Thursday, August 16, 2012

Raymond Taras's "Xenophobia and Islamophobia in Europe"

Raymond Taras was Willy Brandt Professor at Sweden's Malmö University for 2010–11, and director of Tulane University's world literature program before Hurricane Katrina forced its closure. He is the author of numerous scholarly books on nationalism and identities in Europe.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Xenophobia and Islamophobia in Europe, and reported the following:
Can we imagine an author today writing a book on xenophobia without anticipating what should appear on page 99? Especially if we know that it will be typeset in Goudy Old Style font, can there be any reason on earth not to have it be page 99 that showcases the book’s literary flare, its jesuitry, its import?

In my case page 99 appears as a welcome respite from a taxing two-page-long chart of European states’ mean scores on support given for repatriating immigrants, as estimated by country experts. It’s not scintillating social science, nor as riveting a book as one on great white sharks: a Stanford Press editor once told me that a shark book and a coffee table one on California cacti were among the Press’s top moneymakers. Nevertheless my table crudely weighing national differences on the desirability of expelling immigrants can prove to be eye candy for the conscientious but tiring reader.

So page 99 begins with a new paragraph asking what has changed over the last decade in the level of support for anti-immigrant right-wing movements across Europe. Geert Wilders and Jörg Haider’s names appear, predictably, but so does that of Silvio Berlusconi. Nicolas Sarkozy has chapter five all to himself but does it equal the cachet of being cited on The Page? Not really.

Jobbik and Fidesz and Perussuomalaiset show up on page 99 as important parties. Who would have thought? The misleadingly-titled Sverigedemokraterna and Popolo della Libertà join them. But “The Better One” and “Alliance of Young Democrats” and “True Finns” together with Sweden’s self-acclaimed democrats and the liberty-loving people of Italy have nothing on the Schweizerische Volkspartei which gets a brief mention on The Page. It is the Swiss party, after all, which supplies the cover image for the book: a photo of a young blonde female on a Swiss escalator fixated on a poster showing a woman in a burqa with minarets, easily mistaken for missiles, forming the backdrop.

This volume’s page 99, then, serves up a catalog of Europe’s menacing right-wing parties. In turn, this catalog furnishes a backdrop for something both more pervasive and elusive found not just in Europe but much of the world – the spread of a fear of foreigners, whether defined by religion, ethnicity, or culture. This is the subject that makes the book over 200 pages long, and not a single page – page 99.

Harboring fears is natural, I believe. But when cynically exploited by politicians of different stripes – and they are found not just in Jobbik and the British National Party and Bulgaria’s Ataka (yes, that’s Bulgarian for “Attack”), it becomes urgent to start to unmake xenophobia.
Learn more about Xenophobia and Islamophobia in Europe at the Edinburgh University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue