There has been no recent political upset more wide-reaching and influential (at least in the Western and European world) than that of the European Refugee Crisis. It might be worth noting, here, that Europe is the one in a state of crisis, and not the war-torn, crumbling, mangled entity of human rights violations and categorical violence that Syria has become in recent years. The influx of Middle-Eastern refugees into Western nations, countries such as Sweden, Germany, and France, promptly brought about the rancid second-wind of controversy that European politics had been so desperately in need of, and, given the recent terrorist attacks in Paris and the sexual assault seen by Cologne other European cities this past New Year’s, tempers are running very hot. Many are calling for more serious measures regarding the refugees, ranging from being more stringent in policing them to outright banning them from entering the country. If I were to give the benefit of the doubt to these people, which I will, for the sake of a brief argument, I would concede that there is very good reason to be concerned and cautious. Besides the aforementioned tragedies that struck Europe, smaller, more localized cases, such as the Swedish seven-year-old that had her throat slit by an Eritrean immigrant, have made the case for the refugees that much more difficult to argue. Regardless of the statistical improbability of any individual refugee behaving in such a violent manner as this, those affected by such a crime are unlikely to appreciate such a fact. That being said, concerned and cautious is one thing; blatant xenophobia and racism is another, and making the distinction is becoming increasingly difficult. This veritable tumor of bigotry on the side of Europe’s neck is clearly of no use insofar as the welfare of the refugees is concerned.
However, on the other side of this spectrum, in the realm of the far left, a liberal movement of ready acceptance has also striven to make its voice heard, and, seeing as most developed countries in the area have moved away from the classic European brand of racism, many on this side of the controversy have been given a soapbox in major media entities. One such voice is that of Swedish feminist and activist Lyra Ekström Lindbäck, who recently published a political tract in one of Sweden’s largest newspapers calling for Arabic to be recognized as a Swedish minority language.
There is nothing particularly wrong in this aim. More widespread use of a minority language, especially one as distinct both culturally and linguistically from Swedish as Arabic, is sure to be a good thing. Lindbäck also suggests that Arabic be taught in schools, and while the pragmatism of teaching a language that, as of right now, is without obvious use beyond communicating with immigrants, there is nothing to suggest that this is something inherently wrong either. Scientific research can attest to the various health benefits of polyglotism. I will forego a discussion of whether or not this would be an appropriate use of Sweden’s education budget, for that would be primarily the make of a discussion of Sweden’s economics and finances. The most important claim made by Lindbäck is not in her advocation for the Arabic language, but that the very reason that Arabic has not yet been accepted as a minority language in Sweden is because of abject racism.
I would be the first to recognize that Europe, and, indeed, the Western world in general, has never been particularly receptive to the cultures of the Middle East, particularly those associated with Islam. However, Lindbäck, and those that would be inclined to agree which such a stark designation as this, have perhaps jumped to conclusions. Although Sweden is well-known (or infamous, depending on who you ask) in Europe for its relatively large Muslim population, Arabic has not grown to become so large a minority language in Sweden as to warrant this undue attention. In the context of government officials and public servants, I can easily see why study of this language could prove effective in interactions with immigrants that Sweden has, admittedly, gladly accepted into its borders. However, it does not, as yet, seem pragmatic for money to be spent in educating Swedes on the matter of a language that will be both difficult and of relative uselessness for some time to come, if not for the foreseeable future.
The greatest fault in Lindbäck’s approach is that this motion, something entirely removed from the effects of any notion of pragmatism, has and will only serve to dissect the public discussion into something less effective than a more immediate, albeit moderate, approach to the immigrant population and their livelihood in Sweden. Perhaps when things have relaxed, insofar as the immigrant crisis is concerned, this might seem to be a more reasonable suggestion. As of right now, however, this proposed combination of unpragmatic legislation and the declaration that Swedes resist Arabic entirely out of racism is a waste of time for the both the nation and the refugees.
Featured Image: While there’s no doubt that learning another language can enrich a student’s education, it may not always make sense to learn specific languages. Photo by Ryan Henrie