Obsessing Over the 'Other'

The left's preoccupation with a bogus dichotomy.

[](/sites/default/files/uploads/2014/01/border.jpg)Now that it’s 2014, the gates of the U.K. are wide open for immigrants from Romania and Bulgaria, way over at the other end of the European Union. Some Brits are concerned: will the newcomers flood the labor market? Or the welfare offices? Or both?

For Britain’s leftist establishment, however, the question is a different one. As the Guardian put it the other day: “Now that Romanian and Bulgarian citizens are able to move to the UK to seek work, an alliance of Tory, Labour and Liberal Democrats has warned that politicians’ anti-Roma rhetoric is already inflaming community tensions. Has this debate helped those planning to migrate to the UK feel welcome?”

To make them feel welcome or not to make them feel welcome: this is the question? For many on the European left, yep, it most assuredly is. “Are we welcoming enough?” “Will they have a good impression of us?” We’re dealing here with people who feel what may be fairly described as a compulsion to act like store greeters – only instead of hovering in the doorway of a Walmart they’re standing, figuratively speaking, at the airport arrivals gate, welcoming all and sundry to the sceptred isle. Indeed, on New Year’s Day, at least two of these dimwits were literally out there welcoming the newcomers to dear old Blighty: Home Affairs Committee chairman Keith Vaz, a Labour MP, and Mark Reckless (ha!), a Tory MP, actually dragged themselves to Luton Airport to shake the hands of arriving Bulgarians and Romanians and buy them coffee. Embarrassing.

Exactly what species of psychological disorder are these people suffering from? Why are they so terribly anxious lest newcomers fail to feel sufficiently “welcomed”? Why is that even a concept? I moved from one country to another many years ago, and then from that country to another country, and in neither case did it occur to me to think about whether I was being made to feel welcome or not. I was just one more person going through customs. Nor did I want or expect to be “welcomed”: what would that entail, anyway? All I wanted was to be left alone to find my way.

But that’s not enough for some of these European leftists, for whom such movements of population are shot through with profound ideological significance. For these folks, it’s almost as if their own countries are nothing more than empty vessels waiting to be filled – and given meaning – by new arrivals from distant shores. It’s as if they view themselves as little more than welcome mats on which immigrants are welcome to wipe their shoes. Or as servants waiting for their masters to arrive. Or as a godless people awaiting a messiah.

These folks talk a lot about the “Other” – a pivotal notion in postmodern academic folderol. At the heart of their self-definition – at the heart of what makes them, in their own eyes, good people – is that they’re prepared to embrace all “Others” without distinction or qualification. Simply knowing that other people are “Others” is enough to make them open their arms wide. And the more “Other” those others are, the better.

But this isn’t all: their twisted mentality comes with an important corollary. Since they view all of this stuff through a black-and-white, “us vs. them” lens, when they hear anybody express any concern about any aspect of immigration, they immediately attribute that concern to pure xenophobia – in other words, to a blanket hatred of the “Other.” Now, my own observations have convinced me that only a vanishingly tiny minority of Europeans actually consider “Others” by definition a bad thing; at the same time, they know enough about certain “Others” to know that it’s wise to be wary.

Too many people on the left, however, are utterly blind to these elementary rational distinctions. And so we have articles like one that the Guardian ran the other day, in which Paul Quinn, a social “researcher” at Brussels Free University, explained the misgivings of many Britons about the forthcoming influx of Bulgarians and Romanians as symptoms of a psychopathology: our brains, he lectured, are “hardwired” to suspect and stigmatize people who are different from us but who don’t actually represent any threat to us whatsoever. Implicit in his argument was that people like himself and his right-thinking Guardian readers – who are busy fretting about whether the newcomers from Sofia and Bucharest are being made to feel welcome – are more evolved than those prehistoric Daily Telegraph types, and have therefore overcome their hardwiring.  So condescending was Quinn toward Brits who are concerned about this new wave of immigration that it didn’t occur to him that they might actually have done some reading and reflecting on the topic. No: his article was a perfect illustration of the fact that people like him regard people like them as mouth-breathing morons who operate on sheer herd instinct.

Then there’s Queen Margrethe of Denmark. In her New Year’s speech, Margrethe brought up the mass rescue of the Danish Jews during the Nazi occupation, and observed – quite correctly – that on that occasion “Danish society showed its strength,” with gentiles from all walks of life risking their own safety to help their Jewish neighbors to escape to Sweden. But then she dared to suggest a similarity between those heroic actions and what she described as Danes’ obligation to “recognize and respect” the fact that today their country is composed of “different people with different cultures and languages.”

In the past, Margrethe has been excellent on these issues, but this speech, alas, was a painfully typical example of muddy leftist pseudo-thinking about the “Other.” The facts are these: seven decades ago, the Nazis marched into Denmark and told the gentiles there that they were brothers – fellow Aryans – and that the relatively few Jews among them were the “Other” who needed to be gotten rid of. The gentile Danes knew better. The Jews were their neighbors. They were Danes. Morally, the Nazis,with their evil ideology, were the true “Other” – not an ethnic but an ideological “Other” that it would be self-destructive folly to welcome into Denmark with open arms.

Today, there are quite a number of ethnic “Others” in Denmark who are grateful to live in a free country, who contribute to it, and who – far from being seen as “Others” at all – should in fact be treasured. Among them is the brave young Danish-Palestinian poet Yahya Hassan, whose blunt criticisms of Islam have made him a bestseller and have exposed him to death threats. But there are also more than a few ideological “Others” in that country (some of whom have been responsible for those death threats) whom Margrethe – following the errant logic of today’s left – would appear to be comparing to the wartime Danish Jews. Alas, the correct parallel is to the invaders who, seven decades ago, goose-stepped into her kingdom from the south.

On New Year’s Day, the New York Times served up another helping of this benighted brand of leftist logic about the “Other.” It took the form of an op-ed, headlined “European United, in Hating Europe,” by Andrea Mammone, an Italian historian at the University of London. (The title was telling: for Mammone, as for so many of his ilk, “Europe” isn’t the people of Europe but the supranational institutions that have been imposed on them.) How, Mammone wondered aloud, can European voters support “far-right” types like Marine Le Pen and Geert Wilders? For Mammone, European voters’ concern about the Islamization of Europe isn’t worth serious discussion: in his view, these voters are little better than mindless robots who – unknowingly imitating earlier generations of Europeans – are simply acting on a visceral need for “an ‘other’ to oppose, exclude, resist, restrict or oppress.” In other words, they’re the ideological heirs of the Nazis.

All this leftist balderdash about the “Other” is, of course, rhetorically very useful. Instead of defending their own positions on these issues with logical, fact-based arguments (which, in many cases, is an outright impossibility), these leftists respond to their opponents by purporting to diagnose them – thus neatly leaving the impression, in the minds of impressionable and ignorant readers, that it’s those opponents who are factually and logically challenged. In reality, however, it’s the leftists who, by employing this slick dodge, neatly skirt the obligation to mount legitimate arguments for their own views. And what they manage to disguise, by doing this, is that it’s not the critics of Islam and immigration who are fixated on the “Other” – it’s these leftists themselves, whose one-note, nuance-free ideology makes even the most alarming and malignant manifestations of the “Other” hopelessly irresistible to them.

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