“‘Fragile’ Students and ‘Fascist’ Campus Speakers: Viewing Recent U.S. College Campus Violence with a Global Perspective”

170418212107-auburn-protest-03-exlarge-169Zagreb’s Kino Europa, a theater that shows art films and English-language films in particular on Tuesday nights, recently hosted a photography exhibit called “Faces of Resistance” as part of its Festival of Tolerance. (Yes, the title seems strange, but there are so many festivals in Europe and in Zagreb itself in any given month that I think the title intends to suggest that tolerance is also worth celebrating! The event used to be only the Jewish Film Festival but now has lectures and workshops added.) Fascism and totalitarianism are on the minds of Europeans for obvious reasons; the twentieth century saw the fascism of Franco, Hitler, and Mussolini and the totalitarian Communism of Stalin (whether Tito ran a totalitarian socialist state is debated), and the 21st century is witnessing the rise of far-right and fascist movements in response to the collapse of socialism, the failures of neoliberalism, and the rise of multiculturalism in response to globalization and migration. The photography exhibit spanned 1941 to the present and depicted peoples from the former Yugoslavia who have resisted in the face of “undemocratic phenomena, as well as the political and cultural violence of the repressive regimes of the 20th century.” One of these regimes was the Ustaše fascist movement that rose to power under the Nazis during WWII. (Their chant, “Za Dom spremni,” can unfortunately be heard at Croatian football games today.) Some resisters were famous and others obscure, but what they shared, according to the exhibit’s organizers, was “their virtues: courage and righteousness, freedom of thought and freedom of action, the virtues that set them on the path of active participation in the process of reaching the decision to resist, to consciously break laws and confront the authorities, regardless of the consequences that may arise.” I was interested to read the personal stories of these “faces,” many of whom were part of the Communist-led Partisans who resisted the Ustaše and the Nazis in World War II. Eva Akerman, for example, was a Jew who survived a Croatian concentration camp in Gospić and an Italian prison camp in Rab and went on to become a Partisan; others in her family died at Jasenovac, the largest of the Croatian concentration camps, and Auschwitz. Trajče Grujoski was a member of the Communist Youth, was involved in the anti-fascist movement in Macedonia, and became a Partisan during World War II. He was sentenced to death in absentia by the court in his hometown, Bitola, which was under Bulgarian rule at that time. He later became a professor and judge, and he held various political positions in the Yugoslav government in Belgrade and in Macedonia. In the context of the Homeland War, Vesna Bosanac was a doctor at the Vukovar hospital when it was attacked by the Yugoslav People’s Army. She was heavily involved in the search for missing persons after the fighting and testified in the Hague against Šljivančanin, Šešelj, Goran Hadžić, and others. A photo of a protest by Women in Black was also featured. Women in Black is a feminist, anti-militarist peace organization that has organized silent protests, marches, political street theater, and educational workshops in their efforts to protest war, the denial of war crimes in Serbia, nationalism, and neo-Fascism. All those photographed shared a commitment to protecting the “disfranchised [sic] and a dignified life for all those who were deprived of this right,” according to the wall text that accompanied the exhibit.

Fascism should be on the minds of Americans, too. Whether we agree with their tactics or not, progressives must see anti-fascist activists in the U.S. as a part of this larger history of resisting those who seek to abridge human rights and crush dissent. Those whom they resist are anti-intellectual and anti-fact, they deligitimize the press and the judiciary, they deny structural racism in institutions ranging from public education to law enforcement, and they exhibit xenophobia and racism. If progressive protestors and resisters share anti-fascists’ abhorrence for the likes of Congressman Steve King, the Donald Trump administration, or white supremacist demonstrators, they must figure out a way to debate the best tactics for opposing these forces without dismissing antifa philosophy and tactics out of hand. There should be a way to oppose the type of violent actions that are the result of this passion and well-grounded fear—for example, the throwing of a Molotov cocktail that caused a French police officer to be engulfed in flames during the May Day anti-Le Pen riots in Paris last week—and still agree that fascism is an existential threat to democracy, not just an abhorrent viewpoint, the expression of which should be protected. On college campuses, students and faculty have the particular job of confronting the rhetoric of far-right academics, think tank researchers, media pundits, and alt-right leaders when these people are asked to speak by conservative campus clubs or when they reserve event space without such an official invitation, as Richard Spencer did at Auburn University. When these proposed speaking events are met by protests, as were those of Ann Coulter, Milo Yiannopoulos, Charles Murray, Heather MacDonald, and Richard Spencer, media outrage soon follows. However, while the fact that violent protests resulted in physical attacks in the case of Charles Murray and Heather MacDonald is deeply troubling, the absence of articles deploring the violence but recognizing that protecting free speech is an insufficient response to this ideology is unconscionable. Journalists and political strategists need to spend more time exploring and historicizing political strategy, reviewing the historical arguments for nonviolence and the arguments for violence, and comparing Americans’ response to white supremacist movements to Europeans’ responses. Only rarely does a journalist even explore the beliefs and tactics of anti-fascist groups in a sustained way (though here is a helpful article from Salon.)

