Tag: racism

Black History Month

Do you think this person is white?

If you are from Europe or North America, you might have said yes. If you are from Russia, you might have described this person as black. Most IR peeps are familiar with the fluid perceptions of whiteness and blackness that exist in the word: Sandor Gilman wrote, for instance, how Irish immigrants in the US in the beginning of the century were often considered black. The irony of blackness could not be more poignant in Russia: the famous Russian Armenian actor Frunzik Mkrtchan whose picture I put above is literally Caucasian, because he comes from the South Caucasus region in the European South of Russia. The ones who would describe him as black would also very likely to adhere to “Russia for [ethnic] Russians” slogan and in worst case scenarios would have tried to kill him because he “doesn’t look Slavic enough”.

Derogatory terms like ‘kavkazcy’ (Caucasians), and ‘chyornye’ (blacks) have become ubiquitous in everyday speech in Russia, while Russian mass media employs euphemisms such as ‘litsa neslavyanskoy vneshnoti’ (non-Slavic looking people) when it comes to the identification of crime suspects. A xenophobic discursive representation applies to non-Slavic looking individuals irrespective of their citizenship, even though former USSR citizens can seek Russian nationality under a simplified naturalisation procedure, according to the Federal Law on Citizenship. Apart from “Caucasians” who are often discursively connected to terrorism and ethnic criminality, there isn’t much love for former Soviet citizens from Central Asia. If you are not Ivan Drago or Natasha, you might have a lot of trouble even renting an apartment.

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Common Xenophobic Dynamic: Overestimating the Other

I saw this on twitter this evening

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Multicultural Panic Comes to Korea

This recently ran on Korea’s largest broadcaster in primetime news slots until the outburst controversy grew so loud, it got pulled. Don’t miss the guy in the white shirt and tie behind a desk to lend academic credibility to it all. For some analysis, try here.

Here’s a response video that is very funny.

A Dothraki Complaint

Drogo as angry brown man.
Source: dothraki.org

Graddakh! We the brown people of Vaes Dothrak collectively curse the producers of HBO and the slanderous “creator” of our world, which you call the Game of Thrones.

We know that your people have a long standing tradition of questionable and objectionable racial imaginings in your “fantasy fiction” genre.  So we are not surprised by your ifaki ignorance of our civilization.  Anyway, we have also come to understand that much of your television programming broadcasts an unreflective and unapologetic world of whiteness, so maybe you can’t help but reduce us to barbaric caricatures. Some of your smarter viewers (and there are really so few) and scholars have been drawn to the Machiavellian elements of the series, but like Saladin AhmedPablo K, and Alyssa Rosenberg, we cannot help but linger on the way our “horde” has been depicted in the series.

We the Dothraki are portrayed as undifferentiated mass of colored people at the periphery of an otherwise lily white medieval world.  (It is not that the white characters are all portrayed in a glowing light, all the characters are obviously flawed, but the Dothraki stand in for an undifferentiated mass representing the entire non-white world.)  We are portrayed as a fierce Mongol-like people, except that these are not the historic Mongols of your world.  You know, the people who introduced your hopelessly barbaric and quarrelsome Europeans ancestors to firearms technology and whose massive naval armada twice attempted to cross the seas and conquer Japan. Rather we Dothraki are portrayed as a technologically backward collection of clod-hopping barbarians who embody a range of degrading caricatures based on your own trite knowledge of Native American, Sub-Saharan African, and Arab societies.

In particular, we Dothraki seem to be driven purely by the thymotic aspects of our soul. We seem barely able to reason and need to be guided by a foreigner who goes “native.” We are shown enjoying acts such as publicly fornicating while dancing at weddings and murdering one another on the slightest provocation.  According to the depiction on television, no Dothraki wedding is complete without at least three murders. You are even told blatant lies. Who says we “have no word for ‘thank you'” or ‘throne’?   Me nem nesa, we have those words!  And we have plenty more for idiot, choyo nerds like George R.R. Martin and the producers of the show. I would rant more, but that would only play into your lame and dismissive stereotypes about belligerent brown people.

Look if you’re going to be racist, perhaps you could show a bit more creativity? Repeating the classic mid-twentieth century American variety of racism is just boring.  Might we suggest that you overlay the racist tropes with a highly gendered discourse in the manner of the British imperialists?  Which is not to say that you’re not sexists with your whore/matriarch/whore-matriarch triads, but you don’t really combine the two discourses very well. Even the British got bored with just using a martial races trope. Or perhaps you could try hipster racism?

