Migration, Terrorism and the Quest for Transatlantic Sanity

Photo: Reuters/Michaela Rehle
Photo: Reuters/Michaela Rehle

The debate in Europe and the United States has been hijacked by a simple and false amalgam that Syrian refugees are the same type of people that have bombed a Russian airliner and killed over 120 civilians in the streets of Paris. Such amalgam is resonating among the citizens of the Euro-Atlantic nations and is affecting societal unity as well as serious policy-making.

American and European Discourses

In the United States, the political debate for constructive policy-making and governance is on hold until the November 2016 Presidential elections. So far, the political debate has been framed by the large pool of Republican presidential hopefuls seeking for attention and party nomination. Because of the two-step process of American elections, candidates ought to win their party

Photo:
Photo: AP

primaries in order to face the opposition in the second round. Historically, this part of the race is the most extreme and radical as each candidate (from the Republican or Democrat) wants to win the nomination from their party base. In recent decades, the base for the Democrats and Republicans has become more extreme. For such reason Republican hopefuls are tapping in the most radical rhetorics in order to get the nomination. This leads ultimately to ultra-nationalist and anti-immigration narratives highly embedded in ideologies and leaving facts on the side. The current leader of the Republican field, Donald Trump, has been quite tough on wanting to stop immigrants from coming into the US and even rejecting illegal immigrants currently living in the country. But the debate in the US has become even more radical ensuing the terrorist attacks in Paris. Now Governors of the states of Florida and Georgia have both claimed that they will be refusing to welcome any Syrian refugees. First of all, immigration in the US is a federal matter, so that would go against federal policies. Second, the process to get asylum in the US is extremely difficult, long and thorough.

Interestingly enough, Marco Rubio, Senator for the state of Florida, is even forgetting about his own history by taking a tough stand against refugees. His family flew the Cuban dictatorship as many Cubans did since the 60s. For political and historical reasons, the Cubans are among the very few to receive automatic citizenship. Cubans were fleeing a violent dictatorship persecuting individuals opposed to the regime; so are a majority of Syrians. If the 60s and 70s were one of the most tense moment between Communist regimes and Capitalist regimes, the fear was about protection of intelligence and the US responded through the implementation of virulent anti-communist policies starting with McCarthy. Today, the fear from the Syrians is not so much about intelligence gathering and spying, but rather about terrorism. In both cases, the American public has been extremely fearful of welcoming refugees from highly unstable places. Individuals like Marco Rubio taking a selecting reading of personal and national history and migration are affecting the sanctity of an important debate on proper refugee policies.

Credit: Pew Research Center. September 2015.
Credit: Pew Research Center. September 2015.

As illustrated by the recent poll conducted by the Pew Research Center, a majority of Americans (51%) approves the US decision to take more refugees. Within this 51%, the wide majority of Americans in favor of such policy move belongs to the Democratic Party (69%), when only less than 1/3 of Republican supporters approve it. When asked about the US on doing more, only 44% of citizens agree with such statement. If Democrats were predominantly in favor to welcome refugees (69%), only 50% of them are in favor on doing more and 35% rather stay with the current course of action. Ultimately, the current debate taking place in each party reflects very well the results of such poll. In the case of the Republicans, the main argument is to limit the number of refugees, while in the case of the Democrats it is to maintain the current status-quo. Neither parties offer a true solution on welcoming Syrian refugees.

Credit:
Credit: Steve Benson

On the other side of the Atlantic, the populist and xenophobist parties of the extreme right are getting some serious leverage. Not only they are getting into power like in Poland, Denmark and Sweden, but other extreme right parties like in France are continuing their progressive ascension. The European rights are shifting towards the extreme of their spectrum in order to seek for a confused electorates. In the case of France, despite the ongoing investigations, the rights are splitting from the government  and are fighting over a ‘frighten’ and ‘powerless’ electorate. In his many speeches and addresses, President François Hollande has called for national unity and solidarity. But the rights are rejecting such unity. For instance, during the address of the Prime Minister Manuel Valls before the National Assembly, the rights booed and refused to join the current government in maintaining the national unity. The Republicans (center-right) and Front National (extreme-right) shall be called for what they are in this moment of grief, tension and uncertainty (considering the fact that the police and intelligence services are still looking

Photograph: Etienne Laurent/EPA
Photograph: Etienne Laurent/EPA

for terrorists and working on dismantling terrorist cells around the country): vultures. In addition, if one were to actually read and listen to the narratives of Prime Minister Valls, one would get confused about his political affiliation. The securitarian rhetorics of the current socialist government is identical to the ones used by the French rights. In a recent interview with international medias, PM Valls expressed through very tough language radical policies in order to curb the threat of terrorism (read here an article in the Financial Times). In addition, the PM and President have not shied away from repeating that ‘France is now at war’ and more attacks should be expected.

Politically, France is highly divided, much more than after the terrorist attacks in January, while socially, French citizens are in fact seeking and searching for some sort of unity and solidarity. Interestingly enough, the world has offered the unity and solidarity to French citizens more than its own political class. The demonstrations of support in the US and the UK (both on the right of the political spectrum and in opposition to economic and social policies of the Hollande’s government) have been quite humbling.

