The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines Xenophobia as – fear and hatred of strangers or foreigners or of anything that is strange or foreign. As can be seen, for xenophobia there are two main objects of the phobia (fear). The first is a population group present within a society, which is not considered part of that society. Often they are recent immigrants, but xenophobia may be directed against a group which has been present for centuries. This form of xenophobia can draw out or facilitate hostile and violent reactions, such as mass expulsion of immigrants, or in the worst case, genocide. The second form of xenophobia is primarily cultural, and the objects of the phobia are cultural elements which are considered alien or foreign.
However, as is often the case, the two forms of xenophobia go together, with the second form used as a pretext by chauvinist, racist demagogues to justify their first kind of phobia, which invariably turns into acts of violence against the target group – the “foreigners” and “strangers”. In recent years, xenophobia has become a powerful political factor in many parts of Europe, especially France and Denmark. The fact that many of the immigrants and refugees are non-Christians is an important factor in shaping the thrust of the xenophobia in Europe.
Xenophobia is not a new world phenomenon. In Japan it can be traced back to the mid-17th century when Japan practiced it against people that looked different. While much progress has since been made per Article 14 of the Constitution, the 2006 report by Doudou Diène, the UN Special Rapporteur for Racial Discrimination, was highly critical of current Japanese xenophobia and on-going discriminatory practices. These include difficulties in access to housing, accommodation (hotels) and other commercial establishments open to the public (spas, bars, night-clubs, restaurants and others) based on physical appearance and myth, and bullying at school of foreign-looking children. The discriminated people fall under three categories – the national minorities (the Buraku people, the Ainu and the people of Okinawa), people and descendants of former Japanese colonies (the Koreans and Chinese), and foreigners and migrants from other countries.
The United States is a land of immigrants. Yet it has a long history of xenophobia dating back to the beginnings of the country. The 1790 Immigration Law declared only “free white persons” could become naturalized American citizens. Hostility towards the German immigrants had been around since they began to immigrate en masse in the eighteenth century. Benjamin Franklin, in his 1751 pamphlet Observations Concerning the Increase of Mankind, wrote: “Why should Pennsylvania, founded by the English, become a Colony of Aliens, who will shortly be so numerous as to Germanize us instead of our Anglifying them, and will never adopt our Languages or Customs, any more than they can acquire our Complexion.”
The first major immigration boom in the USA began in the 1840s. Before that period, most immigrants hailed from England. In the 1850s, the Irish Potato Famine led to the massive immigration of Irish families to the United States. The native population looked down on them, considering them less clean and hygienic. They were accused of stealing American jobs. A semi-secret political movement developed around the hatred of Irish Catholics. These white Irish immigrants were dumped as “know nothings”. This Law was not repealed until 1952.
Chinese immigration to the west coast of the USA started with the California Gold Rush of the late 19th century. The Chinese were accused of driving down wages and taking jobs away from Americans. Interestingly, Denis Kearney, an Irish-American led the xenophobic movement to expel Chinese from the USA. The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 excluded all Chinese laborers from the USA. Two years later the law was amended to apply it to all ethnic Chinese, whatever country they were born in. The law was renewed in 1892 and again in 1902. It was ultimately repealed in 1943.
The California Alien Act of 1913 prevented aliens, mostly Japanese farmers, from owning land. The Act was repealed in 1948.
By 1924, two million Jews entered the USA, escaping pogroms in Eastern Europe. The National Origins Quotas was introduced in 1924 to limit Jewish, Polish, and Italian immigration and to restrict immigration mostly to Protestants living in western and northern Europe. Not surprisingly, Mexican immigration was okay because of the need for cheap labor in the Southwest; however, in separate legislation, the concept of “illegal alien” was introduced in 1924.
During World War II over 100,000 Japanese-Americans, two-thirds US citizens, were forced into interment camps. This was authorized by an Executive Order 9066 and the round-up was facilitated by the FBI, which had compiled its Custodial Detention index two years before the US entered the war. In 1944, the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the exclusion, removal, and detention, arguing that it was permissible to curtail the civil rights of a racial group when there was a “pressing public necessity.” In 1988, President Regan apologized and signed legislation which stated that government actions were based on “race prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership”. Beginning in 1990, the U.S. government paid reparations to surviving internees.
