EUROPA appears before you as sponsored content in the Guardian from the Gates Foundation: ”An Illustrated Introduction to Europe for Migrants and Refugees” produced through a collaboration between Magnum Photos, an organization called the Protection System for Asylum Seekers and Refugees (SPRAR), the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the Allianz Cultural Foundation.
Available for download in English, French, Arabic and Farsi through the Arab Fund for Arts and Culture, an “independent Arab initiative” funded by sponsors including the Ford Foundation, the Open Society Foundation, and the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the book is presented as an introduction for new arrivals to the continent, but on inspection it reveals itself as something else. It supplies no practical or useful information for refugees, for example, how to start a bank account, or where to find free internet. What it presents instead is an ideological apologia for the official EU policy on refugees.
The story starts, Calvino-style, in the second person: “You have crossed thousands of kilometers to reach the European Union.” You are informed that the EU is “a bloc of 28 countries that have populations that already reflect hundreds of years of migration.”
This bloc rose from the ashes of a continent destroyed by two world wars “involving more than 30 countries in Europe, Africa, North America, and Asia.” The war served judgement on the history of European countries “exploiting other territories, where the residents almost universally did not welcome European presence. Countries that many of you have traversed — such as Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine/Israel, and Iraq…”
Europe is responsible for your predicament. World War Two mutates into the Cold War, a period of war “around the globe, including Afghanistan.” In Europe “an imaginary border” — fenced and patrolled by armed guards” — the Iron Curtain — “split the continent in two parts.”
All borders are imaginary. The Western European labor market was importing workers. According to Europa, “about 8 million work permits were issued in the U.K., France, the Netherlands, West Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, and Belgium.”
Two thirds came from outside Europe. Like today, the measure was apparently initially intended to be temporary. In the event, their children became citizens, a legal fact which sadly “did not guarantee their integration, with high unemployment figures among that second generation across Europe.”
What stopped them from integrating? “A number of factors — such as poor access to universities, housing policies that created disadvantaged neighborhoods, and discriminatory labor practices that shut immigrants out of the job market.” You hear testimony from Khadija Zamouri, 49, a parliamentarian in Brussels whose “path proves anyone can realize their dreams if they have access to quality education and someone who believes in them.”
The daughter of a Moroccan worker who moved to Antwerp in 1964, Zamouri was the first of her ten siblings to be born in Belgium — in 1967. Motivated by early educational problems, and her mother’s warning that Muslim girls who don’t do well in school turn into housewives, she “studied like mad, and in my early 20s turned my frustration into social justice activism.”
She started teaching refugees and immigrants in a community centre, and became involved in politics. “I wanted to set right what my teachers had failed to do,” she says, “provide quality education to immigrants in an encouraging environment.” In parliamentary committee sessions she “balled up my fists and cried” as she looks at the numbers. “How could it be that we sent 30 percent of our immigrant children population to special-needs schools or vocational training institutions? Are our children collectively less intelligent, or is there something else, like structural discrimination, going on?”
Zamouri cites her own experiences; times when she remembered “feeling I didn’t count as much as my white counterparts.” Her sons experience it too: “the segregation in society, the difference between “them” and “us.”” In her opinion “[t]hat chasm has widened so much that discrimination sets them back even more than me.” Her youngest son, an economics student “is always in study groups with immigrants — Moroccans, Kosovars. Never is there a white Belgian in his group.” She confronts the painful realization “that they are the third generation of immigrants in this country but they still feel as if they don’t belong.”
She demands Belgian become more accommodating. “Refugees have a right to information so that they don’t waste time and their children can attend school right away.” Today, as a parliamentarian in Brussels, she gives tours “to refugees to say, “Look, you can really become whoever you want if you work for it and find the right people to guide you. Don’t take any advice from teachers who don’t believe in you.”
