Saro Thiruppathy illustrates how the migrant crisis turns the spotlight squarely on rampant xenophobia

It seems that xenophobia and racism are spreading more rapidly than ever across the globe. People are afraid and far-right politicians are fuelling these fears through racist ideologies. They exacerbate it through right-wing rhetoric that sits well with conservatives who are basically not favourable to change.

While xenophobic people fear the unknown – such as foreigners being among their midst – racists dislike certain races due to a superiority complex. They don’t tolerate those who don’t display their external human traits.

Racism, which is a learned prejudice, wouldn’t be quite so pervasive in the absence of xenophobia, which is an existential fear. The move by far-right politicians to capitalise on the fears of their citizens amid the prevailing migrant crisis has highlighted the need for the international community to address this issue before it becomes irreversible.

RACIST LINGO In June, CNN published notes it had obtained, which had been written by US Deputy Assistant Secretary for Population, Refugees and Migration Andrew Veprek. He had commented on a proposed amendment to the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) resolution titled ‘The Incompatibility between Democracy and Racism.’

According to the article, Veprek “disputed the idea that leaders have a ‘duty’ to condemn hate speech and incitement, and repeatedly rejected the use of words like nationalism, populism and xenophobia.” He commented that “the drafters say ‘populism’ and ‘nationalism’ as if these are dirty words… There are millions of Americans who likely would describe themselves as adhering to these concepts (maybe even the president).”

CNN claims that shortly after the edits had been submitted, the US had pulled out of the UNHRC.

EUROPE’S TIDE Meanwhile, Europe is awash with refugees from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and North Africa. And Europeans are beginning to protest against this seemingly never-ending tide of foreigners.

These people look different, speak diverse languages, and are not blonde and blue-eyed. And they’re arriving in rickety boats and settling in their countries. The financial crisis of 2008 has also caused concern about jobs and scarce resources.

Since the migration crisis in Europe took root in 2015, nationalist voices have become louder. And far-right political parties have managed to get more than a foot in the door. Some are in parliament, others are leading the opposition and a few are gaining traction inch by inch. These far-right parties have one theme song and the lyrics always include hostility towards immigration or contain anti-Islamic rhetoric.

But what’s even worse is that their meteoric rise in popularity is concerning centrist politicians and causing them to veer to the right to retain their voter bases.

MEIN KAMPF In his book titled ‘Hitler’s American Model – The United States and the Making of Nazi Race Law,’ James Whitman writes that Adolf Hitler in his 1925 autobiography ‘Mein Kampf’ “praises America as the one state that has made progress towards a primarily racial conception of citizenship by ‘excluding certain races from naturalisation’.”

In September 1935, the Nazis enacted the Nuremberg Laws, which comprised two anti-Semitic and racist laws. The Law for the Protection of German Blood and German Honour criminalised marriage and extramarital relations between Jews and Germans, and the employment of German women under the age of 45 in Jewish households.

And the Reich Citizenship Law stipulated that only those of German or related blood were eligible to be citizens of the Reich – the ‘others’ were considered state subjects without citizenship rights. Supplementary decrees defined who was Jewish, and classified the Romani people and Jews as ‘enemies of the race based state.’

LEGAL CRIME The resultant holocaust wouldn’t have been possible if the German people hadn’t been xenophobic.

Hitler fuelled their fears, and created the perfect social and legal atmosphere whereby the Nazis could exterminate an estimated six million Jews
and about 11 million more persons from miscellaneous categories.

When Myanmar passed the discriminatory 1982 Citizenship Law and withheld citizenship from the Rohingya people who reside in the Rakhine State, much of the world was silent. Strained relations between the mainly Muslim Rohingya and majority Rakhine Buddhists had resulted in regular clashes due to what human rights activists call ‘nationalism fuelled racism.’

In August last year, the army launched a brutal attack on the Rohingya people and together with Rakhine Buddhist villagers, set fire to their homes and fields so that they had nothing to return to.

Sri Lanka too has had its share of discriminatory legislation. The government of D. S. Senanayake pandered to the Sinhalese majority and disenfranchised the Indian Tamil community – which constituted 11 percent of the population – by passing the Ceylon Citizenship Act of 1948, and the Indian and Pakistani Residents (Citizenship) Act of 1949.

Racist governments often introduce discriminatory legislation to disenfranchise minorities as the first step towards legitimising their racist agendas.

So it is vital that the international community prevents xenophobia from spiralling into race related human rights violations – and that will be one of humanity’s greatest fights against the rising tide of racism!