By Enrique Tessieri
We all know that right-wing and far-right populism is on the rise in Europe. By the same token, many us without knowing it, may carry the same seeds of intolerance that these groups spread without ever knowing it. Certainly our democratic society must be able to debate a wide range of issues that affect us like immigration. We must, however, be able to distinguish what are inaccurate claims and facts.
There is no cause for alarm. Every illness has some cure, especially those that are based on fear-mongering, hatred and racism.
The Council of Europe’s comprehensive report, Living together, is an excellent and long-overdue source to help distinguish between myths and facts about our European cultural diversity.
As with Migrant Tales’ most-popular blog entry, Are you a target of racism in Finland?, which has got 19,583 visitors and 1,425 comments (June 18,2011), we now publish Are you a carrier of European right-wing populist rhetoric? which aims to show how much far-right, anti-immigration and anti-Islam rhetoric has affected our good judgement.
Like the Council of Europe report, Migrant Tales believes that Islam, or any religion even far-right populist group, should not be exempt from criticism.
But read carefully what the report states: “At the same time it is important to notice that distorted or inaccurate accounts of religious beliefs or practices, or assertions that those of particular groups or individuals are characteristic of a religion as a whole, are often expressions of prejudice and also help to spread it.”
But let’s go now to the test. Please answer yes or no to the following nine claims:
1. Immigrants cause an increase in crime
2. Immigrants bring diseases into the country
3. Immigrant workers take our jobs
4. Immigrant workers drive down our wages
5. Immigrants abuse the welfare state
6. Immigrants behave as if the place belonged to them
7. Immigrants build parallel societies
8. Immigrants’ children are lowering standards in our schools
9. Immigrant women live as a minority
If you answered YES to any two, the chances are that you are a carrier of European right-wing populist rhetoric. If you answered YES to three or more, you are definitely a carrier.
Below are some answers to the above-listed claims that can help you get a realistic and factual view, according to the Council of Europe and Migrant Tales:
1. Immigrants cause an increase in crime. This is widely repeated by the media, officials and certain “security experts”, and accepted unquestioningly by a large proportion of the population, in terms such as: “migrants, especially illegal migrants, are criminals;” “migrants are less law-abiding than nationals;” “migrants are responsible for much of the crime that takes place”; “they come to our country to commit crimes” and “now that they are here, our towns and streets are less safe.”
Migrant Tales comment: The Council of Europe answers this claim above comprehensively. It follows: “European countries and are sometimes verbally abused in a racist way, harassed or even physically abused by law-enforcement officials. The fact that these groups are more often subjected to police stop and search operations increases the likelihood that they will end up in the criminal justice system.”
“Official statistics do show higher-than-average crime rates among certain minorities (notably Roma) and immigrants or people of recent migrant background. But these statistics should be treated with care. There is abundant evidence of prejudice and discrimination within the criminal justice systems of many (probably most) European countries. Someone identifiable as an immigrant or member of a minority is more likely to be stopped and searched by police, more likely to be arrested, and more likely to be charged with a criminal offence than a comparable member of the “native” population. Thus the popular conviction that these groups are more prone to crime is, to some extent, self-fulfilling. It does almost certainly have some basis in fact, but this does not mean that people commit crimes because of their ethnic origin or immigrant status.” (The bold print was added by Migrant Tales).
2. Immigrants bring diseases into the country, or “migrants are to blame for the return of certain diseases that were eradicated in Europe decades ago.” Proponents of these arguments claim that irregular or undocumented migrants and their children often have poorer health than the rest of population, and that certain infectious and transmissible diseases are more common in migrant communities than in the indigenous population.
Migrant Tales comment: Since immigrants and refugees are “criminals,” why not make them more undesirable by claiming that they are carriers of deadly diseases? They are so backward and maladapted that they even bring diseases like tuberculosis that have been eradicated from our society a long time ago.