The current wave of loathing for Mexican immigrants is only the latest example of xenophobia in the USA. It is quite interesting to notice what was said about the Chinese laborers in the 1880s is repeated about Mexican workers today.
In the post-9/11 era, xenophobia against Muslims is often led by children and grand-children of migrants to the USA, who had been its victims for being ‘different’. Some of the legal justifications developed for the Japanese Internment are being used to justify President Bush’s acts today.
In our time, the worst forms of xenophobia are practiced against the Rohingya Muslims of Burma. Under the military regime of General Ne Win, beginning in 1962, the Muslim residents of Arakan were wrongfully labeled illegal immigrants who had settled in Burma during the British rule (1826-1947). This, in spite of the fact that Rohingyas have lived in the Arakan state from at least 1430 CE when Arakan King Narameikhla (Mun Sawmon) was restored to his throne by a 30,000 man Muslim Army! The Burmese central government made all efforts to drive them out of Burma, starting with the denial of their citizenship. The 1974 Emergency Immigration Act took away Burmese nationality from the Rohingyas, making them foreigners in their own country. Then came the Burma Citizenship Law of 1982 violating several fundamental principles of the international law and effectively reduced them to the status of Stateless. Under this highly discriminatory law, these Muslims must prove their uninterrupted existence in Arakan anterior to 1823.
Interestingly, one of the authors of this discriminatory law is a Rakhaing intellectual by the name of Dr. Aye Kyaw, who taught history at a university in New York and settled in Brooklyn, NY as a naturalized citizen. How criminal and hypocritical of a person who continues to advocate for denial of citizenship to a people that traces their ancestry to Arakan for nearly a millennium!
Xenophobia, sponsored by the Burmese government and aided by Rakhaing ultra-nationalists, has caused forced exodus of 1.5 million Rohingya Muslims to seek refuge outside Burma, internal displacement of at least a million, and death of another 50,000. Rohingyas are denied each and every right guaranteed under the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Extra-judicial killing and summery executions, humiliating movement restriction, denial of education, job and healthcare, rape of women, arrest and torture, forced labor, forced relocation, confiscation of moveable and immoveable properties, religious sacrileges, etc., are regular occurrences in Arakan, making the Rohingya people an endangered people of our time who require special protection.
The Dominican Republic is another case where xenophobia against the Haitians is promoted by the government. In 1937 more than 50,000 Haitians were killed by Fascist Dictator Rafael Trujillo in an attempt to whiten up the country. According to the New York Times report in 2004 – grandchildren and great grandchildren of Haitians are still denied birth certificates, medical care, education and social services because of their race and ancestry. Both the Amnesty International and the Human Rights Watch have reported that physical attacks against Haitians have increased since 1992, including reports of the lynching of Haitians as late as 2006.
Julius Streicher and Nazi Germany:
Xenophobia against the Jews in Germany provided the necessary backdrop for their “Final Solution” (genocide) at the hands of Nazi criminals.
For every ideology, there is always an ideologue. This role is often shared by intellectuals, who are the real ˜brains” that energize the wheel of the movement. So, as we have Aye Kyaw and Aye Chan (author of xenophobic works like the “Who are the Rohingyas?”, “The Development of Muslim Enclave in Arakan” and “The Influx Viruses”) among the Rakhaings, steering the wheel of xenophobia against the Rohingyas of Burma today, Julius Streicher (February 12, 1885 – October 16, 1946) was the ideologue responsible for breeding hatred against the Jews of Germany.
Julius Streicher was a prominent Nazi prior to and during World War II. In 1923 Streicher founded the racist newspaper, Der Sturmer of which he was editor. The newspaper become a part of the Nazi propaganda machine spreading deep hatred of everything and everyone Jewish.
