minority groups and majority ingroup members.

“There was some existing work suggesting that different forms of threat play a role in prejudices towards outgroups, but these studies had often only looked at mainstream populations and their attitudes to stigmatized minorities, and had generally focused on people’s feelings towards individuals,” explained study author Nicholas Kerry, a PhD student at Tulane University.

“We wanted to look at this in a broader way which focused on social interactions and cultural practices. In other words, we were interested in things like how much time people spent with people of other cultures, how likely they would be to date someone of that culture, and how much they reported interacting with cultural practices other than the ones they grew up with.”

“So, for example, how much people enjoy the TV, movies, and jokes of another culture, and how much they believe in its cultural values. We were also especially interested in testing this in an immigrant sample, as well as a mainstream one, to see whether threat-perception was also related to their acculturation, i.e. their interaction with the mainstream culture.”

In the study, 171 immigrant Americans completed a measure of acculturation, which assessed their preference for the culture of their heritage versus mainstream American culture. A separate sample of 964 naturally-born Americans completed a similar measure, which assessed their interest in foreign cultures versus mainstream American culture. Both samples then completed surveys regarding their belief in a dangerous world, perceived vulnerability to disease, and their romantic partners.

The researchers found that belief in a dangerous world was associated with cultural neophobia. In other words, participants who agreed with statements such as “There are many dangerous people in our society who will attack someone out of pure meanness” displayed a stronger preference for their own cultural practices, regardless of whether they were immigrants or not.

Belief in a dangerous world also predicted whether participants had romantic partners of the same ethnicity.

“The central finding of this study is that people who perceive themselves to be at greater risk of physical threats tend to be less likely to interact with other cultures. One possible implication would be that if people wish to encourage integration between cultures, a good starting point might be to ameliorate conditions which make people feel threatened,” Kerry told PsyPost.

Concerns about disease, however, were unrelated to cultural preferences. The finding is somewhat surprising, given that past research has found it is a predictor of xenophobic attitudes. But Kerry and his colleagues noted that the previous studies “examined attitudes towards individuals, not cultural practices.”

“It should be noted that this study is entirely correlational, which means that we do not have direct evidence of the direction of any causal relationship. So future work could address this by looking at changes in individuals across time, to see whether it really is the case that fearfulness leads to less interaction with novel cultures,” Kerry added.

“It could also be interesting for future research to examine whether environmental conditions that serve as cues of threat (such as actual violent crime, or how much it is reported in the media) can influence regional levels of acculturation.”

The study, “Cultures of Fear: Individual Differences in Perception of Physical (but Not Disease) Threats Predict Cultural Neophobia in both Immigrant and Mainstream Americans“, was authored by Nicholas Kerry, Zachary Airington, and Damian R. Murray.

Source: Fearfulness is linked to reduced interaction with novel cultures for both immigrants and non-immigrants

John Ivison: Scheer’s lame response to fringe Tory intolerance proves his lack of leadership again

One almost has the impression that Ivison uses his condemnation of Scheer’s non-response to Derek Sloan’s xenophobia and accusations of dual loyalty with respect to Theresa Tam as a backhand way to criticize Theresa Tam’s actual performance (which is legitimate unlike Sloah’s comments):

It’s not so much the bigotry as the hypocrisy that is so exasperating.

Derek Sloan’s comments on Theresa Tam were clearly xenophobic, drawing immediate approval of renowned white “nationalists” like Paul Fromm.

The Ontario MP and Conservative leadership candidate asked in an online post and in an email to potential supporters whether Canada’s chief medical officer “works for Canada or China?”

The coded Canada-first language was a thinly disguised appeal for support from the intolerant fringe of the Conservative Party (Tam was born in Hong Kong).

But Sloan has no hope of winning the party’s leadership. He is currently confounding the maxim that there is no such thing as bad publicity and very soon he will fade into foot-notoriety.

My vexation is with the Conservative party establishment.

Even though leader Andrew Scheer is a lame duck, he is still responsible for the credibility of a venerable political party that professes to represent all Canadians.

