Monday, October 25, 2010

The rising tides of xenophobia

The Boston Globe
By James Carroll October 25, 2010

‘THE APPROACH [to build] a multicultural [society] and to live side by side and to enjoy each other . . . has failed, utterly failed.’’ This statement at a political rally last week by German Chancellor Angela Merkel was greeted by a standing ovation from her listeners. She was speaking of how Germany’s immigrant population, mainly Turks, remains socially marginal. Using “we’’ to refer to the nation’s majority population, she continued, “We feel tied to Christian values. Those who don’t accept them don’t have a place here.’’
Hello? The 5 million Muslims living in Germany were on notice, but Merkel’s remarks reverberated across the continent — and the ocean. On both sides of the Atlantic, a rising tide of xenophobic hostility toward immigrants is threatening to swamp the foundation of liberal democracy. As if out of nowhere, American politics, too, shows this. Merkel’s overt affirmation of “Christian values’’ as a note of national identity, for example, has an echo in the sly deriding of the separation of church and state that came last week from Delaware Senate candidate Christine O’Donnell. Supposedly a gaffe, her “Where in the Constitution is the separation of church and state?’’ was actually code — a message to American Christian nationalists who understood her very well.
When Nevada candidate Sharron Angle told Hispanic students in Las Vegas, “I don’t know that all of you are Latino. Some of you look a little more Asian to me,’’ she was subtly upholding a white template of American identity. You “others’’ all look the same to “us.’’ Code again, not a gaffe. Angle and O’Donnell can seem like fringe characters, but broad public discourse (Juan Williams, writer of the civil rights classic “Eyes on the Prize,’’ flaunting his fear of Muslims) suggests that race and religion are back as notes of qualification for full citizenship.

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