December 2012

Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
2 3 4 5 6 7 8
9 10 11 12 13 14 15
16 17 18 19 20 21 22
23 24 25 26 27 28 29
30 31          

Blogs & Sites We Read

Blog powered by Typepad

Search Site

  • Search Site



  • Counter

Become a Fan

Cat Quote

  • "He who dislikes the cat, was in his former life, a rat."

« Cows With Guns (John Ballard) | Main | Google Interactive Map of Protests Across the Muslim World (John Ballard) »

September 13, 2012


I agree with almost every word you've written -- in spirit if not in letter, and I don't think you need to apologize for being angry. False rationalism should not be engaged on its own terms. While that Peter Lund guy seems to be a nut (I just read his posts on the other site), his utterly patronizing tone ("they" will have to learn "our" ways; "we" are so magnanimous for helping "their" kids; etc) is even more telling than the content of the opinions he expresses. It perfectly illustrates the latter-day, postcolonial, paternalistic butter-won't-melt-in-my-mouth brand of European racism that I join you in detesting.

However, the implicit idealization (even with caveats) of the U.S., I have to take issue with. I am not saying you don't acknowledge American racism, but I do think you are coming dangerously close here, as elsewhere, to espousing the American dream (myth) with the statement "an immigrant can hope to realize professional and social ambitions in the US - not in Europe." I know that you don't actually espouse the stronger, more absurd form of that statement. But then, I wonder what are you saying exactly? Is it that American society is, at least in one sense, more open than European society? I wouldn't totally disagree. To speak in obviously overbroad generalizations, I suspect that Americans are capable of being more truly color-blind than Europeans, WHEN it comes to people who are enough like them in other ways, whatever those may be (living in the suburbs; shopping at the same places; whatever). Also incidentally, I hypothesize that this American open-ness that you notice, to the extent it exists, is probably specific to the true middle class, and isn't especially operative or significant above or below.

Which brings me to my final point - at the risk of psychologizing the exchange of ideas, I wonder whether if you were perhaps not so relieved to escape the overt, cold xenophobia of provincial northern Germany, with all its baggage and history, that you maybe missed or unconsciously overlooked some of the submerged (and not so submerged) racism and xenophobia in the relatively easygoing, history-less (and superficially classless) society of the provincial American Midwest.

I did make some overbroad generalizations but not by too much. One of the reasons was that I really was annoyed by Peter Lund's portrayal of European hospitality and openness which I know to be not true. What recently happened in France will happen elsewhere if the Europeans don't do some introspection.

What is ironic here is that a mere fifty years ago, the Europeans were in Asia and Africa and for hundreds of years had been trying to impose European ways by force and fiat on the natives in their "own" homes. No European tried to behave like "them" in "their" lands. And now many of those natives have washed up on European shores and are again being asked to do the same.

At the other site, you may have also come across a few references to east Asian immigrants being more compliant with local norms (obedient!) than the Muslims. What is funny in this is that the Muslims are actually more like the "proud" Europeans in their tenacity to cling to their own ways amidst a foreign culture!

To end this interesting discussion, I ask you: Don't you have a bar exam to prepare for?

Ruchira, I don't know if you're more conflicted than I am about the Danish cartoons within the extremely broad framework of the ethics, economics, and assimilation that you've posited here.

The target of my post was much narrower, and more local: a response to the demands of violent fundamentalism on expressive freedoms within the discourse of American domestic politics. My initial, self-interested concern about the story of the Muslim protests was the fuel it would provide to the wire-tapping, Muslim-bashing elements in my own body politic. My post was aimed at the large number of Americans who (judging by recent voting patterns) seem to believe that civil liberties lose their value in the face of the use of them to express hatred of those civil liberties, and that the violence of some Islamic fundamentalists is a phenomenon of a new order that justifies a departure from the allegedly dangerous project of freedom of speech.

