Globalization and the rise in Xenophobia

Saturday, November 17, 2007

With the world increasingly becoming a global village due to technological advances, people from different cultures, religions, countries etc have come to socially interact in one way or the other. It is common to find one being found in a foreign country either for business, school, jobs etc. However, living in a foreign country sometimes has its own problems. In some countries or societies, a foreigner might not be completely welcome. Whether he/she is a labour migrant, investor, asylum seeker, student etc, the penalty one gets for leaving his/her own country is at least an exposure to elements of xenophobia. But, what is xenophobia?

According to the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, xenophobia is defined as "fear and hatred of strangers or foreigners or of anything that is strange or foreign". The word has Greek roots: xenos - foreign , phobia - irrational hate. But why is it that some people are xenophobic? As I was googling for this topic, I found out some very amazing facts for this tendency. Some of the reasons why some people tend to be xenophobic include:

  • Some people feel the presence of foreigners would lead them to losing their identity (Foreigners taking over a country?)
  • Some people feel foreigners would take their jobs and businesses and therefore this would lead to a rise in unemployment of the locals. Is it a coincidence that some that countries with high levels of unemployment exhibit a rise in xenophobia. The blame game...? This reminds me of Nazi Germany where the Jews were persecuted for not being German enough although the Jews were successful in business etc
  • Human beings naturally tend to have the unjustified fear of the unknown in this case foreigners.

Now, what are some of the symptoms of xenophobia in a society? The following are just some of them:

  • Use of ethnophaulisms. Ethnophaulisms are words or expressions meant to demean groups or use of language that contributes to stereotyping e.g. "Mzimbabwe" refering to a Zimbabwean. If you are in Southern Africa, you would probably understand the context of the word "Mzimbabwe". I feel sad on the way Zimbabweans are currently being treated in some countries.
  • Developing xenophobic humour: developing jokes that make fun of foreigners or their country of origin
  • Superior posturing: A kind of thinking that you think better than a foreigner just because you are a "native" and a foreigner can not do better than yourself
  • Stereotyping or typecasting: Associating foreigners with some stereotypes yet one does not know much about the country of origin of the foreigner. For example, labeling that all people from country X are poor yet they themselves as individuals are as poor as church mouse. Sorry, for the sarcasm!
  • Maltreatment or abuse of foreigners just because they are "foreign"
  • Rise in the "blame game". Blaming foreigners for lack of employment, rise in crime, etc

However, if xenophobia is left unchecked, it can lead to very dire consequences. Here is a quote from
Xenophobia gives rise to ideologies which proclaim the superiority of one group of people over another [e.g] racism, anti-Semitism, Nazism. When xenophobia wins out in a society and people who know how to use and encourage this xenophobia [o]n others attain a position of power, the result can be the systematic slaughter of entire groups of the populations, as [it] happened in Europe in the case of the Holocaust or ethnic cleansing in Serbia. And it all starts in such an inconspicuous way: “Foreigners are taking our work”, “The Jews have stolen our country”, “The gypsies are living off the tax we pay”...It is xenophobia which creates the necessary environment for hate, mass injustice and violence to flourish. For this reason a civil and democratic society should defend itself against xenophobia.

Above all, xenophobia infringes on the rights and dignity of the victims. This reminds me of Articles I and II of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Article I states that:
All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

Article II states that:
... Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty.

Have you been affected by xenophobia at some point in your life? Feel free to drop a comment on this post.

Some of the references used in this post include:


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