Behind racism in Europe

By Joel Schalit

 

Monkeys. Rats. Niggers.

By racist standards, the language was conventional. The problem was the people using it. Stockholm law enforcement officers, to be precise.

Switzerland, posters for the SVP campaign used the example of Ivan S., a convicted rapist, of possibly Balkan origin

Repeatedly cited, in reports about police brutality in quelling a riot in an immigrant neighborhood on Monday, residents were in a state of shock.

“They don’t have to call people names,” Rouzbeh Djalai, a local newspaper editor, told Russia Today.

Predictably, the cops had practice. “I can understand the police officers were stressed, but this language is unacceptable, and unfortunately nothing new,” said Rami al-Khamisi, a local youth organization activist.

It’s in keeping, he told the Swedish edition of The Local, with “growing marginalization and segregation in Sweden over the past ten, 20 years.”

Indeed, on March 7th, Sweden’s top legal official, Justice Minister Beatrice Ask, found herself defending the need to conduct racial profiling of Stockholm subway riders.

“There are some who have been previously convicted and feel that they are always questioned, even though you can’t tell by looking at a person that they have committed a crime,” Ask was quoted as stating, in the New York Times.

Of course Stockholm’s cops were stressed by rioters. But, immediate context isn’t everything.

From the sound of it, the stigmatization of Sweden’s immigrant community starts somewhere at the top.

The sense of persecution the minister imbues her minority subjects with is particularly telling, as is, obviously, the prior guilt assigned to them (“previously convicted”).

It’s not a long jump to employing the sorts of racial epithets employed by the Stockholm police force.

Most significantly, the discourse points to something far more sinister than the provinciality of the state employees in question. The freedom which they feel to dispense with such stereotypes betrays a growing tendency to criminalize immigrants and minorities.

Not just in Sweden, but throughout Europe.

In 2010, the Swiss People’s Party (SVP), for example, ran a campaign advocating the expulsion of migrants for rape crimes, as though to insinuate that rape is only committed by foreigners.

For a country in which twenty-two percent of the population is estimated to be of foreign origin, such connections target an awful lot of potential felons.

Still, the stigmatization is effective, insofar as it displaces a domestic social problem onto the shoulders of so-called outsiders.

In this case, posters for the SVP campaign used the example of Ivan S., a convicted rapist, of possibly Balkan origin, who was alleged to be in line to receive Swiss citizenship.

Images of the would-be Ivan served as the background, featuring a swarthy Slav, sporting a chain, in a tank top.

 

The Kabobos cultural construction

If only it stopped there.

In Italy, Beppe Grillo, co-leader of the country’s largest opposition party, M5S, produced the figure of Kabobo, a fictional Ghanian/Senegalese migrant, and violent felon, living legally, in Milan, as the authorities process his asylum request.

Writing in his blog Grillo took every conceivable liberty to criminalize him.

Kabobo’s transgressions include instances of violent assault (including smashing a brick in an old man’s face), attempted cannibalism (biting the ear off of a random pedestrian) and homicide (killing three persons with a pick axe.)

Like Ivan S, in Switzerland, Kabobo is also a rapist, responsible for the death of a nineteen-year-old Italian woman, whom he beats to death in the process of violating her.

Every conceivable racist stereotype about “foreigners,” albeit Africans, is embedded in Grillo’s narrative.

From the very name (with its allusion to doner kebab, a much stigmatized food on the Italian right) to Kabobo’s proclivity for violence, the African is uncivilized by nature, and therefore undeserving of the right to live in Italy.

Yet, Beppe Grillo, in his typically sardonic manner, argues that the Italian political system is to blame for Kabobo, because it fears being tarred as racist.

Kabobo, of course, is free to continue committing his crimes, providing more credibility to Grillo’s anti-immigration politics, and his reputation amongst right-wing voters. Give his party a majority in parliament, and M5S will put an end to the Kabobos.

As tempting as it would be to call everyone guilty of such racism a neo-Nazi, it behooves us to probe a little more deeply.

There’s no doubt that Europe is in deep crisis, and that the most vulnerable are being ritually scapegoated by the so-called natives, as is typical of such periods in history.

When Europeans can’t take responsibility, they blame it on someone else. But what about the details of allegations like those of Grillo, and Beatrice Ask? They’re informative, too.

On the European right, there is a recurring obsession with violating the law, as though minorities, because of their foreignness, are somehow free to do what Europeans can’t.

It’s a compensatory fantasy, surely, which obscures why immigrants have a difficult time integrating.

More significantly, I think, it betrays a desire to abandon civilization, as what Europeans know to be stabilizing has turned out to be so unreliable.

The criminality attributed to the Kabobos is really about the failings of the system – the one that has failed Europe, inspiring revenge fantasies of violation and bloodshed.

 

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