Instead, the American media focus on student protestors’ supposed “fragility.” David Brooks, in his New York Times op-ed from late April, oxymoronically calls protesters “fragile thugs” and blames the American educational system, which has supposedly abandoned the teaching of Western civilization in K-16 classrooms. This analysis may seem absurd, especially if you have a child who is learning about Greece and Rome in a blue state public school or teach at a college where of course Western civilization is taught in history, philosophy, political science, and many other disciplines. Unfortunately, however, it is all too common for journalists and pundits to see our educational system, and in particular our college professors, as the cause of students’ supposed inability to debate viewpoints with which they disagree and confront actions and ideas that cause trauma. Article after article bemoans college students’ desire to be educated in a conflict-free zone that contains no experiences or words or readings or statues that might cause offense. And this hand-wringing has been going on for some time, well in advance of Trump’s election. As Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt warn in their 2015 Atlantic article “The Coddling of the American Mind”, students are trying to “scrub campuses clean of words, ideas, and subjects that might cause discomfort or give offense.” Some of the examples Lukianoff and Haidt give are certainly regrettable; any law program that does not teach rape law would not serve its students well. However, these examples are extreme and not representative of either the education most students receive or the objections to microaggressions and requests for safe spaces that students are requesting. Depite this, Lukianoff and Haidt do not hesitate to use them to make overgeneralizations, charging that oversensitive students and the faculty who support them are “creating a culture in which everyone must think twice before speaking up, lest they face charges of insensitivity, aggression, or worse.” Actually, I practiced thinking twice before speaking when I had to take parenting classes at my daughters’ coop preschool, and I do it every day at my community college, where I work with a diverse set of students, faculty, staff, and administrators. Sometimes I even rethink or apologize for something I have already said. Imagine that! Thinking twice may be great preparation for our students as they endeavor to thrive within a diverse college setting and prepare to enter a diverse, globalized workforce. (Incidentally, thinking twice may have prevented Pepsi and Kendall Jenner from their own trivialization of this generation’s activism.)

But I digress. Frank Bruni’s article “The Dangerous Safety of College,” written last March about the protest of Charles Murray’s visit to Middlebury College, is one of the worst examples of reducing a complex problem to the fragility of Millennial students and the indoctrination they experience in their professors’ classrooms. Writing for the New York Times, Bruni quotes Lukianoff and Haidt’s description of Millennials’ and their professors’ “illiberalism” as a “religion.” Bruni charges that students think “they should be able to purge their world of perspectives offensive to them” and concludes with his “worry that in too many instances, the groves of academe are better at pumping their denizens full of an easy, intoxicating fervor than at preparing them for constructive engagement in a society that won’t echo their convictions the way their campuses do.” As a college instructor, albeit at a community college, not “in the groves of academe” exactly, a sentence like this offends me. Not because I am fragile, but because Mr. Bruni betrays his ignorance of what every professor I know does in the classroom. We teach critical thinking and teach students to see it and to recognize its absence. We teach students about the rhetorical moves writers make and to recognize when they are used to manipulate. We teach students some version of the “believing and doubting game,” an exercise created by Peter Elbow that forces them to write all the points in favor of and against an idea. And yes, many of us teach students to perceive the institutional racism, sexism, and heterosexism that masquerades as “fairness” or “merit” or “common sense.”

