Sunday, October 30, 2011

Xenophobia exploined: 'The stranger had remained strange.'

From his first novel Open City by Teju Cole, who is a Nigerian New Yorker and professional historian of early Netherlandish art:

The classic anti-immigrant view, which saw them as enemies competing for scarce resources, was converging with a renewed fear of Islam. When Jan van Eyck depicted himself in a large red turban in the 1430s, he had testified to the multiculturalism of fifteenth-century Ghent, that the stranger was nothing unusual. Turks, Arabs, Russians: all had been part of the visual vocabulary of the time. But the stranger had remained strange, and had become a foil for new discontents. ... My presentation – the dark, unsmiling, solitary stranger – made me a target for inchoate rage ... But the bearers of the rage could never know how cheap it was. They were insensitive to how common, and how futile, was their violence in the name of a monolithic identity. This ignorance was a trait angry young men, as well as their old, politically powerful rhetorical champions, shared the world over. And so, after that conversation, as a precaution, I cut down on the length of my late-night walks.

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