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Debate on refugees: 2,000 intellectuals aggressively attack the mainstream Czech society

Many readers must have been surprised that the mindless and intolerant political correctness seems to be absent in the Czech society, in most of the Czech media, and among the Czech politicians. Shouldn't the same left-wing and SJW attitudes we know from many Western countries emerge among the Czech intellectuals and conquer the public opinion just like in many other countries? Don't such opinions exist?

Be sure that they do. The difference is just a quantitative one; there has been a substantial enough opposition to them so they haven't become "mainstream" (yet?). About 2,000 Czech intellectuals, mostly (1,500+) Czech institutionally affiliated scientists, have signed the Open Letter Against Fear and Indifference (the domain name means "An Appeal by Scientists"). If the context were omitted or unknown, I could have agreed with many sentences in the open letter. But because I know the context as well the actual goal of similar campaigns, I count myself among the 10 million or so Czech opponents of this petition.

The signatories are pretty much the same bunch of far left SJWs who kept on emerging with similar campaigns pretty much on every year, under different names such as "Thank You, Time To Go 1998", "Impuls 1999", "Strike Against TV 2000", "Something 2001", "Something Else 2002", "Protest Against Klaus' Presidency 2003", and so on and so on. I think that the signatories still represent a minority of the university environment as well (from my Alma Mater environment, I only found 2 well-known people – Obdržálek and Semerák – who are there, dozens of others are absent!) but they're sometimes if not usually powerful enough people so that the scientists who disagree with this stuff may find themselves in problems.

The president Zeman's spokesman has already said that he was sorry that this group of intellectuals decided to deepen the abyss that separates them from the mainstream Czech society. Amen to that.

Let me translate the open letter and add my comments about it. The blockquotes contain individual paragraphs of the original text of the appeal and my responses are beneath these quotes.

Scientists' appeal against fear and indifference

We are scientists and scientistesses ;-), academics and academicesses, research workers, students and studentesses of scientific fields, people whose basic ability as well as value should be the critical thinking, ability to work with information, distinguish facts from hypotheses, and avoid the manipulations with the data. We are disturbed by the steep rise of xenophobic moods in the society and the activity of extremist groups that are not sufficiently balanced. Radicalization of the society via fear is, we believe, one of the greatest dangers which is threatening us in the relationship with the immigration crisis. This topic must be a theme of a discussion but that discussion has to proceed with calm heads and according to the facts.
First, a comment about the male vs female terminology. These people pretend to be sending an open letter to the Czech society.

Couldn't they have avoided the ludicrous yet repetitive jargon with the feminime versions of all the words? Isn't "scientists and students" enough to cover both men and women? From the context, it's obvious that the appeal may be signed both by men and women so why did they decide for these awkward and redundant constructions? Perhaps just to make the regular Czechs – men and women – laugh? Or become upset? The words such as "scientist" or "student" are formally masculine in Czech but for centuries, they have had two meanings – either just the male scientists or students; or, especially in the plural, scientists or students of both genders. Why does someone need to pretend that the Czech language has been defective and needs to be changed? The Czech language needs neither a deep reform or awkward formulations of this kind. And this beginning of the letter only prepares the reader for the fact that the signatories are detached from the nation not only when it comes to the immigration issues.

I agree that the ability to think critically should be a basic skill as well as a basic value of the scientists. But it does not follow that all the scientists are actually able and willing to act honestly in all contexts, including the political discussions that are out of their expertise.

Politics depends on subjective values and many other things that cannot be addressed by the objective scientific research. And scientists may become enthusiastic supporters of perverse political movements as well: the history offers many examples, not only things like Deutschphysik.

In many cases, one could argue that scientists living in their ivory towers seem to be the least capable ones of seeing certain simple things in the human society. Quite generally, it's surely a manipulation to link the signatories' opinions with their scientific credentials – there are lots of equally good or better scientists who have seriously different opinions about these matters. There is really no good reason to believe that all scientists will have the same opinions about political issues such as immigration – unless the inconvenient ones are being fired, of course.

