OPINION: Has Culture Replaced Race in Europe?

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A mosque and a church sharing a yard in Kosovo. Photo by Valdete Hasani

Sabine Volk

During my whole life in Europe, I did not know that I was white. I knew I had pale skin and light eyes, but this was because my father was a ginger. Then, when applying to an American university for the first time, I had to indicate my race and ethnicity in the official paperwork. I learned that I had to tick the box that said “White/Caucasian.” Then, within a couple of weeks on a Midwestern campus, Americans made me understand that I was white – not only in the literal, but in the racial sense of the term. Together with my fellow exchange students from Europe, we decided pretty fast: Americans are obsessed with race. Race is everywhere; in media and political discourse, in art, in peoples’ minds. In my classes, African American and Latino students repeatedly reported racial discrimination by white police officers or in job interviews. Friends advised me to avoid specific neighborhoods – black neighborhoods.

Before going to America, it would have never occurred to me to even use the term race. Race may apply to dogs, or horses. But humans? No way. To me, groups of people were rather characterized by their different cultures, traditions, values, and beliefs. For example, I knew that I, myself, was European. As such, I identified as an heir of centuries of European culture with its Greek and Roman heritage, Christian traditions, secular art, Enlightened thinking, modern science and technology, as well as the more recent belief in liberal democracy.

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Photo by Mark Dixon

When looking at the actual ideological debates in Europe, I now wonder if Europe is not as obsessed with culture as America is with race. Just as most Americans take “the” five races (white/Caucasian, black/African American, Asian American, Native American/American Indian, Latino) as naturally given, most Europeans tend to think that one can distinguish between clear-cut and mutually exclusive cultural communities, such as the European cultural community, the Muslim cultural community, the… well, it often stops here. Against the backdrop of current issues such as the so-called refugee crisis, the term “European culture” is only used in order to contrast European culture with Muslim culture. In so doing, the speaker suddenly forgets about the cultural diversity within Europe, as well as the negative prejudices toward other European nationalities (e.g., the humorless Germans, the lazy Greek, the arrogant French, and so forth).

In Europe, the cultural category has very clearly replaced the racial category that is still used in America. Culture is hereby seen as something that is inborn in individuals or trained at a very young age, and therefore cannot evolve, transform, change. I often have the impression that it is understood exactly like race was conceived of during Europe’s darkest periods – as a biological determinism that decides good and bad, superior and inferior. As a consequence, Europeans seem to be experts in exercising cultural racism – they prefer to declare that a certain culture is not compatible with Europe, instead of a certain race or ethnicity. This wording might seem more lenient, but has the same meaning in the end.

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A German anti-Islam demonstrator. Photo by blu-news.org

So what is real, and what is a mere construction? Race? Or culture? Maybe neither. Or maybe both. Looking at the lived realities in the United States and in Europe, one has to conclude: in the US, race is real. It is real because it has real consequences on peoples’ daily lives, and entire personal narratives. In Europe, on the other hand, the belief in incommensurable cultural communities is gaining ground in a manner that this social construction is real as well, because it influences how Europeans perceive other parts of the world. Yet, with regard to current issues such as the refugee crisis, we could try to put our convictions into question. Is Muslim culture really as opposed to European culture as right-wing populists and racists want to make us believe? Are cultural values unchangeable?

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Using English in the EU after Brexit: “If we don’t have the UK, we don’t have English.”

Ian Snel

After the United Kingdom has left the European Union, it could very well be that English will cease to be an official language for the European Union, or so Danuta Hübner, head of the European Parliament’s Constitutional Affairs Committee, warned in a press conference. She explained that, “every EU country has the right to notify one official language. The Irish have Gaelic and the Maltese have notified Maltese, so you only have the UK notifying English.” This would mean that, “if we don’t have the UK, we don’t have English.” Although this might at first seem like a rather extreme measure, when you think about it, it really isn’t.

In 2015, the British Office for National Statistics estimated that the British population consisted of about 65 million people. According to the Eurobarometer of 2012, 88% of these people have English as their native tongue. This means that, after Brexit, the Union will have lost over 57 million speakers, whose mother tongue is English – 11% of the European Union’s population. In turn, after Brexit, only 2% of the remaining population of the EU will be native English speakers. As a result, native speakers of German and French will have far overtaken those of English, numbering 16% and 12% of the Union’s population respectively. Would it be sensible to maintain a language as an official working language when its native population has dwindled to a mere 2%? The European Commission seems to think not, as they have reportedly started using more German and French in their external communication. Continue reading “Using English in the EU after Brexit: “If we don’t have the UK, we don’t have English.””

Dear EU: English is not just how the world communicates, it is how your citizens do too.

