Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Xenophobic theater - that does real harm to real people

Xenophobia sometimes makes good political theater for rightwing, authoritarian politicians and leaders. That's not to say that center-left and labor parties don't sometimes indulge it, as well. But it works particularly well for authoritarian parties.

We're certainly seeing that right now with Trump's policy of kidnapping children of immigrants at the Mexican border and putting them in makeshift prison camps. This report on flight attendants' reactions to serving on planes acting as the transport to the child prison camps is revealing, Anonymous Flight Attendant On Child Prison Plane Tells All The Young Turks 06/19/2018:

Trump is implementing a solution to what is in many ways a non-problem. Net immigration from Mexico has recently been negative, i.e., more Mexicans return to their country each year than those that move to the US. The American economy in many ways is currently dependent on undocumented workers, particularly agriculture but by no means only that sector. Trump's repeated claims that Mexican immigrants are rapists, murderers, and MS-13 gang members are just not true.

The children coming across the US-Mexican border are certainly not a significant threat to Americans. Even taking into account that some of them may end up in gangs, particularly if their opportunities to integrate into American society are restricted even more.

But dehumanizing immigrant children is a typical xenophobes' propaganda pitch. In Europe, the image of kindergarten kids wearing a hijab (Muslim head covering) is used by the far right and anti-immigrant politicians in Germany and Austria. It's a way of taking innocent or positive images - a headscarf can keep your head warm and dry in the winter, a kindergarten-age girl for most people is an image of someone who needs affected and be protected from harm - are transformed into a scary threat to Western white Christian civilization and a menace of terrorism in the form of a five-year-old girl in a hijab. Which is about as much of a non-problem as it can be. Because not only is a small girl no immediate threat to an adult man or woman in any remotely normal circumstance. But even devout, conservative Muslim families require their kindergarten-age children to wear hijabs.

The American term "anchor baby" serves a very similar function. Anchors keep your boat safe and stable, and babies are harmless and cute. But in the form of "anchor baby," they become a threat of undermining everything dear to white folks who understand themselves as the only Real Americans.

The Austrian Chancellor Sebastian "Babyface" Kurz (ÖVP) is currently promoting what he describes as an "axis of the willing" with Germany and Italy to promote anti-immigrant sentiment and policies in Europe. Kurz on Wednesday was meeting with Bavarian Landeshauptmann (Governor) Markus Söder (CSU) in the Upper Austrian capital city of Linz to promote the position of the German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer, head of the CSU and one of Söder's predecessors as Bavarian Governor, to turn back asylum-seekers at the German border. This is essentially a non-problem, as well. It just gives Seehofer and Söder a way to demonstrate their hostility to immigrants and promote anti-EU sentiment. Seehofer is also using it in the moment as part of a tricky political game with Chancellor Angela Merkel. (Nina Weissensteiner, Kurz und Söder machen im Asylstreit auf enge Spezln statt neutraler Nachbarn Standard 02.06.2018)

Matthew Karnitschnig reports (Angela rises from the ashes Politico EU 06/19/2018):
CSU leader Horst Seehofer, who is also interior minister, agreed to put off enforcing a new rule to turn back refugees at Germany’s borders until after the upcoming European Council summit, in order to give Merkel more time to negotiate with other EU capitals.

It’s a long shot that Merkel will actually succeed in securing a sweeping deal over the next two weeks to return refugees who show up at Germany’s border from Italy or Greece. Whether the CSU is ready for another face-off with Merkel is another matter.

Meanwhile, Kurz' far-right Vice Chancellor and Foreign Minister HC Strache was down visiting with his comrade in the (informal) Nationalist International, new Italian Vice-Premier and Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini of the far-right anti-immigrant League party. Salvini attracted favorable attention from xenophobes in his brief time in office by refusing to allow rescue ships carrying refugees from Africa to land in Italy, defying international law. Salvini declared himself and Strache to be "friends and allies in defending our peoples." Defending them, that is from taking refugees rescued from drowning int he Mediterranean Sea. (Vizekanzler Strache bei Vizepremier Salvini in Rom Salzburger Nachrichten 20.06.2018)

Salvini was also thereby "solving" a non-problem. Europe does face a continuing long-term crisis in emigration from the Mideast, Afghanistan, and North Africa, not incidentally places where the United States has been fighting wars for the last two decades, more-or-less. A surge in refugees in 2015 set off a political panic that has not yet ended, although immigration declined drastically the following two years and is significantly down even in Italy from 2018. "Despite recent immigration data from the Italian interior ministry showing a 76 percent drop in arrivals in the first few months of the year, the country’s new allies [Austria and Hungary] have migration [sic] as a prime-mover in common, though they differ significantly over what to do about it." (Jacopo Barigazzi, How Italy plans to blow up Brussels Politico EU 06/18/18)

But real harm to real people and real institutions can come from this kind of nationalist demagoguery. Salvini has also announced his taking moves to more closely monitor Roma (Eric J. Lyman, Italy's interior minister wants census for Roma; critics call controversy 'racist' USA TODAY 06/19/2018) in Italy and expel some of them.

Economist and former Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis tweets:

Correction 07/15/2018: The Foreign Minister of Austria in the Kurz government from 12/18/2017 to now has been Karein Kneissl; Heinz-Christian Strache has not been Foreign Minister. Strache is Vice Chancellor and Minister of the Civil Service and Sport.

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