There has been no substantial rise in xenophobia in the Czech Republic. There exist certain threats – such as the dramatic transformation of the ethnic and cultural character of our territory – that almost the whole Czech society has been concerned about for a very, very long time, even if some intellectuals and other powerful people did their best to pretend otherwise.

Just like there was no substantial increase in xenophobia, there has been no inappropriate increase of the fear. Fear did increase to some extent but this increase was obviously caused by the increase of the problematic immigration and by the worrisome events on the periphery of Europe. The increased fear has been an adequate rational response to the change of the external environment.

Discussions about the immigration issues should proceed with calm heads and should be built on facts. But that's exactly what most of the responsible people in Czechia are at least trying to achieve. The character of this discussion is a bit different than it was a few years ago because there are new facts.

On the other hand, the situation doesn't seem catastrophic which is why some huge fear doesn't dominate the public discourse. But many people feel safe exactly because they see other people who seem eager to react responsibly. People would be much more terrified if they saw a political elite that was eager to let the immigrants flow without limitations. The relationship between fear of the nation and the politicians' attitude is the opposite than the signatories try to claim. The more determined to regulate what's going on the politicians seem to be, the less fear controls the ordinary citizens' minds.
The aim of this appeal is not to play down genuine risks that follow from the immigration. The goal is not to campaign for particular steps vis-a-vis the refugees. The purpose of it is to visibly distance ourselves from the way by which the ethnic and religious intolerance is being generally tolerated and energized – by listening to extremist movements, propagation of distorted as well downright false news reports that strengthen panic – whose ultimate effect is the dehumanization of the people in the state of emergency, the discrimination, and sometimes even violent hate crimes. We don't like that politicians and media who should display their character and responsibility are often silent and therefore give more room to the propagation of fear, and often actively participate of this propagation of fear in their hunt for better TV ratings or popularity.
This paragraph is clearly just a blanket accusation directed against almost all Czech politicians and media. They're doing something unfair except the signatories don't inform us about any examples of the wrongdoing that they have in mind.

I don't think that such things are occurring in the important Czech media or political events, at least not to an extent that would be excessive as well as unjustified by the genuine problems. When some scenarios are discussed, they have to be discussed because they're real. If someone is frightened by such scenarios, maybe he should be because many of those scenarios may become reality.

At the end, the public discussion about these matters unavoidably has to study possible risks as well as the possible steps to address the risks. That's what many Czech politicians and journalists are doing – and that's exactly what this paragraph (and the whole letter) tries to question. Even though the signatories claim that they don't intend to play down genuine risks, the rest of the paragraph makes it obvious that this is exactly their main goal. So the paragraph is self-contradictory – more generally, the whole open letter is hypocritical.

A manifesto of this kind couldn't have avoided the word "discrimination". "Discrimination" is bad, it is being suggested. However, we are talking about "discrimination of uninvited foreign nationals". There exists absolutely no law or principle that would imply that the all Czech authorities should treat them on par with the Czech citizens. There isn't even any law or principle that would imply that they have to be treated on par with each other. The equal treatment – the ban on "discrimination" – may only be imposed internally within a nation, a group of citizens. So this whole thesis that everyone must avoid "discrimination" vis-a-vis the foreigners is indefensible.

The remark about TV ratings and popularity is just a lame effort to attack the integrity of the politicians and the media and make them look corrupt. In reality, however, there is no reason why the opinions of the politicians or journalists should systematically deviate from the distribution we see in the whole society. To a large extent, politicians and journalists should be pretty much average and representative people. In the Czech case, they thankfully don't deviate too much. And it is a good thing – a symptom of a genuine democracy as well as the media working for the citizens.

One could arguably find much more corruption and illegitimate motives on the other side. One could enumerate young scientists who don't hesitate to pay lip service to far left ideological clichés similar to this open letter because they know that their superiors – assorted Sokols, Putnas, Hořejšís and similar people – will reward them for that.

