Hazem Saghieh

Refugees and Migrants After the EU Elections

The results of the European elections are yet another indication of the difficulties of tying the global solidarity movement with Gaza to mainstream European societies. If Donald Trump becomes president in a few months, his victory would only reinforce those difficulties. Even the term “youths,” which has often been to indicate a new, promising stance on Israel recently, is now associated with another phenomenon: this same category’s growing support for the hard right in the polls.

The fact is that those who have likened what happened in US universities, and to some extent in Europe, to the American and European student movements of the 1960s, failed to recognize key differences that several observers had pointed out. The sixties movement in the US was linked to opposition to the Vietnam War, which cost American lives and saw many young men drafted into the army.

On top of that, however, the student movement quickly developed positions on culture, morality, education, sex, the environment, music, and fashion..., creating the conception of the term “the sixties” that prevails today and granting its connotations that go beyond the temporal.

As for Europe, its student movement targeted flaccid structures that included political parties, trade unions, the bureaucracy, and the entire political process. It also targeted a system of ideas and beliefs, from Gaullist nationalism to communist notions of economics, that the youths believed had become obsolete.

In other words, the American and European movements of the sixties were very much internal, which is not true at all for the student movement in solidarity with Gaza. Thus, we have recently begun to see a growing number of prominent Western intellectuals, most recently perhaps the French researcher Olivier Roy, who are not satisfied with merely denying that the contemporary movement is political, going further and labeling it an example of a moral stance replacing politics.

Moreover, while the hyperbolic pro-Israeli link between solidarity movement to religion and antisemitism have rightly been repudiated, the movement’s externality is nonetheless notable given the prominent position of immigrant communities, whose religious and ethnic identity differs from that of most Westerners, with it.

As for the illusion that its ties to far-left groups internalize it, this will only add to, if not multiply, its externality. In addition to helping strengthen the far right, relying on the far left implies turning to a “third worldist” bent that the intellectual and political mainstream in Western countries can no longer accommodate.

As for the racists and right-wing extremists relentlessly fear-mongering about the “siege” Europe is under and the “replacement” of its population, they will find in this reliance another weapon they can accuse their opponents of using in this so-called siege.

When some enthusiastically argue that the solidarity movements with Gaza are a prelude to a global transformation and change, they seem to be attesting to this externality that is watching Europe and the US from outside their walls. What are we to say, then, when the ally is marginal and the cause that forms the basis of all political action is foreign to the actual concerns of societies and their groups?

There is no doubt that neoliberal economic policies have played a role in making things as bad as they currently are, by undermining the role of the state and destroying the intermediaries for social integration like parties and unions. However, we must also contend with other factors that have been equally impacted and consequential.

Indeed, Western countries are currently undergoing an experiment to build culturally and religiously pluralistic societies, as well as facing the repercussions and failures of this project. Here, we must look for matters around which the parties concerned can build common ground. A society in which religious and nationalist ideas have declined will find it increasingly difficult to accommodate arrivals with extreme religious and nationalist views. Thus, meeting halfway would create an opportunity to correct the course of pluralism and boost its chances of success, as well as facilitate integration by ensuring that it is not perceived as a challenge to others and their ways of life.

Universalism is not yet a given; rather, it is a task to be undertaken for the future. It could succeed or it could fail, which demands that we avoid acting on the grounds that only Westerners must prove their universality.

This, with regard to elites, emphasizes the need to invest in the consciousness of the immigrant and refugee communities, starting with an effort to push for stronger participation in electoral processes, and encouraging them to adopt enlightened and modern ideas and practices. This effort must be accompanied by an end to the inflation of the colonial past and “decolonization,” as well as greater concern for the interests of refugees and immigrants and their integration. Currently, many of the “strategies” that have been developed do not take these interests into account, as though the plan is to “take the world by storm” from within Western societies.

True, the fact that the center, both the center-right and center left, managed to maintain the first and second largest blocs in the continent’s parliament is reassuring, as is the far-right parties’ commitment, if only rhetorical, to the democratic process and the principle of the peaceful transfer of power. However, an overview of the broader trajectory, especially if economic and non-economic conditions continue to deteriorate, calls for concern, vigilance, and doing everything possible to stop this dangerous trajectory.