The word xenophobia comes from the Greek words 'xenos', which means stranger, and 'phobos', which is fear. It refers to the irrational and intense fear that people have against anything that is strange or unfamiliar, more specifically against people from foreign nations or ethnic backgrounds. Xenophobia can be classified into 2 types. The first is a cultural fear, where the phobia is against objects and elements related to a particular culture, such as clothes and language. The second is against a group of people who are not considered to be a part of society, which usually occurs during periods of mass immigration, which usually leads to reactions ranging from violence on a small scale to large executions or genocides. It is generally agreed that most early cases of xenophobia used to arise due to traumatic experiences. However, recent cases seem to be coming out of internal predispositions due to heredity or genetics, combined with a skewed environment.
While it is true that this phenomenon is mostly irrational in nature, there are certain causes of xenophobia which can be attributed to acquiring such mental tendencies. These include bad experiences with people of certain groups, exposure to xenophobic propaganda, or exposure to such behavior by people in everyday life. Let us now look at a few examples where xenophobia has greatly affected people in the course of human history.
► South Africa
► Other Examples
Ku Klux Klan: Formed by the former soldiers of the Confederate army after the Civil War, with the objective of establishing all-white supremacy all across the United States, the Ku Klux Klan initially targeted freed slaves and their allies through threats and violence. During the 1950s and 1960s, many members of the Klan were convicted for the lynching and murdering of civil rights workers and several black families. Nowadays, most people consider this group as a subversive or terrorist organization. This clan's ideologies can firmly be seen as xenophobic in nature.
Japanese Internment Camps: A fear that the people of Japanese descent living in the United States would side with the Japanese forces during World War 2 led to a mass internment of around 120,000 people, despite being American citizens. This act came out of racist and xenophobic tendencies among the whites of the west coast. Many of the internees had a hard time resettling into their regular lives after they were released, because they were still viewed with suspicion by other Americans. A lot of such Japanese origin people gave up their citizenship due to these traumatic experiences.
Other examples include the poor treatment of Chinese miners in America during the 1800s, who were not allowed to testify against white men in cases of attacks and murders. This tendency continued well into the 1980s, because Asian-American citizens were not considered to be 'real Americans'. Even today, Muslim and Middle Eastern people are discriminated against due to the xenophobic tendencies that re-emerged after the 9/11 attacks. Civil rights activists like to point out that most Americans are immigrants or have descended from immigrants, and this is a vital part of the nation's history, with nothing to be afraid of.
The Jewish Holocaust: This was one of the most gruesome episodes of the Second World War. Between 1941 to 1945, over six million Jews were methodically targeted and murdered by the Nazi regime and its supporters. Apart from these, another five million non-Jewish people, such as the Poles, Communists, Gypsies, homosexuals, and people who were mentally or physically disabled were killed, which turned the Third Reich into a genocidal state. Around 500,000 people were directly involved in planning and executing these heinous war crimes. This movement was based upon the idea that the Jews were a race that were in constant friction with the Aryan race towards the objective of world domination. The xenophobic mindset of the people can be seen through propaganda made by German leaders, who depicted the Jews as 'predators' and compared to cholera bacilli, who had to be exterminated for the good of the German people. On the other hand, people in Europe started showing xenophobic tendencies towards all Germans after both World Wars, regardless of whether the person was associated with the Nazis or not.
Racial Tendencies: Another example which showed the xenophobic tendencies of early Europeans was when humans from Africa, Philippines, and various tribes around the world were captured and displayed in human zoos, sometimes caged with exotic animals. Nowadays too, xenophobia is prevalent among the populace of many European countries, where anti-Muslim and anti-Jew sentiment runs rampant. This can be seen due to the xenophobic policies that parties have been turning towards to win votes in elections.
According to the Japanese Constitution, all citizens are considered as equal regardless of their ethnicity. However, even today, foreign nationals are restricted from certain public services and activities. Koreans, Chinese, Taiwanese, Ainu, and people originating from other nationalities suffer from the xenophobic sentiments of regular Japanese public.
The Rape of Nanking: This sentiment was widely seen when the Japanese invaded China during the Second World War. The Rape of Nanking saw the deaths, torture, rapes of thousands of Chinese people, including women and babies.
Kanto Earthquake: In 1923, a large number of Koreans were imprisoned or killed after the Kanto Earthquake due to suspicions that the Koreans had poisoned the water supply. Although xenophobia has somewhat lessened in recent times, problems still exist, because laws regarding ethnic matters are of low-priority in the legislative process even today.
Apartheid: Among the examples of xenophobia in South Africa, the period of Apartheid from 1948 - 1995 was the one having an extremely lasting impression on the nation's history. Blacks were denied citizenship, healthcare facilities, and basic facilities that were needed for humans to live their daily lives, until Nelson Mandela and the African National Party passed anti-Apartheid legislation.
Against Immigrants: In fact, as recent as 2007, surveys showed that around 87% of the people considered immigrants to be the cause of crime rise in the country, despite the absence of any such evidence, and that foreigners were mistreated even by the police due to such xenophobic attitudes. Most of the victims of such attacks and riots were either from Malawi, Zimbabwe, or Mozambique. Recently, in 2013-2014, Somali people have been attacked and killed in and around Pretoria and Port Elizabeth, which was condemned from all quarters.
- The Caste System in India is a good example of xenophobia, where people of the higher castes fear and shun those of lower casts, which hurts the lower caste population adversely on a daily basis, despite legislations being passed by the government.
- The recent genocide in Rwanda by the majority the population of the Hutus, on the minority Tutsis, in an attempt of ethnic cleansing, led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Tutsis, and the rape of thousands of Tutsi women and children.
- The spate of hate attacks on Indians in 2009 in Australia made headlines for a long period of time.
- The war in Yugoslavia, between 1991 and 1995, led to several deaths of Serbs, Bosniaks, Croats, and Slovenes, which started due to xenophobic ideologies.