A commitment to pluralism
Xenophobia, the fear or hatred of foreigners, is fanned by many sources today. Frustrated expectations of development, perceived threats to cultural values in an international environment of freely circulating influences, interactions and pressures, changes brought about by science and technology have fostered a rhetoric calling for the protection of national or ethnic identities. Demagogues call for the protection of the native stock against contamination or "submersion" by "invading hordes.
The rapid expansion of communications and transport, population growth with growing
international inequalities, the breakdown of traditional economic and social structures,
the flight from tyranny, want and disasters, the dream of a better life in some other part
of the world, have in recent decades driven more people across national frontiers than
ever before. The number of foreign workers is estimated at over 40 million, the number of
refugees at about 15 million and the number of people who had to leave their country
because of political upheaval since the Second World War at no less than 37.5 million.
Large-scale immigration was encouraged by the high income countries of Europe and North America during the years of rapid economic recovery and growing labour shortage, especially for the least qualified jobs. While in earlier centuries European settlers colonized many areas of the world, in recent decades the flow of migration has been reversed and immigrants are now settling their former metropolitan countries and forming ethnic enclaves there. In Europe immigrants constitute over five per cent of the population in countries such as the United Kingdom and France. It is estimated that there are about 18 million of these migrants, including about three million people from former colonies who have availed themselves of the right to settle in their former metropolitan countries. They include Asians, West Indians and West Africans in the United Kingdom; West Indians and harkis in France; Surinamese, West Indians and Moluccans in The Netherlands. These immigrants arrived in addition to the established pattern of European multi-ethnicity that had resulted from the historical process of nation state formation. In many parts of the world people are crossing borders in search of employment, greater freedom or simply security. Immigrant workers figure prominently in the labour markets of the Gulf, South Africa and Singapore, to name but a few. The problems they and their host countries face are similar.
Racism as a prejudice or overt antagonism against others based on a belief in one's own superiority has characterized many different peoples. It permitted a rationalization of colonialism and provided the basis of Nazi ideology. Racial differentiation or segregation has no scientific basis in biology. The practical import of the doctrine of human equality is not that all people ought to be treated as if they had equal capacities, but as if they were equally to count. Walter Lippmann expressed the basis of our belief in equality well in an essay entitled "Bryan and the Dogma of Majority Rule":
Well-intentioned reformers want to minimize the differences between groups, between men and women, young and old, able-bodied and crippled; too often they mistake the need to avoid discrimination based on differences for a need to deny the differences themselves. It is this mistake that irritates ordinary people when told to use gender-neutral or non-ageist language. Equality is not possible between identical atoms. It is important to remember the moral of the philosophical doctrine of the "identity of indiscernibles" and to realize that only different things can be equal.
On 26 February 1995 the European Parliament decided that the European Union should set up a watchdog body to monitor and curb racist attacks. The assembly was reacting to a wave of violence against foreigners (or more precisely against poor immigrants) in Europe and in particular against the recent killing of four Gypsy men in Austria, allegedly by a neo-Nazi group.
In the process of nation-building in the Americas and Australia, indigenous peoples were seen as an obstacle to national integration. In several countries state violence and military expeditions "cleared the land" for cattle ranchers and new entrepreneurs of the agricultural frontier. Many Indian peoples were exterminated. Racism was clearly at the root of the matter, since the indigenous people were considered inferior to those of European stock. Racist views and behaviour, however, are no monopoly of the West; one also finds them in the mindsets that claim Africa for the Africans, Asia for the Asians, and so on.
Racism is not a marginal phenomenon, tied to a particular time or circumstance. It will surface time and again in response to social identity crises. It is not enough to simply condemn it or to appeal to human rights or moral imperatives. Nor can the problems it poses be solved by merely technical or legal measures. All of these are important, but the attack on it has to be root and branch.
Laws, regulations and an independent judiciary can do much to thwart racism. The vicious circle of prejudicial negative attitudes leading to discrimination, to unemployment, to loss of self-respect, to unacceptable personal habits and even crime, reinforcing the prejudice, can be broken by policies that provide empowerment, education and training, credit, and productive, remunerative, satisfying jobs. The pattern of values underlying racism must be countered through a free debate. Such a debate can be stimulated by an expression of alternative values in cultural programmes, in artistic activity, in school curricula and in the activities of the civil society.
As in the case of local minorities and migrants discussed above, the irony is that these immigrants are substantial economic assets to the country of immigration. Not only do they themselves and their families benefit, and in many cases also their original home country of emigration by their sending remittances (and sometimes by returning home with added skills), but they benefit the country to which they migrate by doing jobs that domestic workers are not prepared to do, or for which the required skills are scarce. The value of the goods and services these people add to the economy is normally substantially above the economic and fiscal costs that they impose on the society. Here again, what is economically beneficial to almost everyone is often regarded as socially and culturally disruptive.