Sunday, September 19, 2010

Bigotry on the March

Early returns from Sweden are showing that the islamophobic, far-right Sweden Democrat party will enter parliament for the first time, and possibly hold the pivotal seats for any new government that tries to form in that country. Something similar happened in the Dutch elections last summer. Comparisons are also apt with the rise of the nationalist right in Flanders, in France, Italy, Switzerland, not to mention the more advanced movements in Hungary and other eastern European countries. Intolerance is on the march, taking Muslims as its primary target (as the rather beautiful photo suggests), but extending its adversions to Roma, Balkan immigrants, people who don't speak your language, or more appallingly, in northern Italy, in Austria, perhaps in Germany, people who are not of your 'race.' Witness inter alia the strange concatenation of genetics and anti-Turk diatribe in Thilo Sarrazin's screed, published a few weeks ago in Germany with great fanfare.

We live in dangerous times. Not long ago the economics blogs were full of comparisons to the 1930's. This pan-European populist uprising against the Other fits all too comfortably into that distressing context.

Nor are we exempt here in the USA. Palin and her Tea Party cohorts are romping to political victories by bashing immigrants and raising spectres of a Muslim Fifth Column that threatens to take power. Perhaps, they darkly hint, perhaps it already has. Here in 'liberal' Massachusetts a notoriously dirty cop has won the Republican nomination for, and may well take, the 10th Congressional seat, on a platform of withholding social benefits even from legal immigrants. In Arizona law officers can now stop 'questionable' people and demand proof of citizenship. (Guess which color the questionable people are?) The massive outpouring of hate-speech directed against a moderate imam and his project to build an islamic center with strong inter-faith values has tightened the screw. Next week Harvard will honor a supposed social scientist who insists, publicly and without shame, that "life is cheap among Muslims." (Not to stretch the comparison, but Harvard was notoriously slow to acknowledge the danger of the Third Reich in its day.)

I believe the rise of xenophobia in all corners of the West is a major cause for alarm. Huntington's "Clash of Civilizations" announced it. The Bush administration's exploitation of the September 11th attacks honed it, remarkably. Now the tottering condition of global capital is offering politicans the chance to demagogue this question. They are choosing scapegoats among the most vulnerable. That's why I am revisiting this blog, and hope to carry it forward more faithfully. Good luck to the Moderates (did I say that?) in Sweden, and vigilance to us all.