By Mikaeel Smith
The inquisitive nature of man has never allowed him to stop asking the question “why?” The first stage of child development is the “what” stage. Where children seek to know the world around them. However, due to the insatiability of human curiosity, soon after that phase, we find children asking the next question. “Why?” The search for causality will continue to advance man to his felicity so long that he acts upon the logical findings of his search and also understands the limitations of his intellect. Even more promising than looking with hind sight for the causes of our thoughts, actions and trends, is to look forward to the possible effects of our current actions and states. Choosing not to investigate the causes or effects of our actions can lead to our very destruction. Even more detrimental, however is to act contrary to our findings after having discovered the effects or causes.
In the heart of every countryman, there lives a love for his nation; a love for his brethren and companions. A desire to help his country reach greatness. Bonded together by the land that nurtured them, they see in each other a likeness with themselves. Sons of the same mother earth, a family. Their honor is his honor and their disgrace is shared by him too. Indeed, a beautiful healthy love the citizens of a country share.
However, what if that very love, companionship, camaraderie is the very fuel of hate and prejudice? Would we continue to sing in praise of this love? Indeed, this is the case. Patriotism and nationalism are in reality self-destructive diseases that will consume man’s very existence if left unchecked. The ethnocentric man will seeks to eliminate any threat to his survival.
The cause for the heightened xenophobic trends in many of the world’s countries today is a direct result of the patriotic nationalistic propaganda fed to the masses.
Understanding the relationship between xenophobia, ethnocentrism and nationalism is extremely critical in light of the planned anti-Islam protests, which are planned across the country later this week. In this article, we will discuss the overwhelming evidence which shows that as nationalistic and patriotic sentiments rise, so too does xenophobic and racist tendencies. The balance needed between normal inclusive patriotism which welcomes diversity and ethnocentric patriotism which shuns diversity is often not understood by the participants of these “patriotic” rallies.
As Muslims, ideally we should understand that being a member of any given group, nation or religion does not necessitate correctness of thought or actions. Because truth is non-partisan and stands with whoever is willing to stand with her. Thus, the true patriot is the one who makes sure that his or her fellow countrymen maintain an objective pursuit of the truth, not the one who blindly lays claim that his people are the truth by which all other truths are judges.
Well, then what is national pride? Viroli (1995) as pointed out by Ilkins states, “Love of country can be generous, compassionate, and intelligent, but it can also be exclusive, deaf, and blind”.
To this can be added the statement of Prophet Muhammad , “Your love for something makes you blind and deaf”
عَنِ النَّبِيِّ صَلَّى اللهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ قَالَ: حُبُّكَ الشَّيْءَ يُعْمِي وَيُصِمُّ
As we begin to define “who” we are and pride ourselves on that, we also begin to disassociate with the other or the foreign, which often leads to contempt and rejection of the “other”. The irony of the disease of ethnocentric nationalism is that the “we” is defined by the “other”. Thus when the “other” ceases to exist we still are left not knowing who we are. Therefore, when that particular common enemy is eliminated and no longer a threat, the “we” becomes even more rarified and as we seek to define ourselves, another “other” is sought after and the cycle never ceases.
Xenophobia, “the fear or hated of the foreign(er) or stranger” is still largely seen as natural by many social scientists. In fact, some would view it as healthy and essential for the well-being of the identity of a nation. In 1906, William Graham Summer introduced ethnocentrism to mean, “One’s own group is the center of everything, and all others are scaled and rated with reference to it.” Robert Bernasconi summarizes that ethnocentrism is the source of xenophobia according to Summer and is perfectly natural.
What are the causes of the xenophobic trends in America? Before answering that, we must briefly speak about fear itself. Fear is without doubt one of the most powerful factors behind the actions of people. Fear is an emotional factor and is defined as an unpleasant emotion caused by the belief that someone or something is dangerous. While it is without doubt a necessary aspect of the human psyche, like all emotions, it is illogical and rash. In addition, they are susceptible to manipulation by others. A natural fear, which is often unintentionally created within nation-states, is the fear of others or anything foreign, or Xenophobia. The natural tendency of man to fear that which is different or unfamiliar, has more often than not been subject to manipulation by those in power. This is so due to the fact that when someone fears something he will act not based on the rationality of the action, but rather based on the force of his emotions.
The world witnessed Nazi Germany’s unexplainable crimes against humanity, if we were to investigate the initial promptings to that genocide we will see that the primary catalyst was the fear and hatred that was slowly injected into the minds of their countrymen of a perceived threat coupled with a forceful nationalistic propaganda machine. At this point, we have stumbled upon another reality that lies in xenophobic tendencies. Fear and hatred are often directed at a common subject. As fear for someone grows, so too does the hatred for that perceived threat. If this is true, we must ask ourselves yet another question. Is there a direct correlation between nationalistic identification and xenophobic hysteria? Simply put as we become more proud and aware of who we are as a people are we also encouraging and inciting fear and hatred for the other?
