Europe's 'xenoracism' spawned Norway horror

Europe's 'xenoracism' spawned Norway horror

By John S. McCoy And W. Andy Knight, Edmonton Journal July 28, 2011

Anders Behring Breivik, left, leaves an Oslo courthouse in a police car. Even mainstream politicians in Europe are resorting to anti-immigrant rhetoric.

Since the 9/11 attacks by al-Qaida on American soil, and the followup actions of so-called jihadists and Islamists in Amsterdam, Bali, Beslan, Casablanca, Istanbul, London, Madrid, Moscow, Riyadh and Tel Aviv, a spate of government policies, and police and intelligence actions have focused on stemming the Islamic terrorist threat.

The problem with most of these counter-terrorist policies and actions is that they tend to paint all Muslims with the same brush and, in doing so, stoke irrational fear and hatred of a class of people just because of their religious belief, clothing and practices.

We are not Muslims, but we find ourselves defending Muslims from the onslaught of some people who, under normal conditions, appear to be intelligent, tolerant, lawabiding and even in some cases religious-minded. These folks have somehow bought into the scaremongering propaganda spewed by antiimmigrant, far-right groups such as the English Defence League and the British National Party in the United Kingdom; the Freedom Party in the Netherlands; the Danish People's Party; the Swedish Democrats (Sverigedemokraterna); the True Finns party; the Dansk Folkeparti of Denmark; and the Fremskrittspartiet in Norway.

This propaganda has led to the steady rise in xenoracism; and by that we mean a troubling increase in a virulent form of prejudice, discrimination, exclusion and marginalization that targets individuals and groups based on the perception of foreignness. The prefix "xeno" stems from the Greek word meaning stranger or guest.

Ambakavaner Sivanandan, director of the Institute of Race Relations in the U.K., first coined the term xenoracism to refer to a postwar form of discrimination directed at "the displaced, the dispossessed and the uprooted, who are beating at western European doors, the Europe that helped to displace them in the first place." It is not a colour-coded form of racism, but it bears all the hallmarks of the old racism, except that the discrimination, exclusion and marginalization potentially target migrants, refugees, guest-workers, sojourners, asylum-seekers and foreign students, regardless of their skin colour. Indeed, some individuals who are second generation in a host country could still find themselves targets of xenoracism.

It was evident in the 1,500-page manifesto of hate titled 2083: A European Declaration of Independence, written by Norwegian-born Anders Behring Breivik, who has confessed to the bombing and shootings that killed 76 people in Oslo and on a nearby island. Breivik, a self-professed conservative, fundamentalist Christian and "anti-Islamic crusader" said his crimes were a message to the Norwegian government that it should no longer engage in the "mass importation of Muslims."

Breivik's extremism, like that of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, was no different from the extremism of those who claim to be fundamentalist Islamists. But Breivik's perverse ideology led to the targeting and slaughter, not of those he viewed as a threat to Norwegian and European values, but rather of the future leaders of a political party he deemed as responsible for the increasing presence of immigrants - particularly Muslims.

Unfortunately, xenoracist sentiments are not limited to far-right extremist groups. Indeed, those sentiments are often fuelled by statements made, perhaps unwittingly, by respected state leaders such as British Prime Minister David Cameron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy. These leaders have all declared that multiculturalism has failed in their respective countries. While these leaders are not explicitly anti-immigrant or anti-Muslim, their attempts to stave off the growing popularity of far-right political competitors provides fodder for extremists such as Breivik.

Cameron kicked off his election campaign in April with an antiimmigrant speech in Hampshire that could have been written by someone from the far-right British National Party. In it, he tried to link immigrants in Britain to the drag on that country's welfare system.

Sarkozy claimed his government's ban on the niqab and the burka was an attempt to defend "French values." Referring last year to the presence of immigrants and foreign workers in Germany, Merkel told a group of young people from her Christian Democratic Union Party: "We kidded ourselves a while, we said, 'They won't stay, sometime they will be gone.' But this isn't reality."

This type of rhetoric adds fuel to the flames of bigotry and hatred of those who are perceived as different from us. Breivik might have been delusional but he is the product of a xenoracist movement, not only in Norway, but throughout Europe.

North America is not immune. There is a rise in xenoracism in the United States, and Canada is not that far behind.

One saving grace for Canada might be our official multiculturalism policy, which celebrates its 40th anniversary this year. Let's hope the Canadian government continues to fund and promote true multiculturalism, anti-racism and inter-cultural and inter-faith dialogue. These could be significant antidotes to the xenoracist moment.

W. Andy Knight is chair of the department of political science at the University of Alberta and John S. McCoy is a doctoral student in that department. The authors are working on a research project titled: "Combating xenoracism and extremism in plural state-society complexes."
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