France, Muslims and Terrorism

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As noted in this mini-documentary from CBS news “It sucks to be a Muslim in France”…

http://www.cbsnews.com/videos/les-banlieues-seeds-of-terror

[I consulted with the producer of the mini-documentary as an expert on the topic]

One of my first trips to Paris as a graduate student in 1995 coincided with a series of terrorist bomb attacks, likely by Algerian Islamic extremists (CNN, 1995), that led to the removal of all garbage cans in the city. Many years later, as a professor working on a book project, I happened to stay in a hotel which was about a block away from where one of the busses had blown up during the 7/7 bombing attacks. Many have written about whether or not terror attacks like the 7/7 bombings or 9/11 have led to a securitization of immigration policy. What is different now is that Europe is currently experiencing the largest flow of refugees since the end of World War II, and most of those refugees are coming from Syria and other parts of the Middle East, meaning many of these migrants are Muslims.

Many European countries have faced terror attacks over the years and have taken a variety of measures to improve security. However, even though new measures may be taken to deal with security, such as stricter screening of immigrants and refugees, most European countries, including countries like Germany, France and Sweden, have remained open to refugees fleeing violence, whether they were Muslims fleeing conflicts in the Balkans or Iraqi minorities fleeing sectarian violence.

Europe has faced a challenge integrating Muslims from various countries and backgrounds. However, it is important to keep in mind that the recent attacks in Paris appear to have been perpetrated by so-called “home grown terrorists,” i.e., radicalized Muslims who were born and raised in Europe. This makes the connection between terrorism and refugees rather tenuous.

Perhaps a larger issue, in terms of integration, is the situation for immigrants, ethnic minorities and Muslim citizens, given that many of them live on the margins of society. Many are the targets of racism, but also have to deal with living in places like the suburbs (banlieus) of Paris where they have little educational and job opportunities. France has been trying to address this issue for many years, with a variety of policies, including antidiscrimination policy, as described in my book, Legislating Equality. Although the French government initially embraced antidiscrimination policy through its equality body, politics eventually reduced the impact of its activities related to racism.

Journalist and documentarian Rokhaya Diallo has examined these issues through the lens of Americans visiting France in her recent work, Steps to Liberty. Going back to the 1995 movie, La Haine (Hate) it seems that little has changed. However, I have seen a new awareness developing among various groups including Muslims and those who now consider themselves black and French. I have written about the impact of racial equality legislation on blacks in France in the book Invisible Minorities. These groups have the potential to develop as voting blocks and to impact politics in France, as well as other European countries. These political developments can be important to the integration of minority groups and may ultimately create a new outlet for the frustrations that can lead to radicalization.

 

 

 

 

 

Belize: The Forgotten Country?

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Let’s Make Belize A Place We Can Be Proud To Call Home!!!

I took this picture during our last evening in Belize, near the light house in Belize City. This sign epitomized the feeling I got as we drove around Belize – a country that clearly has a problem of low self-esteem. As a social scientist, I couldn’t help but observe the class and race divides in the country.  One evening while we were in San Ignacio we had a discussion with the proprietors of our jungle lodge.  I asked them about the divides in the country and they noted that many of the hardest workers came from Guatemala, and the women favored these men as husbands.  The Belize of San Pedro and Ambergris Caye was very different from that of the Cayo District or Belize City.  Our hosts also noted that the people who lived in Belize City looked down on the people in rural areas, although it wasn’t apparent that the poverty in the rural areas was any worse than in Belize City.  In fact, we found it much harder to navigate Belize City without being set upon by children or disabled people begging for change.

Although Belize has gang violence, it is nowhere near the scale of that in Guatemala or Honduras which is leading to the flow of children and families to the U.S. (see http://www.immigrationtexas.org/2014/07/unaccompanied-minors-and-refugees-from.html).  A very small country, with a population of only ~325,000, and having only gotten independence from Great Britain in 1981, Belize seems to be struggling to develop a middle class.  There are expats from the U.S. and other countries who buy land and even develop businesses that employ many people, but poverty seems to be a persistent problem.

Flag of Belize
Flag of Belize

I was struck by a story from one of our guides who wanted to come to the U.S., just as a tourist. He had to save up the $250 needed for the application form, and then hope that it would be approved which it was.  Still he had to save up the money to actually make the trip, and he said it would be a couple of years before he would be able to make the trip, even though his visa had been approved.