In addition, Bruni’s implication that we are indoctrinating our students as if we are high priests fails to appreciate that students’ offense is the natural consequence of being raised to expect better. Many of their Baby Boomer and Generation X parents raised them (or tried to, anyway) to strive for a society that treats everyone equally and perhaps event treats everyone with equity. The television shows they watched and books they read and sometimes even the textbooks ordered by their schools drove home this message. What does it feel like for students raised in a supposedly color-blind, post-racial society to suddenly learn that it is indeed neither of those things? What does it feel like when students who have known all along that our society is not color-blind or post-racial hear color-blind statements that they know are poor covers for discrimination, like “I just want to hire the most qualified person for the job”? Bruni, Lukianoff, and Haidt lament the fact that supposedly forthright statements like these are decried as microaggressions, but I see student criticism of statements like that as evidence of sharp critical minds that understand the lack of objectivity among employers looking for “fit,” the different access to opportunity that applicants may have had, the diverse skill sets that applicants will come with, and the subliminal prejudices that many interviewers bring to the hiring process. A student who knows these things and exposes the lack of critical thinking behind a statement like “I just want to hire the most qualified person for the job” is my kind of student. I hope that when students with such sharp critical thinking skills voice their opposition to such statements or to a campus speaker whose positions or body of work is divisive and anti-scientific that their opposition will take the form of principled dissent and rigorous debate—resistance and persistence. However, student or community opposition may sometimes get violent, as has occurred in previous moments of our history, where activists have used violence as a political tactic. We should be surprised by none of this. A societal challenge and upheaval as significant as this one will not come without a fight, as Steve Bannon, Richard Spencer, and their ilk know. Columns that debate the best methods of registering dissent and making social change would not offend me; columns that complain about student “fragility” do. They frame resistance as the whiny complaining of timid snowflakes.

Whether they realize that conservative campus clubs are often funded and fueled by outside groups with their own agendas or not, progressive and fair-minded students know that hosting speakers like Ann Coulter and Richard Spencer is not just about free speech or welcoming “ideological diversity,” a seemingly innocent concept that Nicholas Kristof and others would like to see more of. Kate Knibbs, writing not for the mainstream media but for The Ringer, hosted by Medium, asserts that ideological diversity is a buzz-phrase that is not a “mere extension of calls for gender, race, and sex diversity” but a move to welcome “discredited, offensive, and abhorrent (often right-wing) fringe viewpoints” onto college campuses (and into our homes with cable news shows who bend over backwards to show both sides of an issue) and treat them “like they’re merely ‘ideologically diverse’ instead of poisonous.” Much has been written about the current tendency to make false equivalencies, to ignore the bad science of a book like The Bell Curve (We miss you, Stephen Jay Gould!) and give it a platform in our pro/con circus. The bringing of “fringe viewpoints” like climate-denial, conversion therapy, and white supremacy onto college campuses and the national stage in the name of ideological diversity is at best dishonest and at worst dangerous. Marine LePen’s candidacy for Prime Minster of France has gotten as far as it has because of her “dédiabolisation,” or de-demonization, campaign to make the white supremacist politics of her and her father’s party more palatable, to make them “banal,” as is argued by a recent article in The Guardian, “How Marine LePen Played the Media.” Knowing how this propaganda works, what can we on college campuses do?

