Alex Blaze

Repackaging racism

Filed By Alex Blaze | February 19, 2008 1:53 PM | comments

Filed in: Fundie Watch, Politics
Tags: Bruce Bawer, conservatism, Europe, Religious Right

The Nation has a great article up about the rise of the international Religious Right movement. It's been fomenting for several years now, and I'm sure we're all familiar with the rhetoric that Europe is dying because of women's rights and permissive sexual legislation, that Muslims are taking over, and that the only solution is for white people to have more babies.

What's interesting is that one Bruce Bawer gets a tiny mention in this long article. Bawer is a gay man who made a name for himself by moving to the Netherlands then to Norway to escape religious fundamentalism in America only to start turning out books about the Muslim fundamentalist take-over of Europe (the reason he's mentioned in this article). His argument is that with more and more Muslim immigrants with socially conservative values moving into Europe, they're going to start changing Europe into an anti-gay place to live.

That Kathryn Joyce, the author of the Nation article, includes him in a longer list of those pushing this rhetoric along with Pat Buchanan, Focus on the Family members, and the Quiverfull people, betrays how indistinguishable his politics are from the right-wing version of this argument. That is, if he's arguing that Muslims are going to take over Europe demographically and make it anti-gay, the Religious Right argument that gay rights and feminism are decreasing the number of white people in Europe isn't all that far behind.

This line of argumentation isn't anything new to the gays. We've heard it from Jamie Kirchick and the Gay Patriots and Jeff Gannon and, to a lesser extent, Andrew Sullivan. And the argument's around because it's pretty useful - the idea that queers should ally with those who hate them to fight those mysterious people from the East who hate them even more short-circuits any ability to develop a comprehensive and intersectional gay rights politic, prevents us from thinking about full equality and freedom as we're simply pawns to negotiate between two larger queer-phobic populations, and turns gays into foot-soldiers in the war for tax breaks. The fight for gay rights should be separate, they argue, from any other minority's struggle because, well, the only people who can put up with us in the end are white.

It's a bizarre alliance, and even as conservaqueers are quick to decry the "pro-family" take-over of the Republican Party (they really love that take-over/perpetual victim rhetoric, don't they?), Joyce points out that the origin of their Islamophobic discourse is in fact homophobic as well, that it started with a hatred of feminism and gays that took advantage of growing nativist sentiment and latent authoritarianism in Eastern Europe and repackaged the whole thing as something different, something more logical, something with more dire impacts.

It's hard to see this:

The comeuppance has a name, one being fervently hawked among a group of Christian-right "profamily" activists hoping to spark a movement in secular Europe. It's called the "demographic winter," a more austere brand of apocalypse than doomsayers normally trade in, evoking not a nuclear inferno but a quiet and cold blanket of snow in which, they charge, "Western Civilization" is laying itself down to die.

How so? Europe is failing to produce enough babies--the right babies--to replace its old and dying. It's "the baby bust," "the birth dearth," "the graying of the continent": modern euphemisms for old-fashioned race panic as low fertility among white "Western" couples coincides with an increasingly visible immigrant population across Europe. The real root of racial tensions in the Netherlands and France, America's culture warriors tell anxious Europeans, isn't ineffective methods of assimilating new citizens but, rather, decades of "antifamily" permissiveness-- contraception, abortion, divorce, population control, women's liberation and careers, "selfish" secularism and gay rights--enabling "decadent" white couples to neglect their reproductive duties. Defying the biblical command to "be fruitful and multiply," Europeans have failed to produce the magic number of 2.1 children per couple, the estimated "replacement-level fertility" for developed nations (and a figure repeated so frequently it becomes a near incantation). The white Christian West, in this telling, is in danger of forfeiting itself through sheer lack of numbers to an onslaught of Muslim immigrants and their purportedly numerous offspring.

as too different from this:

These criticisms, offered in a fizzing firecracker polemic, fit into an intriguing pattern, whereby some of the most vociferous critics of the swelling jihadism in Europe—from Pim Fortuyn to Peter Tatchell—have been gay men, well attuned to the rise of fanatical faith. But as his book progresses, Bawer’s polemic shifts from being a carefully reasoned work in the civil-war school into a sloppy, shrill work in the clash-of-civilizations school. He begins to doubt that there are any moderate Muslims at all, except for a few shimmering exceptions: “if that silent majority existed at all, it had to be one of the most silent majorities ever.” He begins to present Europe’s Muslims as a homogenous herd slowly trying to conquer the continent. With spine-chilling incidental music, he reveals the fact that the most popular name for baby boys in Amsterdam is no longer Jan but Mohammed.

