What I’m Watching: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver

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I am currently studying Religion in Peace and Conflict Studies at Uppsala University. As part of the literature course, our professor has asked us to write a bibliographical review of sources that we may use for our thesis. I have chosen to write my thesis on media and its effect on immigration policy. Therefore, I will be reviewing articles and books that focus mostly on the refugee crisis sparked in part by the Arab Spring movement in 2011.

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver is a satirical and serious show that looks at current events issues. Every week, Oliver focuses on an important issue from the news. In two episodes, he focused on the refugee crisis. In one video, he parses the hateful language used by European governments, especially in The Netherlands, Hungary and Denmark. He softens the language with jokes, as when he calls a Polish minister who calls the refugees ‘human garbage’ “the Polish six flags guy” (Oliver 2015a). He backs up every joke with a bit of research, including research about how helpful refugees and immigrants actually are to an economy, especially ones in Europe with a slow birthrate (Oliver 2015a). The end of the video is a tribute to Noujain Mustaffa, whom he especially highlights in the clip. Unlike short clips on the evening news, this first segment from John Oliver places the crisis in some historical context. However he neglects to mention the full context of the crisis itself; that is, the attack on dissidents in Syria and the civil war there.

In the second clip, released after the 13 November 2015 attacks, Oliver updates the situation and adds to it the US response. One of the attackers was rumoured to have posed as a refugee, setting off fears of refugees coming into America on the same pretenses. After the attack, 31 state governors banned refugees from coming into their state, a pointless bit of grandstanding as Oliver points out they have no legal right to do so, and that refugees can just go to more accepting states (2015b). He also debunks a fear-mongering video from Fox News showing a group of Muslim men calling out Allahuakbar whilst riding the metro; the video had been uploaded five years previously (Oliver 2015).

Oliver places the crisis in context for the American audience in the second clip; he points out that Americans have been slow to accept refugees, even sending a boat with Jewish refugees back to Belgium in 1939, and the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War Two (2015). With the recent news that the United States is lowering its threshold of refugees it will accept, there is a certain sense of déjà vu.

Oliver’s sarcastic take on the hyperbolic language used by politicians and the media is a less scholarly, but still important, way to explain how media influences policy, and why it is added to my bibliographic resources for my thesis.

photo: geralt

#atozchallenge – Xenophobia: What it Looks Like Around the World

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America has always been seen as a refuge for the disenfranchised. The Statue of Liberty states:

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

We should be as welcoming as we promise, but of course we are not. We still struggle with issues of integration and hatred of the unknown. It is not surprising that we have issues with Muslim refugees; though we are loathe to say it, we have been fighting in mostly Muslim regions for a very long time. Mostly, however, America still struggles with race relations: Syrian refugees have the ire of some people now, but it is Black people (and sometimes Latino and Asian people) who have it very difficult.

In Germany, it is the Turkish population that faces daily difficulties with integration. Germany is in the forefront of the current refugee crisis, but its past problems have come back to haunt it. Without better integration, disenfranchised people will turn to the haven of a promised land.

In France, being a person of colour is difficult. Though it is strictly forbidden to ask about race, ethnicity and religion for any national census, France is socially divided by race anyway. I wrote about my issues with France in a previous post.

Personally, I have dealt with discrimination in all three of these countries, but on a much lower scale than recent immigrants. I’m not sure what integration will look like as we continue, especially with the continuing refugee crises from Syria, Eritrea and countries in Northern Africa. However, I hope that we can turn our attentions to the plights of minority without ire. – SDM

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If you’d like to read my other posts in this year’s A to Z challenge, check them out here.

Photo by David Mark. Poem excerpt from ‘The New Colossus’ by Emma Lazarus.