Kathrine Jensen

In the world today, English, in all its variations, occupies an undeniably central place. From the offices of multinational corporations, to university classes and research teams, to local marketplaces and cafes like the one I’m sitting in. In a town in the middle of Denmark, my cafe table numbers Danes, Spaniards, and Germans – guess how we’re communicating?

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Names of the European Parliament in the official EU languages. Photo by Nuno Noguiera.

When it comes to English, communication is precisely the point. English is a means of communication in the globalized world. According to the Harvard Business Review, business today speaks English. Even when a company in Germany is dealing with another German company, there is no guarantee that the employees will be German speakers. If you visit an industrial farm in Denmark, the working language isn’t Danish – it’s English. The presence and importance of English as the working language globally is so apparent that four out of five Europeans consider English the language worth learning for the future. English today is not the property of its native speakers, it is the lingua franca of the world. English transcends cultures and borders, and the assertion that the EU should drop English as one of its working languages is therefore highly problematic.

In an article published today in The Euroculturer, the argument is made that without the UK to notify English as an official EU language, it would not be acceptable to grant English the prestigious status as official and official working language of the EU. This argument is based on the assumption that languages are inextricably joined to their native speakers and nations, and that the working languages of the EU are an expression of the status of those nations, cultures, and speakers. In response, this present article will argue that even without the UK, the EU and the rest of the world still very much have English. Continue reading “Dear EU: English is not just how the world communicates, it is how your citizens do too.”

Has the West forgotten the war in Yemen?

 

Ben Krasa

A country on the brink of a famine. With a population of 27 million, 18 million are in need of humanitarian assistance. Three million have been forced to flee their homes. An estimated 10,000 are dead. Serious allegations of violations of international humanitarian law and human rights law have been made. It is one of the biggest humanitarian crises of the twenty-first century. Yet no one is talking about it. The Yemeni war began with a bang, but has quietly slipped through our media. The occasional news report here and there highlights what horrendous times the country is facing and the suffering endured by what is left of its population. But the crisis is largely ignored by the West.

Surprisingly, a politician who has come under intense scrutiny, Boris Johnson, has been the politician to question Saudi Arabia’s motives and actions in the war. Johnson recently criticised Saudi Arabia’s involvement but quickly came under fire by his own party. Despite having personal views that conflict with the party lines, it is evident that the man who gave the US State Department the biggest smile, is indeed one of the few politicians in the West, who is showing leadership. Despite stating that the party’s views do not align with Johnson’s, some Conservative party figures defended him as well as some from the opposition. Unfortunately, the spotlight will shine on the Yemeni war only if public figures will speak out about the horrific events taking place in Yemen. With Saudi money invested in many powerful Western nations, especially in England and the USA, it is a breath of fresh air that not all politicians turn a blind eye to the silently reported catastrophic war in Yemen. Continue reading “Has the West forgotten the war in Yemen?”

OPINION: The Italian Constitutional Referendum: some reasons Italians should vote NO.

 

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Italian Prime Minister, Matteo Renzi. Photo by BTO

Vittoria Valentina Di Gennaro

Today Italians will be called to cast their vote on the constitutional reform promoted by the government of centre left politician Matteo Renzi. The citizens will have to decide with a simple YES or NO, whether to approve the changes to the Constitution laid down in the Boschi draft law. The reform has been approved by the Parliament, but it can enter into force only if the referendum succeeds. For this plebiscite there is no quorum: whatever the turnout, the result will decide the future of the Italian Constitution.

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The Palazzo Madama, home of the Italian Senate. Photo by Francesco Gasparetti

In this article I will tell you why Italians should vote NO:

