Tuesday, August 24, 2010
Xenophobia, Islamophobia, and why I care
Looking towards Nørrebro, Copenhagen.
When I was in Denmark some years ago, I learned that there was a fair amount of xenophobia going on. People would explain to me that the neighborhood where I was living, Nørrebro, was inhabited by a lot of immigrants, where the word "immigrant" contained quite a negative connotation. One of my friends implied that it was a rough neighborhood, but that I would be fine because my hair is black. My co-workers had a low-level disdain for the stereotypical immigrant who takes advantage of the country's generous welfare services. Citing one example of immigrants' opposition to co-ed swimming pools, my co-workers even said that Danes are very tolerant people but will not tolerate intolerance.
This Danish xenophobia was about 30 years behind the xenophobia I've seen in France. The French xenophobia arises from post-colonial bitterness. Of course, the French xenophobia also incorporates the disdain for lazy immigrant welfare moochers. In both Denmark and France, these immigrants that stick out the most and are easy targets for the xenophobia come from chiefly Islamic traditions.
I thought that this Islamophobia was a distinctly European thing. After all, here in the States, we already have historical xenophobia (post-slavery issues with African-Americans) and various waves of fresh immigrant xenophobia (Irish, Chinese, Japanese, Mexican, you name it). However, this Park51/Cordoba House thing has really brought out the worst in my countrymen. It's ugly, and I really don't like it.
Reza Aslan writes that European Islamophobia Finds a Home in the U.S. [NPR]. Daisy Khan, one of the leading organizers behind Park51, likens American Islamophobia to "metastasized anti-Semitism" [Politico, via RNS].
It's remarkable how quickly people forget history and then doom themselves to repeat it. Ever since Europeans first graced these shores five centuries ago, they've marginalized those different from them, from indigenous Native Americans, to Blacks, to Jews, to Asians, to Hispanics, etc. As each group gets stirred into the melting pot stew, some new Other becomes a target for hate. This time, it's Muslims.
I care a lot about religious persecution because I've had a taste of it myself from people close to me. Here are a few examples:
1. One of my college friends, who was a non-denominational Christian (i.e., Baptist), asked me if it was a sin for her to date her Catholic boyfriend. Heh, as if my sinful Catholic answer would make a difference. (By the way, she married him, and they seem very happy.)
2. My ex gave off anti-Semitic vibes for what he thought was preferential hiring of Jews by his Jewish supervisor. I also think he was bitter that he wasn't a shoe-in for high-profile investment banker jobs because he didn't go to a grande école. (Aside: Jorge Cham of PhD Comics did a great summary of the rigidity of the French educational system: parts 1 and 2.)
3. My mom has once said something to the effect of, "Well, I'm glad the Spanish imposed Catholicism instead of Islam in the Philippines!"
4. My parents had a major shit-fit when I told them that various Vatican teachings bothered me and that I was attending an Anglo-Catholic church. They even said they'd come to mass some time to check it out. Lies.
Ignorance breeds contempt. I think that if people on both sides of the divide actually did their homework about people different from themselves and replaced their prejudices with knowledge, there would be fewer jerks and assholes in the world.