April 21st, 2024

Academics discuss anti-immigrant rhetoric during Prentice Institute webinar

By Theodora MacLeod - Lethbridge Herald Local Journalism Initiative Reporter on February 15, 2024.

Prentice Institute director Lars Hallstrom moderated this week's webinar 'From Local to Global: Immigration, Xenophobia, and Mainstreaming Extremism.'

Welcoming three academics specializing in political sciences, the Prentice Institute for Global Population and Economy and University of Lethbridge hosted a webinar discussing “the resurgence of anti-immigrant rhetoric and identity politics deployed by far-right actors, movements and governments in everyday spaces across Canada, the US, and Europe.”

The presentation, From Local to Global: Immigration, Xenophobia, and Mainstreaming Extremism, addressed what the panelists believe to be an increasingly concerning issue in public discourse; one that Amar Amarasingam, assistant professor at the School of Religion and Department of Political Studies at Queens University says is mostly about laying blame.

“Whenever other things are going wrong in the country; housing prices, people who say that they don’t like ‘where the country is going’ that sort of thing – and that number is through the roof now – you do see immigrants immediately become the scapegoats,” Amarasingam said.

According to Amarasingam, a survey conducted by the Enveronic Institute revealed that in the 1980s 80 per cent of Canadians said there were too many refugees, or too many refugees who were not ‘real refugees.’ That number has dropped drastically and currently sits at about 40 per cent of Canadians as of 2023. When asked the reason for the belief that there is too much immigration, 38 per cent of respondents in 2023 said immigrants drive up housing prices.

Echoing Amarasingam’s sentiments, Amy Mack of the Centre for Research on Extremism at the University of Oslo and co-director of research at the Canadian Institute for Far-Right Studies, noted a shift toward anti-immigrant rhetoric reflects other issues in society.

“Often times these sort of anti-immigrant sentiments are telling us a lot about the economic stressors or the other political stressors that folks are experiencing,” Mack said.

Moderator and director of the Prentice Institute, Lars Hallstrom, who is also a professor in political science at the University of Lethbridge, said he doesn’t want to accuse everyone of racism. However, “We do see elements of tones and language that is being used today in many places, particularly in response to changing immigrant and ethic profiles across the country and around the world as people continue to move.”

Mack noted that the far-right uses specific linguistic strategies like coded language to veil hate speech.

“In terms of the language and the rhetorical strategies, it’s something that I think folks really need to be attuned to,” she explained. “A lot of what they say or what our interlocutors, the people that we study, say, can be hate speech, so they have to figure out ways of coding what they’re saying. So, members of the community know when I say ‘globalist’, I actually mean, ‘a dark cabel of Jewish folks who control the world.’ Globalist isn’t going to get picked up by the censors online, but other words they would have traditionally used will get them banned.”

Mack also explained that her research has shown there is an old trope concerning rural areas, especially southern Alberta, one that she says paints rural areas as “the last bastions of whiteness.” She explains the trope can lead to the belief “that we’re the most socially, politically, economically and religiously conservative part of the country;” a sentiment she says is perpetuated by discourse encouraging people to leave cities like Toronto to avoid “leftist” politics. The concern with the trope is its complete disregard for the long history of diversity in southern Alberta.

Having been focusing on the Coutts Border blockades, Mack said that there is a rise of polarization that has a ripple effect on communities in southern Alberta.

“One of the things I’ve seen in my field work in small towns is that folks are either all in on these groups or they’ve decided that they want absolutely nothing to do with this. They may at one point have been sympathetic to these things, perhaps might have been at risk of radicalization themselves but the Coutts border blockade was a breaking point.”

Anita Nissen, postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Politics and Society at Aalborg University in Denmark, said Europe has seen an upswing in activity from a youth movement called Generation Identity that works to make far-right ideas more palatable using tactics commonly seen amongst leftists.

The webinar, which can be found on YouTube posted by the Prentice Institute, serves as an in-depth analysis of what the panelists believe is a growing area of concern in Canada that will continue to cause polarization and disconnection in years to come.

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