The anti-history of anti-immigration


The phrase “traditional Europe” brings to mind certain nostalgic stereotypes of the continent: wine in Italy, cafes in France, siestas in Spain, and tea and propriety here  in Britain. Central to these images are certain people: the Italian sipping his wine, the Frenchman sitting at his café, the Spaniard lazily retiring for his afternoon respite, and the proper lady, or gentleman, sipping his tea, patting his mouth with their napkin, and never complaining.

These stereotypes are by no means summative, nor are they supposed to be. They illustrate our general preconception of quintessential behavior in each country and the stock figures that engage in it. The “traditional European” is white, probably male, and affirms his native European-ness through generations of native couples who bear native children.

Currently, across Europe, there are claims that this image of Europe is arcane, that modern Europe is a far cry from the aforementioned depiction. Today’s Europe, some say, is no longer that of the privileged white male, but that of the immigrant. In France, the philosopher and essayist Alain Finkielkraut recently published a book entitled “L’identité malheureuse” (“The Unhappy Identity”) that laments the effect of immigration on French culture. Finkielkraut warns that the “real France” could perish under the weight of her new inhabitants and their “métissage” or ‘mongrelization’. When Finkielkraut expresses the so-called dangers of immigration, he crystallizes a xenophobia found in France’s right-wing political parties, particularly in the National Front Party (FN). This economically conservative party is explicitly opposed to immigration into France and calls for the deportation of illegal, criminal, and unemployed immigrants. The alarming, but perhaps unsurprising, thing is that this kind of anti-immigrant, ethnocentric rhetoric is by no means limited to the borders of L’hexagone.

In Britain, those who agree with Finkielkraut and the National Front find common ground with the British National Party. The party successfully campaigned for both Nick Griffin and Andrew Brons as MEPs in 2009 and obtained almost two percent of the General Election vote in 2010 (Brons subsequently resigned from the party in 2011). The BNP advances the argument that the influx of foreigners into the island – specifically those hailing from Africa and Asia – has launched an attack on traditional British values. This opinion is supported by the work of writers such as Melanie Phillips who, in her infamous Londonistan, warns that multiculturalism resulting from Islamic immigration leads to acts of terrorism and Islamic extremism in the British Isles.

On the BNP’s website, the party states that they will only accept immigrants “so long as they remain minorities and do not change nor seek to change the fundamental culture and identity of the indigenous peoples of the British Isles.” Echoing this, Finkielkraut similarly warned that French civilization is “threatened” by becoming “a multicultural society.”

The argument that immigration is detrimental to “European” society blatantly ignores both history and the cultural tradition of modern Europe. In both France and the UK, as with Germany, Spain, Italy, and other European nations, immigration is closely tied with colonization and the cultural links forged therein.

France and the United Kingdom both have rich and decidedly cruel colonial histories, having subjugated peoples on exploited a variety of resources on continents around the world, unintentionally but inevitably connecting the fate of their nation to that of its colony. During the two world wars, thousands of colonial subjects, from across both the British and French Empires, served in the ranks of the French and Allied forces in a display of unabashed patriotism. In the year that marks the centenary of the beginning of the First World War, it is crucial to remember that India alone provided 1.3 million soldiers for the Allied cause. Following the Second World War, the independence of many former colonies combined with work shortages across Europe created the condition for mass migration to the European continent and the United Kingdom. Peoples formerly oppressed by the empires of Britain and France sought economic benefit in their mother country, and, initially, they were tolerated as a means for cheap labor. In the past few years, however, the number of ex-colonial immigrants has exponentially increased, moved by economic and social forces resulting from years of European imperialism and colonialism. They are part of their adoptive nations – but they have always been a part, tethered by generations of servitude and Europe’s insatiable hunger for power and territory.

What is more adopted in nature are the images of stereotypical Europe, never quite accurate, but useful. They are useful as heuristics, mental short-cuts that allow the setting of a clear boundary between “us” and “them”. Nationality knows no color, but the concept of an all-inclusive group, a nation with open borders, is frightening. It is far more convenient to draw lines along race, religion, or custom and claim that some are “traditional” and some are “foreign”, and therefore dangerous. To decry the effects of “multiculturalism” is to ignore the history of migration, both inside the continent and out, to deny that the mixing of cultures often creates more than it destroys, and to try to fix in place a social and cultural order that never was, and never will be, stationary.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.