Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Ray Taras' "Europe Old and New"

Ray Taras is professor of political science and director of the world literature program at Tulane University.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Europe Old and New: Transnationalism, Belonging, Xenophobia, and reported the following:
Stereotypes of the sexual practices of people of different nationalities are not described on page 99. The reader has patiently to work through over a hundred pages more of descriptions of the many national fears Europeans harbor today before coming upon the imagery of a train of whores heading from Turkey to Germany (see page 211). This is not an admission that page 99 is without interest. It cites, for example, a very angry Cuban diplomat who criticizes contemporary Sweden for pursuing the racial patterns established by the Vikings and persecuting people of different skin and, perhaps just as importantly, of different hair color. Such vitriol allows me to introduce and define the concept of racism, a particular subset of xenophobia that in recent years has been losing ground to cultural difference as the basis for discriminatory practices.

Racism and the Vikings are just part of the narrative found on page 99. Also described are the efforts of the nearby Baltic states to have the European Union identify Stalinist atrocities against them as a genocidal crime. They were unsuccessful, and the EU reserved the term genocide to apply solely to the mass extermination of Jews in World War II. In the EU’s 2007 legislation, prison sentences would be handed down for Holocaust deniers but only when these denials were likely to cause violence or hatred. Using similarly faulty reasoning, incitements to hatred towards a religious group would be punished, but only in those cases where they were inseparable from incitements to hatred of an ethnic or racial group.

As this study repeatedly shows, beneath the veneer of European unity and ever deeper integration lie profound differences between countries. So if Britain had supported an EU-wide ban on incitements to religious hatred, France and Germany wanted to go after the racists. By contrast fair-haired Scandinavian states like Denmark and Sweden came to the defense of freedom of speech. If there is no consensus on how to deal with racism and hate crimes, it is little wonder that the EU has seen anti-foreigner sentiments percolate up through the gaps in its unity.

An ironic feature of European transnationalism is, then, the shared xenophobia that is found in all 27 member states. To be sure, various indicators—attitudinal survey data, elite discourse, asylum rejections—point to a much higher level in Greece than among the maligned Swedes who, in the last two years, have admitted more Iraqi war refugees than the rest of Europe combined. If only EU states shared a strong passion for rooting out the ever more visible manifestations of hatred of foreigners—and the diverse causes that undergird them—we could do away with the xenophobic imagery of trains of whores bound from the European periphery to its core.
Read an excerpt from Europe Old and New, and learn more about the book at the publisher's website.

For more information on his research, teaching, and publications, visit Ray Taras' faculty webpage.

--Marshal Zeringue