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Immigration control & border security: Another distraction?


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From the US to Australia, and all Western democracies in between, immigration control and border security have taken centre stage in political campaigns. These issues are a 21st Century avatar conveniently discovered to distract from the growing public anger at the more fundamental problems such as economic inequality, human rights, global warming, political tyranny, social injustice and so on. This distraction follows on the heels of an earlier one, the so-called War on Terrorism, which has unceremoniously petered out without clear winners or losers. A brief historical background may help us understand these developments.  

Neoliberalism and discontent

With the collapse of Keynesianism in capitalist economies and dirigisme in communist economies in the late 1970s and 1980s, the field was thrown open for the re-entry of neoliberal economics under the pompous banner of economic globalisation. A new and revolutionary wave of electronic and cyber technology aided the process of globalisation, virtually compressing the world into a global village with integrated economies and made geographical borders porous and artificial barriers meaningless. Economies came to be ruled not by the millions of Schumpeterian entrepreneurs but by a handful of transnational giant corporations calling themselves economies without fixed address. 

The international managers of this global order such as the IMF, World Bank, WTO and Wall Street sang the glory of this new order as the only salvation to humanity to dwell in the Rostowian stage of ‘high mass consumption’ or economic Valhalla. The reality, however, has been quite different. 

In the name of trade, competition, growth and democracy, income distribution was left to the caprice of markets, which only widened the existing gap between the rich and poor. The so-called middle class that thrived under Keynesianism slowly started disappearing, and societies split into the have-lots and have-nots. The ratio of 80:20 of the 1960s and 1970s where 80% of global wealth went to 20% of the world’s population worsened to 90:10 by the end of the century and continued to widen to reach 99:1 according to some estimates. 

This growing economic injustice, in addition to other issues pointed out earlier, which are all linked to the ruling economic paradigm, created worldwide discontent and protest groups and under the banner of anti-globalisation demonstrated wherever and whenever world leaders met. 

Starting in 1999 with the Carnival against Capitalism in London and Battle of Seattle in Washington, the anti-globalisation movement was threatening to spread worldwide to wreck corporate capitalism and its neoliberal order. 

Some distraction was badly needed to turn the world’s attention away from globalisation and neoliberal economics. Bin Laden and his Al-Qaida came to the rescue. After the horror of the September 11th attacks in Washington, followed by George W. Bush Jr. declaring war on an undefined enemy called terrorism, all protest movements were taken aback and demonstrators faced the danger of becoming targeted as terrorists by peacekeepers of the new order. The military-industrial-congress-complex in the US and its counterparts in other industrialised nations became the guardians of this order and the War on Terrorism took care of any opposition. The anti-globalisation movement was forced to retreat and take a backseat. 

 

War on Terrorism and Islamophobia

Apart from protecting the economic order, the US had its own agenda of expanding its imperial project of world hegemony. In the name of the War on Terrorism, that agenda opened its first chapter with the invasion of oil-rich Iraq and the bombing of poverty-stricken Afghanistan. These two countries that had nothing to do with the September 11th attacks were reduced to smithereens with the deadliest of weapons in a demonstration the US’ readiness to counter any challenge to its hegemony. 

The consequence, however, was to set ablaze the entire world of Islam with an intense hatred of the US and its Western and Muslim allies. That anger burst into sporadic acts of violence in several parts of the West, though not on the 2001 scale, and were carried out mostly by a small fringe of Muslim extremists brainwashed by backyard preachers of Islam. 

All such incidents, indiscriminately dubbed terrorism, helped the managers of the neoliberal order to distract the world’s attention from attacking the order and towards targeting Islam and Muslims. The so-called War on Terrorism sowed the seeds of Islamophobia. With the end of communism, Islam became the new adversary.

The victims of this wave of Islamophobia in the West are the Muslim communities that migrated and settled in that part of the world during the second half of the previous century, when Western industrialised nations were in need of cheap and mostly semi- or unskilled labour to man their factories and infrastructure projects. To these migrants, employment opportunities in the West provided an escape route from poverty in their native but overpopulated and underdeveloped lands. Muslims from Turkey, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt, Morocco and several others flocked to Britain, Germany, France, America and Scandinavian countries in search of greener pastures.  

