As the debate over illegal immigrant workers who were heading towards Europe via sea, rages on, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, has drawn global attention towards intolerance and racism that is unfolding in many European countries. Hussein recently took on the London tabloid The Sun, which referred to migrants as “cockroaches” in an article published on April 17.
Hussein has asked all European countries to take a firmer stance on racism. He said that under the guise of freedom of expression, a vicious cycle of vilification, intolerance and politicization of the immigration issue, as well as of marginalized European minorities, is being allowed.
The Sun article described migrants as “a plague of feral humans” and said that some British towns were “festering sores, plagued by swarms of migrants and asylum-seekers shelling out benefits like Monopoly money”. The columnist also advocated using gunboats to stop migrants, threatening them with violence, and said “drilling a few holes in the bottom of anything suspiciously resembling a boat would be a good idea too”.
This xenophobic take on the issue even in the face of at least 700 people drowning in the Mediterranean is symptomatic of a latent intrinsic rejection of foreigners by some sections of European society. The post-9/11 Islamophobia has woken up the monsters of intolerance and rejection of foreigners — whom the conservatives view as economic asylum seekers. It is not an unjustified fear but to use this to stir up hysteria even against legitimate victims of conflict is reminiscent of the anti-Semitism that the world witnessed in Nazi Germany. Hussein has talked about the happenings in Hitler-led Germany where the Nazi media, including Hitler himself, used to refer to Jews and communists as rats and cockroaches.
Here I would like to draw on a similar instructive episode in the US. On April 22, Brooklyn College held a talk by Pamela Geller, who compared Muslims to pigs and savages. The president of Brooklyn College, Karen Gould, was inundated with emails criticising the college’s decision to provide a platform for such opinions. “While I do not support or agree with Ms Geller’s positions, the Constitution’s First Amendment protects even the most controversial speech. As a public institution of higher learning, it is incumbent upon us to uphold the tenets of academic freedom and allow our students and faculty to engage in dialogue and debate, even on the most sensitive of topics.” Her words sound principled on paper but in practice, Gould has sown seeds of potential violence on campus.
These instances show that a different kind of intolerance and hate speech continue to exist in the West. It points at the human propensity to ‘otherise’ people or justify violence against others. This not unique to Pakistan alone. The foreign media has showered phrases such as hate speech, intolerance and radicalization in the context of targeted attacks on religious minorities, women as well as Muslims at large in the country. This abhorrent tendency to demean ‘others’ out of political, racial or economic motives poses a challenge to all defenders of human rights, whether in Pakistan or abroad. We are all morally, politically and socially bound to speak and work for the preservation and protection of fundamental rights of every single person.
The writer heads the independent Centre for Research and Security Studies, Islamabad
This article was first published in The Express Tribune, a leading daily of Pakistan. Click here to go to the original.