 The Quest for Transatlantic Sanity and Maturity

The threat of terrorism and its recent successes in Paris, Egypt, Beirut, Tunis (to name a few) is causing Westerners and others to reflect on a simple question: what does the future entail? How do we, as a society, avoid for a radicalization of our youth? and how do we secure our nations without violating our own democratic principles and values? The US waged two wars in Afghanistan and Iraq for over a decade, violated its democratic principles (through the Patriot Act, rendition and the use of torture). Now the French are at war and are passing laws in order to extend the state of emergency as well as a deprivation of nationality for bi-nationals. A French Patriot Act was already in the making ensuing the attacks against Charlie Hebdo 10 months earlier.

With regards to the refugees leaving their homelands in Syria, Eritrea, Somalia, Sudan and others, Europeans cannot find a common position on welcoming them and relocating them across the Union. Member States rather locked them down by closing their borders and ultimately slowly killing one of the greatest successes of the EU, the Schengen agreement (read here a previous analysis on the issue). Europeans live in the absolutely fantasy that closing and re-instituting national borders will ultimately stop the flow of migrants. In the 19th century and early 20th, an ocean and closed American borders did not stop Italian and Irish migrants to seek for an opportunity in the United States. So it is quite futile to forget about history and geographical realities.

The obvious policy response from, supposedly developed countries, should be to assume their responsibilities by welcoming refugees and letting their legal mechanisms grant asylum to the few of them. The question of the Schengen agreement should be properly addressed instead of being criticized for political reasons. The concept of Schengen, a borderless continent, is fascinating but cannot work without its members boosting up their cooperation between their police and intelligence services. Free movement of people should be guaranteed, but that does not mean that it should be a lawless continent. Criminal and terrorist networks ought to be controlled through deeper European cooperative mechanisms requiring more funding, more human and material capabilities, and naturally political will.

The two complex crises of migration and terrorism have illustrated a core reality. Our ‘leaders’ need to do more ‘leading’ and less following. Governing is a complex matter that requires vision, leadership and courage. Until our elected officials seek for perpetual reelection by only worrying of grabbing an endlessly shifting confused electorate, these complex crises will linger.

(Copyright 2015 by Politipond. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission).
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Ida – A Regard into Europe’s Past and Present

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Pawel Pawlikowski directed a wonderful picture, Ida, nominated at the 2015 Oscars for Best Foreign Picture. Ida takes place in Poland in 1962 and follows a young mysterious woman, Anna, whom is ready to take her vows as a nun (read the review here). The mother superior at the convent tells her to visit her aunt Wanda before making her decision. She goes to Warsaw and meets her aunt, a judge, whom tells her that she was born jewish and her birth name was Ida. She learns as well that her parents were killed during World War two because of their religion and culture. At this point they decide to find the graves of her parents and indirectly confront their faith and past. This picture tells a compelling story engraved in deep themes related to European heritage such as war, communism, politics, religion, history, identities, memories and power.

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Ida was shot in black and white making it so precise, net and pure thanks to splendid movements of camera and sumptuous angles. As explained by Pawlikowski, whom left Poland when he was 14 years old, making this movie in Poland in the 1960s was a way to reconstruct a Poland at “a time I [Pawlikowski] vaguely but very intensely remember. That was my childhood.” Pawlikowski’s imagined and reconstructed Poland gives a very romantic and timeless tone despite the darkness of the story.

Ida is more than ever relevant today considering the resurgent tone of anti-semitism flourishing and spreading all around Europe. One core theme of Ida is dying because of one’s religion. World War two was in some degree the paramount of the organized killing of Jews across Europe. Ensuing the Wannasse conference in January 1942, the Nazis leadership institutionalized the killing of ethnic groups, principally the Jewish people and Tsiganes. This conference provided the baseline for the policy of antisemitism known as the Final Solution to the Jewish Question. Since 1945 and the Nuremberg trials Europe as a whole has been dealing with this dark past and heritage. Most European countries were complacent and ind- and/or -directly involved in this genocide. The ghosts of the Final Solution have remained in Europe since then. Ida is a reminder.

Antisemitism in Europe and France in the 21st century

This question of antisemitism is reappearing in Europe and especially in France and Germany since the turn of the new century. The rise of extreme right wing parties – as well called populist or ultranationalist – and their acceptations as powerful political force have changed the political narratives and rhetorics. Since the terrorist attacks in Paris and Copenhagen, it seems that the gates have been opened and that European leaders and ruling parties are now superficially addressing this problem of antisemitism for too long ignored. Several elements should be analyzed about the question of islamophobia, antisemitism, and extreme rights in Europe and France.