In the wake of all these hand-wringing columns, a voice of sanity finally surfaced to write an op-ed that schools us all on what free speech should really be on a university campus. New York University’s Ulrich Baer, in an op-ed titled “What ‘Snowflakes’ Get Right About Free Speech,” argues that we need to understand that “a thorough generational shift has occurred” and not dismiss the rejection of “speech” that denies the humanity of minorities as oversensitivity. He reminds us that college campuses changed radically in the 1960s, when women and non-whites, groups who had been denied equal legal status and thus a common humanity in previous generations, started showing up on college campuses. Baer writes that freedom of speech “. . . means balancing the inherent value of a given view with the obligation to ensure that other members of a given community can participate in discourse as fully recognized members of that community.” He continues, “Free-speech protections — not only but especially in universities, which aim to educate students in how to belong to various communities — should not mean that someone’s humanity, or their right to participate in political speech as political agents, can be freely attacked, demeaned or questioned.” He provides a fascinating analysis of how Yale wrestled with these issues in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s and then concludes, “Freedom of expression is not an unchanging absolute. When its proponents forget that it requires the vigilant and continuing examination of its parameters, and instead invoke a pure model of free speech that has never existed, the dangers to our democracy are clear and present. We should thank the student protestors, the activists in Black Lives Matter and other ‘overly sensitive’ souls for keeping watch over the soul of our republic.” So no, Ann Coulter does not get to lament the death of free speech. University campuses just have high standards for how they should balance free speech with the health of the larger community.

I see no benefit to intellectual freedom, the dispassionate pursuit of knowledge, or the learning opportunities afforded by open debate in Richard Spencer’s appearance at Auburn University. Watching his speech and the question and answer session that followed online was a creepy experience—he is well-dressed, attractive, and measured in his tone for the most part, calming the occasional outbreak with an outstretched arm, but then he turns on a dime and spews hate speech and mocks those who disagree with him and ask him tough questions. He repeatedly calls his opponents “sick” for a number of reasons, including their choice to bring in black student athletes “to a school like Auburn that has a history of white identity, to bring in people who, let’s be frank, are not the greatest exemplars of the African race.” (And yes, he raises the spectre of these students’ sexual abuse of white women on campus, making such crimes representative of supposed black male hypersexuality and not of the kind of sexism and violence that is a problem for a minority of men across all racial groups.) He frequently spit out the word “tranny” as one example of a meaningless, randomly chosen identity that lacked the radicalism of a white identity; he referred to his opponents as “Communist scum” and said that whites are “fucking awesome” and that “there would be no history without us.” He portrayed African-Americans as primitives, people for whom identity comes naturally, “like dew comes in the morning,” and who don’t need an “intellectual ideological movement to create [identity.]” So when the first white male questioner thanked Spencer for coming because “students are supposed to be challenged,” I was doubtful. Students did, in fact, rise to the challenge Spencer posed, but he dismissed the validity of their questions and insulted them. For example, when an African-American student asked what was wrong with diversity, Spencer said, with no evidence or reasoning provided, that diversity “makes the world ugly. . . . It’s a way of bringing to an end a nation and a culture that was defined by white people.” Such a statement invalidates the right of his non-white listeners to be on our campuses and even in the United States. When another student complained of his failure to cite facts, Spencer replied, “Facts are lame.” He called those people “who want to be in charge of diversity . . . a bunch of moronic, fat, idiots. . . . They’re lame whites.” When asked by a white student how his movement was different from the behavior of “SJW,” or social justice warriors, he replied that he is a “collectivist,”saying that “individualism is for fags.” While Spencer surprisingly betrayed some knowledge of theorists like Benedict Anderson and brought up interesting critiques of consumerism, such insights were repeatedly undercut by the absence of logic and ad hominem attacks, perhaps fueled by his megalomania. Is this the kind of speech that should be protected on a university campus?

When I told the Croatian Ph.D. students in my Transnational Dimensions of American White Identities class about Spencer’s speech, they were divided as to whether he should have been allowed to speak at Auburn. Croatia follows the EU in supporting free speech but asserting that it comes with certain responsibilities: Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights calls certain “restrictions or penalties . . . necessary in a democratic society . . . for the protection of the reputation or rights of others.” Hate speech and Holocaust denial has been prosecuted under this article, for example. Yet Europeans are divided over whether this has been effective. In the online magazine The Tower, Liam Hoare argues that “These laws give credence and cachet to the often self-pitying narratives of those who would propagate anti-Semitism, promote the boycott targeting Israel, or deny the Holocaust, that somehow they are saying the things that cannot be said.” That is certainly true in the U.S. Interestingly, Hoare claims that the declining fortunes of Holocaust-denier David Irving have little to do with his imprisonment for violating Article 10 and everything to do with the libel suit against Deborah Lipstadt that he lost. (The film Denial, about this event, was shown at the Kino Europa as part of the Festival of Tolerance.) Unfortunately, white supremaists will now avoid lawsuits as a strategy, but the incident does suggest that historians and scientists need to do more public relations work.