Streicher argued in the newspaper that the Jews had contributed to the depression, unemployment, and inflation in Germany which afflicted the country during the 1920’s. He claimed that Jews were white-slavers and were responsible for over 90 percent of the prostitutes in the country. Eventually the newspaper reached a peak circulation of 480,000 in 1935. After the Nazi party was reorganized, Streicher became the party leader of Franconia. After 1933, he practically ruled the city of Nuremberg and was nicknamed “King of Nuremberg” and the “Beast of Franconia”. His publishing firm released three anti-Semitic books for children, including the 1938 Der Giftpilz (The Poison Mushroom), one of the most widespread pieces of propaganda, which purported to warn about insidious dangers Jews posed by using the metaphor of an attractive and yet deadly mushroom
On May 23, 1945, two weeks after Germany’s surrender, Streicher was captured by the Americans. Chief Justice Jackson, chief counsel for the prosecution, spoke to the tribunal and explained to them the importance of what they were doing. He said, to paraphrase, that: We are handing these defendants a poisoned chalice, and if we ever sip from it we must be subject to the same punishments, otherwise this whole trial is a farce. Interestingly, in Jackson’s opening statement he claimed that the prosecution did not wish to incriminate the whole German race for the crimes they committed, but only the planners and designers of those crimes, the inciters and leaders without whose evil architecture the world would not have been for so long scourged with the violence and lawlessness of this terrible war.
So, at Nuremberg, the ordinary Germans who threw Jews into crematoria were not tried, but only their leaders, who incited violence. It was not surprising, therefore, to find Julius Streicher included in that short list. He was found guilty of crimes against humanity at the Nuremberg War Crimes Trial and sentenced to death on October 1, 1946. Another person who didn’t escape punishment at Nuremberg was Dr. Wolfram Sievers of the Ahnenerbe Society Institute of Military Scientific Research, whose own crimes were traced back to the University of Strasbourg. They were not the typical people prosecuted for international war crimes, given their civilian professions. As Professor Noam Chomsky has argued recently there is a justification for their punishment, namely, those defendants could understand what they were doing. They could understand the consequences of the work that they were carrying out.
What is important here to stress is that Julius Streicher was not a member of the military. He was not part of planning the Holocaust, the invasion of Poland, or the Soviet invasion. Yet his role in inciting the extermination of Jews was significant enough, in the prosecutors’ judgment, to include him in the indictment.
With a global economy, our world is more connected today than it ever was. Immigration to more prosperous countries has and will continue to become an important issue that will be exploited by a few. It is no accident that xenophobia is again on the rise in various parts of our world, resulting in unfathomed suffering of victims. Most human rights activists consider xenophobia as a crime against humanity. Yet I am not sure if this fact has sunk in with many of the so-called “Democracy” leaders in Europe and Burma, and Rakhaing leaders and intellectuals, whose actions speak louder than their hypocritical words unmasking their closet Fascism and xenophobia against minorities. It is high time that they amend their ways and advocate for repealing discriminatory xenophobic laws that are at odds with international and UN laws. The sooner the better!
From the brief analysis above, it is quite obvious that xenophobia is often abused by powerful people for political gains. In their victimization of Rohingyas today, Rakhaings see themselves as benefactors the same way the Nazis saw themselves in their xenophobia against Jews. The practitioners occasionally may be unaware of their inherent xenophobia until put to the test. And worse still, the worst culprits are normally the children and grand-children of erstwhile immigrants, who had benefited from immigration themselves.
Can xenophobia be defeated or tackled? With proper upbringing, education, and enactment and strict enforcement of laws, it can surely be tackled to minimize its harmful effects. However, xenophobia cannot be defeated easily without understanding the underlying causes of immigration, the roles the society, politics and economics play. Contrary to popular beliefs, studies have repeatedly shown that immigrants create new jobs not only through their consumption patterns, but though their ingenuity and industriousness. They lower the cost of living in many industrial countries. Spreading true knowledge about these issues will be the first step in combating xenophobia. The second step will involve challenging the ultra-nationalist views concerning xenophobia. The third step will involve accepting xenophobia as a crime against humanity and thereby stopping it at any cost both at local and international level. Harsh punishments, like those applied against Julius Streicher in the Nuremburg Tribunal, must be meted out to the preachers and practitioners of xenophobia. Lastly, the latter groups must learn from history that xenophobia has not benefited any nation and will surely not benefit theirs either. Hopefully, a greater dissemination of knowledge right from childhood and deeper appreciation of human diversity will spur us to stop xenophobia once and for all time.