Sunday, January 17, 2010

Graphic Xenophobia

The NYT has a set of posters from across Europe depicting appeals to xenophobia.  Given that my recent book with Bill Ayres argues that xenophobia can be a positive force for peace, how squirmish does this make me feel?  A lot.

A key argument of Kin or Country is that people are less likely to support irredentism (foreign policies aimed at reuniting lost territories inhabited by ethnic kin) if they do not want to share their country with "others" even if those others speak the same language.  If one imagines a successful irredentist campaign as producing a massive wave of immigration, then one can see why many folks might be less enthused.  So, we claim in the book that fear/intolerance of others may deter violence between countries. So, we suggest in the book that there may be a trade-off between international peace and domestic harmony.  Not that we should go around creating hate towards various groups, but that we should recognize that the effects may be more complex than usually considered.

The problem here is that this form of xenophobia directed towards Muslims within is unlikely to create peace outside.  Creating policies that restrict the rights of Muslims to practice their religion or in some other way segregates and discriminates against them is only going to antagonize Muslims around the world.  At a time where Al Qaeda's popularity is severely diminished, the last thing we want to do is to reverse that trend.  Not only does such xenophobia not diminish inter-state violence (unlike the forms it takes in our book), but also the domestic dynamics are much more destructive as well.  Marginalizing Muslims at home seems to be the wrong way to go.

The posters accompany an article that interviews one of the graphic artists behind the posters. 
If what we do stirs up controversy, then we’ve already won the election,” he told me, a thought echoed when I met with Marc Bühlmann, a political scientist here. “All these right-wing populist parties have learned to get TV and newspapers to show these posters over and over with the excuse of asking, ‘Should we allow such images?’ ” Mr. Bühlmann said. “The aim in making the posters is to be as racist as possible, so then when critics complain, the populists can say elites don’t want ordinary people to know the truth. And the media fall for it every time.”
Kind of reminds me of Cheney and Robertson.  If we could just learn to ignore the crackpots .....

Or if some people were not so cynical:
Mr. Segert knows why. A 46-year-old German (yes, an immigrant himself in Switzerland), he is the father of two adopted children from North Africa, although he declined to talk about his personal life. He was happy, on the other hand, to discuss work, which he volunteered he would gladly do for the Green Party or Social Democrats, if they hired him. “For me it’s an intellectual exercise,” he said, as if cynicism were a point of professional pride.
I think I have to turn in my cynic badge.

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