In a multi-ethnic country where visible minorities make up a quarter of the population, no party tainted by racism can win power.

Yet when Scheer was asked to denounce Sloan’s statement, he turtled, saying he did not want to comment on the behaviour of a leadership candidate. That didn’t stop then interim Conservative Rona Ambrose dumping on Kellie Leitch’s bogus “Canadian values” test in the last leadership go-round.

If Scheer doesn’t see the need to decry comments from a sitting member of caucus that tars all Conservative MPs and the party with the brush of intolerance, he should go now.

In truth, his tone-deaf response is entirely in keeping with the deficiencies that saw him ousted in the first place: an apparent inability to articulate a contemporary conservatism that might appeal to the tesserae that make up the modern Canadian mosaic.

Sloan’s prejudice was calculated to appeal to an element that engages in a collective judgment of races and faiths.

In doing so, he succeeded in obscuring legitimate criticism of Tam, the World Health Organization and the Communist Party of China.

Tam’s performance has been controversial — and not just in hindsight.

In late January, she told Canadians there was no reason to be “overly concerned” about COVID-19.

She was part of a WHO emergency committee that concluded it was too early to declare a “public health emergency of international concern” on January 23.

After Canada had confirmed its first case, Tam’s concern seemed to be more focused on stigma being directed at people of Chinese and Asian descent.

At the end of January, she was reassuring Canadians that the health risks were low and that asymptomatic people arriving in Canada did not need to be quarantined.

At a health committee meeting, she was asked by a Liberal MP and physician, Marcus Powlowski, about reports the disease is communicable during the incubation period, to which she replied “people with mild symptoms don’t transmit very readily”.

She subsequently resisted the mandatory quarantining of incoming travellers, the closing of borders and the use of face-masks — all public policies that were later reversed.

“It’s going to be rare but we are expecting cases,” she told the health committee, the day before the WHO finally declared a global health emergency.

Tam can be accused of complacency. She can be denounced for blindly following Tedros Adhonam Ghebreyesus, who finds himself in disrepute for failing to alert the world earlier about COVID-19’s virulence. The WHO’s director general is accused of subordinating his responsibility to protecting China from scrutiny, ignoring warnings about human-to-human transmission and even applauding Chinese president Xi Jinping for “timely and effective measures in dealing with the epidemic”.

But Sloan didn’t just question Tam’s competence, he queried her loyalty. He did it for leadership votes from conspiracy theorists and survivalists, who fear gun bans, internment and a UN invasion.

His leader should have insisted on an apology or a resignation from caucus. Instead it was left to two rookie Conservative MPs, Eric Melillo and Eric Duncan to make clear that questioning Tam’s allegiance crossed a line.

Sloan’s comment offered “a platform to extreme theories and does not represent our party,” said Melillo.

“I may have questions and constructive concerns at times about Dr. Tam and (her) team during these evolving and challenging times. But I will never question her loyalty to Canada and to the best interests of Canadians,” said Duncan.

Many Conservatives will be grateful to two of the party’s newest MPs for offering a beacon of hope and decency.

Source: John Ivison: Scheer’s lame response to fringe Tory intolerance proves his lack of leadership again

‘They see my blue eyes then jump back’ – China sees a new wave of xenophobia

Of note:

Over the past few weeks, as Chinese health officials reported new “imported” coronavirus cases almost every day, foreigners living in the country have noticed a change. They have been turned away from restaurants, shops, gyms and hotels, subjected to further screening, yelled at by locals and avoided in public spaces.

“I’m walking past someone, then they see my blue eyes and jump a foot back,” said Andrew Hoban, 33, who is originally from Ireland and lives in Shanghai.

Experiences range from socially awkward to xenophobic. An American walking with a group of foreigners in a park in Beijing saw a woman grab her child and run the other way. Others have described being called “foreign trash”. A recent online article, under an image of ship stacked with refuse being pushed away from China’s coast, was headlined: “Beware of a second outbreak started by foreign garbage.”

