광우병… 타블로… 이번엔 ‘이슬람 공포증’ [Dong-A Ilbo]An absurd assertion arguing that Islamic immigrants will bring down Korean society, spreading online, is causing a controversy. Other racially discriminatory assertions, not simply against Islam but also demanding the abandonment of the current multiculturalism policy, are also being boldly made, attracting attention as to the identity and the background of those who submit such writing. Some suggest that certain particular groups, dissatisfied with the multiculturalism policy, are intentionally disseminating Islamophobia to gather like-minded people similar to the "Tablo incident."
[TK note: Tablo is a celebrity rapper of Korea who is a graduate of Stanford University. There have been persistent allegations on the Internet that Tablo faked his degree, which managed to survive even after Stanford registrar produced a true copy of Tablo's diploma. The ringleader of the people who spread this false rumor was arrested for defamation. More background on that story here.]
On the 18th of this month, according to the Ministry of Employment and Labor, there have been 1500 posts on the free discussion board on MOEL homepage titled "Exclude Islamic Nations from Labor Export States" since the 23rd of last month. The posts, submitted after having undergone true name certification, argued that "Europe recently prohibited the importation of labor from Islamic nations such as Bangladesh and Pakistan," and "Korea must likewise forgo the multicultural policies." The submitters of the posts also suggested a mass objection against the current administration's multiculturalist policies, linking to the homepages of MOEL and e-People [TK note: Omnibus government website that receives all grievances against the government.] They are also continuing the attack by publicizing the telephone numbers of the chambers of National Assemblyman Jin Yeong, the Grand National Party member who proposed the Unified Basic Law on Multiculturalism last December. Spokesperson for Assemblyman Jin said, "We get dozens of calls a day asking us to give up on the multiculturalism policies." MOEL deleted all related posts, citing that "Same repeated posts are causing inconvenience to the operation of the board." MOEL is also cautiously considering asking for police investigation if such posts continue to be submitted.
Experts are casting their suspicion on an article titled, "Ruination of Sweden by Islamic Immigrants (the Future of Korea)," which is spreading through online communities and blogs. The article is mostly sensationalistic and hortatory, alleging that Sweden's social problems worsened after permitting Islamic immigrants to enter. Choi Yeong-Gil, professor of Arab Regional Studies of Myongji University, noted: "It appears that people who are dissatisfied with not just a particular religion but the multicultural society itself are duplicating and expanding Europe's Islamophobia." Kim Yi-Seon, director of Safety Center for Multiculturalism and Human Rights of Korea Women's Development Institute, said: "As the economy faces difficulty and the society becomes more chaotic, resistance against multiculturalism is gaining traction," and emphasized: "What is clear is that the current problems of Korean society is not due to multiculturalism."
Many, many different angles to explore here, in no particular order.
1. Multiculturalism, as a policy, is not a thoroughly examined policy in Korea yet. Non-Ethnic Korean (let's call them "NEK" for short) Korean citizens, especially in the form of mail-order brides and immigrant laborers, crept up on Korean society until they all of a sudden became a reality for mainstream Koreans. Korean elites were sympathetic enough to set a pro-multiculturalism agenda, such that legislators and mainstream media pushed for tolerance and acceptance. This is the first occasion in which opposition to that agenda is materializing in a meainingful, organized manner.
2. Dong-A Ilbo is a conservative (within the spectrum of Korean politics) newspaper, and it clearly drew the battle line stating that opposition to multiculturalism is "absurd". More liberal newspapers (for example, the Hankyoreh) have been consistently promoting the multiculturalism agenda also. No politician so far has made a career by antagonizing immigrants yet. Cut off from mainstream media and politics, how will the opponents of multiculturalism legitimize their agenda? Which mainstream media and policians will co-opt into this advantage?
3. Two faces of Korea's nationalism are in conflict here -- the more traditional race/culture-based nationalism and the more modern citizenship/polity-based nationalism. Which one will emerge victorious? Or will there be another variant to nationlism to accommodate both? (Perhaps, for example, language-based?)
4. How will the NEK Koreans respond? Probably not much reaction is possible right now, but recall that a significant proportion of children (up to 10 percent) in Korea's rural areas are mixed-race children. Four years ago in the third post ever on AAK! -- so long ago that the Korean was speaking in first person -- the Korean wrote: "Unless Koreans do something to radically change their attitude toward foreignors and interracial people (unlikely), wide-scale race riots a la Los Angeles or Paris in about 20 years is a virtual certainty." Korea has done more than the Korean expected to move toward changing their attitude. But will the progress thus far be enough to avert wide-scale race riots 15 years from now, when these mixed-race children become young adults?
5. How will Germany's recent disavowal of multiculturalism policies affect this discussion? How will America's anti-immigration rhetoric? Remember, "what other advanced countries do" holds a lot of sway in Korean political discourse.
6. The Korean is not positive that even those Koreans who advocate for multiculturalism policies truly mean "multiculturalism" as the word is understood in other parts of the world. When this debate intensifies such that the proponents begin to realize that "multiculturalism", originally envisioned when the term was coined, involves a lot more than they might be comfortable with -- e.g. bastardizing traditional Korean cuisine, maybe -- how will they respond?
7. Kim Yi-Seon is correct that immigrants have little to do with Korea's current problems -- as of now. In the future when more immigrants come, they will contribute to Korea's problems, not because immigration is inherently problematic but because no movement of a large human group is free from at least some negative consequences. Will this change the debate in the future? Could proponents of multiculturalism solidify their grounds enough before the problems inevitably come?
Got a question or a comment for the Korean? Email away at firstname.lastname@example.org.