Saturday, December 12, 2015

Islamophobia And Anti-Immigrant Rants Cover Up Real Fear: Not Being Able To Compete

The false dichotomy that says "we" are not "them" has been getting a lot of play via the demagogue with bad hair whom the corporate media have made the front runner for the Republican Party presidential nomination. It feeds into that other false dichotomy: that there is any fundamental difference between the two corporate parties, the only ones that are allowed to field candidates, the ones that fund the endless wars on terror and also fund terrorist groups like ISIL who keep the wars churning. The parties that can't agree to limit their carbon emissions or even to count the emissions of their sacred Pentagon. The parties that fund mass surveillance of me and thee in the name of "security."

I loved this eloquent rant by British veteran Chris Herbert who lost a leg in Iraq, explaining why it is stupid when people assume he must hate all Muslims:

Getting frustrated by some people expecting racism from me, because I got blown up. Here it is:Yes. A Muslim man blew...
Posted by Chris Herbert on Tuesday, December 8, 2015

I also loved this article in the mainstream regional magazine Down East about an amazing Muslim immigrant in Maine, ZamZam Mohamud. A refugee from war in Somalia, Mohamud settled in Lewiston, an aging mill town that has been revived by decades of receiving immigrants. 

Our governor is from the old Lewiston and is now infamous for his hate speech aimed at immigrants. As usual, he and other Know Nothings trot out the old trope about not being able to afford to take care of "our own." As in, who needs more welfare recipients? And who want the crime rate to soar due to all those unemployed young men? 

These same arguments were used against accepting Catholic immigrants in the 19th century, and against accepting Jewish immigrants in the 20th century.

Facts on the ground in Lewiston show just the opposite. From Jesse Ellison reporting in Down East:
Crime was beginning to decline in Lewiston as its Somalis were first arriving. The state’s second largest city now ranks 26th for crime, well below Bangor, Ogunquit, and Ellsworth, to name a few. Juvenile crime rates — important predictors of future crime statistics — are also on the decline, despite a sizable increase in the number of juveniles. Few will go so far as to credit the city’s new arrivals for its falling crime rate, but many police officials and city administrators have expressed, if delicately, that it’s at least impressive the swelling immigrant population hasn’t caused crime to go up.
ZamZam Mohamud has already served on the Lewiston school board, raised two daughters and sent them to college, served as a translator for the hospital, and formed any number of community groups that bring together, for example, police and Somali immigrants, for dialogue. Clearly she is a highly gifted person, exceptional rather than typical. Or is she?

I have long believed that claiming to fear crime and welfare loafers as the rationale for opposing immigration is false. (Less so the claim of fearing Islam as a cult of violence. More on that in a minute.) What white, working class people really fear -- and they should -- is competing against the self-selected group of people resourceful and determined enough to make it out of their war-torn country. Very often such people are educated already, though they likely won't be able to work in their field. Nearly always they highly value education for their children, and will make any number of sacrifices to see them through college and graduate school. They will start small businesses. They will take the jobs that actual welfare loafers won't do. They will outcompete the drug addicts and alcoholics currently driving up the mortality rate among white people aged 45-54 with only a high school diploma. 

From Olga Kazan reporting in The Nation:
The reasons for the increased death rate are not the usual things that kill Americans, like diabetes and heart disease. Rather, it’s suicide, alcohol and drug poisonings, and alcohol-related liver disease. 
The least-educated are worst off: All-cause mortality among middle-aged Americans with a high-school degree or less increased by 134 deaths per 100,000 people between 1999 and 2013, but there was little change in mortality for people with some college. The death rate for the college-educated fell slightly.
Let in Syrian immigrants, and in a generation they may produce another Steve Jobs.
This mural by the artist Banksy depicting Apple's founder as a refugee popped up in a French refugee camp.
Islamophobia though -- what's that all about?

Reference the fear of Catholic immigrants whose Popery was alleged to be a conspiracy to bring down the established WASP order, or of Jewish immigrants, presumed communists.

The masses are easily manipulated by propaganda that says to fear and hate the unfamiliar. Many Israelis, for example (whose government applies the same kind of religious test for immigration as is advocated by the demagogue) say they have never talked with an Arab. Never. Keeping "them" out is a great way to make sure that groups of differing faiths never come together as ZamZam Mohamud would have them do.

What happens when people reach across the divide of religious-based phobias and listen to others tell their stories? Healing occurs. Friendships blossom. And love wins.

For evidence to support my claim, I suggest you watch (or re-watch, as I did this week) Alice Rothchild's documentary Voices Across the Divide. As an American Jew who had visited Israel many times but never met an Arab, Rothchild set out to interview Palestinians of the diaspora about their families' experiences of al-Nakba, the ethnic cleansing that began in 1948 and continues today. Some of those interviewed were Arab Christians, but most were Muslim. By the time you finish watching this powerful film, I think you will feel deeply, as I do, that there is no "them" -- there is only "us."

Image of Palestinian kids in a refugee camp in Rafah from the study guide for  Voices Across the Divide.

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