Monday, April 11, 2016

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The Refugee Crises Is Often Bigger In People's Heads Than They Are In Real Life.

Mick Hall @ Organized Rage insists that the refugee crisis is more imaginary than real.

Philip Oltermann when covering Germany’s state parliament elections this week, found himself struggling with a bit of journalese:

German woman welcomes refugees.

The phrase “refugee crisis, one common view is that Angela Merkel was punished at the polls for her handling of Europe’s refugee crisis. The first problem, of course, is that the real crisis isn’t in Europe, but in the countries people are fleeing. The other is the word crisis. As shorthands go, it’s not inaccurate: taking in over 1.1 million refugees in the last year, processing their applications for asylum, expelling those whose applications are rejected and integrating those who are accepted has been an enormous logistical challenge.

Philip takes up the tale in Mannheim in Baden-Württemberg:
I visited before the elections, the authorities were expecting 600 refugees last summer. By October, they had to find space for 12,000. Yet “crisis” wasn’t the right word for the attitudes I encountered.
On the train between Heidelberg and Mannheim, I witnessed the following scene. A white male with specs and a male of Middle Eastern appearance sat down next to each other. Shortly before Mannheim, another man with a guitar case got on.
The Middle Eastern male looked at his case and said: “You play guitar? Music is a great thing.” “It’s a 1960s blues guitar,” the new guy responded, already zipping open the case. For the next five minutes the musician and the Middle Eastern guy took turns playing some pretty out-of-tune riffs on a by now packed commuter train. “Are you from Syria?” the guitarist asked. “Yes, from Damascus.”
The bespectacled guy turned to the Syrian: “I work for the chamber of commerce here. Your English is very good – we are looking for people like you. Here’s my card.” The Syrian guy thanked him. He may never make the call; the man from the chamber of commerce may never offer him a job. But scenes like this remind you that crises are often bigger in people’s heads than they are in real life.
I have always thought this about immigration and the racism which can often lurk alongside it. In my 67 years I have seen many waves of newcomers making their homes within the borough I live. The process is nearly always the same, first people are appalled, then there anger is politicised by some right wing party which has no real roots in the borough. In the 1950s it was the Mosleyites, in the 70s, the National Front, in the 80s the BNP, and more recently it's been UKIP. All apart for the latter turned out to be one trick ponies and I have little doubt UKIP will go the same way, even if they gain seats in the May local election and whatever the result of the EU referendum.

I doubt one in ten of UKIP supporters know what the party stand for beyond being anti-immigrant and EU, in this Nigel Farage's supporters are no different from those who supported the previous political incarnations of the far right.

What happened next is why to date they have never gained more than a toehold on the political consciousness of the people of the borough.

After each wave of newcomers things gradually settle down as they become integrated into our communities. As the years go by we all learn to live with each other. We live in the same streets, our kids go to the same schools, and they work alongside us. Within time we return to 'a community.'

What often amuses me is when something god awful happens next in some far off land, and the latest influx of newcomers begin to arrive, the last lot are often opposed to the next, and so the process begins all over again.

This doesn't mean we should not listen to local people who feel genuinely aggrieved at the changes which take place when newcomers arrive. Change is difficult at first for most people to take on board and right wing parties like the BNP and  UKIP highlight the pitfalls rather than the benefits.

However the current brouhaha has undoubtedly been made much worse by the Tory government's programme of unnecessary austerity, and the massive cuts they have made to local authority funding, and the NHS. They have also refused to fund the building of council houses for rent the nation so desperately needs if our young people are to be adequately housed in the future.

Nevertheless as Philip Oltermann writes above, "the refugee crises are often bigger in people’s heads than they are in real life."


DaithiD said...

Meanwhile, in the real world :

An ICM poll released to the Times ahead of the broadcast reveals:

One in five Muslims in Britain never enter a non-Muslim house;
39 per cent of Muslims, male and female, say a woman should always obey her husband;
31 per cent of British Muslims support the right of a man to have more than one wife;
52 per cent of Muslims did not believe that homosexuality should be legal;
23 per cent of Muslims support the introduction of Sharia law rather than the laws laid down by parliament.

AM said...


which shows only a minority of Muslims literally buy into the text.

DaithiD said...

Well its more to counter this idea of happily integrating communities. A visual survey of the businesses around Whitechapel told me Muslim owned businesses didnt employ outside their own religious group. Shops advertise rooms to let but specify candidates "Must be Muslim".
This is completely different to my experience of integration at University, but I now realise this was the atypical experience, at odds with what others experience of integration, and at odds with examples of our new friends bonding older faces over blue guitar. Doesn't it reek of desperation to point things like that out?