As explained by Rui J.P. de Figueiredo, Jr in his 2003 paper titled “Are Patriots Bigots? An inquiry into the Vices of In-group Pride”, Rui states, “On the other side is a growing number of scholars who point out that a strong group identity can be empowering, affirming mechanism in the face of discrimination and chauvinism”. So what is the correlation between pride and prejudice? Brewer (1999) concluded that based on her survey of evidence “prevailing approach to study of ethnocentrism, in-group bias, and prejudice, presumes that in-group love and out-group hate are reciprocally related.” This all stems from the classic animalistic underpinnings in human psyche that my group’s survival depends on your group’s elimination.
Is it possible to be proud about who you are without being adverse to the other? “Loyalty to the group, sacrifice for it, hatred and contempt for outsiders, brotherhood within, war likeness without” is Sumner’s classic formulation of the concept of ethnocentrism. Substantively, the connection between national pride and xenophobia-a term we use to summarize hostility towards immigrants-is of profound interest. A suspicion that one breeds the other has long prompted dark warnings about national pride. We see that there are two sides to this debate.
On one side, you have Walzer (1980) who explained that love for one’s country and tolerance of the other hang in delicate balance. On the other side are people like Macintyre (1984) who feels that national pride is not rooted in the hate for the outsider.
At this junction, it seems appropriate that like Adorno et al. and Levienson, we also explain the patriotism that we are referring to is not love of country but rather blind attachment. It is clear that this correlation between nationalism ethnocentrism and xenophobia was a concern of many great thinkers of old. Diderot considered patriotism for the nation-state as immoral. Voltaire identified nationalisms constituent parts as self-love and prejudice, and Lessing the regard esteem for the nation as a “heroically weakness” in an individual. Samuel Johnson’s well-known epigram, “patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel”. (Stewart 1917) Contemporary studies also support this. Tajfel (1978, 1982) and his student Turner (1981) took these findings further and concluded that mere classification without competition could produce high levels of in-group loyalty. They conducted experiments in which subjects were divided randomly but “nevertheless, given the opportunity to pass judgment or distribute rewards, subjects were quick to demonstrate favoritism toward members of their own group at the expense of others.”
The relationship between “patriotic” rhetoric and xenophobic trends is undeniable from the scientific raw data. It is then fair to conclude that the true patriot holds the responsibility of removing or mitigating the negative effects of patriotism. What is the way to strike balance between nationalistic pride and tolerance of the other? These questions must be asked, now more than ever. The evil results of xenophobia have been witnessed historically many times. However, in the age of modern warfare there is much more at stake if this balance is not achieved.
The Quran offers a solution for this xenophobia and unbalanced nationalism. In one verse of the Quran, we are given the steps for achieving this.
قُلْ يَا أَهْلَ الْكِتَابِ تَعَالَوْا إِلَى كَلِمَةٍ سَوَاءٍ بَيْنَنَا وَبَيْنَكُمْ أَلَّا نَعْبُدَ إِلَّا اللَّهَ وَلَا نُشْرِكَ بِهِ شَيْئًا وَلَا يَتَّخِذَ بَعْضُنَا بَعْضًا أَرْبَابًا مِنْ دُونِ اللَّهِ فَإِنْ تَوَلَّوْا فَقُولُوا اشْهَدُوا بِأَنَّا مُسْلِمُونَ
“O Muhammad, say: O People of the Scripture! Come to an word shared by us both…
This verse that interfaith harmony can be achieved. Religion is an area which can be extremely dividing and a hotbed for nationalistic ethnocentric tendencies. However, this verse teaches how to eliminate that from society. Firstly through dialogue, and secondly by constantly searching for commonality between us and the so-called “other”. If we wish to promote a form of patriotism that is inclusive to all it must never lose focus on the commonalties that we all share. Injustices to African slaves and European Jews was pretexted in the notion that slaves are sub-human, thus intrinsically different. Likewise, the Jews of Nazi Germany where portrayed as categorically different from others and so an injustice done to them is not an injustice at all. The contagious energy of xenophobia can be stopped when true patriots remind all of us about the commonality that we share with the perceived other.
“Like lynching and other mass hysterias, xenophobia exemplifies a contagious, collective wave of energy and hedonic quality that can point toward a troubling unpredictability at the core of political and social systems.”
- What makes an American The Atlantic: Raoul De Roussy De Sales March 1939 (http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/1939/03/what-makes-an-american/309021/
- Ronald R., S., & David Haekwon, K. (2014). Xenophobia and Racism. Critical Philosophy of Race, (1). 20. doi:10.5325/critphilrace.2.1.0020.
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- Bernasconi, R. (2014). Where Is Xenophobia in the Fight against Racism? Critical Philosophy of Race 2(1), 5-19. Penn State University Press. Retrieved September 19, 2015, from Project MUSE database.
- Kalam, M. A. (2014). The Xenophobia of Patriots. Economic & Political Weekly, 49(40), 70-71.
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