3. Immigrant workers take our jobs. This view is extremely common in European societies, especially among workers in sectors where there are large numbers of immigrants. It is applied not only to immigrants stricto sensu but also to their children, the so-called second generation, who are still seen as being “not part of the nation” on account of their physical appearance, culture or family ties.
Migrant Tales comment: This is due to the lack of acceptance by the majority of minority groups like immigrants. It is an effective argument to ensure the control of the labor market by the majority and exclusion of immigrants.
4. Immigrant workers drive down our wages. Many people who accept that there is no proof that migrants and nationals are in direct competition for jobs nevertheless subscribe to the idea that through their presence, immigrants drive down wages. This view is especially widely held in the workplace and even in trade unions, at least among the rank-and-file members.
Migrant Tales comment: One gets the impression from the public debate that immigrants want to break the law, evade taxes and that they are more than happy to work for lower wages and rights. The root of these problems lie a lot with the employer. Why wouldn’t a person want to contribute to the society he or she is living in and pay taxes if he or she had the same rights as “native” workers?
5. Immigrants abuse the welfare state. Migrants and their families are accused of abusing the services provided by the welfare state in three ways. First, it is claimed that they make excessive, unfair use of public services and assistance, to which they are believed to have wider, more liberal and less tightly regulated access than other citizens. Second, they are alleged to have access to provision and services to which they are not legally entitled, and thus to be committing outright fraud, to the detriment of the indigenous population. Third, it is alleged that during their stay, which is assumed to be temporary and prompted chiefly by the desire to benefit from the European welfare state, they get more out of the economy than they put in.
Migrant Tales comment: This appears to be one of the pet myths used by anti-immigration groups. They assume that not only social workers collude with immigrants in this type of fraud, but the state turns a blind eye to the matter as well. If I were a social worker one of the matters I’d try not to do is get fired. One way of getting the boot would be to break the law by granting immigrants special rights outside of the law. If such anti-immigration groups are really worried about this type of fraud, why are immigrants usually the targets of such criticism?
6. Immigrants behave as if the place belonged to them. This attitude is especially common among older people, who have the impression that newcomers do not respect them, that their familiar way of life is being eroded and that “immigrants’ culture and way of life are respected more than ours”.
Migrant Tales comment: This type of claim reveals low self-esteem of one’s own culture. Moreover, recent studies show the contrary. These types of arguments are effective anti-immigration arguments used by populist parties.
7. Immigrants build parallel societies. Migrants are often described as a social and political group alien to the members of their host society. Attention is paid to cases where they behave like a closed and self-contained community, and much less to cases where they are open and seek friendly relations with members of other groups. Typical claims are “they like to keep themselves to themselves,” “they have no desire to integrate,” “they cannot speak our language” and “all they want is rights without duties”.
Migrant Tales comment: These are a good list of excuses. People usually emigrate in search of better opportunities or where “the grass is greener.” It would be illogical for a person to travel many thousands of kilometers, learn a new language and culture just to continue living the same way as he did back home. Immigrants adapt rapidly. How rapidly they adapt in their new home country usually determines how fast they can progress. A crucial aspect of adaption is acceptance by the host society.
8. Immigrants’ children are lowering standards in our schools.” Immigrants’ children are said to “perform poorly at school because their parents lack the skills and education to bring them up properly,”and are often blamed for their own difficulties: “they do not speak their host country’s language;” “they enrol at school in the middle of the school year;” and “they don’t know which culture they really belong to.”
Migrant Tales comment: A recent study in Finland showed that there aren’t that big differences in some areas and that multicultural Finns, or so-called second-generation immigrants, enjoyed attending school more than their Finnish classmates. These arguments are pretty much similar to those made on #9.
9. Immigrant women live as a minority. Non-European immigrants are often regarded as “backward” in terms of civilisation in general and gender equality in particular. This prejudice is now directed mainly against Muslims and Arabs.
Migrant Tales comment: Anti-immigration groups use the same argument over and over again everywhere. They argue that since a group is so different from us, they can never be part of our society. Thus their racism and hatred is thereby justified.