That Muslims in Morocco shouting anti-Semitic slogans outside the Danish embassy, or burning a Maronite church in Beirut, have grievances that run deeper than the (let me be clear: valueless and racist) Danish cartoons is no more news to me than that African-Americans fire-bombing Korean convenience stores in Los Angeles in 1992 weren't only angry about the failure to convict the police who had beaten Rodney King. I agree that whenever a group of people is that angry, soul-searching by the larger community about the treatment of that group is in order. In reference to our discussion about racism and Republican voting patterns, I dare say that this is true of violent white American fundamentalists as well (Howard Dean did, in effect, try to say this in his comment about wanting to reach out to the men with Confederate flags on their pick-up trucks, and had the Democratic establishment, en masse, jump down his throat in response). One tragic aspect of this kind of populist violence, however, is that it never hits the right mark, and instead inflicts the most suffering on the rioters themselves or third parties. If the gay-bashing Christians I wrote about announce that they're really angry over soul-crushing, underpaid jobs, and start writing death threats to debt collectors, I'll still oppose their violence, but support their cause, and I extend the same offer to Muslims who protest Western cultural disrespect (I tried to highlight that disrespect with my example of the differing treatment of Christian and Muslim fundamentalists). But I respect these groups enough to take their positions as they present them, rather than to de-construct them according to my enlightened reading of their structuralist source. And my prescription for a response to "retract [blasphemy of one's choice] or I will kill you on behalf of [God(s)/Value(s) of one's choice]" is: "I won't, and I'll tell you why I think you're dead wrong, but here's some editorial space-- go wild."

On a more serious note, given the genuine ill-will behind the cartoons, I think a very appropriate undertaking by the Danish newspaper in question would be to devote a page to a range of responses, including by moderate, observant Muslims, Arab Christians, and others who have been left out of the media discussion and are among those who suffer at the hand of both European xenophobia and Muslim extremism.

Anna, I actually agree with you - and I understood that your point was made in relation to how you (and I) would and should react to nasty racial, religious slurs in the environs of the open (not quite secular) democratic society we live in.

The title of my post was an attempt to draw attention to two posts on the same blog addressing the same issue from two different angles. My own comment, you will notice is aimed at something I found at another blog where there was a whole lot of white washing going on about the purpose and the nature of the cartoons.

This is indeed an "unholy" mess in the name of the holy. For the Europeans to pretend that their attitude is above reproach just made me mad. Just as mad as the braindead Muslim fundamentalists now rampaging all over the middle east. It was so predictable. They threw a lighted match into a gasoline soaked haystack and then when the fire broke out, everyone is shocked, shocked!

Another interesting observation I made at the Pharyngula site is that one Indian American guy who only a week ago had mounted a tooth and nail defense of the Hindu fundamentalists' attempt at rewriting Indian history in California school text books, is busy for the last two days providing link after link exposing the mischief by the Muslim clergy! This has really opened up a Pandora's box.

I am also quite certain that the Saudi, Egyptian, Syrian and Pakistani governments who were seething about the Iraq war but have had to pay lip service to Bush in the name of war on terrorism, are behind this outburst. And Jyllands-Posten with the arrogance of an open, secular society has handed them the perfect excuse to do it. PZ Myers' title of the original post, "Pox Ridden Houses" encapsulates my feeling more correctly than the title of my own post.

As for your hope that moderate Muslims will step forward in this incendiary situation, it won't happen. They will be much more scared of their arch conservative co-religionists than of their Europeans hosts' retaliation.


I just wanted to make a few comments on your post in order to show my agreement with much of what you say. Then just mention on counter example to our general agreement, and then end with a quite different conception of the situation in Europe and America from the one you advocate.

As a Norwegian living in America I have followed - disturbed though not wholly surprised - the events. First of all, I think there is no doubt that the issue on the table is the immigrant issue in Europe (and here Europe as a whole), and not the free speech issue. Without knowing anything about the interior of the Jylland-Posten's editors minds I also think it is fairly obvious that the cartoons has been used in a provocation strategy. At least when they spread they have served that purpose. As such we should just understand this as a kind of rightwing provocation campaign. (It somewhat reminds me off the republican strategy againts Kerry actually, in its simplicity, effectivness in obscuring real issues.)

