Tonight I had dinner with Shoresh Moradi, a Kurdish surgeon who was educated and lives in Sweden and practices medicine at the Karolinska Hospital. During dinner in Palma de Mallorca, he told me a few moving stories of how his patients react when, instead of getting a Swedish doctor in the emergency room, they get a dark skin Arab looking man, himself. His were stories of prejudice, the prejudice that he has to deal with as an emergency room surgeon every day of his life. Interestingly, in most cases this prejudice is overcome and patients somehow go through a transformation after entrusting their lives to a perceived Muslim doctor. And I said perceived because Shoresh is Muslim in culture more than religion, very much in the same way that I am Jewish. We are both proud of our heritages, but we can also see the inequality in the treatment of women and Goim or infidels, that extreme religiosity entails both in orthodox Judaism and certain flavors of Islam as backwards and damaging to society.
During dinner we spoke about the paradox of prejudice in Europe and we agreed that it had to do with the way immigrants came to Europe. In Europe, immigrants are chosen by the exact type of job they do and that’s what their visa says. So for example an immigrant may come to Spain as a household worker and his visa will allow him or her to do just that, be an “empleado del hogar”. Europeans have no problem publicly arguing that the best jobs should be reserved for natives. This type of discrimination is not seen as prejudice. Americans instead have a system that seeks out immigrants with great qualifications and so do a minority of EU countries like Ireland for example. As a result, in most of Europe, it is immigrants who have the worst jobs and what is worse, they are then blamed for their lack of achievement, a situation that is most unfair considering how they were pre-selected to do them. Europeans conclude that people from those countries where immigrants come from are mostly inept. Now the ultimate paradox is what happens when these immigrants, while driving taxis or cleaning offices, actually go to university and end up, like Shoresh Moradi, as surgeons. Then the prejudice is even worse, as women patients, for example, believe that a Muslim doctor will treat them poorly and it is up to Shoresh to explain how this is not the case. It’s happened to him that he had to justify himself many times ahead of a procedure, or that he had to go in person to interviews in order to try to overcome the fears that his name inspires.
So Shoresh and I both agreed that while poor and unsuccessful immigrants face prejudice, successful immigrants face even more prejudice. Not from the educated elites, but especially from the average citizen in an atmosphere of anonymity (think Youtube comments). The type of citizens that end up voting for anti-immigrant parties. So in the end, both Jews and successful Muslims in Europe suffer a similar prejudice. This prejudice was taken to an extreme in the Holocaust, and is even worse than the prejudice against those who do poorly; it’s the prejudice against those who do very well. Jews have traditionally been detested, not for doing badly but for succeeding. For being one in 500 people in the planet but having one in 5 Nobel prizes or many of the top positions in the billionaires lists, or top writers, or movie makers. And this is still the case in many places in Europe, much more so than in USA where I lived for 18 years before moving here. And yes, we can go about our lives being successful, but in Spain, France and many other countries in Europe if being rich is not well regarded, being a rich Jew or a rich Arab is worse. And this is the other curse. The curse of escaping poverty and finding that prejudice was there all along and remains. If you do very badly you face prejudice because you are a loser, but if you do very well and end up in an “unexpected spot” that defeats the stereotype, there you find an even tougher type of prejudice, the one that confronts Shoresh ahead of many a life saving surgery or me when a newspaper in Spain called me “judío especulador”. If you have doubts about what I am saying and speak Spanish simply google “judío Varsavsky” and read the first 30 results.