The Multicultural Panic

The mass shootings in Utoya, Norway seemed to have shocked the average person, who has never noticed the trends and the blunt comments on television made by politicos in which racism camouflages itself as snide commentary.

Society has become complacent and tolerant of such digressions because we are well past that P.C. threshold. Because being tolerant is bad and not politically expedient. The real and imagined problems created by certain media and then regurgitated by a manufactured vox popoli, result in these issues being always tagged onto questions of “national security” to frighten a fearful, feeble-minded electorate.  In the past two decades, xenophobic politics has been normalized.

In fact, there seems to be a resurgence of Race Panic like the fear of miscegenation in D.W. Griffiths’ Birth of A Nation (1915) where a white girl is pursued by a freed slave and jumps to her death; the Klansmen kill him. In the book, which inspired it, a differently named character is explicitly raped. In the film, it is vague. It is similar to Gay Panic when a heterosexual male kills a gay man out of a panic that threatens his identity in a primordial sense. Race Panic predates that panic. It is fear that eats the soul like the title of a Fassbinder film, Ali: Fear Eats the Soul (1974) about an intergenerational love story between an elderly German woman and young Moroccan man.

Now Multicultural Panic instigated by the Conservative leaders of Europe has captured the pulse of their peoples, claiming that multiculturalism has been a failure. Echoed in lands of low immigration, where people have seen their homogeneous populace change all of a sudden, but also in lands which long exploited colonies, the ones that were the first to accept immigration from their third world fiefdoms, such places as Britain, France, the Netherlands, Belgium, and Portugal.

British Prime Minister David Cameron has stated, “For too long, immigration was too high.” Angela Merkel, who grew up in a homogeneous East Germany, has deemed Multiculturalism a failure only after living in a multicultural society herself since 1989.

In times of economic crisis, we see knee jerk reaction number one: blame Others. Deprivation in the minority creates riots, while deprivation in the majority creates navel-gazing racist movements. Protectionism is the gentlest face of it. The job stealers can be educated or not, vying for jobs natives want and those they don’t. Supply and demand dictates. Canada during the Great Depression halted immigration in 1930.

When right-of-centre parties align themselves with far-right parties and govern in tandem in coalitions, they get pulled further to the right, tugging the whole political spectrum along, shifting ideologically, and radicalizing the moderate parties. Anti-immigration parties in governments influence legislation; they shape the discourse, future election results and the popular sentiment in polls.

For a brief second, Italy’s Centre-Left Partito Democratico even wanted to be an ally with the Northern League if it made the Berlusconi government fall but the government won’t fall since Berlusconi and the League cannot survive without one another.

As examples, the Northern League in Italy, Geert Wilders in Netherlands, Denmark’s Danish People’s Party –which had been in a Con-Lib Coalition Government since 2001 until their electoral defeat on September 15, 2011(incorporating the extremist islamophobic defunct Progress Party– with a name change in 1995) — and Austria’s Freedom Party; all gained legitimacy from their perceived fringe marginality once they govern in coalitions.  (Haider founded a breakaway party, moderate on immigration, called the Alliance for the Future of Austria before dying.)

Denmark’s Progress Party, and its spawn Norway’s Progress Party, both were born as anti-tax Libertarian parties; the latter was, and is, the fastest growing amongst young Norwegians, before we ever heard of Breivik, a member from 1997 to 2007.  True Finns became the official opposition in Finland in the last election in April 2011 thanks to talks about bailing out Portugal. Also, women are playing important roles in these parties. As leaders of the Far-Right parties, in Denmark, Norway, Hungary and France, where Marine LePen inherited the Front National leadership from her father, their presence makes the rhetoric palatable to their non-traditional voters.

Meanwhile, Eastern Europe has reverted to the persecution of Roma, who have been stigmatized in Western Europe as well, since there isn’t much of immigration to exploit politically. The Slovak National Party even was in coalition with the Social Democrats, such that it was suspended from the E.U. Socialist grouping. A fledging movement in the Czech Republic might consolidate a Far Right party with the current President. In Hungary, the governing Centre-Right party Fidesz has recently developed a new constitution where Christian roots of the nation was written-in since the leader is devoutly Protestant. In local politics, it co-governs with Far-Right Jobbik which has its own militia inspired by the infamous Arrow Cross fascists from the Second World War and now its founder runs state media nominated by the Fidesz government.

In this atmosphere, the difficulties of integration, the politics of fear, the new level of migration, shit-scared Mainstream politicians steal from the Far Right parties’ repertoire whenever those parties’ rise in popularity.

In France, Sarko started leaning in on Front National territory. And when the repatriation of the Roma took place, the E.U. Commission had harsh words but no repercussion ensued.

In Canada, the Tories aren’t the Tories of yore. But the parties of yore were also tainted. Racism was prevalent during the old wave of immigration: federal legislation limited flows of undesired peoples by introducing specific immigration legislation and head taxes. If one reads the Canadian newspapers of a hundred years ago, one would see the same kind of raw irrational fear present in Europe today, just the immigrants’ faces would be different. Also there were Immigrant Acts, –Chinese Laundries inducing cities to adopt municipal laws limiting them , because they were seen as eyesores by the locals, and the various internments of enemy aliens (from Ukrainian World War I internments to all those of World War II).