China’s Proposed Immigration Changes Spark Xenophobic Backlash Online

Of note, not to mention Chinese government repression of minorities such as the Yuighurs:

While China is struggling with the coronavirus pandemic, the country’s Ministry of Justice has sparked another controversy over some proposed changes in China’s immigration policy. The policy proposed by Chinese officials has been slammed by Chinese internet users on the country’s social media outlets WeChat and Weibo since the ministry began seeking public consultations through departmental websites and social media in late February.According to the proposed clauses listed by the Chinese Ministry Of Justice, the new legislation aims to attract high-income foreign nationals to permanently live in China. In order to qualify, applicants need to have made major contributions to China’s science, technologies, sports, or cultural sectors. Experts in specific subjects may also qualify for permanent residence status in China. Foreign nationals whose incomes are six times higher than local residents can also apply after working in China for four consecutive years, or eight consecutive years if their incomes are less than six times but more than three times the average income of local residents.

The latest proposed changes to China’s immigration system are designed to attract a limited number of experts, specialists, and high-income individuals who can contribute significantly to China. Yet Chinese internet users are not showing any signs of support. There were more than 70,000 comments under the original Ministry of Justice Weibo post, which later got censored because of the backlash. The ministry closed down comments on the post announcing the legislative proposal for granting permanent resident status to foreign nationals. According to reports from the Beijing News, the topic generated billions of reads on the Chinese social media platform Weibo.

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) regime is attempting to win back some support on this issue from the public through its state media outlets. Following the online anger, China Daily issued an op-ed about the importance of attracting foreign talents to develop the country’s economy and technology. CGTN, another English-language state media outlet, also published an op-ed calling for “a more open and inclusive society.” However, the overwhelming voices of dissent are dominating the spotlight.

Immigration has always been a challenging issue in Chinese society. The CCP’s past policies and records are making it difficult for the Chinese government to argue in favor of immigration, even for the purpose of attracting elite talents from other countries. According to an Initium News report, the majority of people in Chinese society believe that foreign nationals have been granted privileges and special status that they do not deserve. Some critics point out the unequal treatment between local Chinese and foreign nationals, accusing the Chinese government of opening up immigration while still having population planning policies to restrict the number of children Chinese nationals can have.

It is also important to note the prevalence of hatred and racism among the voices speaking against China’s plan to attract foreign talents. From questioning the loyalties of individuals from a different race to propagating stereotypes about other ethnic groups, many internet users seem to be opposing the Chinese government’s immigration proposals not because of the potential impacts of the policies, but rather because of racial biases and prejudices. Such attitudes are all too common. In 2017, a Chinese legislator attempted to bring up a proposal to conduct stringent and swift measures to eliminate the black communities in China’s Guangdong province. Pan Qinglin, a member of China’s Political Consultative Conference, claimed that “Africans have a high rate of AIDS and the Ebola virus.” Pan further suggested that China will change from a “yellow country” to a “yellow and black country” if black communities continue to exist in China.

While some argue that those reactions are rooted in the country’s closed cultural background, it is obvious that China’s propaganda strategy has also played a huge part in fueling nationalism and anti-foreign sentiments. In 2016, Chinese President Xi Jinping added the importance of promoting “cultural confidence” as a major propaganda theme. The cultural confidence portion began to advocate for stronger recognition of China’s cultural strength and traditional values. Adding to the propaganda efforts promoting the country’s political system, the CCP’s messages have been actively instigating nationalism that shows little respect for other cultures around the world.

In 2018, a short program show on China’s CCTV Chinese Spring Festival Gala had an actress dressed in blackface. Ironically designed to demonstrate China’s positive influence in Africa, the skit featured several disturbing scenes that sparked controversies. In addition to having a Chinese actress in blackface and wearing fake buttocks, the program also made cast members of African descent dress in animal costumes to perform “African dances.”

China Central Television, also known as CCTV, is one of the most important propaganda outlets in China. Its annual Spring Festival Gala is recognized as an essential channel to set out the country’s core propaganda messages of the year.

