By M.A. Saki

There is rising tendency to view immigrants as threat:  scholar 

March 7, 2021 - 17:54

TEHRAN – A reader in international relations and human rights at Regent's University London says there is an escalating tendency in Europe to deny rights of immigrants.  

“There is a rising tendency to deny this right to members of minority groups,” Neven Andjelic tells the Tehran Times.

“Immigration is seen as a threat to their identity, and they discriminate against immigrants. Even when born in these countries, Muslims are often perceived as immigrants, and this is where discrimination comes," Andjelic, also a visiting professor at the University of Bologna, adds.  

Over the past few years, unprecedented numbers of Muslim immigrants have left their countries to come to Europe, fleeing the carnage in West Asia and North Africa. They join previous waves of Muslim immigrants, many of whom are not integrating well.

However, Andjelic believes that “the majority of the population, however, do not support this kind of discrimination.”

Following is the text of the interview:

Q: Since you have a close experience of the Balkan wars, how do you describe the Srebrenica massacre? 

A: The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia and the International Court of Justice stated a genocide in Srebrenica in 1995. Leading academic experts refer to the massacre as genocide. It was genocide because, in addition to the mass-murder of around 8,000 men, a process of organized removal of women and children from the territory was put in place, thus completely removing the whole group's presence. The organized process of the change of ethnic pattern in the specific territory is at the core of the definition of genocide. I see a multi-level problem with the whole debate. The original interpretation of genocide was to distinguish crimes committed by Nazis from those of the Allies. The Nazis aimed to destroy and remove entire ethnic, religious and racial groups from large territories of central and eastern Europe in an organized and industrious way.  The crimes committed by the Allies did not have this aim. Still, they also committed war crimes and crimes against humanity, like the bombing of Dresden. There are, however, deniers of the crime of genocide and the Holocaust to this day. The same goes for Srebrenica. 

Q: How do you assess the reaction of the world, especially European states, toward the massacre? Why did the globe prefer to remain a spectator?

A: The signs were there, but the world was not ready. A bipolar international system has just finished with the end of the Cold War. The new system was yet to be established to replace it. Was it going to be a unipolar system with the USA acting as a global policeman or a multipolar world? The EU peaked with the popularity of European integrations in 1993. Washington DC potentially saw rivals in Europe, not in China or Russia, that was in disarray at the time. 

Therefore, they were happy to let Europe deal with this and prove that diversity of national interests and a lack of military capacity without Americans will ultimately prove Europe to be incapable of interventionism without the leadership or at least support of the USA. 

There was also a lack of experts to provide competent information and knowledge about Yugoslavia and the successor states. They largely relied on Rebecca West and similar dated authors to reconfirm ideas that often lack historical accuracy and explain everything in terms of ethnic hatred. Let me remind you that NATO's first combat mission since its establishment was in the skies above Bosnia in 1994. Even for them, it was an unknown area of interventionism. The UN reconfirmed the slowness of the international organization and especially when it comes to peacekeeping. It was peace-making that was needed, but they were and still are not capable of doing it. I do not think the fact that Muslims were major victims, played a significant role in the decision to delay the intervention. After all, the Rwanda genocide took place with no Muslims involved at a similar time, and the UN just observed the crime like in Bosnia. 

Q: Generally, what are the root causes of the massacres in the world?

A: Samuel Huntington offered his thesis of "Clash of Civilizations" in the early 1990s. We might find some examples to confirm the idea. Actions of the regimes in China and Myanmar against minorities, conflict in Ukraine, even wars in the Balkans, Trump building wall on the Mexican border, conflicts in western Africa could all be used to reconfirm this idea. While I do not dismiss Huntington's thoughts, this might be just one of the contributing factors to the causes of violence.

 Inequality, in my view, is the primary cause. With the increased inequality in societies, they become polarized, impoverished masses have little to lose, and conflict is often inevitable. Thus social restructuring is taking place that is caused by increased economic inequality. Great historical upheavals usually have a consequence of equalizing processes in society. This is how social peace is being bought and the stabilizing period for the new regime. Check inequality levels in Iran in the early 1980s and now. Prolonged periods without major violent interruptions produce increased inequalities. The Western world never lived for a more extended period in peace since the Second World War. Therefore, inequalities have risen, especially since the end of the Cold War. The impoverished masses are not only dissatisfied, but they face a struggle for survival. Venezuela is a perfect example. Society is deeply divided. The government relies on the poor masses' support and military to retain power.

The better-educated classes who enjoyed privileges in the past and benefitted from exploiting natural resources are rebelling. The underprivileged initially took over after they had little to lose. The formerly privileged class is now on the brink, and they are trying to produce a change. Let's look at both root causes, identity and inequality.

Q: How do you see the position of Muslims in today's Europe? What changes have occurred?

A: The changes reflect the rising number of Muslims in Europe and their more prominent presence in urban areas, i.e., women wearing hijabs and other garments traditionally associated with Islamic culture. This tells us of quantitative and qualitative changes. One might argue the process of emancipation is taking place. Women were perceived in traditional societies to belong to the home and not participate in public life or even walk the streets. Thus, one might develop an argument that double emancipation is taking place; as women and as Muslims, many women proudly expose their heritage, identity and belonging. Of course, the societies where they live have to be based on the rule of law, equality, human rights, and individual freedoms to provide the conditions for emancipation.

Here we can find regional differences across the continent. Scandinavian countries and what are generally perceived as Western Europe are open societies where individuals feel free to express their religious or political views. However, even within these societies, there is a rising tendency to deny this right to members of minority groups. Immigration is seen as a threat to their identity, and they discriminate against immigrants. Even when born in these countries, Muslims are often perceived as immigrants, and this is where discrimination comes. The majority of the population, however, does not support this kind of discrimination.

There are other European countries with no or minimal historical experience with Muslims like most central and eastern Europe. Politicians spread paranoid messages and receive support from the public, thus making their societies unfriendly towards immigrants of different cultures and religions. This further increases pressure on Western societies because immigrants, many of them Muslims, aim to move to the West and not only for economic reasons. One should not be dismissive of terrorist attacks by extremists claiming to act in defense of Islam. It is easy for societies to generalize following the terrorist acts and even subconsciously join the forces that discriminate against "others". Security issues, thus, often bring liberal people towards supporting political parties that are not liberal and are openly discriminatory.

Q: Some in Europe believe that the presence of Muslims will undermine their identity. To what extent have these ideas negatively affected the lives of the Muslim minority in various European countries?

A: Is there a European identity, or is it a combination of diverse identities? If the answer is the latter, then Muslims should become, if they are not already, part of this diversified identity. "United in Diversity" is a motto of European integrations. European nations' fundamental values are mainly rooted in secularism, albeit secularism has developed on Western churches' ideological fundaments. Separation of state and church might not be formal in all the countries, but it is very much present in practice. The UK is a perfect example. While some bishops have a seat in the Parliament "ex officio," their role is almost invisible in British political life. Some Muslim newcomers to such societies are shocked by the lack of religious presence in public life.

Although the dominant religion is not theirs, they often come from communities where the religious way of life is the only way. Therefore, they voluntarily segregate in their contemporary societies, refuse to integrate, or the majority refuse to integrate with newcomers who are different and do not share some of their values. It is not pleasant for either group to live in such a divided society. Of course, it is different from talking about this from London, where a popularly elected mayor is Muslim, son of immigrants. Could we imagine such a result in Budapest or Warsaw?  

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