Commentary

Xenophobia and Anti-Immigrant Sentiment in the West

Middle East In Focus

Middle East Policy Council

The unprecedented wave of migrants arriving on European shores from the Middle East and North Africa has led to a populist backlash in many EU member states. The rise of far-right parties and xenophobic rhetoric in those countries has added political urgency to the humanitarian crisis confronting Europe and, to a lesser extent, other Western nations like Australia and the United States. The issue has been a subject of many editorials and commentaries in Middle Eastern dailies, mostly taking issue with the current and proposed solutions as being inadequate and falling short of addressing the real root of the problem.

In a recent editorial, the UAE daily Khaleej Times offered yet more criticism of Europe’s refugee policy, suggesting it was doing little to address the real root of the problem: increased instability and violence in the region: “The issue of migrants in Europe and the Middle East is far from being addressed. Several summits and bilateral meetings between Turkey and other stakeholders across the Mediterranean have failed to tackle the human exodus in its original sense....Europe has a serious and difficult situation to face in the form of displaced people assembling on its borders. The EU-Turkey agreement on migrants is a non-starter to say the least. It has complicated the problem, rather than solving it....The way-out is to streamline the refugees on a humane basis and make efforts to resettle them back in their respective countries. The refugees are there because they have a disorder at home. If that is addressed in an amicable manner, the problem can be tackled right at the doorstep of embarkation points.”

The most recent Saudi Gazette editorial issues a similarly scathing criticism, this time aimed at Australia’s “handling of unwanted migrants,” which according to the Saudi daily “had been looked at by European states with covert envy.  Faced with a tidal wave of illegal immigrants, in 2001 the Australian government cut a deal with Papua New Guinea to open a detention center....Now, however, judges in Papua New Guinea have ruled the local detention camps illegal and have ordered their closure....Australia does not have a particularly creditable immigration history. For years the country quietly operated a Whites-only policy....far away from the media spotlight of Europe’s migrant challenges, the Australians have seen fit to erect a near-impenetrable barrier against asylum-seekers. Given the actions in Australia of a few lunatics claiming to be part of Daesh (the self-proclaimed IS), Islamophobia is rife and the government in Canberra seems sure to continue to resist its humanitarian duty, especially toward Muslim migrants.”

Building on Pope Francis’s call for a kinder and more humane approach to the immigration crisis, the Gulf Today editorial team challenges Hungary and other EU countries for taking an “antagonistic stance towards helpless migrants and refugees, even while Pope Francis has spoken emotionally about his meeting with migrants on the Greek island of Lesbos where he was visibly moved by their suffering. The Pope’s visit to Lesbos, one of the main ports of arrival for people fleeing war, poverty and persecution in the Middle East and Asia, is a lesson in solidarity for Europe, where the doors to migrants are increasingly being slammed shut....As the world faces the biggest refugee and displacement crisis, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has also reiterated a call to leaders across Europe and throughout the world to show greater solidarity. Ban, who himself was once a displaced person, has correctly pointed out that refugees bring new skills and dynamism into ageing workforces, and are famously devoted to education and self-reliance....As Pope Francis emphasises, the arrivals are not mere numbers, but people with faces, names and individual stories. They deserve respect and support, not fences and brickbats.”

What has been equally disturbing for many observers in the region, as reflected in this editorial by the Peninsula, is the rise of the far-right in Europe, bringing along with it the instrumentalization of the immigrant crisis for political purposes: “Islamophobia and xenophobia are continuing their march in Europe after the Paris attacks. Especially in France, the far right are consolidating and expanding their gains. Reports say that after years of shouting from the sidelines of French politics, Marine Le Pen of the National Front is finally being listened to and is being taken seriously, so much that the idea of a Le Pen presidency in 2017, once regarded as a fantasy, is seen as a real possibility....In Germany, the Pergida movement — the German acronym for Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West — is again gaining popularity after rebuff from the public....In addition to the far right gaining more currency and acceptance, we are also witnessing the conservatives and the liberal shifting slightly, but noticeably, to the right...We can witness these events across Europe only with a sense of déjà vu. After every major terrorist attack, there is a phenomenal increase in Islamophobia and xenophobia, which would gradually subside, only to rise again with another terrorist attack.”

But Europe and Australia are not the only subject of consternation of many in the region. The Saudi Gazette takes aim also at the United States for what it considers a marked rise in xenophobic and anti-immigrant rhetoric, especially in light of the ongoing presidential campaign: “There is understandable outrage at the treatment of an Iraqi student thrown off an internal US flight just before takeoff, after he was overheard speaking Arabic on his phone....Given the Islamophobic claptrap being spouted by Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump, it is easy to see how this paranoid discrimination has come into being....When people are panicking, they lose their wits, they lose a sense of proportion. The horror of 9/11 has spooked America and the Trump demagogy plays to and stokes up this fear. It is a regrettable truth that the US public education system fails to give students a decent understanding of the rest of the world. Past bouts of isolationism have been underpinned by this ignorance....The Land of the Free now is no longer the land of people brave enough to use their common sense.”

Finally, news of the murder of a Muslim couple in California have given rise to allegations by some that the anti-immigrant and xenophobic rhetoric in the United States may have led to a hate crime: “The cold-blooded murder of a Muslim couple in San Jose, California, could be an act of Islamophobia. Ghulam Rabbi (59) and his wife Shamima (57) were shot dead inside their home, and their bodies were recovered by police as friends and relatives reported that they haven't heard from them for days....Islamophobia is not new to the US. In the wake of militancy in the Middle East, and a large number of youngsters going the Daesh way, there has been an increase in hate attacks against the Muslims. Terrorist attacks in Paris, Brussels and San Bernardino have crippled the coexistence equation between Muslims and other communities of Europe and America.... It is a fallacy to equate terrorism with any religion or community, and this is what people across the board should understand. Muslims are as patriot as any other communities in their respective societies. Hate and homicide attacks are serving no purpose other than pushing the Muslims to the edges.”


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Middle East In Focus is a synopsis of commentary and news from Middle Eastern and other international media. Its purpose is to provide a succinct and balanced summary of the main developments and views that are often overlooked or not properly reflected in the U.S. media. For the most recent collection of articles on and from the Middle East, please go to: http://mepc.org/articles-commentary/articles-hub. Comments and feedback are welcome at info@mepc.org.