The people who don't have to make similar considerations generally disagree with the unregulated immigration. They may still be wrong but accusations mentioning TV ratings and politicians' popularity can't demonstrate that they are wrong.
Scientists against fear and indifference

We, the scientists and scientistesses, employees of academic and research institutions, are highly disturbed by the steep rise in xenophobia in the society. Many are using the rhetoric of the fear of foreigners and indifference to their suffering, rhetoric that used to be considered extreme and unacceptable. Texts about immigrants describe them if they were vermin, nuisance animals, or parasites rolling into our homeland in order to suck our welfare system or directly to murder and rape. Foreigners living in Europe are being painted as a fifth column, fraudsters, and criminals. Muslims are being thrown into the same bag with terrorists, independently of their actual opinions or the immense diversity of the religious directions they follow. On a daily basis, our allegedly dovish nation creates a voice or two that wishes death to one group of foreigners or another. None of these things corresponds to the reality or reflects the actual migration crisis as well as the illness of our own society that is losing its humanity and common sense.
This paragraph is clearly similar to and overlapping with the first one. It looks like the writers couldn't decide which of them would be kept so they kept both.

There has been no steep rise in xenophobia. There has been no radical increase of suffering in Africa and many countries of the Middle East from which the immigrants are flowing. There has been some increase of suffering in some countries and even the Western interventions may have contributed to it. However, none of this suffering or these interactions is unprecedented.

Poor countries have been generally suffering throughout the human history and the co-existence of several nations, religions, and civilizations has been creating some problems since the beginning of the human history, too. It is a pure demagogy to suggest that before 2015, all nations were living in the paradise or most people in all nations including ours loved everyone else and wanted to live with everyone else in the same house. It is a pure lie to suggest that the defense of our country against mass immigration has been considered "unacceptable" or "extreme". Our nation – and pretty much every other nation – has been defending itself against mass immigration waves pretty much at every moment of the history. There is absolutely nothing "extreme" about any of these reactions. European nations are actually facing such a wave now which is why we discuss it more often – but it is only the frequency, not the character, of this discussion that has recently changed. The wave is more intense now than it was a few years ago largely because it became more fashionable in the "old countries" of the refugees to try to escape – and because some infrastructure (e.g. the illegal ships) seem to be at the "right places".

The words such as "vermin" or "nuisance animals" etc. are simply not being frequently used by elected politicians or mainstream media – if they have been used at all. This jargon is an invention by the signatories of the open letter. These words are being dishonestly connected with the Czech politicians, journalists, and citizens for the signatories to demonize the Czech nation.

On the other hand, the detailed statements about risks and policies that the signatories dislike – and they may want to ban them if they had the power – are indeed being said. They are being said because they are the essential observations or the truths that everyone who deals with this problem has to understand.

It is not necessarily every immigrant who wants to suck lots of money from generous European welfare systems. But the percentage is so high – and this motivation for immigration is so important – that one simply can't ignore this correlation (and consequence of immigration) and so that an oversimplified statement equating immigrants with parasites on the welfare systems may be considered accurate enough for all practical purposes.

Similar comments apply to the relationship between Islam and crimes or intolerance towards certain rights that are standard in the West. Again, it is not strictly true that every Muslim is intolerant against this or that or that every Muslim commits certain kinds of crimes. But the percentage of certain undesirable attitudes and the rate of certain acts associated with the Muslims is so much higher than among the existing or traditional population that this difference simply cannot be overlooked, and the oversimplified assertion of equivalence may be described as basically true, too.

The claim about the "immense diversity" in the paragraph above may be described as a downright lie. Especially in comparison with the religious landscape of countries like mine, the nations from which the immigrants are flowing may pretty much classified as religiously homogeneous ones.

The behavior of Muslim citizens of the Western European countries and the type and frequency of crimes that some of them commit is so sufficiently different from the numbers and types describing the traditional demographic groups that one simply can't overlook this pattern, either. Whether one uses the term "fifth column" depends on the speaker. But every sensible person knows that an idea that the term "fifth column" conveys is at least partially applicable for this demographic group. It would be profoundly inaccurate – and ultimately foolish if not suicidal – to pretend that people from all groups are the same and that a dramatic change of the demographic composition wouldn't result in a change of many other characteristics of a country or a nation. It certainly would and it's despicable if the signatories want to turn this obvious and important fact into a taboo.