Canada has denied entry to various ships with Asian migrants. In 1907, the Monteagle ship with 901 Sikhs triggered anti-Asian riots in Vancouver’s Chinatown against Chinese and Japanese merchants and that coincided with lumber workers being laid off during the 1907 recession. In 1914, the Komagata Maru (a. k. a. “the Singh Ship”) with 376 Punjabis was denied entry due to “continuous passage” laws to prevent Asian immigration. The ship had to return to Colonial India where the British kept them onboard for 6 months; some were arrested and some shot. Canada would also deny the MS St-Louis entry with German Jewish refugees in 1939.

Yes, in economic crisis, the scapegoats are found, the same who have lived there for decades. Sometimes the scapegoats of yesteryear are forgotten, but there’s a new batch to lay blame. When the financial Armageddon comes, scapegoatism always re-appears since mankind forgets the ebb and flow of economic downturns and previous historical hysteria, and once again persecutes society’s weakest members, minorities.

We see the average German on the street on Euronews resenting Greeks for ruining the Eurozone and “punishing” their fiscally responsible citizenry who were always civic-minded by paying their taxes.

“Is nationalism a driving force in European politics?” asks a BBC journalist as I write this piece. The Schengen Agreement about the free movement of goods and people is kaput. Italy was left alone while Libyan/Tunisian refugees were drowning in the Mediterranean; Denmark closing its borders with Germany during the mysterious sprout “e. coli crisis” which opportunely presented itself after Germany erroneously blamed Spanish cucumbers; Vaals, a town in Geert Wilders’ Freedom Party controlled Limburg area in the Netherlands, deciding that even E.U. members without a job can be denied residence, affecting 300 out the 10,000 inhabitants, and specifically targeting Poles and Romanians.

The BBC journalist brings up the fact that E.U. members are failing in their basic obligation: the Greek/Turkey border is the entry for all of E.U.’s illegal migrants, yet the E.U. is not sharing the burden and not interested taking in refugees, backlogging the process of 60,000.

When major crises occur that involve xenophobia, those most responsible often escape blame and responsibility. After World War II, there were not any real repercussions for those names and families who headed companies which were chin deep with the Nazis, like that German industrial family portrayed in Visconti’s The Damned (1969). Or, those who got recycled in postwar Germany as industrialists as seen in The Odessa Files (1974) or many German New Wave films.

Fascist organizations like France’s Cagoule, an underground Fascistic Masonic group in France, counted as its founders people who created the world’s biggest cosmetic empire, the founder of a French car company and heir to a tire company. The son of the founder of the British Union of Fascists ran the Formula 1, the affiliation re-emerged with his titillating Nazi costume photo scandal. No such heads hanging in shame there!

Northern Europe was homogeneous they tell us, but so was Southern Europe. They were also lands where people emigrated FROM – to leave for North America.  Welfare States’ safety nets were possible with a small population to sustain, thanks to the previous century’s mass exodus. Many of these anti-immigrant parties in Europe on the Far-Right still believe in the Welfare State mixing in populism, traditionalist Conservatism, euroskepticism and anti-globalization. The True Finns, which rose to official opposition (although more moderate than Finland’s Freedom Party) and Sweden Democrats (nationalists, anti-multiculturalism, anti-Sami minority) are examples of these oddball creatures resorting to the unemployed base like most populists do.  Stieg Larsson as a journalist signaled the rise of extremist right wing parties in Scandinavia in the last 20 years and was targeted for doing so.


Chinese Laundry Mural in Vancouver’s Chinatown

Myths from the Left

Unions have never been immigration friendly, or for diversity for that matter. The Trades and Labour Congress of Canada at the turn of the last century demanded for the government to raise the Head Tax to 1000$ from 500$, from the 100$ 1903 fee, while the leader of Quebec’s Jacques Cartier Typographical Union contended at the 1906 T.L.C.C. convention that, “the actual tax imposed upon Chinese immigration does not prevent the great overflowing of yellow workers to injure especially the laundry workers of our country.” When Chinese workers’ membership in the dominant unions was rejected, the Chinese Laundry Workers’ Union was formed in Vancouver in 1906 demanding higher wages in order to fight against their own ethno-exploitation. The same Trades and Labour Congress of Canada persuaded Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta in 1912 to ban white females in Chinese Laundries. The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1923 to halt Chinese immigration, which replaced the 1885 Chinese Immigration Act as well as head tax, which were specifically designed with one group in mind. Only the advent of modern washing technologies, and not legislation, destroyed this industry.

Many immigrants in Canada preferred to have British-origin persons as union leaders to dissipate anti-foreign sentiments. When ethnic unions started to advocate for themselves, like Montreal’s Jewish Labour Committee chapter, they advocated for the non-discrimination against other ethnicities in Canada.