This was not the only occasion where the Chinese government found its representations to be endorsing racism. In July 2019, Chinese diplomat Zhao Lijian made inappropriate comments about black and Hispanic communities in the United States on Twitter: “If you’re in Washington, D.C., you know the white never go” to certain a part of the city “because it’s an area for the black & Latin.” Zhao later deleted the tweet after getting called out for his racist remarks. Instead of getting fired or receiving any kind of disciplinary measures, Zhao was later promoted by China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and now serves as the ministry’s new spokesperson.

From greenlighting a show that featured blackface and enhanced biases on national state media to promoting a diplomatic official who openly propagates hatred against other ethnic groups, it is evident that the Chinese government is fueling the country’s propaganda message with a narrow-minded nationalism at the cost of respecting equality and justice. It should not be a surprise, then, that many Chinese are outraged at the idea of allowing foreigners of different races and ethnicities to become permanent residents in China.

Through years of promoting nationalism and unity, Chinese propaganda has in fact put up a significant barrier for its government to implement effective immigration policies to attract foreign talents to reside and work in the country. While China often praises its own political system for being efficient and effective, its propaganda strategies are now, ironically, impeding the government’s own legislative agenda.

Source: China’s Proposed Immigration Changes Spark Xenophobic Backlash Online

Far-Right Politicians Are Using Coronavirus To Push Anti-Immigration Xenophobia


The spread of the coronavirus has health officials worried about a potential global pandemic. But while governments and international organizations are rushing to stop the virus, far-right politicians in Europe have been eager to exploit it.

Radical right populists like Italy’s Matteo Salvini and France’s Marine Le Pen are using fear and uncertainty surrounding the virus, believed to have originated in China, to advocate for closed borders and anti-immigration policies ― misleading and panicked messages that health officials warn can hinder efforts to combat the virus.

In Italy, there are hundreds of cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, as well as multiple towns under quarantine and 17 people dead. Salvini, leader of the far-right Lega Party, has repeatedly attacked the government for its handling of the crisis. He has groundlessly linked Italy’s outbreak to the arrival of migrants from Africa, called for “armor plated borders” and accused Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte of failing to “defend Italy.”

There is no proof for Salvini’s claims: Africa has only three confirmed cases of coronavirus, according to monitoring data from John Hopkins University. But his inflammatory statements are a prime example of the longtime far-right trope of associating migrants with disease ― derogatory rhetoric that has been a prominent feature of Europe’s migrant crisis.

These and other attacks, coming as officials struggle to contain the virus, have put additional stress on the European Union’s ideal of border-free travel. Salvini is calling for Italy to suspend the Schengen Agreement, which allows travel between EU nations without border checks, even though health experts doubt the measures would be effective.

Austria’s Freedom Party echoed Salvini’s calls for immigration controls and suggested that the government had failed to prevent the outbreak, while the Swiss People’s Party wants “strict border control immediately.” (Austria’s health minister countered with the assessment of World Health Organization and EU experts that closing borders “makes no sense.”)

In France, Le Pen, leader of the far-right National Rally, has called for border controls and falsely accused the EU of remaining silent on COVID-19. (EU officials have repeatedly issued statements on the virus and announcedhundreds of millions of euros in health funding.) Le Pen also clashed with Italy’s Prime Minister Conte when she suggested that Italian soccer fans should be barred from entering the country. Spain’s far-right Vox party leader Santiago Abascal similarly blamed open borders for the virus.

Far-right parties tend to thrive in opposition, where their lack of governing experience and extreme policies aren’t tested, allowing them to snipe from the sidelines to gain support. They also feed on periods of unrest and uncertainty, as seen in their fearmongering around events of recent years such as the migrant crisis and ISIS-related extremist attacks. The COVID-19 outbreak gives these parties a chance to both frame governments as ineffective and advocate for the anti-immigration policies they view as a panacea to every societal problem.