Anders Breivik: Isolated Mad Man or Tip of the Far-Right Racist Iceburg?

Co-authored with Alison Howell, author of Madness in International Relations: Psychology, Security and the Global Governance of Mental Health

The recent events in Norway have revealed the pitfalls of speculation within a 24-hour new cycle/instant social media environment. Almost immediately after information about the bombings and the shootings emerged, facebook, twitter, and media outlets were saturated with possible theories on the source of the violence- with most of the speculation focused on radical Islam and Al-Qaeda (The Atlantic immediately re-posted a great article on Al Qaeda in Norway).

In the ensuing days, a new kind of speculation has become common in reporting on these events: that is, speculation about the psychology of the man who admits to committing these acts (if not his guilt).

Much of this started with Breivik’s own attorney vowing that his client must be insane and that he would only continue to represent him on the condition that he submits to psychological testing. But a number of news outlets, and indeed psychiatrists and psychologists interviewed in the media, have decided not to wait for these kinds of assessments, preferring instead to speculate about Breivik’s psyche based on the very limited information that we now have.

One particularly troubling example of this kind of psychiatric speculation includes a July 25 BBC Europe article, which asserts that “a deep level of mental disturbance” underlies Breivik’s motivations. The article quotes a professor of forensic psychiatry stating: “The bottom line is that we don’t at this moment know enough about his motives to diagnose his mental state. However, while there are all sorts of cross-cutting with right-wing ideology, I believe he is likely to be suffering from a mental disorder.” The article then goes on, to compare Breivik to David Copeland (the 1999 London ‘Nail Bomber’), citing the same professor as saying that “The Norway attack is on the same lines – where extreme right-wing beliefs merge with paranoid psychosis, or delusional disorder….”
The article also quotes a forensic clinical psychologist, who, based on Breivik’s ‘manifesto’ is willing to authoritatively avow that Breivik must have been a ‘shut away,’ ‘insane’ and ‘deluded.’ These kinds of highly speculative pseudo-diagnosis are not confined solely to the BBC report: the Telegraph described Breivik as a “blond psychopath;” another source wonders if Breivik is insane or just evil; and Time magazine has recently published a piece in Breivik entitled “An Interview with a Madman.

Similarly, West Side Republicans– a Republican blog recently sported the headline “NORWAY – Breivik is a politically isolated sociopath. Not A Christian Fundamentalist as the Media & Left would have you believe.” The main conclusion of the post is that “Breivik’s murder spree did not result from classical liberal influences any more than it resulted from Christian influences: It resulted from his own evil and twisted mind.” The blog also takes issue with the way that the New York Times has portrayed Breivik as a Christian extremist, claiming: “The problem is this: There is no “Christian extremist” movement in the way that there is an Islamist or “Islamic extremist” movement. There are bad Christians, to be sure; but they have no modern-day intellectual and political movement that supports and sustains them — modern-day Islamists, or Islamic extremists, do…”

This kind of psychological speculation evident here is highly dangerous, for at least 3 reasons.

1. The idea that he was a solitary monster ignores clear evidence of a wider political community sharing his ideals. We now know that Breivik sent his manifesto out to over 250 individuals just before the bombs in Oslo were detonated, including several far right politicians and the anti-Islamic English Defence League (EDL). It was reported in the Foreigner that “several supporters of the EDL admitted they met Breivik at rallies in Britain and the attacker even confessed he had over 600 EDL members among his Facebook contacts.” Even Breivik’s lawyer has stated that Breivik is part of a wider community of right wing fundamentalists- referencing two additional cells in Norway. Breivik was also a prolific contributor to right wing blogs, and pointed to extreme right wing political parties such as Germany’s far-right National Democratic Party, and the Netherlands’ Freedom Party as sources of inspiration.

It isn’t the thought of Breivik as an isolated monster that is disturbing, rather it is the realization that he has is part of a broad community that share his ideals- if not his tactics. Just Wednesday a member of France’s far-right Front National was suspended for referring to Breivik as an “icon” and a “defender of the West.” Even more disturbing were comments made by a faction of the Europe of Freedom and Democracy group in the European Parliament: “One hundred per cent of Breivik’s ideas are good, in some cases extremely good. The positions of Breivik reflect the views of those movements across Europe which are winning elections.”

