Concerns after Brexit

Sunday 03/07/2016

The manifestations of intolerance unleashed by the vote for Brexit are a source of concern.
Some observers say the British exit from the European Union may not materialise but that is beside the point.
The fact that some in England interpreted the vote in favour of Brexit as a licence to harass migrants is worrisome considering the time-honoured reputation of Britain as a country of tolerance and coexistence between communities.
Some of the manifestations of bigotry are the result of a Brexit campaign punctuated by xenophobic excesses.
Beyond Britain, it has been quite an eye opener to realise that, 26 years after the fall of the Berlin wall, Europe is still struggling to accept the notion of a community without borders.
The anti-immigrant populist movements in many EU countries have implications beyond Europe and the Brexit vote could encourage movements to even more aggressively preach intoler­ance of Arab, Muslim and other immigrants.
Leaders of these movements whip up fear of Arabs and Muslims by depicting them as security threats, even if they are law-abid­ing European nationals or legal residents.
To boost their political fortunes, they have used dramatic pictures of thousands of migrants crossing into Europe as an illustration of an imminent danger to the identity and economic interests of Europe.
While some European countries, such as Germany, pledged to absorb as many immigrants as possible, others chose to build new fences along old borders.
Negotiations between Turkey and the European Union for visa-free access for Turkish citizens provided additional ammu­nition for far-right, anti-immigration and anti-Muslim political parties. The Old Continent, they warned, would be swarmed by Muslims.
The Brexit debate spread a simplistic narrative about “taking our country back” from the globalised world order, with the implicit promise that would bring an easier and more comfort­able life for those who have fallen by the wayside.
A logical corollary of this narrative would have Europe leaving the southern part of the Mediterranean to fend for itself in coping with its socioeconomic hardships, wars and conflicts.
Even if its focus is likely to be inward as it faces its own internal upheaval, the European Union cannot ignore its geography nor underestimate how interconnected are the fates of populations across the Mediterranean.
The temptation to pursue hostile isolationism has increased in the United States, too. An anti-immigration narrative that is glaringly anti-Islamic has crept into the US public debate, trig­gered in large part by outrageous proposals and rhetoric of likely Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump.
According to a recent PRRI/Brookings Immigration Survey, 40% of Americans polled said they support “temporarily banning Muslims from entering the United States”. This position is stated by 77% of Trump supporters and 64% of all Republicans included in the poll. US public opinion is even more supportive of “passing a law to prevent Syrian refugees from entering the United States”.
More than ever, the Arab world has to assume its own responsi­bility to address the current challenges it faces and make the right decisions to solve them. Stronger relationships and collaboration are needed between countries of the Middle East and North Africa and the rest of the world. Isolationism and prejudice will only make matters worse for everyone.