Writing about this issue of how best to combat white supremacy is certainly depressing; there seems to be no right answer. Perhaps all we can do on college campuses is support campus events as occasions for student and faculty learning and do more to draw the media’s attention when they succeed in enlarging students’ understanding of an issue. Auburn University students, for example, staged a parallel event, an outdoor concert, advertised under the hashtag #AuburnUnites. Drawing more media attention for these events and for strong examples of civil, intellectually rigorous discourse is also important. Those of us who are faculty and campus club advisors can encourage students to invite speakers who are not polarizing and hateful but engage in either respectful debate, or, when the situation calls for it, impassioned, evidence-based critique. Happily, I have attended multiple events on my campus that have achieved this goal. One in particular that I’m thinking of was planned by the Black Student Union, and the other was planned jointly by the Peace and Social Justice Club and Muslim Students Association. I can’t speak to how the BSU club advisor worked with the club president in planning the event, but the event was a model of civil discourse, even though the audience members and speakers had strong opinions. The BSU invited a law enforcement representative from Urban Shield, the training event that seeks to prepare LE to respond to terrorist threats, and Stop Urban Shield, an organization that objects to the use of the tactics learned against citizens who engage in civil disobedience. Both sides debated the issue forcefully but with respect, and the audience dealt with their disagreements with passion but also with care. The same was true of the panel on Islamophobia planned by the Peace and Social Justice Club and the MSA. The students really took the lead and planned an excellent event, working with a Muslim faculty member who addresses these issues in his classes and with Zahra Billoo, a representative from CAIR, the Council on American Islamic Relations, whom I later saw speak, with a shock of recognition, at the January Women’s March in Washington, D.C. All we did as advisors was help the students choose neutral, not polarizing, language to describe and advertise the event; they did an excellent job of planning it and running the Q & A at the end. Students asked questions that showed they had been thinking carefully about the issues, and they got respectful, detailed, evidence-based repsonses from the panelists. Our campus paper covered both these events, thankfully, but the local media needs to pick up their stories about campus events like these to attract students and community members to similar events and view them as learning opportunities and responses to toxic ideologies like white supremacy. Perhaps the mainstream media can also start visiting college campuses and K-12 classrooms and watch teachers and students wrestle with the Western European ideals that have coexisted with Western European racism and ask historians to help us understand the history of protest and of resistance to fascism.

 

What Ended up Happening in Sweden: Xenophobia and Globalism

Since the election of Donald J. Trump as the United States’ 45th president and the subsequent claiming of his win as a victory over globalism, I’ve been thinking a lot about why anti-globalism has become such a rallying cry among some white Americans. Their anger is somewhat delayed—scholars have written for years about the mixed bag that is globalization, particularly for countries in the developing world. Their markets and their cultures have experienced sharp challenges from the markets and cultures of industrialized nations. Americans’ anger might better be directed towards those corporate “elites” (not academic or liberal “elites”) who have contributed to the break-up of unions and the decimation of collective bargaining over the past few decades, and the developers and entrepreneurs who have contributed to the rise of big box stores and online purchasing to the detriment of what in previous election cycles was often called “main street.” However, their anger was largely directed at establishment politicians (deserved) and at supposed outsiders (undeserved), identified by modern white supremacists as immigrants and non-whites. These politicians and outsiders represent American decline to these voters, whether due to decadence or degeneracy. Crystallized in the “Make America Great Again” slogan, this anger is more powerful (at least for now) than anger against the brand of globalization that enriches the “one percent” at the expense of the rest of us. We will see what transpires in the coming weeks, however, as the stars of Jared Kushner and Gary Cohn rise, at least in Trump’s universe, relative to the momentary fall of Steve Bannon’s star.