Indeed, he shunts aside the examples of heroic moderate Muslims he has listed and proceeds to present the growth of the Muslim population—moderate or jihadist, who cares?—as a problem in itself. He writes, as so many of the American writers on this subject do, of a demographic time bomb sitting underneath Europe:

Today, in Western Europe, the Muslim share of the population is somewhere between 2 and 10 percent. In France, it’s 12 percent. In Switzerland, it’s an astonishing 20 percent. A glance at the relative rates of reproduction suggests this percentage will rise precipitously over the coming generation. Among native Western Europeans, the fertility rate ranges from 1.2 to 1.8 percent—well below the “replacement rate” of 2.1. This means the native populations will decline considerably over the next generation . . . and the number of Muslims will increase dramatically.

He even uses the same 2.1 children replacement rate that the Religious Right uses.

The answers to these bigger questions are definitely hard and a whole lot more complicated than the "with us or against us" rhetoric that that the Right, whichever faction of it, is so fond of using. But something to ignore is the constant assertion that whatever we like, whatever we see as good, whether it's moral goodness or social liberalism, is more associated with "white" and "European" than it is with people of color.

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Just a few questions:

While the whole "Muslims are taking over Europe!" alarm is clearly racist fear-mongering, do you not think that a) Muslim immigrants coming from countries where violence against gay men and women is the rule rather the exception will not raise the rate of hate crimes against this demographic, slowing down the country's social progress?, and b)A country has the right to deny a particular demographic entry for the sake of maintaining a more accepting atmosphere?

Then again, talking about ludicrous rationalizations, what do you think about so-called progressives explaining the surge of hate crimes against gay men and women in the Netherlands mainly because of Moroccan immigrants as a "desperate lashing out in response to the racism they face". Hmm, curiously, heterosexuals are seldom the targets of these convenient responses. Heck, let's forget the fact that interracial coupling is seen more frequently in the gay community than in the straight counterpart; how nice to put the whole brunt of accusations of racism on a demographic whose well-being very little people still care about.

Nevertheless, at some point this issue will need to be addressed. How do we proactively behave to reduce hate crime incidents increases resulting from a surge in socially outdated demographics in order to not stagnate on a relatively young walk to LGBT acceptance in our countries?

This doesn't mean we're absolving racial majorities from blame on hate crimes incidents; however, I find it naive for someone to try to assert that all demographics stand on equal ground in terms of response to gay visibility.

One thing that you might want to consider is that European nation's do not grant citizenship to newcomers, or even to those born within their borders if the parents are foreign nationals. Population does not connote full citizenship or rights in determining law or privilege.

As an oppressed population, the GLBT community worldwide tends to empathize with those who also face discrimination - as all individuals who value the concept of liberty and equality should. Unfortunately, the cultural oppression of women trumps all others. Women don't have the right to love other women. They must subordinate themselves to the desires of men. Men who are effeminate or who are sexually attracted to men are not men, and don't even deserve the rights allotted to women. Our community is universally attacked by the misogynistic male-dominated power structure that exists world wide. There is no evil that is lesser. There is only one.

Our only allies are those who defend equality and justice. These concepts are our most powerful allies. In an age where communication is rapidly becoming a common commodity, ignorance and intolerance are more easily recognized. Both are doomed for extinction. The only real issue is how much longer must we wait. We can help things along. We must demand equality and justice for all; we must demand tolerance; we must demand that all cultures and individual peoples be afforded with dignity and treated humanely. There is our own hope, and there is the hope for our entire collected civilizations. There is only one.

GLBT Unity. Equality. Now.

Yes, some countries make their xenophobia rather obvious, namely France.

We must demand equality and justice for all; we must demand tolerance; we must demand that all cultures and individual peoples be afforded with dignity and treated humanely.

Yes, but how do we do that? Do we stamp "Xenophobic" or "Tolerant" on their visas? Who decides who's tolerant enough to live in the country?

These anti-Muslim racists believe that all Muslims are people of color. I wonder what rock they have been living under. Quite a few Muslims are classified as "white" and have been for centuries.

Modern DNA science has revolutionized how we look at race. For example, most Iranian Muslims are considered white, since they share genetic markers with Europeans. Older standards include actual skin color or the Caucasian ancestry theory, which looks at skull shape. Semites as a group are sometimes considered "white" and sometimes "not quite white," according to the Arab American Institute. Semites include Jews and Arabs. Yet it's pointed out that some Semites have a strong infusion of African ancestry, while other Semites are more closely related with Iranians and Europeans.

The political battle about who is "white" has been raging for a century and a half, with different factions marshalling what they think is their best scientific evidence. During World War II, the Nazis gave a different answer to this question than their enemies, the Allies. When the British held India as a colony, they viewed all Indians as "coloreds," yet some Indians are light-skinned and considered white by other standards. Today DNA science often creates shading between ethnic groups that is inconvenient when some institution wants you to check a box and "identify."

All in all, the "Muslim threat to whites" is not based on facts. But, as Bil says in another comment -- "who needs science when you can blame everything on the invisible guy in the sky?"

Bill queried: "Yes, but how do we do that? Do we stamp "Xenophobic" or "Tolerant" on their visas? Who decides who's tolerant enough to live in the country?"

