Category Archives: Europe

Europe, a cautionary tale

I am absolutely disheartened by the rhetoric of the American politics lately. Not since the Klan was deeply involved in American politics have violence, intimidation and blatant racism played such an obvious and overt role in a national political campaign.

I can no longer open a newspaper or listen to a news media because I am tired of listening to the nonsensical stories about Donald Trump, presidential candidate who continues to capitalize on fear, his supporters riled up on bigotry and hate. It’s difficult to stomach the overt display of racism.

Sadly, it reminds me why I left Europe.

Trump’s hate mongering anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant rhetoric is nothing new. It’s been part of the European politics as far back as 1930’s, and the xenophobia of the present carries direct echoes of the years before World War II, when tens of thousands of German Jews were compelled to flee Nazi Germany.

As if the alarming rhetoric of Hitler’s fascist state and the growing acts of violence against Jews were not detrimental enough, most of the Western European countries were largely indifferent to the plight of German Jews.

Part of that hostility was fueled by stereotypes of the refugees as harbingers of a dangerous ideology, in this instance communism and anarchist violence.

As 2002 article in the Guardian recounts,

In Britain, perhaps as many as half a million German Jewish asylum seekers were turned away by authorities ahead of the outbreak of World War II. Many who were admitted in were given asylum less out of altruism than a need to fill low-paying domestic work “spurned by the native British.” The situation was no better elsewhere.

Meanwhile, those trapped within Nazi-controlled Europe faced the horrors of the Holocaust. Millions were systematically killed. Yet it was only in 1944, when the extent of the genocide had become better known, that the United States made a real effort to rescue European Jews.

In recent years, European right-wing nationalists have gained a surge in popularity by perpetuating the same hateful rhetoric.

Even when I was living in Europe 10 years ago, I experienced first-hand the consternation people felt towards immigrants and foreigners. Although the targeted groups differed in each country, most Europeans I’ve encountered shared common fear and xenophobic sentiments toward people who they deemed didn’t adhere to their way of life.

As an Asian American, I sat through one too many uncomfortable conversations where immigrants and foreigners were discussed in a disparaging way, the butt of a joke or worse, or as being root of all problems threatening old European way of life. A derogatory remarks and unwarranted sentiments were readily expressed, as a total stranger once told me in the U-Bahn, “I don’t like foreigners!”

More so than the expression of overt racism, it was disheartening to witness the detrimental affect these sentiments have had on European society and the impact on young generation of immigrants.

Being in a language class at Zentrum für deutsche Sprache und Kultur (Center for German Language and Culture) with foreigners from all over the world, I was exposed to and became aware of the racism and hardship that immigrants faced in Europe.  The discrimination and humiliation they encountered were often the topics of our daily conversation.

In order to go to a university or get a job, most European countries required not just fluency in the language but mastering it. So much so that people took pride in their language proficiency test scores (DaF in Germany) as if it was an indication of their future success.

However, as is the case for most migrants in Europe, even after mastering the language, there were few job opportunities for my classmates, and with each passing day, I witnessed their hopes of becoming productive citizens fade away. Even after obtaining a Master’s degree or a PhD from renowned universities, the majority of my classmates were not able to find suitable jobs, and some had no choice but to return to their home country.

Throughout my time living as an expat in Europe, I have heard all too often that immigrants and foreigners, especially Muslims don’t want to assimilate, and that they create their own segregated communities by choice. However, I beg to differ. It is the host society that has failed to integrate  immigrants and continues to marginalize ethnic minorities.

Sadly, we have witnessed the devastating repercussion of the continued segregation and social exclusion of migrant communities. In the last decade, Europe has become a self-filing prophecy. I’ve watched the news with horror from thousands of miles away as Europe is being torn apart, literally and figuratively.

And now, what’s more terrifying is that these sentiments have spread across the Atlantic and have taken over the American politics in the last year.

Donald trump has adapted Europe’s right wing ideology, and since announcing his candidacy, the American public has had the displeasure of listening to his racially charged rhetoric disparaging every ethnic minority groups in America.  It is no wonder that Trump has received glowing endorsements from many of continental Europe’s most controversial nativists and xenophobes, and politicians.

Donald Trump, and egomaniacal, xenophobic racists like him are not a new phenomenon, and he certainly isn’t unique to America. We’ve seen it all before. Silvio Berlusconi, Nigel Farage, Boris Johnson, Marine Le Pen, Viktor Orbán … the list goes on.

It’s a cautionary tale we cannot follow.


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