The fear of degeneracy is most effective when it is linked to the fear of violence. In this vein, you recall, Donald Trump stirred up his conservative Florida rallygoers on a weekend in February by making a bizarre reference to the chaos that migration had supposedly visited upon Sweden. As evidence for why America should keep itself safe from refugees, he cited “what happened last night in Sweden” and then exclaimed how crazy it was that “Sweden—I mean, Sweden!” was experiencing . . . well, what they were experiencing was unclear. With his vague reference to something that happened in Sweden, Trump engaged in the dog whistle politics honed by his political party ever since the Nixon years. Sweden, we can assume, represents ur-whiteness to most Americans, and migration is seen as a challenge to white racial cohesiveness. This was certainly not a random comment on his part, given who Trump has been spending time with—populist, right-wing propagandists have long been stoking fears of cultural decay at the heart of Europe to support their rejection of multiculturalism (see Mark Steyn’s America Alone, which I taught in my first-year composition course about ten years ago), and these views have been amplified by Breitbart “reporting” and its tagging of articles with the racist meme “Sweden Yes”, a practice that began under Steve Bannon’s watch. Shortly after Trump’s comments and the riots in Rinkeby, Sweden that followed, Maynooth University media studies professor Gavin Titley posted an article that perfectly captures the ways in which Sweden is seen as ground zero for a Muslim take-over of Europe. After detailing the ways in which Sweden’s crime and rape statistics are misinterpreted to fit this narrative of lawlessness and Muslim encroachment into European societies, Titley concludes, “while such demographic anxieties and spatial fixations don’t hold up to analysis, they generate powerful, widespread tropes of white anxiety and cultural loss.” Now, this fear of degeneration has been linked to actual violence with last Friday’s truck attack in Stockholm, in which an Uzbek migrant and Islamic State sympathizer who had been denied asylum by the Swedish authorities stole a truck and drove into a busy pedestrian area, killing four people.

There have been a number of distractions since, what with Trump’s bombing of Syrian and Afghan targets and flying of planes to the Korean peninsula, but the supposed links between Sweden’s tolerant culture and the emboldening of radical Islamists are again being cited. In this light, it is instructive to think back to the aftermath of Trump’s comments about Sweden at that February rally, especially as Trump supporters are saying “I told you so.” A couple of days after the rally and Trump’s reiteration of similar statements at the CPAC meeting, I was surprised to get an early-morning Facebook message from my husband’s Swedish cousin. She was obviously enraged and wanted to reach out to an American to express her disgust. Her message began with some innocuous photos of the Skäggetorp neighborhood of Linköping, which has been identified as a “no-go zone,” a zone where Swedish police are supposedly frightened to go because the Muslim residents are a supermajority. She wrote, “What a tough woman I am! I cycle to my job through one of these so-called no-go zones. . . where Sharia law prevails and the Caliphate has taken over. [The] evening picture shows a Christian church that is illuminated.” I checked the news and saw that there had been riots in Rinkeby the previous night in the aftermath of an arrest, which of course seemed to confirm Trump’s alarmism and no doubt motivated her frustrated message. She is in the midst of a career change and will be working with the unemployed, including migrants, so the issue of xenophobia is close to her heart. She admits that these areas have problems with “krimnalitet” and need “resources and support for development in the right direction,” but she is angry at those who seek to “build up the fear in our countries.”

In her country, those who prey on Swedes’ fears are often members of the Swedish Democratic party. Prime Minister Stefan Löfven has called them a “Nazi and racist party,” which of course are fighting words in Europe. Sweden is generally a very open, tolerant culture. In 1974, as has been reported in the media of late, Sweden amended their Constitution to include multicultural values. The Constitution pledges to protect minorities against discrimination and further promises to “promote the opportunity for all to attain participation and equality in society. . . . Opportunities should be promoted for ethnic, linguistic and religious minorities to preserve and develop a cultural and social life of their own.” However, I recently learned that Sweden’s efforts to value diversity in their society date from earlier than 1974. Karen Levitt, a Wellesley sociologist, came to the University of Zagreb a few weeks ago to give a talk on the need for new models for providing transnational social protection to immigrants (health care, retirement benefits, and the like) and to do a workshop with students on how museums balance nationalist and cosmopolitan aims. (Her 2015 book, Artifacts and Allegiances: How Museums Put the Nation and the World on Display, was published by UC Press.) Swedish museums, she told us, were used early on to help farmers migrating to the cities to get used to their diversity, and in 1952, ethnographic museums were opened to further those goals. Recent exhibits at the Stockholm ethnographic museum have included an exhibit of Bollywood posters focused on how the world is polycentric, an exhibit on migration that encourages viewers to think about privilege and mobility, and an exhibit on societal norms and the importance of being one’s true self:. Even in the national Swedish museum, Levitt claimed, the Swedish nation is situated in a global context, and concepts like nationalism being a construct are everyday.

