Wednesday, December 16, 2015

The Rise of Racial Bigotry on Taiwan

The Rise of Racial Bigotry on Taiwan
China Times Editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
A Translation
December 17, 2015

Executive Summary: We once took pride in the fact that people on Taiwan no longer exclude outsiders, and no longer discriminate against powerless minorities. In recent years however, the Internet has gradually taken over mainstream global culture. People have become increasingly hysterical and populist. A pluralistic and inclusive society no longer seems to be the social norm.

Full Text Below:

We once took pride in the fact that people on Taiwan no longer exclude outsiders, and no longer discriminate against powerless minorities. In recent years however, the Internet has gradually taken over mainstream global culture. People have become increasingly hysterical and populist. A pluralistic and inclusive society no longer seems to be the social norm.

Recently a Facebook group with 250,000 members posted photos of an apparent school exam. One of the exam questions was, "Which of these five invasive alien species
pose a threat to Taiwan's ecology?”. The answers included "Mainland tourists", right alongside "channeled applesnails", "African snails", and four other plants and animals. The answer “Mainland tourists” received many “likes”. In May this year, five girls from a junior high in the Jianshi district of Hsinchu County were murdered by a suspected rapist. Many news organizations emphasized the Aboriginal background of the suspect. They even identified his tribe and birthplace. The public considers this normal and does not object. Clearly race prejudice and racial discrimination are increasingly prevalent in Taiwan society.

Toward the end of the recent the French parliamentary elections, the extreme right wing National Front led during the first round of voting. But all of its candidates lost during the run off election. Many international media organizations described the vote as “unexpected”. After all, France has been doubly impacted, first by ISIS terrorist attacks, and then by waves of Muslim refugees. This has handed French right-wing and ultra-right wing forces the necessary pretext. Yet the French system and French public eventually made a level-headed decision. They refused to allow extreme right wing forces to determine the future of France.

In response to the French terror attacks, US Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump publicly called for a total ban on Muslim immigration into the United States, until the seriousness of the problem can be determined. In the past, only extreme right-wing groups expressed such views. Now they emerge from the mouth of a politician who could become his party's presidential candidate. The latest polls show support for Trump exceeding 40%, a new high. But Trump's remarks have also been widely denounced. The White House said Trump was no longer qualified to be president. American society has apparently not lost its head over fear of terror attacks.

Fear of ISIS terror attacks has created a breeding ground for extremist rhetoric, widespread discrimination, and even exclusionary policies. In in mature democracies, such views were once held by less than 1% of the population. Now they have become mainstream public opinion. As threat levels increase, extremism and demands for exclusionary policies may spread. This is not merely a test of democracy. It is also a test of human civilization.

Taiwan is under no threat of attack from Muslims. It need not face the issue of how to peacefully coexist with Islam.  But Taiwan does face demands for exclusionary policies, and discrimination against defenseless minorities. In particular, the “normalization” of political prejudice and conscious discrimination against Mainland tourists, Mainland spouses, Mainland students, and indigenous peoples is deeply worrisome.

Many European and American backpackers visit Taiwan. They often enjoy their stay so much they are reluctant to return home. Many short-term exchange students from the Mainland leave with positive impressions of Taiwan. Mainland authors have even gushed that "Taiwan's most beautiful tourist attraction is its people!" To some degree such images are consistent with Taiwan as a place friendly to foreigners.

On the other hand, offhand remarks often inadvertently include xenophobic, even racist rhetoric. Many politicians and news organizations dance to these tunes.

Flip through the annals of past election campaigns. Many of us still remember the 2008 presidential election. DPP presidential candidate Frank Hsieh proudly trumpeted "reconciliation and coexistence". But during campaign rallies in southern Taiwan, he repeatedly declared that "Workers on Taiwan will be unable to find work, women on Taiwan will be unable to find husbands, and children on Taiwan will be shipped off to Heilongjiang as child labor.". The campaign repeatedly purchased print ads accusing Mainland visitors of urinating or defecating in public parks. The campaign produed deceptive TV spots, using photographs of 800,000 workers stranded at Guangzhou train stations on Chinese New Year due to snowstorms. The spots implied that was how Taiwan would look if Mainland workers “invaded” Taiwan. It is hard to imagine the presidential candidate of a mainstream political party expressing such bigoted views. Fortunately voters refused to dance to his tune. Otherwise the consequences would be difficult to imagine.

Such exclusionary, even racially discriminatory policies have yet to become mainstream. But neither have they vanished. They continue to have an effect. Over the past few years, unprecedented progress has been made in cross-Strait relations. Nevertheless many green camp politicians persist in parroting such rhetoric. They do their utmost to deny Mainland and foreign spouses equal rights. They erect barriers to prevent Mainland students from receiving health benefits. These involve more than mere discrimination. They involve universal human rights. Yet the political party that promulgates these views looks as if it will win the election. This suggests that proposals even more discriminatory will become policy.

We have no desire to be alarmist. We merely wish to emphasize that an inclusive Taiwan culture tolerant of diversity is not manna from heaven. It requires long term effort. To destroy such an inclusive culture completely, and transform it into a xenophobic hermit kingdom is also difficult. This will test the wisdom of the Taiwan public.

偏見風氣日盛 台灣不再海納百川
20151217 中國時報












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