It is very obvious that the signatories of this open letter would love to ban any sensible discussion about these threats, the expected impact of a certain number of immigrants on crime rates or the balance of the welfare system or the safety on the street or other things. But such an open discussion is vital for the fate of each society that faces similar genuine risks. And every free society must be allowed to discuss these political issues. The signatories' attempt to demonize the very discussion about the relationship between the welfare system and immigrants; or the relationship between the safety on the beach and Islam; or the relationship between the geopolitical balances and the demographics of Western Europe is a sign of their profoundly undemocratic, anti-freedom, perhaps totalitarian views. Many people may rightfully conclude that not just some ghettos may become the fifth column in a potential future conflict; so may the signatories of this appeal themselves.

This discussion mustn't stop and won't stop.
That's why we urge the politicians to stop abusing other people's bad luck for the accumulation of their political capital. Act as responsible statesmen, not as petty merchants of power! We demand that when it comes to the admission of the refugees, you will take the actual needs and abilities into account, rather than the volatile public moods. Everyone who is looking for asylum in Europe has to be guaranteed safety and dignified treatment. Those in real need must be accepted and integrated on the basis of an individual and just selection process and they mustn't be eliminated from scratch by their ethnic or religious identity.
First of all, our country is a democracy. In a democracy, politicians are representing the opinions, values, and goals of the population – or a part of the population they represent. That's indeed why they are collecting the political capital – and they use this capital in their negotiations and political work and decisions. This dependence of the politicians' acts on the opinions of the public is not a defect of our system but one of its defining features and, as many would add, essential advantages.

If the signatories really want to abolish this system, i.e. to abolish democracy, they don't belong to our country as we have known it. They don't belong here for very similar reasons why the people promoting certain characteristically Islamic suppression of human rights don't belong to our society. The opinions of the public may be right or wrong but in a democracy, it's ultimately the main force that drives the political decisions. If an arrogant writer uses the adjective "volatile" for the opinion of the people, it can't change anything about its importance in any democratic country – despite the fact that sometimes the adjective accurately describes the public moods.

Also, there is nothing "volatile" about the people's desire to basically maintain the overall character of their country. From the beginning of the human history, most people found it scary to imagine that their country would soon look like another one.

It is not true that European countries like ours should – or may – guarantee safety and dignified treatment to any foreigner who appears here. Safety and the dignified treatment cost something. Above a certain threshold and in the absence of external regulation mechanisms, these things may become way too costly for the taxpayers. Above another, higher threshold, every nation becomes financially incapable of guaranteeing this safety or dignified treatment. The idea that everyone who arrives – uninvited – should automatically enjoy all these wonderful advantages is nothing else than a fantasy of a person who is completely detached from the real life. The signatories may think that they are smarter than an average man in a rural pub but when it comes to their opinions about the treatment of the immigrants, they prove that it's not the case, at least not in all disciplines of human reasoning.

Finally, it is simply not true that the asylum proceedings can't take the religious or ethnic criteria into account. Quite generally, our asylum system – much like other, carefully designed asylum systems – is meant to help the people who are escaping from other countries because their ethnicity or religion puts them at risk in their old country – but they would be safer in the new, our country because what distinguishes those people is considered OK in our system of values and laws. That's why the people's religion and ethnicity are completely essential pieces of data in every meaningful asylum process.

In particular, atheists or Christians or Caucasians etc. may be more likely to be "targets" in certain countries of the Middle East or Africa and they should have a higher chance to be admitted. This is common sense – and it is largely how it has always worked. On the other hand, if some people represent the prevailing ethnic and religious groups of their countries, it is very likely that their reason to move is not their being threatened for political or religious reasons. They're more likely to pursue economic goals and they're also more likely to bring their "new homeland" closer to their troubled "old homeland". In those cases, there are good reasons to say "No" and to say it as soon as possible.
We urge the media to realize their immense power over the opinions of the public. Inform truthfully and with a calm head, don't propagate fabricated sensations and panic. The freedom of speech belongs among the most precious values we have. Use it responsibly and sensitively. The history teaches that fear is producing non-freedom. The freedom of speech, if abused to create the lies and sling mud on the innocent ones, is killing itself.
The freedom of speech primarily means that people – including the media folks – may say things and consider ideas that are inconvenient for others, e.g. the signatories of this open letter. The signatories implicitly paint themselves as the "truthful" ones except that most others see that this is not the case. Most others have the right to read and write what they find appropriate.