One can definitely see this spirit of tolerance and openness reflected in the “documentary” that allegedly inspired Trump’s February comments on Sweden, Ami Horowitz’s Stockholm Syndrome, which Trump saw excerpts of on Fox. Horowitz’s “documentary” stitches together fragments of interviews with people on the street, journalist Annika Hernroth-Rothstein, and two police officers to argue that a naïve Swedish belief in multiculturalism and helping refugees has led them to turn a blind eye to Sweden’s skyrocketing rape rate. The film also stokes broader fears of a Muslim cultural take-over of Europe, or as Titley humorously calls it, “the rollout of Eurasia.” What is interesting to me about the video short is how every white Swedish national that Horowitz interviews has open-minded, generous things to say about migrants and rejects his claims. The women say that rape statistics have nothing to do with migrants and everything to do with men, and one woman asserts that racism fuels any reports otherwise. Everything they say sounds quite logical to me. However, given that the intended audience is conservatives and xenophobes who believe fervently in the evils of migration, these comments are supposed to inspire shock and frustration at Swedish liberal naïvete. Further, a key point that Hernroth-Rothstein makes is that migrants are not adapting to the Swedish liberal culture, and the government is making the error of asking how it can adapt to the migrants. This is underscored by Horowitz’s interview with a man, whom the audience is supposed to assume is a migrant, in Rinkeby; Horowitz asks if Sweden has a responsibility to adapt to the migrants coming in, and the man says “Definitely.” Consistent with this interview, respondents are usually only allowed to say a word or a phrase, for example “It is our culture” to explain women’s modest dress, and then the camera jumps to the next person.

Yet despite Horowitz’s manipulative use of rhetorical appeals, the importance of allowing migrants to maintain their home cultures and to encourage mutual adaptation still comes across. In the nineteenth-century, the U.S. didn’t adapt well to huge waves of immigrants. For example, they refused to hear the concerns of Catholics who didn’t want their children educated in American public schools that used the King James version of the Bible in instruction. Under the leadership of Bishop John Hughes in Boston, Catholics sent their children to Catholic schools in response. Still, one-way assimilation was remarkably effective. American Studies scholars are often familiar with the propaganda play that Henry Ford had his factory workers participate in once they had graduated from their English language program: they dressed up in their national costume, stepped into a big melting pot, and then emerged wearing American clothing and waving U.S. flags. The costs of one-way assimilation were dear, however, as former Stanford history professor George Frederickson explained in his “Models of Ethnic Relations,” an essay I’ve had my American students read a number of times. European immigrants lost their national, regional, and ethnic cultures in their embrace of white Americanness; we are now left with whites who have no connection to any culture besides capitalist materialism or an ethno-nationalist version of American culture that is scrubbed clean of its white supremacist history. It seems obvious to me that an intercultural approach, in which both host culture and arriving culture adapt to each other, would be preferable.

