Those who oppose immigration usually use the argument that the country is too overcrowded. It's nothing to do with racism, they say, we just can't cope with all these people.
But scratch the surface and you find that it's people of particular colours and from particular parts of the world who tend to generate the greatest fear and loathing from the anti immigration crowd.
I was reminded of this after reading an article by Adrian Michaels in the Telegraph. There's a demographic time bomb transforming Europe, he says. Muslims are poised to take over...maybe. Even his facts don't really bear this out. Take the juxtaposition of these sentences: 'Only 3.2 percent of Spain's population was foreign born in 1998. In 2007 it was 13.4 percent. Europe's Muslim population has more than doubled in the past 30 years and will have doubled again by 2015.'
Yet does this increase in Spain's foreign born population represent an increase in Muslims? No, the figure is for all foreign born, which will include large numbers of Spanish speakers from latin America (largely Catholics by religion). It will also include many other Europeans.
One big increase in the years between 1998 and 2007 has been the internal migration of Europeans between different EU states. We know that around 1 million Britons live in Spain. It's a fair bet that nearly all of these are non Muslims. Many of them move to Spain for the sun, sea and cheap sangria. It's also fairly obvious that they don't integrate very well into Spanish society, given that many live in English speaking coastal enclaves and don't seem to understand basic planning regulations in the country they have made their home.
But scares about immigrants aren't about white Europeans, they are about people who don't 'fit in' to 'our way of life': men with beards, women with hijabs, people whose religion is not Christian, and whose language is not European. Michaels quotes a Pew Research report which says that the EU countries 'possess deep historical, cultural, religious and linguistic traditions. Injecting hundreds of thousands, and in some cases millions, of people who look, speak and act differently into these settings often makes for a difficult social fit.'
Well Europe does possess deep traditions, but they're not all the same. It is divided by religion - a major source of tension including wars in the past. It has been riven by social, political and cultural divisions. European powers went to war twice in the 20th century with terrible consequences. Spain and Portugal continued their right wing or fascist dictatorships, with acquiescence from the other powers, for 30 years after the Second World War.
The current consensus of Europe as the seat of everything enlightened hardly bears much scrutiny. Religious toleration, scientific advance, human rights and freedom of expression all had to be fought for against bitter and often brutal opposition. And the last century did produce two world wars, dictatorship, fascism and the Holocaust, all in civilised Europe.
Of course language and culture have developed within Europe, although often with other roots and influences. But what's to stop non Europeans from learning English (as they do in their overwhelming majority when they come here) or appreciating Michelangelo? Anyway a person born in Europe is European. Get used to it.
But this isn't about culture, it's about race. Here's a clue: 'whites will be in a minority in Birmingham by 2026, says Christopher Caldwell, an American journalist, (read right wing neo con) and even sooner in Leicester'. So all the talk about culture, tradition, preserving 'our way of life' is a smokescreen - it's about race and class. That's why, according to these people, it's acceptable for whites to live in Spain, or for relatively large numbers of French, Italian or Australian professionals to live in London, but not for workers who are Afro Caribbeans, Indians and Pakistanis to live in Birmingham.
Here the Muslims endure a double whammy. Long discriminated against on racial grounds, along with their black and Asian brothers and sisters of other religions or none, they also face racism in jobs, housing and education. But now their religion is used as code to attack blacks and Asians in the most reactionary way in Austria, the Netherlands, and increasingly here in Britain. Islamophobia has become the last 'respectable' racism in Europe, with those perpetrating it propagating the deceit that they are against religion not race.
Last week we had a pathetic demo against Islam in Birmingham called by among others the English Defence League who said in the Guardian: 'It is the people who threaten with bombs and violence and threaten and bomb our troops - they don't belong here.' That's exactly what the Iraqis and Afghans feel about the British and US troops in their countries. And I'm glad to see that black and white people in Birmingham engaged in that good old tradition of opposition to racism and fascism in their home city.
As national convenor of the Stop the War Coalition, Lindsey was a key organiser of the largest demonstration, and one of the largest mass movements, in British history.
Her books include ‘Material Girls: Women, Men and Work’, ‘Sex, Class and Socialism’, ‘A People’s History of London’ (with John Rees) and ‘How a Century of War Changed the Lives of Women’.
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