Talking Cultural Diversity

a discussion board for cultural and diversity issues by Thomas Kochman and Jean Mavrelis

Anti-Islam/Muslim Agitation

By Thomas Kochman - 03.19.2011

Ian Kershaw’s article, “Ghosts of Fascists Past” was just sent to me by a colleague.

It reminded me of Herbert Hill’s article, “Anti-Oriental Agitation and the Rise of Working Class Racism” directed against Chinese labor at the end of the 19th century, ultimately leading to the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882–hence the title of this blog– and Teun Van Dijk’s 1987 book, “Communicating Racism: Ethnic Prejudice in Thought and Talk”.

I said then, in a comment that appeared on the book’s cover, that Van Dijk’s depiction of racist thought and talk in everyday conversation among the dominant white middle classes in California and Amsterdam was both “timely and timeless”.

It is no surprise then that the phenomenon keeps repeating itself.

One reason for that is economic protectionism: people limiting competition from others for what, through class entitlements, racism or simply habit and expectation, they claim for themselves.

It often and predictably occurs in developed countries when labor is in short supply and jobs are available that the locals or natives don’t want to do.

Refugees, immigrants or “guest workers” are invited in, and welcomed to the extent that they confine their activity to those jobs.

When these jobs dry up, members of these groups become idle, and targeted and stereotyped by dominant citizen insiders as “shiftless and lazy”, or, worse, start to compete for jobs that members of the privileged in-group feel belongs to them.

Anti-immigration laws and actions are especially prevalent and rampant during times of high unemployment among the haves –college educated middle class insiders unaccustomed to being shunted aside, or members of the white working class suddenly finding themselves laid off.

It is also at those times when in-group frustration and anger toward out-groups becomes irrational –it occurs even when there is no direct competition for the jobs the socially entitled mainstream group is losing– and violence against out-group others increases.

The roots of Anti-Islam/Muslim agitation are more political and cultural:  fear that anti-Western terrorism is bred and fed in Muslim communities in Europe and, to a lesser degree, in the U.S., or that Christian or secular social values are under assault.

It’s unclear whether current  Western fear and hostility towards Islam or Muslims will change as a result of the democratic movements in Tunisia and Egypt which appear at least for now to be more political than religious.

Much will depend on what form of society develops from those uprisings or whether, as with Iran and Algeria, following their independence, religious extremism, succeeds in taking over the movement.

The next chapter is around the corner.

One constant pattern, for a multitude of reasons, however, is prejudice against one group or the other.

What changes sometimes is the group being targeted –Jews should be so lucky. What doesn’t change are 1) the economic conditions that set the stage for ethnic hatred to flourish, or 2) the political chicanery that draws on that to rationalize and energize Fascist thought and action.


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