2. This kind of psychological speculation perpetuates the pervasive myth that violence is a characteristic of madness, when in fact people diagnosed with mental disorders are no more likely to commit violent crimes than those who are considered sane. It’s no surprise that the two experts called on in the BBC report mentioned above include a forensic psychologist and a forensic psychiatrist: these are highly problematic disciplines dedicated to tying together crime and madness. It is time, once and for all, to dispel this myth (which is particularly attached to people diagnosed with schizophrenia). Like the term ‘queer,’ the term ‘madness’ is increasingly being reclaimed by organizations such as MindFreedom International and activists in the Mad Pride and psychiatric survivor movements, who are working to claim their rights against often coercive systems of mental health governance. Casting violent acts as evidence of insanity makes it more difficult for such activists to get us to see that madness is just another form of difference (like race, gender or sexuality), and that mental health should be understood in terms of social justice.

3. Psychological speculation renders Breivik’s motivations exceptional and irrational, rather than placing them in the broader context of political debates — especially as they concern multiculturalism in Norway, Europe, or more broadly the West. Regardless of Breivik’s mental state, we should listen to what he lists as his motivations and view his actions primarily as a form of violence motivated by racism. If we pay attention to the way that right wing media outlets are spinning this story it becomes apparent that the underlying anti-immigrant racist ideals of Breivik have traction across the globe. The highlights (or low-lights) of Pat Buchanan’s insights into the attacks in Norway Breivik shows a defiant and impassioned defence of the motivations expressed by Breivik:

“Though Breivik is being called insane, that is the wrong word….Breivik is evil – a cold-blooded, calculating killer – though a deluded man of some intelligence, who in his 1,500-page manifesto reveals a knowledge of the history, culture and politics of Europe. … Angela Merkel of Germany, Nicolas Sarkozy of France and David Cameron of Britain have all declared multiculturalism a failure. From votes in Switzerland to polls across the continent, Europeans want an end to the wearing of burqas and the building of prayer towers in mosques….awful as this atrocity was, native-born and homegrown terrorism is not the macro-threat to the continent. That threat comes from a burgeoning Muslim presence in a Europe that has never known mass immigration, its failure to assimilate, its growing alienation, and its sometime sympathy for Islamic militants and terrorists.”

People are justified in wondering about the mental state of Breivik- or anyone that could commit such atrocities. However, writing Breivik’ off Breivik’s actions as isolated, irrational and crazy closes out space for talking about the potential iceberg of racists anti-immigration attitudes that his actions sit atop of.

Stereotypes and suspicion: Nicer words won’t change anything

A new report was released yesterday, ‘Suspect Communities’, comparing how UK media and government have framed Irish and Muslim communities since the 1970s. The authors find that the ideas underpinning counter-terrorism measures and the way politicians, policymakers and the media discuss who might be responsible for bombings have not changed over four decades. The key finding is that ambiguity surrounding who is an ‘extremist’ or a ‘terrorist’ has led to hostile responses in everyday life – at work, in shops, on the street  – from members of the public who think they are under threat from Irish-sounding or Muslim-looking people whom they associate with that threat. Hence, the report implies that government and media language is impacting on the everyday lives of communities judged suspect and everyone else who must live with them. In a debate in Parliament yesterday, the solution put forward by many was greater sensitivity of language by elites and more dialogue between the stigmatized, the elites, and the majority society.


While useful, the debate needs to go further. The crux with such reports is their method. This research team first analysed thousands of media texts and government documents, and found these to consistently frame these communities as suspect (and as communities, not individuals). They then did focus groups with members of those suspect communities to hear about living under suspicion. What the team did not do is try to explain why journalists or policymakers would consistently produce stigmatizing material. The consistency of the stigmatization suggests its nothing to do with any individuals, but a function of the institutional practices and professional imperatives of the fields of journalism and security policy. Most journalists don’t want to be racist. They think that by allowing a ‘moderate’ and ‘militant’ Muslim to debate they are providing balance – journalists don’t usually understand that they are reducing threatening and non-threatening minorities to equivalents in the eye of the non-Muslim audience. And policymakers know full well that homogenizing a community to tell it to ‘stop harbouring terrorists’ is not going to please everyone, but they really don’t want another bomb going off and will try any means to stop it. These are the pressures they face, and criticizing their language choices isn’t going to remove those pressures. So, if we are to move towards societies in which entire groups are not routinely lumped together as dangerous and disloyal, we need to begin to unravel these institutional and professional logics. A truly critical project would address these power relations and daily trade-offs instead of simply decrying the consequences.