Although these Muslims were initially employed only temporarily, that temporariness, because of relaxed immigration rules and continuous demand for labour to meet high economic growth, became semi-permanent and eventually permanent, resulting in the growth of Muslim enclaves, notably in Britain, France and Germany. Yet, while wealthy nations were reaping the fruits of cheap Muslim labour, no attempt was made in any of these countries to integrate this community into the mainstream.

 

Voting behaviour in Western democracies such as the US, France, Spain, Italy, Denmark and Australia bear testimony to the fact that the far right is increasingly becoming popular and have improved their electoral position to become a balancing force between the centre right and left 

 

Integration and identity

Integration is a two-way process. While Western nations were expecting these migrants to assimilate into the mainstream, Muslim migrants in particular showed extreme reluctance to lose their religious identity through assimilation. 

As a result, Muslim communities remained socially isolated, while public authorities remained negligent to care for the welfare needs, particularly education and housing, of these communities. As the Muslim population increased through new arrivals and natural growth, problems of overcrowding, unemployment and crime manifested disproportionately to the national average and maintaining law and order became a problem for authorities. Towards the end of the last century, as economic growth and prosperity dipped and economic difficulties became acute, Muslim immigrants, in the eyes of the far right, became scapegoats for all economic and social evils. The scene was set to place immigration control and border security at the centre of political platforms. 

Centre right, left and far right

Between the end of the Second World War and end of the Cold War there were clear economic policy differences between the politics of the centre right and the left in all Western capitalist nations.  While the former was more biased towards supporting free enterprise and free markets, the latter was more in favour of a state-market mixed model. Between these two, the far right, with its ideology of national-socialism, became almost a political oblivion. 

This situation changed however with the re-entry of economic neoliberalism under its banner of globalisation. The centre right and the left narrowed their traditional economic policy differences and embraced neoliberal economics. Any difference between the two is only marginal and both groups have become slaves to the market, the corporate sector and its international managers, the IMF, the World Bank, WTO and the Wall Street. Both sides cooperated to end the welfare state but at different speed and relegated the important issue of distribution to the market. 

In the name of creative destruction, globalisation, free trade and competition, neoliberal economics has created unparalleled inequality, while financialising economic output, commodifying the environment and destroying social tranquillity. 

It is this scenario in Western democracies that enabled the far right to re-emerge as a formidable challenge to the centre right and the left. The far right is a vigorous defender of corporate capitalism but its enemy are the foreigners who in its view are stealing national wealth and creating terror. Its obvious target are the Muslim immigrants and Islamophobia is its campaign chorus. 

Islamophobia and traditional parties

Voting behaviour in Western democracies such as the US, France, Spain, Italy, Denmark and Australia bear testimony to the fact that the far right is increasingly becoming popular and have improved their electoral position to become a balancing force between the centre right and left.  The far right is invading into the traditional vote banks of established political parties. It is as a response to this threat that traditional parties have picked up immigration and border security as major campaign issues without openly condemning the Islamophobia which underlies those issues. 

All three - the centre right, far right and the left - are in bed with neoliberalism and do not want to fight over the ills of its economic model. Just as Bin Laden provided a distraction in 2001 with terrorism, the far right now is doing the same with immigration and border security. How long will this distraction last?  

Rebirth of anti-globalisation

The yellow vest protest movement in France against fuel taxes, which is escalating into a national rebellion against economic inequities, a similar protest in Jordan against unfair taxes, a demonstration against the G20 summit in Buenos Aires in Argentina, an attack on government buildings after the APEC Conference in Papua New Guinea for the non-payment of wages, demonstrations against global warming by schoolchildren in Australia and the migrant caravans from Central America are all indications that people protesting against economic inequities and social injustice which are re-emerging as global issues. 

The grand failure of neoliberal economics was best illustrated by Greece only a couple of years ago. The so-called austerity measures endorsed by the IMF brought people to the streets, which had to be controlled by state terror. It is not immigration which itself is partly caused by economic injustice but a dubious economic model that is at the bottom of a global malaise.

 


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