Europe has not fallen

Last week, while flipping through a copy of the News, a cheap blockbuster-like headline “Europe has fallen” (April 1) caught my attention. As a sociologist who has been working with migrants in the Central European region, I have first-hand experience not only with the topic Shaoyan Liang is elaborating on but also with endless discussions with a variety of people ranging from leftist activists to right-wing xenophobes. I was therefore not surprised to see Liang’s arguments, embodying the most stereotypical assumptions we have all heard a thousand times. I was rather astonished that the News amplified such narrow-minded ideas across the campus.

In the first part of his article, Liang talks about how “multicultural experiments have failed miserably,” accusing the older generation of immigrants who “didn’t manage to integrate into their new home.” Ghettoization and the feeling of some second- -and third-generation immigrants that they do not really belong in mainstream society (and their potential radicalization) is a real issue in many European countries. But holding migrants solely responsible means ignoring broader powers such as postcolonial heritage, the implicit racism tightly related to economic injustice and other important factors. Not only are Liang’s presumptions inaccurate, they are also potentially harmful as they support hostile discourses of collective guilt. In Europe, we have seen what such statements, tirelessly repeated by populist politicians, can lead to. They can lead to community centers collecting supplies for refugees being set on fire, as well as to the harassment and even physical assault of volunteers, NGO workers and people with a visibly immigrant background.

There are many misleading aspects to Liang’s article — from his naive idea about European pension schemes and unemployment rates to his suggestion that European Union leaders “simply don’t fix” Syria with free trade and to his uncritical admiration of Assad’s regime, which is responsible for killing thousands and thousands of its own civilians. When he states that Europe brought in “too many immigrants too fast” and blames political leaders for being “incompetent,” I want to remind him of one thing: Our politicians are not incompetent for doing what all world leaders should do. They respect the law, namely the Common European Asylum System in the case of refugees fleeing their countries because of war or persecution. We are simply obliged not to turn our back on those seeking refuge. Unsurprisingly, it is challenging with so many people desperately trying to find a new safe home. It is difficult with terrorists spreading fear in our society. And it is frustrating to face countless commentators making uninformed statements that only fuel the hatred and hysteria. But let me break it down. Despite all the obstacles, Europe will not abandon its basic values, the protection of human rights and the respect for its legal system. And precisely for that reason, we have not fallen.

Vanda Cernohorska is a visiting assistant in research and Fulbright grantee at the Center for Cultural Sociology.