Xenophobia/Racism the Fear of the Other
Racism is one form of Xenophobia. Like with many human conditions Xenophobia / Racism is not black and white but appears on a scale. Located on the most extreme end is the Holocaust – the murder of six million Jews by the Nazi regime during World War II for solely racial reason. This ideology perceived Jews as a different race and as such sub-human and not worth living. On the other end of the scale are people who live, break bread, sleep, socialise with people of different skin colour, custom, religion or nationality without those differences being an issue or even noticed. In between we find probably the vast majority of people. Like my uncle who initially was unhappy (“foreign blood”), when his daughter married an Indian student who became the most favourite member of our family being such a lovely man.
Racism is ancient and comes in many forms. The Greeks coined the word still in use today: Xenophobia. It means the fear of the other like foreigners with different languages and customs. Another form is discrimination and hate of other religions or even between branches of one religion. Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland or Sunnis and Shia Muslims. Originally the fear and loathing of the outsider had a useful function to keep the tribal grouping of people who were related or at least knew each other together and safe. It even served a purpose in organising larger population of the same language and beliefs into nation states.
Racism never disappeared. It could be seen as the glue holding groups of people together. However its extreme forms of the Holocaust or the terrorist attacks in Norway and Christchurch/New Zealand have not been tolerated and the perpetrators prosecuted. They have given racism a bad name. Even in racist countries like the US or Australia in polite society it has become uncouth to for instance use the N-(igger) word. However being so ancient and deep seated Racism continues as a strong undercurrent even if people would not admit to it.
Racially based atrocities continue to happen in the Third World like ISIS in the Middle East, the plight of the Rohingya in Myanmar or the Hutu/Tutsi genocide in Rwanda. We, the First World look at these with disgust and condemnation. We don’t acknowledge our racism even if it sits on the same spectrum and can easily move up the scale.
Neo-liberalism – Populism
Part of the answer lies in the rise of Neo-liberalism the source of most evil over the last 40 years. The now leading economic dogma in the world has lead to an ever widening gap between the rich so called 1 % and the rest. Real income over the last 40 years has stagnated for the vast majority while the incomes and wealth of the 1% or even more 0.1% have risen astronomically. The majority are increasingly resentful waiting for the promised “trickle down effect”. They lash out at the establishment and perceived elites.
As Racism like any prejudice is based on ignorance it helped that the Ne0-liberals deliberately cut back on education beyond basic numeracy and literacy to be able to read instructions. The dumber the people the easier they can be manipulated being unable to distinguish between truth and lies.
Here Populism comes in defined as “championing the common person, usually by favourable contrast with an elite” but in contemporary understanding “revolving around a charismatic leader who appeals to and claims to embody the will of the people in order to consolidate his own power.”
A few names spring to mind : Donald Trump (US), Narendra Modi (India), Jair Bolsonaro (Brasil), Victor Orban (Hungary), Rodrigo Duterte (Philippines) and Boris Johnson (UK).
These examples all happen to be on the conservative side of the political spectrum. Progressives at least start out with the idea to make the world a better place and are often divided how best to get there. Conservatives wanting to keep their privileges are united by the simple goal to just stay in power. Their power hunger makes them ruthless in their use of any means for their political and personal end. Their main tool is lying to the people the more blatant and often the better.
Exploitation of Xenophobia/Racism
The puppet masters of the dark art of political manipulation like Steve Bannon and Dominic Cummings if these populist politicians didn’t know it instinctively themselves have identified Xenophobia/Racism as the perfect condition to be exploited. There is no defence against dog whistle racially charged lies. Xeno-Phobia as all phobias is not rational. It cannot be countered with facts, truth and rational discourse. You cannot argue against their slogans “Make America great again” (US) or “Taking back Control” (UK).
For this reason I would advise the UK opposition not to allow a snap election fought on the single issue of Brexit, which is Xenophobia/Racism pure.
They cannot win against slogans like “Taking back Control”, “31 October Independence Day” or “The people vs Parliament”. Of course the “people” will win. Only 40% of British voters may still be hardcore Brexiteers. However this minority will give Boris Johnson under the undemocratic first-past-the-post electoral system a big majority in Parliament.
Don’t fall into the Populist Xenophobia/Racism Trap !
Dr Hans B. Grueber