Dreaming of a White Christmas

December 21, 2009

Just like the ones (the burgeoning European right wing freikorps feels like their parents) used to know. As the Guardian reports:

As the first snow fell at the foot of the Italian Alps, the centre of Coccaglio presented an idyllic scene. In front of its 18th-century church, the flakes came to rest on a magnificent Christmas tree, rising almost to the height of the Roman tower opposite.

But in this town of 8,000 inhabitants between Milan and Venice, the approach to Christianity’s most sacred festival has been marked in a very special way. On orders from the local council, controlled by the conservative Northern League, police have been carrying out house-to-house searches for illegal immigrants in an action dubbed Operation White Christmas. The operation is due to finish on December 25.

There has been resistance, with “Some 3,000 people hav[ing] marched through the town in protest at the operation, which the Vatican called “sad and distressing.”

“But it has been endorsed by Silvio Berlusconi’s government.” What a surprise. This operation will, unfortunately, have massive consequences for the people of Coccaglio, where “non-Italians outnumber natives in the centre, which is lined with halal butchers, African markets, Chinese bazaars and takeaway kebab shops.”

There have been rumours of lynch mobs being formed after rape allegations were made against a Moroccan man. Not a pretty picture at all.

Meanwhile, more and more immigrants have been returning to Nigeria with tales of torture and brutality handed out by Libyan prison guards and officials. According to the Nigerian Guardian, women “painted a gory picture of how they were raped by some of the Libyan security personnel” with the Libyan state simply swallowing Nigerian women in the category “prostitute” and men as “drug dealers” before shoving them over the desert border towards their homeland.

As one put it “Regardless of the business you have come to do in Libya, they see you as illegal immigrant that must be destroyed by all means.” Many seem to have been arrested despite holding valid papers, as the Qaddafi regime seeks to purge its society of African migrants.

The fragile transnational space in which migrants must move is shrinking, propelled by the economic crisis and the rise of the far-right across Europe. Qaddafi has been pressured to crack down by leaders like Nicolas Sarkozy and Berlusconi – and he has obliged.

Societies across Europe are, to some degree, staging “debates” about national identity, debates which are likely to precede increasingly exclusionary immigration policies.

Take France, for example, where one local mayor loyal to Sarkozy said recently of immigrants that “It’s time we reacted because we are going to be eaten alive. There are already 10 million of them, 10 million who are getting paid to do nothing.”

After the Swiss voted to halt the construction of minarets, Sarkozy weighed in with a  slimy editorial for Le Monde, which counselled the French: “Instead of condemning the Swiss out of hand, we should try to understand what they meant to express and what so many people in Europe feel, including people in France” adding that “Nothing would be worse than denial.”

Yet his calls for openness and honesty are more likely a facade. As Laurent Joffrin, editor of Liberation puts it, “Instead of making the French reflect on themselves, it goads them to express their rejection of others.”

Across Europe, people are increasingly being forced to measure up to a random standard of national qualities. As Marc Cheb Sun, editor of Respect magazine put it to the Globe and Mail, “The problem is that the way the question is posed, it makes people like me think that we are always going to have to prove our Frenchness.”

In the UK, immigrants are now required to pass a “Life in the UK test” instituted by New Labour, which many natives would flunk. In Germany, meanwhile, the government is working on a “contract” that would require incomers to “learn the German language and uphold values such as freedom of speech and sexual equality.”

Yet like in the UK, the German government is seeking to radically filter those immigrants it accepts, discriminating based on class by favoring “expertise” and qualifications. This though, is more than likely to prove an excuse to limit all migrants, apart from those that are sorely needed (hypocritically enough) by European nations’ creaking health services.

This is also a naked powerplay aimed at sucking the best educated people from poorer nations. As German Commissioner for Immigration Maria Bohmer puts it, the nation seeks “the expertise that will enable us to ensure our leading economic role in world markets.”

The obvious corrollary to that is that the nations losing experts will be hindered, and continue to be excluded or exploited by global markets. At the same time, they will need to cater for those immigrants who are forced to return, having failed to breach “fortress Europe” – a daunting economic task. Failure to do this will lead to conflict and instability as remittances decline and social tensions grow.

In reality, the social tensions caused in Europe by immigration cannot be solved by purging the nations in question of minorities. They are essentially class questions based on increasingly unequal, dysfunctional economies which discriminate against almost everyone, black or white.

And in any case, migrants will continue to leave nations with high unemployment, corruption and repressive state apparatus which sit on the periphery of the global economy and are suffering the most from that economy’s current stagnation. So it is also fundamentally a question of international equity.

The Nigerian people, for example, suffer so much because of the resource curse exerted by oil – with the connivance of multinationals like Shell, which arm local strongmen and facilitate corruption in the interests of social control. Hideously brutal police forces in the country have also been trained by European nations and America – while agricultural production has been decimated by rich country subsidies.

The context is much bigger than a pogrom in northern Italy, but the reality on the ground in communities across Europe is becoming more tense and worrying by the day.

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