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Skip to 0 minutes and 7 secondsIt is easy to show that the number of refugees in European countries is not high if we compare them to those in Lebanon, for example. The comedian Bernard Hoëcker experimented with guests in a TV talk show. Since there were 120 people present, he asked 2 of them to stand up. If the studio were Germany, he said, proportionately these 2 represented refugees. Even if these 2 happened to be heavy metal fans, he concluded, the likelihood of others to fall prey to that kind of music was rather limited. So one could assume the same would hold true for religious beliefs held by refugees.

Skip to 0 minutes and 51 secondsIf we look at the reactions of church institutions and representatives, for example, we find that Protestant and Catholic churches in Germany have called on the solidarity for refugees and have mobilised material and immaterial help. But whereas a Protestant bishop held, with reference to the debates on admitting only a certain number of refugees, that Gods knows no upper limit, a Catholic bishop called it only rational to accept that we cannot help all who suffer in the world. Jewish communities voiced their concern that Muslim refugees may hold anti-Semitic attitudes. All these concerns have to be seriously debated.

Skip to 1 minute and 40 secondsIf a Slovenian minister says his country would gladly accept a certain number of refugees as long as they are not Muslims, since Muslims would not so easily fit into their society-- one can understand this as a statement on the social setup of a country or one can interpret it as a sentence that voices discrimination. Arguably, the situation of the so-called refugee crisis raises complex and fundamental questions about inclusion and exclusion. In academia, the relationship between us and the other has been widely discussed. According to Edward Said and a range of other scholars, the denigration of the other has long been constitutive for fostering a positive idea of Europeans.

Skip to 2 minutes and 29 secondsSaid holds, "European culture gained in strength and identity by setting itself off against the Orient as a sort of surrogate and even underground self." Said's findings further lead to geopolitical questions of the second Gulf War and the Iraq war and thus support another argument, namely that those fleeing their countries in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere now do so also because of a failed policy and failed interventions led by the United States and their European allies. Out of these interventions, German Federal president Joachim Gauck came to visit in Obama's White House. Refugee movements resulted. [GERMAN] No way around it, he said. We cannot discuss the responsibilities and causes for flight, expulsion, and immigration further at this stage.

Skip to 3 minutes and 27 secondsLet us, rather, go back to coping with the refugee crisis and otherness. One can argue that it is a fear of the other that is visible in hostile, even racist and violent, reactions towards incoming people. More importantly, as can be concluded from statements by protesters it is the fear of the unknown and fear that control over borders and immigration has been given up. The fear that stability and cohesion is threatened. And this fear may be based on insecurity, on the idea of not having a voice in society and politics. It is-- that's not easy to understand and properly react to complex debates and problems that became visible in the course of the so-called refugee crisis.

Skip to 4 minutes and 18 secondsWe have seen how difficult that has become and how extremist and essentialist positions are. In order to work against these tendencies, an open and constructive debate on issues of identity and belonging, on inclusive and open society, has to be fostered further.

Religion, citizenship and otherness

In 1978, the postcolonial scholar and cultural critic Edward Said coined the term ‘Orientalism’ to describe the way Europeans dealt with Middle Eastern countries.

Said argued that Orientalism was always about stereotypes and fantasies (bearded men with many young, beautiful women, for example) that blocked a real view at the people and their societies. The ‘Orient’ was always ‘Othered’: differences were emphasised, so that Europeans could feel better about themselves.

In this video, Dr Lars Klein looks at the refugee crisis from this angle. What can Edward Said teach us about the complex, seemingly racist responses to the migrants coming to Europe?

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European Culture and Politics

University of Groningen

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