The Dan­gers of De­nial

METROPOLE - Vienna in English - - OPINION - by Dardis Mc­namee

We have pro­found dif­fer­ences with the FPÖ. But we must also be hon­est enough, and hum­ble enough, to ad­mit that they may be cor­rect about this.

Two years af­ter the start of the refugee cri­sis, some hard truths and daunt­ing chal­lenges can no longer be ig­nored Since 2015, when over a mil­lion refugees flooded across EU bor­ders, it has been nearly im­pos­si­ble to have an hon­est con­ver­sa­tion about what was at stake. It all hap­pened so quickly; the num­bers were mind-bog­gling – some 98,000 ap­ply­ing for asy­lum in Aus­tria. It was thanks to the vol­un­teers that the thou­sands were fed, clothed, shel­tered and coun­seled, while the over­stretched so­cial ma­chin­ery geared up to take over. Even harder was talk­ing about it. So much got in the way: the guilty cloud of the Holo­caust, the Catholic Church's tra­di­tion of char­ity, and the deeply-rooted val­ues of Europe- an so­cial democ­racy – of open so­ci­eties, of fair­ness and re­spect for hu­man rights, which we be­lieve should be ex­tended to all. So if refugees be­haved badly, no one was sup­posed to no­tice. Po­lice were coun­seled to be le­nient; vi­o­lence and sex­ual as­sault in the shel­ters went un­re­ported. That the in­ci­dents oc­curred was hardly sur­pris­ing as 73% of the refugees were young men with en­ergy to burn. But if home was so dan­ger­ous, where were the par­ents, sis­ters, wives? (“They send the sons ahead,” one vol­un­teer told me. “Then the fam­ily just buys a plane ticket.”) The me­dia bent over back­wards to show the refugees in a pos­i­tive light so as not to turn the pub­lic against them. With pref­er­ence for Syr­i­ans and Iraqis, among oth­ers, ly­ing was com­mon, and piles of dis­carded pass­ports were found in the woods. One Croa­t­ian vol­un­teer re­marked with a sigh that it had taken his fam­ily eight years to get through the process. How was it these peo­ple could sim­ply walk in? But a blan­ket of de­nial lay over pub­lic dis­cus­sion. Most of all, over dis­cus­sion of Is­lam. Only the FPÖ seemed will­ing to talk about it – even if crudely – voic­ing the anx­i­eties of an ever-wider pub­lic tired of be­ing told they were racist sim­ply for bring­ing it up. Two years later, we know a lot more. Ac­cord­ing to two re­cent stud­ies, Mus­lims in Aus­tria – whose num­ber has dou­bled since 2001 – all too of­ten “refuse to in­te­grate,” and over 30% have lit­tle or no con­tact out­side the com­mu­nity. More than half of male refugees and 40% of Turks would not of­fer a hand to a woman – con­firm­ing a com­mon com­plaint of Aus­trian of­fi­cials and school­teach­ers. A full third be­lieve that Aus­trian law “does no ap­ply” to ob­ser­vant Mus­lims, and many think of Is­rael as the en­emy. Even in the sec­ond gen­er­a­tion, many do not speak na­tive Ger­man. It's hard to know what to ex­pect from the new gov­ern­ment: The new Ed­u­ca­tion Min­is­ter Heinz Faß­mann (ÖVP) is op­ti­mistic and wants to pro­vide in­ten­sive lan­guage tu­tor­ing – “per­haps three hours a day” – out­side of reg­u­lar classes. The new In­te­rior Min­is­ter, Her­bert Kickl (FPÖ) sees through a far darker glass: “Through the pol­icy of open bor­ders… [Aus­tria and Europe] have pushed the western achieve­ments of the En­light­en­ment, tol­er­ance and even of so­cial equal­ity to the brink.” With these fig­ures, un­for­tu­nately, it’s hard to ar­gue. De­ci­sions like de­port­ing in­te­grated fam­i­lies or deny­ing for­eign grad­u­ates of Aus­trian uni­ver­si­ties the right to stay and work are surely off the mark, mis­guided and waste­ful. We have pro­found dif­fer­ences with the FPÖ. But we must also be hon­est enough, and hum­ble enough, to ad­mit that they may be cor­rect about this. We should have paid bet­ter at­ten­tion be­fore; we must pay at­ten­tion now.

Dardis Mc­namee Ed­i­tor in Chief

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