  1. It is not a clear and comprehensible reform, as it is written so as not to be understood. It is not an innovative reform, since it preserves and strengthens the central government at the expense of self-government.
  2. Regarding political participation and citizen initiatives, the proposed reform fails to expand the direct participation of citizens, since it increases from 50,000 to 150,000, the amount of signatures necessary for a citizens initiative. For abrogative referendums the quorum will be lower but even in this case the signatures needed will mushroom from 500,000 to 800,000.
  3. The most significant change will be the reduction of parliamentarians and consequent cost cutting if YES wins. In this case, the future Senate will not have 315 members elected directly by citizens, but will consist of only 100 members: 74 will be appointed within the various Regional Councils with a proportional basis according to population and the votes taken by the parties, while 21 will be chosen by the Regional Councils between the mayors of the region (each region will have a mayor representing, while the Trentino Alto Adige will have two – why is this region so different from the others?). Each senator will hold his or her chair for the duration of his or her administrative mandate and will not receive any compensation for their parliamentary activities. The 5 remaining senators will be appointed by the President of the Republic and hold office for seven years. The office of Senator for Life will remain in force only for ex-Presidents of the Republic and for those who already hold it. However, the new draft law does not effectively reduce the cost of politics. Indeed, the Senate costs are reduced by only one fifth, and if the problem is the cost, why not to halve the Chamber of Deputies instead? See next point.
  4. The costs saved are not so impressive: There is no denying that the reduction in the number of Senators will lower the cost of politics, but not as much as is suggested. A reduction in the number of Deputies or a simple ordinary law regarding a reduction in the amount of salaries of parliamentarians would be far more effective.
  5. Elimination of perfect bicameralism: The Senate is not abolished, but only revised: you switch from a perfect bicameralism to a bicameralism ‘confused’ by conflicts not only between the two wings of the Parliament, but also between state and regions.
  6. Abolition of constitutional bodies: The Renzi-Boschi constitutional reform provides for the abolition of the National Council of Economy and Labour (CNEL). CNEL is an advisory assembly of experts for the Italian Government, Parliament and Regions, and has the right to promote legislative initiatives, limited to economic and social subjects. Its suppression will be a loss for economic democracy.
  7. Confusion: This reform, despite its promotion, does not produce simplification as it multiplies by ten legislative processes in Italian government and increases the confusion.
  8. Government stability: It is not true that there will be more stability in Government as a result of the proposed reform. In fact, if the majorities in the Chamber (of Deputies) and Senate will be different, the latter, using different instruments, may still hinder the legislative activities of the lower chamber.
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Palazzo Montecitorio, Rome, the home of the Chamber of Deputies. Photo by Presidenza della Repubblica.

If the Constitutional Referendum should return a majority of votes for NO, the Renzi government could fall. It is difficult to predict how Renzi would manage a defeat for his flagship reform. However, if citizens do not recognize as legitimate one of the main points of the current government’s program, their representatives in Parliament would hardly be able ignore the political significance of the result. It would open the possibility of a motion of no confidence in the government.

The Euroculturer would like to thank Vittoria Valentina Di Gennaro for the contribution of this piece. Vittoria is a young communications specialist focused on European affairs. Originally from Italy, this piece is her own, informed opinion and does not necessarily represent the opinions of The Euroculturer Magazine or its staff.

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The Silver Lining of the 2016 Election and the Way Forward

Ryan Minett

As we all know now, most of our nightmares have come true. Trump has become president and we are all coping with this shocking development in different ways. Many are surprised, some are confused, a small percentage of those I’ve seen online are pleased, but most, I am relieved to see, are very, very angry. We knew this was a possibility, but the reality of the situation only really started to sink in as swing state after swing state fell to our newly elected, Oompa-Loompa in Chief. I myself am not altogether surprised. Just think for a second how dumb the average American is, then realize that 160 million Americans are, by definition, stupider than this, and the reality of President Donald Trump becomes somewhat more understandable. In the meantime, I, with all the American optimism that can get someone like our future Racist in Chief into the Oval Office, have been looking for a silver lining to this horrible cloud, and if you bear with me, I have hopefully found one. Continue reading “The Silver Lining of the 2016 Election and the Way Forward”

Message from an Obama Groupie: An ode to the Obama decade

Lianne Arentsen

Some say most Europeans are fans of Obama. I am not sure about that, but I definitely am. You could say I am an Obama groupie. So this article will be an ode to Obama. Or better said, an ode to the feeling that Obama gives.

The Obama hype is not new; we have had it since his first run for President. However, in light of the current events in American politics, more and more Obama groupies stand up to sing his praises. This is hardly surprising. When it seems like the good days are over, it is common to look back at the first blush of the romance. Now, with all the drama between and around Clinton and Trump, Obama is like a sweet memory of the good old times, even though he is still in charge. We know Obama cannot stay. We know our Obama-days will be over soon. So we are sad about that, we are afraid of a future that include Clinton and Trump, and are therefore already looking back on the great years we had with him.

Of course Obama is was not the perfect POTUS. He did not do everything he promised. Guantanamo Bay is not closed, even though Obama said he would close it years ago. However, there is no such thing as a perfect president. They are all humans, and humans make mistakes, especially when caught in an endlessly tangled bureaucracy. They learn from it. With that in mind, let’s get back to the ode to Obama.

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What’s not to love about Obama? The Huffington Post even made a list of 55 reasons to love Obama. Read it. If you didn’t love him yet, you soon will. Some examples of those 55 reasons: Obama is the first black president, he has made great reforms (think about Obamacare, and the Lilly Ledbetter Act) and, he has even won the Nobel Peace Prize. And did you know he can sing? He can easily start a professional singing career once his presidency ends. Another choice of career could be a DJ: for the past two years, he has released summer playlists on Spotify. But, also importantly, he has a great sense of humor. He makes the most out of his final moments as the President of the United States.

That is what we love about him. Whenever there is a new video of Obama mocking himself, of making a hilarious joke, we laugh and we like and share it. We cherish these moments, because we know all the laughing will soon be over. So for now, we stay in our little cocoons watching the videos of Obama, pretending all the American election drama is not happening right now. So here’s a little advice: whenever you read articles about the terrors of a Trump or Clinton, or discovering a new drama or embarrassment for Trump and Clinton, pretend you didn’t see it. Go watch Obama doing Thriller. What you don’t see, is not there.

What will happen in the next Presidency, we do not know yet. For now we can only say, Obama out!

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Photo by John Kees

Click here for more by Lianne Arentsen.

Featured picture credit: Pete Souza.

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Catch 22: Clinton vs Trump 2016

 

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Trump and Clinton. Photos by Gage Skidmore, compiled by Krassotkin

Ryan Minett

Next Tuesday will hopefully be the end of the absolute fiasco, disaster, or whatever less printable name you would like to call this year’s election. As much as I would like to talk about it, there is little to nothing positive that outweighs all the negative associated with both candidates. In the last few weeks, there have been rumors from both sides that either Clinton or Trump would drop out of the race leaving the election all but decided in favor of the other candidate. Both times these rumors have come out I was terrified at the very real prospect of either Clinton or Trump becoming president, though honestly I was more terrified at the thought of POTUS Trump than POTUS Clinton. I’m not here to support one or the other. They are both deplorable candidates. That a country of 320 million people has to choose between these two is embarrassing though not altogether surprising. Watching this campaign has been nothing short of Kafkaesque as we watch this garbage, unable to do anything. This is not an election where the voters will vote in favor of a candidate, but rather, for the most part, against a candidate. If anyone is still unaware, next Wednesday the future president of the United States will almost definitely be either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump. Writing those words, my heart beat faster and a wave of fear crashed over me as I realize yet again how bleak the future is.

Why I’m scared of Trump… Continue reading “Catch 22: Clinton vs Trump 2016”

Trumped in America: Undercover Europeans at Trump’s Cincinnati rally

 

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The Euroculturer was lucky to have two staff members attending this very busy Trump rally. Photo by Sabine Volk and Elisa Abrantes

Euroculturer correspondents Elisa Abrantes and Sabine Volk reporting on an all American experience.

It’s a Thursday evening in Cincinnati, Ohio, and the atmosphere outside the US Bank Arena is slightly tense as people queue to get inside, their T-shirts and posters ready to show support for their preferred competitor. We are at the largest indoor arena in the Greater Cincinnati region, boasting facilities that can fit over 17,000 people, and tonight it’s almost full. People of all ages have come here, and we see couples, families, groups of friends mixed into the crowd. As we pour into the stadium with other supporters, the chanting “USA! USA!” becomes louder and the atmosphere more rowdy as we are hit with booming music, chants, cheering- we try and find some seats. The colour red dominates the stadium; T-shirts, lights, posters…

The screens above the field do not show close-ups of the music artists or hockey players that usually occupy the spotlight in this arena. The centre of the arena is occupied by a single stage, with a single podium and single microphone, and shortly after we find our seats, presidential candidate Donald Trump takes the floor. While Frank Sinatra sings “New York, New York” the crowd goes wild and posters and smartphones fill our view. After proclaiming his love for Cincinnati, Trump begins his speech, and the Europeans present try to catch as much of this as possible beneath the deafening cheers. Continue reading “Trumped in America: Undercover Europeans at Trump’s Cincinnati rally”

When Asylum becomes Prison: Refugee Siblings confined to Britain’s Dungavel Detention Centre

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The entrance to Dungavel Dentention Centre, where the UK’s unsuccessful asylum seekers await deportation: Photo by Azerifactory

Emma Danks-Lambert

The Dublin Regulation is a law concerning European Union Member States and asylum seekers. It establishes the Member State that is responsible for the receiving and examination of an application for asylum, and for deciding whether the criteria for asylum have been met by the applicant. It is often explained in the news as the regulation that ensures asylum seekers must apply for asylum in the first EU country they entered. It has been heavily criticized by Hungary and Poland since 2015, with both countries making thinly veiled Eurosceptic remarks about taking power back from the European Union. The European Council on Refugees and Exiles often criticizes the Regulation due to the restrictiveness of the criteria for asylum, the lack of protection it offers asylum seekers and for its failure to take the interests of asylum seekers into account.

Benjamin and Ali Mahammadi are two young men who lived in Sunderland, in the North of England, past Newcastle, on the River Wear and by the sea. These two brothers were actively involved in their Church and Community, taking part in clean-up days, bible class translations, the local radio station and sport events at the University of Sunderland. Continue reading “When Asylum becomes Prison: Refugee Siblings confined to Britain’s Dungavel Detention Centre”