Saving the defiled nation: integration, national discourse and capitalism
I regularly write (and devote a lot of time to thinking) about immigration and what life as an immigrant or a foreigner is like. I have written about my experiences being an immigrant in The Netherlands (here, here, here and even at Racialicious for those who might be interested in checking out).
One common theme seems to dominate the discourse regarding immigrants in Western Europe: integration. It is all about turning the “Other” into “Us”, becoming “them”. The mainstream discourse is generally divided into two camps: those for whom there is never enough integration (i.e. advocating we must speak the language of our new countries at all time, even at home; that we must abandon whatever cultural traits we used to practice in our non immigrant past; etc.) and those who advocate keeping some personal characteristics (i.e. our “multicultural color”) while we become active members of the “grand scheme of national life”. In both cases, with some subtlety, integration is coded speak for “assimilation”. The main difference being the amount of brute force used to achieve it.
European masses are concerned about their national character, their identity being erased, turned into some unrecognizable blob that can no longer be discerned or identified as “uniquely national”. French culture, Dutch identity, German values; all of them equally touted as needing rescue and saving. The narratives of victimhood applied to nationalist discourse, the “great nation” under attack by the hordes of “others” who are about to destroy the very essence of the country. In these narratives, the country is a defiled woman, the motherland that demands an army of concerned heros to protect her virtue and save her from becoming the ignoble savage with costumes and habits that are alien to her, with smells and languages that she is too old to learn or understand. The nation becomes the woman every concerned white male needs to devote his life to.
However, little thought is given in mainstream media as to the motives for the resurgence of nationalist rhetoric: integration of immigrants is more about turning them into state sanctioned instruments of production than it is about national identity. For the state, a non integrated immigrant is an immigrant that is not producing, that is not “contributing” her fair share to the tax system. Integration is about “integration into the formal economy”, not about having dinner with one’s neighbors (neighbors who, in the majority of cases would not even want to have dinner with the demonized “other” in the first place).
An immigrant that is not deemed as “integrated” does not exist in a bubble. Generally speaking, she will not be living in isolation, locked inside her house and without contact with the outside world. Instead, she will be actively participating in her community of equals, other immigrants like her who communicate in their native language and who, for the most part, participate in informal economies (outside the tax system) who are not part of mainstream society. In turn, the media portrays this immigrant as a “social leech”, usually depicted as using the welfare system in her advantage, without “giving anything back”. The paradox being that, in order to navigate the welfare system, this hypothetical, media friendly immigrant had to have a grasp of the local language to fill in forms, speak to case workers and apply for such benefits. However, this is the paradox nobody speaks of because admitting to it would be admitting to the fact that the “media depicted immigrant” is not really “not integrated” but that, instead, actively chooses not to be part of the formal economy.
The integration of immigrants, in Western Europe, seems to be about “government sanctioned” uses of the welfare state, the individual as a means of economic production and curbing informal economies. However, the politics of insincerity dress it up as nationalism. Convenient, easy to turn into sound bites and ready to appease the discontent masses. We perpetuate the narrative of Europe, the virtuous woman used by the illiterate masses for their personal pleasure while the heros vote politicians that will protect her through laws that demand assimilation and conforming to the equivalent of vanilla economic practices. Because, really, what would happen if all these “fetishized others” got away with their non conforming lifestyles?
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