Today Canada has found a way to import badly needed agricultural farmhands and workers in the fisheries by issuing seasonal contracts to Mexican workers (who have a special accord) and Central American workers, bypassing immigration altogether, like guestworkers. A 48 month limit in Canada, no protection over wages, passports confiscated and no overtime; like that Guatemalan tomato picker who got deported after he complained about pesticide burns and unpaid overtime overdue. He didn’t know Quebec labour laws protected him. Think about those hands when you are savouring your greenhouse tomato, strawberries, Canadian wine or admiring your Christmas tree.

Quebec, which has its own special immigration process under federalism, wanted Francophone immigrants in the late 1980s which included North Africans for easier linguistic integration. Then, they posed religious issues to a now secularized Quebec which has replaced Catholicism with secularism as the new religion/ideology. We can safely assume white immigration was and will be preferred by most governments (with the exception of European wariness of white Eastern Europeans newly accepted into the E.U.). That is why Canadian policies were finagled throughout the years.

It seems almost “normal” for countries with a Fascist past to have resurgence in Fascist sentiments. They always remind us in every facet of our culture, whether warranted or not. They never let us forget, even though there are laws barring Nazi salutes in Germany, as a dimwitted tourist from Quebec found out in front of the Reichstag. Italy’s law on Fascist apology was created in 1952, but its reinforcement is lax since people freely flaunt it in public, on TV, on the internet. At beachside shops in Rimini, Fascist and Nazi paraphernalia is sold. Some politicians, from ex-neo-fascist parties and now governing with Berlusconi’s party, naturally want to scrap this law.

Yet, no one remembers other nations’ brush with Fascism. Everyone seems surprised in a rise in Scandinavia because the word, resurgence, is never used and its history seldom revisited. The Nazi-occupation of Norway and Denmark was annexed.  Sweden experimented with eugenics (forced sterilization) on undesirable minorities and mentally ill (1934-1975), occurring simultaneously in Finland (1934-1955), Norway (“consent-based” by legal guardians 1934-1977) and Denmark (1929-1967). All cite hygiene health policy as reason and the practice pre-dates the Welfare States even if implemented by the Social Democrats. But was the nations’ political culture or the ignorance of that period to blame since the practice was worldwide?

Entire Lap towns in Finland were burned down by Nazis after surviving their Civil War (1918). The internal fighting between Communist Finns and White Finns post-Civil War played out in the Canadian Hinterland. The reason Canada admitted White Finns, even if they later were Nazi supporters, in the 1940s was to neutralize Canada’s older Left-leaning Finns. One wonders if Anglo-Canadians in Thunder Bay or Sudbury at the time, felt the Finns’ lifestyle being foisted upon them with their radical politics, radical newspapers, Finnish Labour Temple and sauna they brought with them. They were surely seen with suspicion since the 1919 Immigration Act introduced the exclusion of ideological undesirables (Bolshevists). As an idea, how politically committed the Finns in Canada were, they joined the Republicans in Spanish Civil War alongside the C.C.F. recruits and Ukrainian-Canadians. Two Finnish lumber union leaders from Thunder Bay, Rosvall and Voutilainen disappeared in 1929 and their bodies were found in 1930 where the community suspected hired Finnish henchmen.

In North America, past immigrants were either blamed by unions for being too subservient, ignorant of their rights, working for nothing or worse, for being strikebreaking scabs. Few pockets of politicized immigrants were deemed shitdisturbers of their time. There was the famous protest in Lawrence, Massachusetts, the Bread and Roses strikes led by Ettore and Giovannitti, Maria and Pietro Botto of Haledon, New Jersey and the anarchist and socialist stone carvers of Barre, Vermont.

Many activists remain anonymous, like the victims of the Colorado’s Ludlow Massacre’s fire, mostly children and women while the Greek mining camp leader, Louis Tikas, was shot. Three immigrant (Ukrainian and Lithuanian) coalminer strikers on parade were shot by the RCMP in the Estevan riots (1931) in Saskatchewan. The bickering factions of Ukrainians in Myrnam, Alberta, as that Heritage Minute Commercial reminds us, brought a system of free health care (by creating a non-sectarian hospital) with the blessing of the authorities. The Wobblies had immigrant members like Joe Hill, who was Swedish and the Finns in Ontario and Northern U.S.

But the majority of immigrants took shit from the majority, “being strangers in a strange land,” since it was felt that one shouldn’t raise your voice even for a legitimate concern such as being unpaid.

I once met two older women from France with a Lombard father (Northern Italy, the birthplace of the Northern League) and Polish mother, “You couldn’t say anything back then in France, no vindication of your rights, they’d remind you of your place,” and in the same breath, “Not like these North Africans.” The irony is lost…

When Mexican illegals get brand new schools in California which invested in infrastructure to resuscitate their economy, Tea Partiers say, “We pay taxes” while the illegal parents do not. The irony is lost on them too, complaining these illegals enlist in the army “to get U.S. citizenship,” while their boys die as patriots. Some blood is more precious than others.

Further information:

A brief review of European Far Right parties:



Chinese Laundries in Canada:

Estevan Riot:

Myrnam Hospital Heritage Minute:

Mirella Bontempo is a Montreal writer and film critic. She writes frequently for Montreal Serai.