This is an important topic. The Suspect Communities report supports a longstanding research finding (UK hereUS here) that those who feel stigmatized tend either to retreat from public spaces (‘keep your head down’, ‘keep your mouth shut’) or become angry and try to resist slurs by turning them on their heads (reclaiming ‘queer’ in the 1970s, jihadi chic in the 2000s). Either way, the result is fear and alienation, which reduces trust on all ‘sides’ and makes reconciling interests and grievances through democratic institutions much more difficult.

“State” Multiculturalism

This is England?

I woke up this morning to discover that apparently “state multiculturalism” has failed. According to Prime Minister David Cameron:

…when a white person holds objectionable views, racist views for instance, we rightly condemn them. But when equally unacceptable views or practices come from someone who isn’t white, we’ve been too cautious frankly – frankly, even fearful – to stand up to them. The failure, for instance, of some to confront the horrors of forced marriage, the practice where some young girls are bullied and sometimes taken abroad to marry someone when they don’t want to, is a case in point. This hands-off tolerance has only served to reinforce the sense that not enough is shared. And this all leaves some young Muslims feeling rootless. And the search for something to belong to and something to believe in can lead them to this extremist ideology. Now for sure, they don’t turn into terrorists overnight, but what we see – and what we see in so many European countries – is a process of radicalisation.

In this speech, given in Germany, Cameron claimed that the West needs to “wake-up to what is happening to our countries” and basically realize that our tolerance of other people’s cultures is responsible for the terrorist threat, 7/7, etc.

And as if to perfectly echo the point, the rather fascist self-styled English Defense League – a full blown anti-Islam group that wants to ban mosques, people that are not white, etc had a large rally in Luton today.

Fabulous.

It seems ridiculous that I have to make the point that I DON’T think the PM is an EDL member, etc. etc. And I’m sure he felt the timing of his speech was unfortunate – but this does serve to highlight some points I’ve been unscientifically thinking about for a while.

After having lived in the UK for nearly 10 years (including some poorer neighbourhoods and in council estates), it doesn’t seem to me that the UK has ever given multiculturalism a chance. And having read the Prime Minister’s speech, it doesn’t actually seem that he knows what multiculturalism is.

In the UK, and in the speech, “multiculturalism” seems to be “let’s let those people go and live in that ghetto over there”. It’s never been about integration – just a kind of reluctant (or “hands-off”) tolerance. But this is not really multiculturalism – at least I think as it has been practiced elsewhere or even as it could be.
Multiculturalism – to me – would suggest an exchange: keeping the practicses of ones’ culture alive within the context of a liberal, pluralist society. And yes, we can make demands on someone to respect certain liberal civil values. I’m not sure it was ever really about allowing people to stand up and defend their hatred of homosexuality, women’s rights and the like. Suggesting that this is multiculturalism seems to me to be an unfortunate co-opting or gross misunderstanding of the term. It seems to be the hated “multiculturalism” of the right (the kind that wants to ban Spanish in America) that the PM has bought into rather than what it could stand for.

Additionally, it doesn’t so much seem to me to be the case that it is a policy of multiculturalism that drives people to live in ghettos – but the fact they are poor. According to a report released last year by UK think tank Demos, Muslim people in the UK are more likely to be unemployed and to suffer discrimination:

Occupationally, Muslims are the most disadvantaged faith group in the Western European labour market. Muslims on average experience higher unemployment rates compared to national averages, and more often than not, their occupations are not compatible with their levels and fields of education. In respect of housing and poverty, there is marked clustering of communities that has resulted in the ghettoisation’ of some areas, leading to social tensions.

Another interesting thing about PM Cameron’s speech is what he means by “state” multiculturalism? As opposed to what other kind of multiculturalism? Non-state multiculrualism? He never says.
Is there an alternative? The Labour Party and Gordon Brown used to speak of spreading “British Values”. But I’m not even certain that the British know what Britsh values are. While one can look back and find reference to notions of the “liberties of all Englishmen”, they’re very undefined. (Particularly since the UK never really got around to writing them down). And this is a very legalistic notion of what “values” are. And besides ethnic and religious differences, are British values the same in the south of the country as the north? Or in the other ‘nations’ like Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland (where some Christian MPs regularly denigrate homosexuals). So Cameron is speaking about a “common identity”. But really, there just doesn’t seem to be any sense that the government has anything else to put in place.

So if he wasn’t advocating an alternative, what’s this about then? There has been some suggestion in the media that Cameron’s speech is to prepare the UK for some changes to come following a review of the “Prevent” strategy – the UK’s anti-extremism/radicalisation policy which is under review (mostly because it seems to have cost a lot of money and achieved little results).

But it would seem to me that multiculturalism, however imperfect, would seem to offer a platform to combat inequality and mistrust and to promote integration. You know, some of the things you’d want to do to combat extremism. And I think it would be easier than promoting a “shared national identity” – especially considering there are nationalist/separatist movements in Scotland and Wales.

I think it can be easily said that no sensible person would advocate funding organizations that fundamentally contradicted liberal values. And I don’t think that we should accept racism, sexism, anti-semitism or any other bad-ism from whatever the source. But I don’t think that the government should claim that accepting these things is the result of multiculturalism when I think there are many other factors to point at. It’s not about tolerating the intolerable.

Without articulating an alternative, or perhaps even suggesting a different take on multiculturalism, the PM risks having this message of challenging intolerance and extremism mixed with that of the EDL. (Certainly they must see this as some kind of propaganda coup?) And that’s not doing anyone any favours.

The Hurt Locker

When I heard that the “Hurt Locker,” a drama set in the midst of the Iraq War, was nominated for several Oscars, I was intrigued. Americans have not shown much interest as a people in either of the current official wars and even less interest in documentaries about and dramas set in these conflicts. My initial hunch was that this film, was selected to balance out “Avatar”, the narrative of which clearly questions militarism and imperialism (while also reveling in astounding levels of mindless violence). So I assumed that “The Hurt Locker” would make a conservative counter-argument which justified the necessity of this war of choice. After finally seeing it, I was stunned that this film was nominated for any awards.

I would argue that the film is certainly racist/orientalist in the way in which the Iraqi population is portrayed. Iraqis are depicted as either villainous or as an undifferentiated mass of passive spectators and victims. There are no images of Iraqi women which do not depict them either wailing or otherwise “hysterical”. The English speaking Iraqi men, all of whom have bit parts, are completely emasculated. The American soldiers are generally depicted as brave (if insanely reckless in a cowboy fashion) and highly competent.

The one chance that the writer and director had to stage a dialog between the protagonist and an Iraqi professor is completely squandered as the professor’s “hysterical” wife throws the protagonist-intruder out of her home. Perhaps I should be thankful that the writer and director did not choose to try to speak for “the other.”

There is the requisite paternal engagement with an Iraqi child. However, the child apparently is indistinguishable to the protagonist from all of the other masses of poor Iraqi children who chase and throw rocks at military vehicles.

The film may not be quite as aggressively racist as “Blackhawk Down,” “300,” or “Zulu,” the defining films in terms of racist war genre, but it is certainly a contender. There are thankfully no scenes in which a brown or black horde attacks an outnumbered group of mainly white heroes. In terms of the anti-Arab content, the film is not as bad as “True Lies” or any of the worst Hollywood films in the anti-semitic/anti-Arab genre, mainly because it does not really engage “the other” at all… so none of the more complex racist tropes are brought forth. Nevertheless, the film does continue the long tradition documented in Reel Bad Arabs.

It will be argued that the film is true to the perspective of the main characters. The film shows how narrowly focused the life of the average soldier is. Of course, we do not get a portrayal of the level of boredom that often accompanies military duty. War is depicted as an exciting adventure, particularly in contrast to the bland challenges of raising a child and maintaining a household. So I question its realism. In showing us how soldiers view Iraqis and the Iraq War, it also gives the audience permission to see Iraqis (and by extension the Middle East) in the same uncritical way.

Does any of this matter, particularly in a forum where we discuss international relations? I think it does. War films become a part of a nation’s memory and they have the potential to spark debate and dialog about the causes of war which shapes policy. Moreover, war films are often central to the cult of militarism. The “Hurt Locker” does nothing to interrogate the causes, meaning, or consequences of war, it dehumanizes the people living under occupation. As such it merely serves as propaganda for the war machine. Perhaps there should be a separate Oscar for this genre.

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