Also, the open letter tries to paint its signatories as the defenders of the freedom while those who disagree with the open letter are those who are preparing a new totalitarian system. There is no evidence that this association is correct and the open letter itself indicates that it's the other way around. However, arrogant intellectuals are not the only threat for our freedom and democracy. A dramatic demographic shift could have the same effect and most people realize this risk.

The signatories love to demonize any considerations that take "differences between the groups" (including the most obvious ones) into account. However, they are doing exactly that – and with a much poorer justification – when they describe pretty much the whole Czech nation as a nation of irrational, brainwashed xenophobes. This is just another example of the fact that differences between groups of people may be very significant and, in some cases, insurmountable. Just to be sure, this territory belongs to the Czech citizens so if some separation is needed to solve escalating problems resulting from certain fatally incompatible opinions, it's the problematic immigrants and perhaps the signatories of this letter, and not the Czech nation, who will have to leave.

Signatories: you are not the dictators in this country. Your opinions about these matters are not even respected – and have no reason to be respected – as ones above the average person's opinions. Please get used to this fact and tame your excessive arrogance before you increase the tensions so that the decisions will be about the fists or worse.
However, we primarily kindly ask the public, every single one of you, i.e. us, to be careful while producing verdicts and to observe the world critically! We must keep on confronting our opinions with the facts, with our consciouss, as well as ordinary common sense. That's the only way not to be defeated by primitive instincts and to stay dignified creatures equipped with the free will. Let us not be manipulated by fraudsters who are seeding bogus reasons to fear inside our minds and who are bearing their fruits only for themselves to profit – whether it's through the votes in the elections or the attractiveness of the media. Let's not believe every sensation. Let's remember that the more shocking or terrifying a story is, the further from the truth it usually is. Let us check the information that is shaping our opinions – it's often enough to click at the Internet a few times to reveal a lie pretending to be a reliable reporting of news. Let's not overlook the bad luck of others! It is naive and dangerous to think that we may isolate ourselves from the world and ignore its problems. On the contrary, the more actively we help with their solutions, the fewer these problems will harm us in the future. Let us be interested in the events in the world, let us try to understand the actual causes of evil, and let us search for ways to face the evil.
The comment "you i.e. us" at the beginning was very comical. Everyone knows that if the signatories of this open letter realize something about themselves, it is primarily that "they are not us". As the president's spokesman has observed, there is a huge abyss between them and us.

I am eager to agree with all the comments that people should evaluate the events critically, build their opinions on verified information, check the logic of arguments they are being sold, and so on. The only problem is that the alarmist hostile stuff such as the open letter is exactly one of the things that a critically thinking citizen should identify as ideologically driven garbage and throw it away!

Concerning the second big claim in this final paragraph, the claim that one can't isolate himself from the suffering in the world, well, it's not really true. Most or many people are compassionate to one extent or another – sometimes highly compassionate. But suffering and misery have always existed and they will always exist, at least if defined relatively.

Higher living standards and other local advantages have always depended on some degree of isolation.

A fridge is only able to protect the food because it's thermally isolated from the rest of the room. A house usually tries to isolate itself from the (cold) surrounding air, too. The ozone layer isolates the biosphere from the dangerous ultraviolet radiation and the atmosphere protects us from the cosmic rays. Plasters should better isolate the blood system from infections and I could give you 100 other examples. Rich countries where things simply "work" have always needed to protect their achievements by (other things as well as) functional enforcement forces, armies, and immigration policies. An overwhelming majority of the Universe is inhospitable to life and we must get used to it. And most of the Earth's population lives in poverty. There is no "magic solution" that would change this situation overnight, especially because what matters is not the wealth itself but the power to produce it. We may help other people but we shouldn't pretend that we have the power to eradicate poverty in the world tomorrow or make the rest of the Universe hospitable to life by Christmas. Much of our being better off is thanks to our isolation from many things outside that could harm our world.