Meanwhile, countries with far-right governments in power have taken a slightly different tack, largely downplaying the virus and maintaining that everything is under control.

Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban claimed that although the virus has garnered the world’s attention, people should not forget that the real threat is from migration. In the United States, President Donald Trump has contradicted health officials and gave a dismissive press conference filled with false information, while Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Friday refused to say that the coronavirus wasn’t a hoax.

Source: Far-Right Politicians Are Using Coronavirus To Push Anti-Immigration Xenophobia

Hier les italophones, aujourd’hui les musulmans

On the politics of anti-immigration sentiment and a reminder that earlier waves also were affected:

Avec la marginalisation du Parti québécois et le remplacement du Parti libéral par la CAQ, nous assistons à un cycle politique caractérisé par l’alternance sans réelle alternative, en conformité avec l’ordre néolibéral. Ce gouvernement nationaliste de droite élu par 25 % de l’électorat, si l’on tient compte des abstentions, a recours à une recette éprouvée pour, à la fois, consolider et légitimer son pouvoir : détermination d’un problème réel ou imaginaire (la laïcité), élaboration d’une rhétorique alarmiste (retour du religieux) et désignation des responsables du problème (les musulmans). Les stratèges de François Legault n’ont rien inventé. Il y a une cinquantaine d’années, le mouvement nationaliste de l’époque s’est servi de la même recette mais avec d’autres ingrédients : la langue française, l’anglicisation et les italophones.

Il a fallu près d’une décennie pour que le psychodrame linguistique, se déroulant aux dépens des Québécois d’origine italienne, se dénoue enfin par l’adoption de la loi 101. Les relations entre ces derniers et les francophones se détériorèrent à tel point, et pendant si longtemps, que la méfiance et le ressentiment eurent raison de Giuseppe Sciortino, candidat péquiste dans Mercier, lors de l’élection précédant le dernier référendum. Il fut obligé, in extremis, de céder la place à un francophone d’ascendance canadienne-française à la suite de manoeuvres douteuses. Récemment, Michel David, chroniqueur au Devoir, écrivait que la présence de Sciortino, avocat éminemment ministrable au sein du futur gouvernement Parizeau, aurait probablement apporté au camp souverainiste les 45 000 voix qui lui manquaient pour remporter le référendum de 1995. Le nationalisme mesquin et revanchard est parfois suicidaire.

Aujourd’hui, ce sont les musulmans, en particulier les musulmanes, qui ont le mauvais rôle. Pourtant, il y a une vingtaine d’années, près des deux tiers des Québécois étaient contre l’interdiction du voile islamique. Selon un sondage récent, ils sont maintenant au moins autant à vouloir l’interdire. Pourquoi ce revirement ? Nul besoin d’être un exégète de Gramsci pour savoir que l’adhésion à un projet politique ou de société (ou perçu comme tel) est précédée par une longue période de propagation des idées et d’imprégnation des esprits auxquelles contribuent, consciemment ou non, de nombreux acteurs sociaux. En France (source d’inspiration pour certains Québécois) comme ici, politiques, chroniqueurs et essayistes se sont employés avec autant de ferveur que de constance à élaborer une rhétorique hostile à l’immigration et à la diversité culturelle — assimilée au multiculturalisme trudeauiste pour mieux la dénoncer — tout en souscrivant au mythe du choc des civilisations : une idéologie servant, entre autres, à dénigrer l’islam. Partout en Occident, l’islam est devenu l’ennemi à abattre. Le Québec ne fait pas exception. Il faut être d’une grande naïveté pour croire que le projet de loi 21 existerait sans la présence des musulmans.

Nationalistes conservateurs

Ce discours n’aurait pas eu autant de succès sans la contribution, depuis le tournant du millénaire, de nationalistes conservateurs, défenseurs d’une nation ethnoculturelle qui, craignant sans raison valable « la tyrannie des minorités » et « le reniement de soi », poursuivent, tout en le niant, la chimère d’un Québec assimilationniste et homogène. Il y a de cela aussi dans l’interdiction du port du foulard musulman. Ces hérauts d’un temps révolu, aux accents groulciens, doivent nous expliquer pourquoi l’assimilation que les francophones d’Amérique ont combattue avec autant de détermination serait souhaitable pour les immigrants.