First, on February 17th, 2015, the Council of Europe published a 52-page report about the rise of intolerance, racism, hate speech and violence against minorities in France. “The1259153771 council is concerned” said Nils Muižnieks, the commissioner of human rights for the Council of Europe, “about the decrease of tolerance and the increase of verbal assaults and hateful and discriminatory acts recorded in France.” M. Muižnieks went on in his presentation of the report arguing that “In recent years, there has been a huge increase in anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim and homophobic acts. In the first half of 2014 alone, the number of anti-Semitic acts virtually doubled, while the number of Jews leaving France for Israel tripled compared with 2012, which is a telling indication of their feeling of insecurity.”

In the Council’s report, he underlines that the intolerance and racism are not ephemeral, but are rather deeply ingrained. He adds that these acts are an illustration of the continuous and permanent decline of the ‘social contract’ and the principle of equality; in sum the welfare state and its basic virtue of tolerance related to the core value of fraternity. He calls national authorities to do more at the national level and implement a national action plan and severely condemned these daily discriminatory and racist behaviors.

Second, what about European public opinion? Is it all about political rhetorics? A second report, titled “Antisemitism in the French Public Opinion. New Understanding” (in French, L’antisémitisme dans l’Opinion Publique Française. Nouveaux Eclairages) published in November 2014, under the direction of Professor Dominique Reynié seeks to look at the segments of French public opinion sensitive to antisemitic sentiments (here is a link to a recent interview on French National Radio, France Inter). In the introduction, Prof. Reynié writes that the question of antisemitism, xenophobia, and racism is reappearing in democracies, in Europe and France. Even though there is nothing new, the preoccupation is about the renewal (le regain in French) since the 1990s, which required a clear attention and action (p. 5). He claims that there are several obvious factors such as: globalization, identity crisis of Western democracies, fear of the rise of new world powers, migration flux, societal malaise caused in part by failed integration policies (multiculturalism or assimilation), aging populations, economic and financial crisis (in Europe), and political crisis (in Europe with serious disillusionment with mainstream/traditional political parties and establishments).

However, the real contribution of the report, aside from the fact that antisemitism is shared across party lines from the extreme left to right, is that one element has been forgotten in explaining the rise of these extremist sentiments, the internet. Prof. Reynié argues that the internet offers a platform where people can express themselves in all impunity, without having to face the consequences of their actions and words (p. 6). Additionally the report shows that between 2000 and 2014, France has seen an increase by 91% of antisemitic acts (p. 7). The recent reports of acts of vandalism in French cemeteries were linked to antisemitic motives.

Source: Daily Mail
Source: Daily Mail

Undeniably, both reports coincide with the recent terrorist attacks in Brussels, Paris and Copenhagen targeting journalists and Jewish people. As demonstrated in Reynié’s report and in other polls, Jews of Europe are being largely targeted and blamed for all Europe’s trouble. In the case of France, the extreme right – which is not as homogenous as believed and described – is seeing the rise of even more radical and racist sub-branches than the Front National.

The Front National is becoming, for better or worst, a mainstream party now accepted by a large segment of French and European population and by a group of right-wing politicians of the UMP (read here a lengthy article in the New York Times Magazine about the newly found respectability of the Party under Marine Le Pen). New parties, like the Réconciliation Nationale, led by French comedian Dieudonné and pseudo-intellectual Alain Soral are changing the bedrock of French political narrative. In the case of the Réconciliation Nationale, the party lines are multiple and contradictory: anti-zionism, anti-capitalism, anti-Europe, anti-bourgeois, leftist for labor policies, and rightwing conservative in political values. The rise of such party can be explained by the internet and social media. As argued in Reynié’s report, the internet has changed the way political communities are made and structured and allowed all types of rhetorics without impunities. In the case of the Dieudonné-Soral political union, the center-point is the website, Egalité&Réconciliation.

Some analysts have argued that the antisemitic sentiments in Europe is caused by Israel’s actions in the Middle East. However, it is difficult to take such argument seriously for several reasons: first, antisemitism has existed well before the creation of the state of Israel; and second, antisemites, as in the case of the Dieudonné-Soral union, are neither in support of Palestinian and Arab causes.

Ida – A Tail of Two Europes

How Ida and the rise of antisemitism in contemporary Europe can be compared? The main theme of Ida is a search of one’s identity. And in the current political chessboard of Europe, Europeans, and especially French in this article, are as well in search of their identities. Antisemitic sentiments have existed in most of Europe’s, and christian, history and continue to live on. Ida offers a wonderful look at several Europes: an historical Europe, one divided by the Wall between the Soviet Union and the West; and a present Europe in search of its identity and origins forcing to dig in the worst of its memories and realities. Today’s Europe is as divided as before, not by a physical Wall, but by an imagined-Wall between Europeans based on cultural-religious traditions and values.

Considering the odds of Ida winning the Oscars, the New Yorker writes “it’s hard to bet against the historico-politico-religious sanctimoniousness of ‘Ida.'” In his interview with the New York Times, Pawlikowski was asked about the warm receptions of his movie. “What seemed to have worked” he argued “is precisely that the film doesn’t try to explain things but actually draws the audience in at a very basic psychological and emotional level, and makes them feel as if they’re watching something timeless.” Even though the European construction is a political marvel, its dark historical root and heritage seem unfortunately timeless too.

(Copyright 2015 by Politipond. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission).