Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Some thoughts on immigration discourse

I've been reading and sometimes participating in immigration and multiculturalism conversations in several places, and it feels rather weird. Sort of like one picnick where several friends of mine started a rather animated conversation on the nture of being American, Jewish and Russian and I was just sipping my wine and listening.

Every once in a while I get a feeling that I've seen more refugees than all the other participants of the conversation. Sometimes I realize that I probably have, what with having spent time in a refugee camp.

I flaunt my personal experience here, but tone it down in other places. It would feel weird to say "I know what I am talking about and you don't", even when it is in fact the case. I am not sure why - I do that every once in a while on many other topics.

I certanly don't blame the participants for not knowing any refugees: you don't meet them here too often, not nearly as often as in the US. In all my time here I've known a few Russian Jewish refugees and one refugee from Sri Lanka. One can always go to one of those "cultural meetings" or whatever but this is not the same thing. What I do find strange is that you don't usually see refugees, immigrants or people who work with them take any part in the conversation.

The level of conversation is strongly affected by the facts that the topic is rather emotional and rather politically incorrect, so you often see the pro-immigration and pro-multiculturalism side screaming all kinds of politically correct stereotypes and cliches, and the anti-side blowing off steam in the most politically incorrect way possible, with stereotypes and cliches of their own. The best conversation is in people's blogs and their comment sections (I recommend Jussi Halla-aho to anyone who has not found him yet, especially his own writings); the level of conversation on various newspaper forums is quite awful (can be used for a drinking game but not with especially strong drinks).

I am rarely insulted by anything I read there by "pros" or "antis", more amused. My favorite "anti"-cliche is that young Somali men should stay in Somalia for the purpose of improving it with the aid of various weaponry. "Breaking news! Somalia ran out of young men with guns! Please send some more, urgently!" My favorite "pro"-cliche is that refugees' crimes are not really their fault, that what drives people to a life of crime is ethnic discrimination, leaving the country where they were born, having been to a refugee camp, coming to a cold and seasonally dark country where the language is strange and the people consider you a foreigner - you know, the kinds of things I've been doing for a significant part of my life. Damn. If I ever commit a crime and get caught, I know who to blame. "Your honor, stealing that dildo was totally not my fault! They called me a Yid in the kindergarden and in school, and then I spent 3 months in a refugee camp when I was 16, and I've been a kind of a foreigner everywhere all my life, and I can't pronounce my "r"s correctly, and you guys have fifteen noun cases and consonant gradation and vowel harmony, and the weather here sucks and it's so dark, too - I needed the damn dildo and I did not have money to pay for it because your taxes are do damn high!" It also makes me vaguely wonder whether the most dyed-in-the-wool "pros" run away every time they see me, just in case.

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