Phillips makes some interesting observations in the rest of the piece too:

"Many of our (distinctly un-diverse) elite political and media classes simply refuse to acknowledge the truth. Any undesirable behaviours are attributed to poverty and alienation. Backing for violent extremism must be the fault of the Americans. Oppression of women is a cultural trait that will fade with time, nothing to do with the true face of Islam."

This sort of thing outlined is often repeated, its a huge free pass no other ideologies get.

AM said...


diverse communities are not easy to integrate. I think the point Cameron once made is significant: that multiculturalism in the UK had been manipulated to favour a divisive idea - the right to difference - instead of promoting the unifying concept that people have the right to be treated equally, regardless of differences.

Multiculturalism is fine but it cannot be trumped by cultural relativism which has been effectively nailed by Maryam and others as racism.

While it is a very sobering piece for those who thought there was not a problem, it still leads to a need to look at political Islam rather than blame the Muslim.

DaithiD said...

AM, much like we have seen with articles blaming the Easter rebels of 1916 for partition etc, those that fight against this cultural apartheid can expect to be blamed for its existence.

AM said...


but this is a perennial feature of the discourse. And critique of the cherished is a most useful perspective but usually not to those doing the cherishing. Philips proposes some useful methods for curbing the influence of the theocrats and in many ways reinforces the perspective of Maryam.

Steve Ricardos said...


"which shows only a minority of Muslims literally buy into the text."

23% (which is the lowest figure quoted above) of muslims support the introduction of Sharia law rather than the laws laid down by parliament.

23% of 2.7 million muslims (UK as a whole) is 621,000. I will be generous and say that's wrong by double.

300,000 muslims actually believe Sharia law should be above all other laws in the UK.

That is still a sobering thought. A multi-ethnic community is a noble idea, but a multi-cultural society is by definition going to be divisive.

When you say " it still leads to a need to look at political Islam rather than blame the Muslim." you miss the point. Islam is not worn as Christianity is in the West, ie, when it suits of for holidays.

Islam is all encompassing for the Muslim, it dictates every part of their life and IS their life. In countries where Islam is in the majority, with very few exceptions, other religions have no rights whatsoever.

Trying to separate Islam from a Muslim is impossible, it is not equivalent to say 'separate Christianity from the Christian".

Just ask a moderate muslim what the punishment for a muslim who renounces his faith is. The moderate and the jihadi will say the same thing.

AM said...


this has been debated at length for years on this blog.

This undifferentiated "Muslim" you cite appears not to exist. The figures from Philips which you think are inflated still amount to a minority. Political Islam has always been a serious threat. In countries where political Islam gains state power they readily crank up the repressive machinery to deny rights to numerous citizens. Had Christianity state power it would do likewise. The world has never been short of evil Christians. Even observing how Christianity worked against the best medical advice available and sought to sabotage a seriously important defence against the spread of AIDS in Africa, is enough to remind us of just how evil Christianity is and the misery it would inflict if it got its way. In the battle against religion it is crucial to see it does not get its way. And preventing it securing political power is crucial to the health of democratic life. Same with Islam.

Frankie who comes on to this site to comment is great on the brothel visiting, toke puffing, drug dealing Muslim. Maryam, whose work we cover, presses the point time and time again that there is no such thing as an undifferentiated Muslim community. And when we begin to think that there is we play into the hands of the political theocrats and make their task easier.

Christianity has been compelled to come to terms with secular society. The same has to happen with Islam. It is not some magic formula working its spell on people of a certain olive complexion which we pale faces are somehow both immune and superior to. It is an ideology and functions much the same as other ideologies.

DaithiD said...

...Christianity has been compelled to come to terms with secular society.The same has to happen with Islam....

AM, it has to, but will it? Is the same will that exerted itself on Christianity still there to exert itself on Islam ? You have covered the debacle in higher level learning institutions kowtowing to Islamic threat of violence if speakers are likely to critique their faith, if this occupies the best minds of this generation, what chance is there for this fabled secular re-assertion? Sharia courts and more un-labeled halal meat is more likely to be realised.

AM said...


you might well prove right. I outlined what I felt has to be done. I did not say it will succeed. There is no teleology here with a guaranteed outcome. Christianity might have won had the balance of forces been different and we would all be getting burned for heresy and not believing in rubbish like Holy Water and miracles. Again, we go back to the point. Religion can and will do what Islam does if it gets political power. The challenge is to prevent that.

It might also help if the fertile ground that Islam flourishes in - superstition - was abandoned by all people opposed to Islam. I think that too would go some way towards weakening one of the props of Islam. Give up the incenses and holy water and stand on the ground of reason. Religious myths, however diverse, all mutually reinforce each other.