That said, there is a rather common american tendency to talk about "Europe" where that entity just dosent exist. It is obviously true that Europe (at least western europe) has some real troubles in the immigartion-racisim specter, and some countries has turned racist. Like Denmark for instance.

Norway's reactions has been on the offical part at least (I take it for granted that there always will be racists - and not to clever individuals - in the populus as such) very good, and the communication with the local Muslim community has seemed strong as well. The local Muslims has also shown good judgment in this case. I just mean this as a case of divergence in the european reaction pattern.

Now, I wanted to end with a issue that I would like to hear your opinion on, and for the sake of discussion I will advance it as my thesis: To a certain extent I believe that the riots in France and the general outspokeness on the immigrants in europe as such is - funny enough - kind of a healthy sign. It implies that these groups have a voice in the societies, they feel they have something to acheive by speaking out. Honestly it seems to me that the american situation that is so often hailed these days as delaing much better with immigration and racial issues only looks stable because the supressed groups dosent speak up at all. The Katarina dissaster and its current aftermath seems like a perfect example. In this way America actually has more problems then europe, not on the political agenda (and this is what I think makes people believe that the US is in such a good condition), but in the actual quality of life for the minority groups.

As I hope I made clear I have no interest in defending European sillyness. But I believe that when it comes down to the real situation (actually how the minorities live, fell and get treated) Europe is a better place on the whole. That the racial issues is off the political map in America is just a sign of the enourmous difficulties this country finds itself with respect to these matters.

Thanks for the thoughtful comments. It appears that we all agree on most points about this ugly matter.

Your point about Europe not being a monolithic entity is well taken. I have never been to Norway. But I have been to England, Germany, France, Spain and the Netherlands. I have lived for an extended period only in Germany. My own impressions about European countries was that even though outwardly, Europe is more "civilized" towards dark skinned people, it also shuts them out more effectively from national conversation than does the USA. By the way, I would exclude Britain from this characterisation. My comment was directed more towards Continental Europe.

I am in no way trying to dismiss the problem of racism in the US. You will notice that both Maina and Anna, in their comments pick up on this angle. As both point out, immigrants, African Americans and the poor whites in the US have it very hard and face various forms of discrimination as became so clear to the whole nation, during the Katrina disaster. I do also believe that the war in Iraq was race based - attacking a Muslim country without any basis in fact but just based on personal hostility.

Maina points to the fact that my status as an educated, middle class person may have shielded me from many of the injustices faced by working class immigrants in the US. True. But in Europe, I felt like an outsider even when my social status was similar to what it is here. Anna points out that the riots in Los Angeles a few years ago were the results of overall social deprivation and not just police brutality. Again, a similarity with the current situation in Europe and also the middle east.

I also will submit that social services in Europe are far better than they are here, including those for the immigrants. But having said all that, I still get the distinct impression that although Europe does better in "physically" accomodating its immigrants, the US does a better job of "emotionally" accomodating its foreigners, only because Americans are much less self conscious among those who are "different" than are Europeans. While many can be quite hostile, there is less "noblesse oblige" in the American attitude. Does that make sense?

I think Anna will be able to make a more cogent post on this issue.

I wonder what evidence Ruchira Paul can provide to support the claim that inter-racial or inter-ethnic or inter-religious mariages are more common in the US than in Europe. After 300 years of common life, mariages between blacks and whites are rare in the US, particularly if you exclude NYC and a few large cities. Do you have any evidence that the rate of inter-racial (inter-religious etc.) mariages is higher here in the US? If not, what justify your assertion? Your impression? Great sociology!

In my humble opinion, this post smacks of American myopia.

Moreover, it is worth emphasizing that in most European countries, caricatures against all religions (or against other nations...) are very common (buy Charlie Hebdo, next time you visit France). There are laws that limit the freedom of speech in most countries, for instance in France. These laws apply as well to the caricatures at hand. The same laws for everybody.