Is this a healthy message? Zamouri’s testimony is followed by a sermon on the the values that EU stands for: eternal peace. A unique governmental structure designed, in the words, perhaps chilling from a certain point of view, of Minister of France Robert Schuman, “to make war not only unthinkable but materially impossible” the EU pursues transnational economic integration through “agreed-upon trade standards, regulations, and human rights principles.” In 2012, in fact, it received the Noble Peace Prize.
The final section — “What Makes Europe Europe” recapitulates the general line. The first thing you discover here, intriguingly, is that “IN EUROPE, EVERYBODY’S SOMEBODY’S FOOL” but disappointingly what follows from this magnificent announcement are a string of retirement cruise-level national stereotype jokes. The heart of the matter is this: “The EU is built on the idea that only when everyone respects one another’s rights, regardless of immigration status, can freedom exist.”
Every individual, regardless of their citizenship, “has the same fundamental rights; they are enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights, which was adopted in the aftermath of World War II to ensure that all people, including the millions of refugees fleeing persecution, are protected.”
The EU will protect them, against EU citizens if necessary. “All people, regardless of gender, race, national origin, genetic features, religion, political or other opinion, age, sexual orientation, language, disability or other traits — female, male, old, young, black, white, immigrant, native, Muslim, Christian, LGBTI, cisgender — have the same fundamental rights. These rights were reiterated and expanded on in the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, which was inspired by the principles of dignity, justice, freedom, solidarity, and equality.”
The EU not only protects the fundamental rights of every person, regardless of their citizenship status, but also recognizes that “vulnerable communities — particularly Roma, Muslims, Jews, LGBTI people, and migrants and refugees — are most at risk of suffering from discrimination (or being disadvantaged for who they are or for what they believe) and crimes motivated against people on the basis of their national origin, gender, race, or any of the other categories above.” These rights do not include the right to freedom of expression. “Freedom of expression is not an absolute right but one that needs to be balanced with other considerations — for example, when it affects other important rights. Therefore, the EU outlaws hate speech, or forms of expression that spread, incite, or promote hatred; negative stereotyping; and stigmatization of or threats against people on the basis of race, gender, national origin, genetic features, religion, political opinion, age, sexual orientation, language or disability.” “These strike at the fundamental rights of equality and nondiscrimination.’ Nobody may transgress “the fundamental rights of equality and nondiscrimination.” There is no such right.
Except are equality and nondiscrimination even rights? A right to trial by a jury by your peers is a concrete right; equality and nondiscrimination, at best, are abstract principles, if not occulted concepts. What this formulation clarifies is that nobody has any rights at all.
The book concludes with testimony from Nada Diane Fridi, an Algiers-born architect in Paris, recalling the aftermath of the massacre at Charlie Hebdo. “Together with my business partner, we gathered around a computer to follow the story. Soon we found out the attackers identified as Muslims and had justified their horrific acts as retaliation for the magazine’s racist cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad.”
Fridi disliked Je Suis Charlie: “That image was so hypocritical and appalling, even if “Charlie Hebdo” had been actually a symbol of freedom of speech. I felt it an insult to the intelligence of a diverse body of French citizens to rally them behind such a simplified and misused slogan.” She’s “for free speech and against these senseless killings, but I am not Charlie. I never liked “Charlie Hebdo.” It’s vulgar and not funny…. sometimes I’m even disgusted, but we are in a country where this type of expression is neither taboo nor condemnable. It’s just a French fact, just as much as… everyday sexual harassment.”
Produced via a project called the Arab European Creative Platform, “a multi-disciplinary platform that aims to galvanize the vital inventiveness of Arab and European artists and institutions, towards empowering and enabling the production of art, culture and knowledge.” Europa probably cost €100,000 and took a hundred people to produce. The story it presents is a distillation of what right-thinking people are supposed to think and understand already, and do. The majority of readers encountering the sponsored content on the Guardian website will have left their screens that day with the impression that “an Illustrated Introduction to Europe for Migrants and Refugees” had been produced. But the story that this book tells is our own.