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Europe’s hierarchy of aliens

31 January, 2009

A few days ago Jovan wrote about Gabriele Marranci’s blog. When I was in Singapore I had a chat with Gabriele about xenophobia in Italy, and to my surprise he told me that the main xenophobic party, Lega Nord, which is part of the current government,  has recently upgraded Chinese immigrants to being as dangerous as Muslims. I had thought that in the last few years Muslims have become the unchallenged embodiment of the dangerous Other. This does have its flip side, though. At a conference today in Amsterdam I heard a paper by Gargi Bhattacharya denouncing Britain’s criminalization of forced marriage as a step to stigmatize Muslims/South Asians further. But, commenting on her paper, anthropologist Jacob Rigi reminded us that “slavery” (combatting which was one of the rationales for the legislation) really does exist; just look at all those trafficked Chinese. In other words, even those in the academia who are sensitive towards “security talk” about Muslims may not be so critical when the same type of rhetoric crops up with regard to other migrants.

In my native Hungary, the situation is somewhat different. A few years ago, a social worker at Hungary’s single migrant-aid NGO told me how, when the organisation took a group of Afghan children on a trip to the countryside, an unfriendly villager asked: “Why did you bring all this gypsies here?” Told that the children were not Gypsy but Aghan, the man was visibly relieved and said that was okay then.

Today I came across a blog post on the Hungarian subsite of Stormfront a white-supremacist online forum.  The site seems to be populated by members from Hungary, other Eastern European countries, and ethnic Hungarians abroad (including North America).  Here is what the post, by Corvinus, said:

Here is a funny ad, posted at the most chinese-immigrant centers such as chinese food markets and such:

It says:

Dear Chinese!
For every 10 gypsies you kill , you get a greencard in exchange!

Corvinus’ signature says: “We are all Palestinians right now.” This did not seem to bother Norum, from Latvia, who posted the following response:

Chinese – “bad”
Gypsies – “worse”
Muslims – “worst”

 Most respondents from Eastern Europe seemed to agree that Chinese, though bad, were nonetheless better than Gypsies and Muslims. But a member who identified his location as “Europe – Catalonia – Spain” disagreed:

Chinese is a closed community but this reason doesn’t mean that they aren’t dangerous.  (…) Though they work silently they ruin our economy (I speak about my country) with their disloyal competence [competition] (because their prices are very low) and our local companies cannot do anything against them. In zone manufacturer near to my house there are dozens of stores that they dedicate to the manufacture of clothes and shoes while our merchants lose money or have to close the business. They were never mixing with us, but their economic activities are harmful to us. And if they come in mass, with the democratic system, they were finishing deciding for us. They are destroying our economy from the inside.

Every immigration is bad and the silent immigration is the worst.

Resentment of Chinese traders seems to be greater in Spain and Italy than elsewhere, as there they are successfully competing with the existing local garment and shoe industries. More broadly, I wonder if the recession, besides increasing xenophobia overall, will shift it towards migrants who are seen as economically successful, including Chinese as well as skilled white(-collar) migrants (witness the demonstrations against Italian workers today in England and Wales). Although I don’t think it will be easy to dislodge Muslims and Gypsies from the seat of the top threat, concerns about cultural norms may for a while be overshadowed by economic competition. It may also increase antisemitism, which has a difficult relationship with Islamophobia on the extreme right (especially in Eastern Europe).

If Corvinus is right and this sticker has really been put up around Chinese shops in Hungary, I wonder about reactions by Chinese. Anti-Gypsy prejudice is quite widespread among them, and some may feel vindicated.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. alb permalink
    31 January, 2009 12:31 pm

    I try to offer a north italy based point of view. There are two big categories of motivations for the new italian “i’m not racist but…” way of thinking: fear for personal security (not for terrorism! 1800’s “they rape our women!” has came back in fashion) and fear for economical/material problems (“they took our job!”). In the stereotype the first is assigned to muslim, gipsy and romanian people, the second one to asians. In my opinion if Lega Nord pump on the second category is couse they’re now in government and they are convinced to have for these problematics a serius therapy (protectionism), while the personal security topics are just mediatic constructed narrations good for get votes with populism when they’re at opposition.

  2. 1 February, 2009 9:36 am

    Very interesting post Pal. We have just had another Australia Day incident at a beach, Manly this time, which has involved young men behaving badly while wearing the Australian flag. Not on the scale of Cronulla but the similarities are striking. I’ll post about this in more detail but your discussion of hierarchy got me thinking. In the case of the Cronulla riots the target of racist aggression was very much the “Lebs”, or “people of Middle Eastern appearance” more generally. In Manly last week there were reportedly elements of white chauvinism and possibly non-white Australians being targeted for aggressive behaviours, being told to kiss the flag and such things, but there didn’t seem to be a particularly anti-Muslim character (I’m going on very sketchy reports here so I don’t want to draw too much from these observations). This change would be consistent with a general decrease in Islamophobia compared to a couple of years ago, with the spectre of Islamic terror fading a little from popular consciousness. I wonder too whether we can think of other situational factors, such as geographical location, which mean that different hierarchies of xenophobia are evoked or enacted?

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