Certainly, Sweden and other European countries cannot be naïve about the hard work it takes to make interculturalism work. The European Commission defines interculturalism as the idea that the host culture and the arriving culture seek “to establish linkages and common ground between different cultures, communities, and people, promoting understanding and interaction.” This is intended to be an improvement upon multiculturalism, in which they say the focus is on the preservation of separate cultures. Interculturalism takes a commitment to social engineering, however, and not just in museums. Despite the progressive nature of Swedish society, segregation was allowed to happen as has been the case in so many other places: Britain, France, Belgium, and elsewhere. As Titley says, “In the recent era of European ‘integration’ politics, pretty much every centrist government has had their own ‘Sweden’: imaginaries of parallel societies, problemområden, ghettoes, parallelsgemeinschaften, ‘no-go’ areas and territoires perdus de la République that provide the ‘evidence’ of immigrant disintegration and multicultural failure.” Interculturalism requires bravery in the face of xenophobia and consistency and commitment, even in the face of terrorist attacks and other events that seem to undermine interculturalism. While April 12’s editorial from the New York Times hails Prime Minister Löfven for his commitment to preserving Sweden’s open society, Al Jazeera and Politico and others have been reporting that Löfven has been moving rightward for a few months, particularly in the area of immigration and border controls, in an effort to stem the tide of voters leaving his party for more centrist and conservative ones, including the Swedish Democrats. Let’s hope that in the aftermath of the attack in Stockholm, he truly retains his commitment to an open society and develops creative plans for fostering interculturalism. National cohesiveness is best achieved by being inclusive, not by building a fortress. That is the kind of globalism we sorely need.

From California to Croatia!

Newly arrived in Croatia and addicted to news of the impending Obama-Trump government handoff, I think that I was reading an article about Obama’s farewell speech, and one of the commenters was not enraptured with Obama’s last words like all the other commenters. He called Obama a “globalists [sic] puppet.” Though Obama had done a fair number of things I had disagreed with over the past eight years, I would never call him that. I started thinking about all the reasons globalism is so threatening to so many white Americans. I remain mystified, though, at the idea that Obama’s engagement with the world, whether in the form of trade deals or multicultural engagement, is seen by the poster and so many others as evidence of his being a “puppet.” A puppet, the metaphor assumes, is manipulated by others. Why could one not have a sharp disagreement with Obama over his endorsement of the TPP or be unsure about his plan to admit Syrian refugees without branding him as a puppet? More importantly for my work, what are the implications for racial politics of being seen as a puppet to multiculturalism?

My blog’s name, Globalistmuppet, started as a joke when I told my husband that I didn’t want to call my blog Globalistpuppet for obvious reasons: I would sound like a puppet myself or attract trolls who believe globalist puppets are at the root of American problems. However, Jim Henson’s muppets have been a multicultural mainstay of my life, as I was born in 1969, the same year that Sesame Street first aired. And, no matter how silly, the name Globalistmuppet has stuck with me. I am the type of global citizen who is much more interested in the multiculturalism celebrated in the Grover photo than the globalization of capital indicated in the Kermit photo on my blog’s masthead, but as a State Department speaker commented at our Fulbright orientation in July, open markets and open, migrating cultures come together. I will use a photo of my own as soon as I can, perhaps of my hand puppet of The Count, a symbol of transnational, Transylvanian-American global citizenship if there ever was one. Alternatively, I call on my puppeteer friends to make me a globalist muppet!

I hope to use this space to reflect on some of the things I’ve been learning about American exceptionalism and American multiculturalism here in Croatia. The long and the short of it is that everything and nothing that the U.S. is going through right now is unique to it. My Croatian students are intrigued by American racial politics as if they are studying aliens from another world even as they readily admit parallels to these politics in Croatian, Balkan, and European Union contexts. I have also been thinking of my American students and how their learning will be enriched by making these connections between their world and this relatively faraway world. So far, my blog entries are driven by direct engagement with students, faculty, and people I am meeting in my travels. Once I return, I hope to keep the blog up, drawing on my experiences with students in my world literature and composition courses, students in Las Positas College’s new Umoja learning community for African-American students, students in LPC’s new global studies major, and students joining me on study abroad trips. Maybe I can even do some collaborative learning with the classes of faculty I’m meeting here.

I should also say that this is the first time I’ve had a blog, and it makes me a little nervous. I’m used to publishing articles that are researched and written in areas in which I have some expertise and are peer reviewed and extensively edited. This will not be that. I hope to push myself to write about things I’m noticing and connections I’m making that I’m not so well-informed about, so I welcome encouragement, questions, and corrections from my readers. I may make edits and corrections in response to that feedback as I go along. And, of course, this blog is not an official U.S. Department of State site. The views expressed on this site are entirely my own and do not represent the views of the U.S. Department of State or any of its partner organizations. With that, “why don’t we get things started!” as the opening song to The Muppet Show puts it!