Mais pourquoi la laïcité est-elle devenue la priorité de ce gouvernement, auquel on a dû rappeler l’importance de l’environnement, alors que deux millions et demi de Québécois ont un revenu inférieur à 25 000 $, que le système scolaire est le plus inégalitaire au Canada en raison de sa double ségrégation sociale et ethnique, et que les Québécois francophones sont sous-scolarisés par rapport aux immigrants (21 % contre 39 % de diplômés universitaires) et aux anglophones ? L’hégémonie néolibérale est telle, en Occident, que les partis de gouvernement, et non pas les formations politiques marginales, ne se distinguent presque plus sur les questions fondamentales et cherchent à tout prix à se différencier sur des questions secondaires ou fallacieuses, comme la laïcité ici ou l’islamisation et d’autres mythes ailleurs. C’est l’alternance sans véritable alternative. Ceux qui doutent de l’emprise, sur ce gouvernement, de cette rationalité mortifère, fondée principalement sur la concurrence généralisée, n’ont qu’à penser à la mise en concurrence de l’industrie du taxi avec Uber, aux immigrants réguliers avec les travailleurs temporaires et aux maternelles quatre ans avec les CPE.

Mais, au-delà de ce qui précède, il y a une réponse très simple à cette question : la laïcité est devenue une priorité parce que s’en prendre aux immigrants est politiquement rentable, comme partout en Occident. Le psychodrame d’il y a cinquante ans nous a peut-être coûté la souveraineté. Quel prix paierons-nous pour celui qui se déroule maintenant aux dépens des musulmans ?

Immigration has been good for Britain. It’s time to bust the myths

Revealing media and other analysis underlying the opinions:

Cut the niceties. Skip the jargon. Let us speak the plain truth, however ugly. What is driving this country headlong into a chaotic and punishing Brexit is a blind desire to cut immigration. That’s why people voted to leave the EU, politicians and pundits tell us. That’s what makes a Norway-style deal impossible, since it would almost certainly allow freedom of movement with mainland Europe – and any prime minister accepting that would be strung up by the press for treachery.

As long as Brexit is a synonym for keeping out foreigners, there can be no hope for meaningful compromise with the rest of the EU. The Lords can inflict endless defeats on Theresa May. An entire dinosaur gallery of has-been politicians can clamber on rice sacks to issue grave warnings. All will be drowned out by this one guttural roar.

Yet the anti-migrant arguments are a toxic alloy of barefaced lies and naked bigotry. None are new. But they were feverishly circulated in the days before the 2016 referendum. This time, crucially, migrants were made scapegoats for the misery caused by the government’s own drastic spending cuts – for a buckling NHS, a cash-starved school system and falling wages.

The definitive guide to how that happened is a study from King’s College London, which analyses almost 15,000 articles published online during the Brexit campaign by 20 news outlets, including the BBC and all the national papers. Despite its thoroughness, the media has barely covered it – perhaps unsurprisingly given what it implies about the state of our press.

Researchers found immigration to be the most prominent issue in the 10 weeks running up to the vote, leading 99 front pages. Of those, more than three-quarters were from the four most virulently leave newspapers: the Sun, the Mail, the Express and the Telegraph. Brexiteers fed their papers’ scare stories about immigration – no matter how scurrilous. Recall how Penny Mordaunt and the Vote Leave campaign claimed that Turkish murderers and terrorists were queueing up to come to the UK. Never mind that David Cameron immediately decried the lie. Never mind that this is the same country for whose tyrant leader Mordaunt, Theresa May and the rest rolled out the red carpet this week. Anything to fling some mud and get a headline.

“When not associated with rape, murder or violence, migrants were often characterised as job stealers or benefit tourists,” observes the academics’ report. So grab-handedly abhorrent were these newcomers that they were simultaneously taking our jobs and stealing our dole money. Or else they were jostling British mothers out of maternity wards and cramming their kids into British classrooms.

Such poisonous stories were happily ventriloquised by Boris Johnson, Liam Fox, Chris Grayling and Michael Gove. Their reward for helping to generate the hatred that will scar this country for years was, naturally, a big job in government. Their targets, on the other hand, have to live in a society in which racial prejudice is not just normalised but tacitly encouraged by cabinet ministers.

Yet time and time again, the politicians’ claims were false. The men and women who have come here from Budapest or Prague are like previous generations of arrivals: young, educated at someone else’s expense and here to work. They aren’t low-skilled labour but what former government economist Jonathan Portes describes as “ordinary, productive, middle income, middle-skilled – the sort of people our economy actually needs”. Study after study has failed to find any evidence of significant undercutting of wages. Far from jumping the queue, analysis published by the Institute for Fiscal Studies shows they are much less likely to be on benefits or in social housing than their UK-born counterparts.

Migrants from eastern Europe pay billions more in taxes to Britain than they take out in public spending. Far from squeezing hospitals and schools, they subsidise and even staff them. Rather than take jobs, they help create them. What has drained money from our public services and held down our wages is the banking crash, and the Tories’ spending cuts. As former Bank of England rate-setter David Blanchflower concludes in a forthcoming book on Brexit and Trump: “Government-imposed austerity has meant their money [migrants’ taxes] has not been used to finance the services they are entitled to, hence the overcrowding.” In one of the most breathtakingly cynical moves of our time, the very same ministers making the cuts looked at the fallout they created – and blamed migrants.

The Tories haven’t created this climate alone, of course. From Tony Blair to Ed Miliband, Labour leaders have marched alongside, muttering about “legitimate concerns” and handing out anti-immigration mugs. Forget about the evidence or leadership or having a backbone. Never mind the surveys showing that however much people dislike immigration in the abstract, they appreciate migrants.

Imagine Labour repealing gay marriage to placate misguided voters, or restricting women from working in order to boost wages for men. You cannot. But torching non-British workers in order to score political points is still deemed acceptable.

As shadow home secretary Diane Abbott observed , the point about pandering to racism – or whatever euphemistic camouflage you want to stick on it – is that it’s a beast whose appetite is never satisfied. One day the target is immigrants without documents; the next it’s a “swarm” of Poles and 100 Indian doctors blocked from taking up their hospital jobs; and by the end of the week it’s 63 of the Windrush generation deported, and countless more plunged into poverty and homelessness.

Having spoken up for migrants during the referendum, Jeremy Corbynthankfully does not share this same soft racism. But neither is he doing enough to challenge it. Among the six tests Labour’s Keir Starmer has set for Brexit is the familiar dog-whistle about “fair management of migration”.

Labour frontbenchers evidently believe they have to promise a Brexit that is sufficiently racist for the press and the hard right. In the old Blairite days, we’d have called this triangulation – take minority-ethnic support for granted, while wooing leave voters. Whatever it’s called, it’s a tawdry tactic that soon gets rumbled.

The point about opinions is that they can be shifted. Just see what Corbyn’s team has achieved on austerity in two years. What was once an economic orthodoxy is now recognised as a failure – because Labour stood up for both the evidence and its own better instincts. There are plenty of parallels here: a policy dreamed up by the Tory right, to which the left shamefacedly paid lip service; a mounting body of evidence that it was wrong; and at ground level a lasting legacy of stunted and broken lives. Austerity was urgent in 2010, essential in 2015 and is a relic in 2018. Much of the credit for that should go to Corbyn’s party. Now it should do the same with immigration.

Or else, as one Corbynite frontbencher admits: “You can’t keep telling West Yorkshire one thing, and Islington another.” And you won’t avert a hard Brexit until you face down the intolerance that is driving it.

Source: Immigration has been good for Britain. It’s time to bust the myths