There are few demonstrations in the European countries. No demonstration in France, small demonstrations in the UK. Most demonstrations take place in countries that try to make some political gains, such as Iran, Syria (in Syria and Lebanon), and in Gaza, where the losers of the last elections tried to capitalize on the recent events.

It has also been shown that the imams from Denmark have been manipulating the public opinion in the Middle East, showing caricatures that would be illegal in most countries in Europe together with the published caricatures.

One more thing: not so long ago, it was common to see rather aggressive caricatures against France and Germany, somewhat xenophobic, in the USA.

Edouard Machery:
Surely, you understood my post to be a rebuttal of some sweeping statements that were made at another blog where some people were attempting to paint the Danish cartoons as purely a matter of freedom of expression without any mischievous racial undertones. The claim was also made that similar cartoons depicting Christianity are also commonplace. Perhaps so - Europe is definitely much less hung up about religion than Islamic nations or even the USA.

Yet, we find out today that Jyllands-Posten had turned down cartoons about Jesus on the grounds that "it would offend some readers!" (See my update from Guardian.UK). A bit of hypocrisy here, you would admit. So the cartoons were not purely expressions of free speech. There was a hidden element of purposely poking a hornets' nest to see how mad the hornets would get! No new light was shed on the nature of the hornets.

You will notice that at no time have I indicated that I find the violent protests
justified or in any way furthering the Muslim cause in the rest of the world. In fact, the rioting Muslims have once again, in their stupidity and misjudgement, reinforced the stereotype of their already tarnished image. But just because something is unreasonable, unacceptable and even stupid, it does not mean we should not try to understand it.

As for European racism, I stand by my assertion. I (and other commenters) describe clearly in my comments above how it is different from US racism. I am not saying that one of them is better than the other - that would be ridiculous. But I did make a point that the insidious nature of European racism is harder for the immigrants to deal with because the national conversation in Europe denies its existence unlike in the US where race relations are a matter of discussion all the time. The comments from the Danish gentleman, whose post I was addressing, repeatedly asserted that racism is not a big issue in Denmark in particular and Europe in general.

Racism is a problem both in Europe and the US. With hundreds of years of history of violent anti-Semitism, colonialism, Nazism, fascism and now marginalization of non-white immigrants, Europeans should be a little cautious before lecturing the US. After all, some of it is in the not very distant past.

I cannot give you a figure about interracial marriage in the US without doing some serious research. While I will grant you that Black-White pairings are not what one would expect after 300 years of co-existence, Black-Asian, White-Asian, White-Latino, Christian-Jewish, Jewish-Hindu ones are quite common. And by the way, my comment about interracial pairings was generated by the Danish gentleman's flippant comment about dating a Parsi - a feeble attempt at secular humor in order to show his open-mindedness. I was replying angrily at his European condescension and not making a scholarly "sociological" argument. Excuse me, but I had no intention of bringing up the sexual angle of race problems in a discussion involving "freedom of speech and fundamentalism". The Danish man did. Please read my post carefully again and try to understand the context in which it was written.

Hi, Ruchira--yes, I was in Kiel, too--small world, eh? Were you at Christian-Albrechts-Uni? All the incidents I described were from Kiel, and I left a whole lot out, too--there's enough for me to write an entire screed on the topic.

I won't belabor the points I made over at Pharyngula, except to repeat that I have witnessed numerous examples of what you describe. I actually met my first husband, an Iranian student, when I walked out of our dorm party with him and other Iranian friends in protest at the way the Iranians there were being treated.

Yes, my husband mainly. I worked there too for a short time. I remember a lot of big and small incidents. Although the main hostility was directed towards Turks and middle easterns, no non-European was immune (I am from India).

We lived in the University Guest House on Dusternbrucker Weg for one year, which was not so bad because it was populated by visiting profs and post doc students from all over the world. Prior to that, we were in the suburbs in the downstairs apartment of a house belonging to an older couple. It was like living in a picture post card like lovely cemetery.

Small world indeed!

The comments to this entry are closed.