When we visited the Belize Zoo, all of the signs were clearly written to encourage Belizeans to preserve and support their wildlife. Tourism has had a positive impact, for example, people realize they can make more money by helping breeders find iguanas for their preservation program rather than hunting them for food.

I plan to read more about the history of Belize, but given the current state of the country, the British had to have left the country in a very impoverished and under-developed state, and the country has had to work very hard to build an economy that seems to rely primarily on tourism. I felt very safe in Belize, and the people were very friendly and grateful for the tourists who came from the U.S., Europe, and even Australia. However, the border with Guatemala will be a concern as well as general economic development that can help the country build a middle class.  I am no expert on Central America, but I feel like I learned a great deal from our trip to Belize and I hope to learn more as I observe from afar.

Berlin Day 3: Of monuments and memory

I started rather late today, with breakfast at Schwarzes Cafe on Kantstrasse, a nice spot for eggs and hot chocolate:

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I then went for a walk through the Tiergarten on my way to the German Holocaust memorial.  The Tiergarten is a beautiful, peaceful space in the middle of a busy city. I discovered that they have refurbished several monuments that were badly damaged during the war, but you can still see bullet damage:

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Mozart, and Beethoven
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Goethe

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The next stop was at the Holocaust memorial, it’s a very large space and it was teeming with young people, as usual:

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I had heard about a new memorial to homosexuals who were also victims during the Holocaust, the monument was a little hard to find, but poignant, inside the box a video of same-sex couples kissing plays:

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I ended up at Potsdamer Platz and hung out for a bit before my conference started with a reception at the Canadian Embassy – had many interesting discussions about immigration, discrimination and the role of cities in integrating immigants. As I rode home in a taxi, I had an interesting discussion with my young Turkish driver who complained that despite his college degree he was discriminated against in Germany and that many of his friends were planning to leave Germany once they got their degrees…a story I have heard many times. Despite Germany’s history, there is little recognition of the issues of discrimination today…

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Sony Center
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Canadian Embassy
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Old friend (Simon Woolley) and new friends
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Sunset view from the top of the Circus Hotel – BBQ and brew

 

2013 gets off to a fast start – some thoughts on our democracy.

I can’t believe January is almost over — it has been a crazy, hectic month.  We are getting ready for the kick-off of our partnership between my fitness program Take Back the Trail and Southwest Key; our new women’s group, Austin Women for Political Action had its first meeting; one of my main areas of research, immigration, has become a very hot topic (see my other blog immigrationtexas.org); and on the academic front I have a bunch of writing projects to get done in the next few weeks.  Whew — it seems like every major project I have been working on for the last two years has come to a head this month!  It’s all good, just a reminder that I’m always juggling too many things at the same time.

In any case, I was able to attend the presidential inauguration in Washington this month as well, which was a reminder of the vibrancy of our democracy.  It was really nice being in the crowd, and the weather was much warmer than 4 years ago, when we were able to watch the parade from the comfort of a local law firm’s building. I spent the week in DC, attending various events and I gave a talk at GWU on my latest book project on antidiscrimination policy in Europe.  Being in DC for the inauguration was like being in a bubble — so much was going on, but it was only in DC — the rest of the U.S. and the world was going along normally. The gun control issue was at the top of the agenda while we were in DC, and as someone who believes in common-sense gun control laws (i.e., the public doesn’t really need access to military hardware) I was a bit surprised that it didn’t make it into the President’s inaugural speech, but he touched on many issues which are important to me such as gay rights,  immigration, climate change, and supporting the middle class.  One of my favorite lines was “The most evident of truths – that all of us are created equal – is still the star that guides us.

As the debates on gun control, immigration and other issues unfold over the next year, it will be important to respect the opinions of all sides, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t speak out on issues that are important to us. As a political scientist, I understand the complexities of policy making, but as a mother, I have to speak up for myself, my children and those I hold dear. Our democracy functions when, “WE THE PEOPLE” are engaged, involved and pay attention to what our representatives are doing. As President Obama so eloquently said, “We, the people, still believe that our obligations as Americans are not just to ourselves, but to all posterity.”  The stakes are high — this is an important time for our country and we all need to be informed, as much as possible.  I began this post with how busy I am, and I will generally focus my time on the issues that are in my area of expertise, like immigration, but that doesn’t have to be to the exclusion of all other issues.  It doesn’t take that much time to write a letter to your congressperson (glad to know there are more women in congress!).  Not everyone has time to be involved, of course, but every little bit helps…IMG_0926IMG_0929IMG_0922