The isolation against the problems and all other things outside the "happier" places must never be perfect. But on the other hand, some efforts to isolate the "happier" places must always exist – otherwise what makes these places "happier" would fade away quickly.

Most people have enough common sense to appreciate all these ideas, mechanisms, and risks. Unfortunately, the signatories don't. They are much closer e.g. to Milan Kohout than to the politicians and journalists who cover these stories and think about certain policies. And indeed, the discussion of Milan Kohout with the other citizens gave a nice answer to the question which side of this immigration debate has calmer heads.

It would be nice to hope that the signatories could realize that their understanding of these political issues is deeply inferior, even in comparison with relatively ordinary citizens. But I am afraid that their excessive arrogance will prevent them from seeing the light. It's up to the rest of us not to get intimidated by bullies and would-be authorities, not to stop thinking and talking about the actual events and realistic threats as well as the right ways to respond to them.

Social democrat Mr Jiří Dienstbier Jr has so far been the only Czech politician who has endorsed the appeal.

iDNES.cz readers who wrote the most popular comments argue that the Australian policies towards illegal immigrants may be viewed as a good example; open letters such as this one won't change the opinion of the Czech society in the "right" direction just like the Prague Pride won't; the letter against illegal immigrants has been signed by more than 180,000 people, 100 times more than this open letter; that we can't afford new lines of people waiting for money; it's more natural to help people with the same belief or belonging to the same group; a TV report was ludicrous when it concluded that the Czechs are intolerant after they sent a woman in Muslim clothes to a swimming pool – it's not about intolerance but about the cultural definitions of the normal here; the referendum could be needed and the scientists' opinion is no more valuable than other citizens' opinion; the scientists should take a few immigrants to their houses (a classic Kohout theme); the scientists speak from the position of cafés; our moral limits – e.g. not to send anyone to gas chambers – doesn't mean that we must enthusiastically welcome the big changes; people are already fed up that they're being said to be stupid, fearful, lacking compassion, or downright Nazi; scientists' work is important and deserves our respect but most of these people are detached from the real world – for example, the co-existence of very different cultures always creates problems even before we decide "who is right" and it's right to do prevention; if someone had told me (a woman) a year ago that I would agree with Zeman and his spokesman Ovčáček, I would have laughed – but I am no longer laughing; the academics have placed themselves as the "elite" above the 90% of the "plebs" that they consider an inhuman immoral rabble; what the Czech nation actually care about is to reduce the inflow because we know that they won't adapt and we don't want to adapt to their culture whatever it is; I would say, comrade, that your propaganda has overshot at the beginning; the EU elites want us to be tolerant but are the refugees tolerant? Is it tolerant to come somewhere and build mosques etc.? People are already fed up with you because you're living out of their money; how should I politely write that I don't want migrants coming to Czechia without being labeled a racist or xenophobe?; a defender of the petition claims that the actual open letter only wants politicians not to earn political capital from this thing and save us from gas chambers; the academic environment is often called the pseudoelite or elitist but no one has told me who is the actual elite; (a parody) dear xenophobic public, "everyone who is looking for asylum in Europe must be guaranteed safety and nice treatment" – P.S.: if a xenophobe and non-scientist were telling you that you can't pour 10 liters of fluid to a 1-liter bottle, and a mess on the table will result, please resolutely reject this fearmongering; I just wrote the same under a different article – certain people don't realize that this skewed pressure is counterproductive, people aren't stupid, and they are able to add 2+2; when scientists don't like that the immigrants are discussed in the context of crimes, they are out of reality – what about the attacks on the trucks, the English Channel, and other things?; some facts: 10% of France's Muslims is enough to produce 50% of the 70,000 prison population, 67% of French citizens don't feel safe at home, London 2005 (and Sweden 2013), the situation was getting worse since that year, it's a matter of time when those problems will be poured to Czechia; the signatories are also-scientists who are analogous to the signatories of the (pro-communist) Anticharter 77 and who try to paint the remaining citizens as morons, however, most of the people have traveled across Europe and know what's going on in Paris or London or Malmö or Philadelphia, this new Anticharter will help to radicalize the Czech society because every action causes a reaction.

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