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Xenophobia raises its head

  • Published at 04:53 pm October 19th, 2019

Europe needs to address this problem

Xenophobia is the fear or hatred of that which is perceived to be foreign or strange. It involves perceptions of an in-group towards an external group, not recognized as part of the community. 

It can then manifest itself in suspicion of the activities of others, and a desire to eliminate their presence to secure a presumed purity, and may relate to a fear of losing national, ethnic, or racial identity. 

Such an approach to finding solutions towards the resolution of suspected problems is becoming apparent in different parts of the world. 

Nationalism inherently highlights perceived differences between people, emphasizing an individual’s identification with their own nation. The idea is potentially oppressive, as it submerges individual identity within a national whole, and gives elites or political leaders potential opportunities to control the masses.

It arises particularly when people feel that their right to benefit from the government is being subverted by other people’s rights. Such an approach subsequently acquires a taste of nationalism in the beginning and later follows the path of xenophobic fundamentalist racism.

We are noticing at present such an illusion in the context of extreme right-wing activists in Germany, France, Netherlands, Italy, and some other regions of Europe. In this context, one also has to refer to efforts aimed at creating anti-Semitic feelings -- which are unacceptable -- in certain parts of Europe.

A study by Harvard University to map out the social attitudes in several European countries with regard to incidents of racial bias showed the strongest racial bias in the Czech Republic, Lithuania, Belarus, Ukraine, Moldova, Bulgaria, Slovakia, Malta, Italy, and Portugal. 

A 2017 report by the University of Oslo Centre for Research on Extremism has also tentatively suggested: “Individuals of Muslim background stand out among perpetrators of anti-Semitic violence in Western Europe.” 

There have also been reports of individuals and groups perpetrating acts of terror against the nomadic Romanis scattered in different parts of Europe. 

In Belgium, there have been recorded well over a hundred anti-Semitic attacks in 2009. This was a 100% increase from the year before. The perpetrators were usually young males of immigrant background from the Middle East.

In 2004, France experienced rising levels of Islamic anti-Semitism and acts that were publicized around the world. In 2006, rising levels of anti-Semitism were recorded in French schools. 

Citing existing anti-Semitism currents in France, over 7,000 members of the Jewish community petitioned for asylum in the US in 2007. This growing development has resulted in French authorities appointing a special coordinator for fighting racism and anti-Semitism.

Another perspective of racial discrimination -- the nomadic Romanis are facing disadvantages, including unequal treatment, segregation, and harassment in Hungary.

These negative stereotypes are often linked to existing unemployment and reliance on state benefits among the Romani population. In 2008 and 2009, there were carefully planned nine attacks against the Romani population in Hungary, resulting in six deaths and multiple injuries.

Anti-Roma sentiment also exists in Italy, and has taken on the form of hostility, prejudice, discrimination, or racism directed at Romani people. 

Many national and local political leaders also engaged in rhetoric during 2007 and 2008 that suggested that the rise in crime at the time was mainly a result of uncontrolled immigration of people of Roma origin from Romania. 

National and local leaders have also declared their plans to expel the Roma from settlements in and around major cities and to deport illegal immigrants.

In the Netherlands, in 2012, the Dutch right-wing Party for Freedom started using a website that deliberately featured an anti-Polish and anti-Romani paradigm used by the Dutch people to air their frustration about losing their jobs due to cheaper workers from Poland, Bulgaria, Romania, and other non-Germanic central and eastern European countries. 

This country has also been the victim of anti-Semitic incidents, from verbal abuse to violence, allegedly carried out by youth, mostly boys from Moroccan descent, leading many to re-think the detrimental effects of nationalism -- some nationalists exclude certain groups. 

Sometimes a mythic homeland is more important for the national identity than the actual territory occupied by the nation. A sacred quality is sought in the nation and in the popular memories it evokes. Citizenship is idealized by territorial nationalists. 

A criterion of a territorial nationalism is the establishment of a mass, public culture based on common values, codes, and traditions of the population. This is sometimes taken forward by wrongly using religion as a factor.

In any case, as it stands today, the world is receiving notice of usurpation of human rights, and that needs to be addressed; the sooner the better. 

Muhammad Zamir, a former ambassador, is an analyst specialized in foreign affairs, right to information, and good governance. He can be reached at [email protected]

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