We don't make that decision. We ensure that the law of the land protects the rights of religion and allows each person to make free choice to believe or not to so believe. In other words, we subscribe to the principals of the First Amendment.

Speech that openly and actively promotes violence is not protected by that amendment. Perhaps the law should also be interpreted to deny protection to those who preach hatred and inequity of the human spirit?

Truthfully, Bill, I don't have a lot of answers. I know that we are headed in the right direction. Times have changed drastically in my own short lifetime. I remember like it was yesterday when bathrooms and water fountains were labeled "colored". When gay men and women were jailed for sport and with impunity for the crime of existing. When a State governor openly and proudly proclaimed "segregation now, segregation tomorrow, and segregation forever".

Our community is not alone. The civil rights movement and the blood of great men and women paved the path for the GLBT movement. Their blood was not expended for the sake of privilege or advantage. There was no agenda then and there is no agenda now. The struggle was for equality and justice, and now remains nothing less. Those principles are the foundation in the souls and in the dreams of all good people; perhaps they are the qualities that define what is good. They are the principles on which this Nation was founded, and have aspired to realize ever since.

History does repeat. I believe that in forty years those of you still here will look back and wonder at the ignorance of this time. Young people will look at you in amazement when you describe the inequities. And that is how it should be. Our struggle is to ensure that inequity and injustice become things of the past, remembered as horrible mistakes that are never to be repeated.

Oh, I should respond to comments.

Lucrece~ I haven't seen you around these parts in a while. Good to have you commenting again.

Since I don't know where you're getting half the criticisms of this post that you outline, I'll just ask you to read it again, please.

But on your specific questions: a) let's unpack the idea of "progress", and b) I don't know what you mean by "right", and I don't think that any country that excludes a certain demographic does it to create a more accepting environment.

Jeri~ We may not have all the answers, but realizing that we're not all alone, as you do, is definitely one of them.

Patricia~ I'd hesitate to place all that much faith in that very politicized branch of science. If we're starting with a scientific question like "Who's white?" then the set-up of any observations and the subsequent conclusions are going to be tinted by the original underlying context of the question.

Like you point out, the battle over who's white has been raging for a long time, and there were times where even people like Italians or Eastern Europeans weren't included in those definitions. But it's not like anyone was placing any stock in any sort of science to reach those conclusions, it was just about defining who has power and who doesn't.

And of course not all Muslims are white. It's a religion, not a race. But it goes straight back to the question of power more than it does any scientific developments, and people are going to be threatened by ethnic, racial, religious, or any other disempowered group gaining power, or anyone they see as inferior queering (for lack of a better verb) the mythological purity of the European subcontinent.

Bil and others~ These questions would be better answered if it weren't for the fact that neoliberal culture demands an underclass as the supply for cheap labor. If Europe and the US didn't need cheap labor, the context of these questions of who gets in and who doesn't would completely change.

Read my comment more closely. The criticisms are not made directly in response to your post. They are simply related ideas, if not somewhat tangential, that came to mind when touching on this topic.
Answer time:

a) Progress as in the incidence of violence against LGBTs and the contrast shown by sudden surges. Progress as in the constant improvement of the climate among long-standing members of the population who have culturally adopted more receptive positions towards gays and lesbians, which we would have to put more energy into as a result of having to more rigorously educate immigrants whose common idea of interaction with gays and lesbians is lynching/hanging them.

b)Right as in humanly palatable, in a manner that stays consistent with the more sophisticated ideas of the country in question in comparison to simply permitting the formation of ghettos and fomentation of intercultural animosity.

Furthermore, the context in my post made it obvious that "accepting" was referring to the LGBT population. If you're going to argue that excluding some demographics defeats the purpose of other "acceptance programs" the country might have, we have some serious problems. Apparently, we will be defeating our purpose until anyone, socially palatable or not (that includes criminals, by the way) receives the same opportunity to join the country. The purpose of immigration laws is partly to determine compatibility with that particular society. It's quite clear that Moroccan immigrants are not a good idea for a country that is currently struggling with increments in hate crimes against gay individuals.

I also have to take issue with your use of the word racism; its use has just become too liberal, and it often gets intermingled with ethnic bias, which is more the product of ethnocentrism and xenophobia rather than racial differences directly. I can understand where this misconception may come from, of course. It is the people who you've mentioned that set this tone ignoring the difference between racial and ethnic issues, to which you are merely responding to.

I hope this has clarified my comment enough to your tastes, as much as I dislike the relativist approach of "define X", which usually leads to the loss of the main focus. Blame my firm belief in the sufficiency of context.

Anyways, it's always nice to check in now and then. Especially when the topic involves international understandings. The whole Obama/Clinton regurgitations seen in other blogs has got me quite nauseous, which enticed me to pay a visit and shake things up a bit. Too much agreement around here; I'd hate to internalize a perceived resemblance to religious settings.