From the institutionalized racism especially in colonial times, when racial beliefs — even eugenics — were not considered something wrong, to recent times where the effects of neo-Nazism is still felt, Europe is a complex area with many cultures in a relatively small area of land that has seen many conflicts throughout history. (Many of these conflicts have had trade, resources and commercial rivalry at their core, but national identities have often added fuel to some of these conflicts.)
In the century of total war6, and the new millenium, Europe is seeing an alarming resurgence7 in xenophobia and racial hatred.
A short review from the Inter Press Service highlights the rise of neo-Nazism8 in 2000 in Europe and suggests that far from being a fringe activity, racism, violence and neo-nationalism have become normal in some communities. The problems need to tackled much earlier, in schools and with social programmes.
Ethnic minorities and different cultures in one country can often be used as a scapegoat for the majority during times of economic crisis. That is one reason why Nazism became so popular.
In France, May 2002, the success of far right politician Le Pen in the run for leadership (though he lost out in the end) sent a huge shockwave throughout Europe, about how easy it was for far right parties to come close to getting power if there is complacency in the democratic processes and if participation is reduced.
In various places throughout Western Europe, in 2002, as Amnesty International highlights9, there has been a rise in racist attacks and sentiments against both Arabs and Jews, in light of the increasing hostilities in the Middle East.
Earlier in 1998, in an area of Germany a right wing racist party won an unprecedented number of votes.
In Austria, the Freedom Party was able to secure the majority of the cabinet posts. The party is an extreme far right party, whose leader, Jorg Heider, has been accused of sympathetic statements towards the Nazis. The European Union has reacted to this indicating that Austria’s participation may be in jeopardy. This Guardian Special Report10 has much more in-depth coverage.
In Italy, there are attempts to try and deal with the rise in undocumented immigrants from Tunisia. The reactions from the right wing have been labeled by some as being openly racist11.
Spain has seen increased racial violence14. The growing economy invites immigrants from North African countries such as Morocco. However, the poor conditions that immigrants have had to endure and the already racially charged region has led to friction and confrontations.
In 1997, Human Rights Watch noted that, The U.K. has one of the highest levels of racially-motivated violence and harassment in Western Europe, and the problem is getting worse15. In April 1999, London saw two bombs explode16 in predominantly ethnic minority areas, in the space of one week, where a Nazi group has claimed responsibility. The summer of 2001 saw many race-related riots in various parts of northern England.
So far, the above represents an incredibly tiny number of examples and details. Many, many more events haven’t been mentioned, as it is admittedly difficult to keep up with all the different items. For more details and up-to-date information, one web site to check out the UK-based Institute of Race Relations and their subsection attempting to document the rising support for the extreme-Right in local and central government in Europe23, building on a platform of populist anti-immigrant policies.
In June 1998, One Nation, an Australian nationalist party in Queensland won 25 percent25 of the votes with their main lines at fighting immigration by non-whites. This was made possible where unemployment was been high and where it was easy to convince the people that immigrants were taking their jobs, as it would serve to be a convenient excuse and avenue to vent frustration. In a speech the party leader said that Australia was in danger of being swamped by Asians and she also questioned the special welfare benefits for Australia’s Aborigines. The reaction to that meant the same party won only 6 percent of the votes26 two months later, in the State elections.
Australia has also had a very racist past in which apartheid has been practiced and where indigenous Aboriginal people have lost almost all their land and suffered many prejudices. In the past, the notorious policy that led to the Stolen Generation27 was practiced. This was the institutionalized attempt to prevent Aboriginal children (and thus future generations) from being socialized into Aboriginal culture. (This also occurred in various parts of the Americas too.)
Aborigines are the poorest group in Australia and suffer from very much preventable diseases. For more about these issues, you can start at these harrowing reports from John Pilger28 a prominent Australian journalist who has been critical of many western policies.
The Sydney 2000 Olympics also brought some of Australia’s racist past and present to the fore29. (On the positive side, many parts of Australia’s rich diversity in people is slowly helping relieve prejudism. However, some more traditional and conservative politicians are still openly racist.)
A number of nations in Africa are at war or civil war, or have been very recently, just few years after they have gained their independence from former colonial countries.
While most of the conflicts have resources at their core and involve a number of non-African nations and corporations, additional fuel is added to the conflict by stirring up ethnic differences and enticing hatred. (Also not that the artificial boundaries33 imposed in Africa by European colonialism and imperialism34 during the divide and rule policies has further exacerbated this situation and plays an enormous role in the root causes of these conflicts compared to what mainstream media presents.)
In Zimbabwe, there has been increasing racism against the white farmers, due to poverty and lack of land ownership35 by Africans.
South Africa until recently suffered from Apartheid, which legally segregated the African population from the Europeans.
For more about conflicts in Africa, check out this site’s section on Africa36.
For a long time there has been resentment by many in the Middle East at the policies of America in their region. For many of the more extremist factions, this has turned into a form of racism as well, where many things that are Western are hated or despised.
The situation of Palestine and Israel is also very contentious. While Arabs and Jews technically do not belong to different races, their religious and cultural differences and the political history of the region has contributed to extremities and tensions — by perhaps a minority, but perhaps an influential and often vocal and violent minority — resulting in prejudice on both sides.
With the terrible acts of terrorism committed by terrorists in America, on September 11, 2001, there has additionally been an outpouring of violent racial hatred by a minority of people in Western countries against people that look Middle Eastern (some who are not Middle Eastern, such as Indians, have even been beaten or killed). Furthermore, with the American-led attacks in Afghanistan in retaliation for those terrorist attacks, from Egypt to Pakistan, there have been minorities of people who have protested violently in the streets, and also committed racist acts, attacking anything that appears Western, from Western citizens, to even UNICEF and other UN buildings.
Yet, this is more complex than just a clash of religions and race, as deeper an issue is the geopolitical and economic activities of the past decades and centuries that have fueled these social tensions. See this web site’s section on the Middle East38 for more on that.
A report from Survival International about the
plight of the Innu people in Canada
42 also reveals how racism can be a factor. In the words of the authors, the report reveals how racist government policies, under the guise of benevolent progress, have crippled the Innu of eastern Canada — a once self-sufficient and independent people. (While this report is about the problems of an indigenous people in Canada, it is a common story throughout history for many peoples and cultures.)
In the US, racism is a well known issue. From racial profiling43 to other issues such as affirmative action, police brutality against minorities and the history of slavery and the rising resentment against immigrants.
Since the horrific terrorist attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001, Security concerns have understandably increased, but so too has racial profiling, discrimination etc. In the early aftermath of the attacks some Americans that were understandably outraged and horrified, even attacked some members of the Sikh community where at least one was even killed, because they resembled certain types of Muslims, with beards and turbans. Various people of Middle East or South Asian origin have faced controversial detentions or questionings by officials at American airports. This web site’s section on the war against terror45 has more details on these aspects.
It seems that many people who join supremacist groups do so at a young age, and a lot of recruiting by these various hate groups are targeted at children. A reformed skinhead adds how easy48 it can be for some people, to be recruited into these groups, especially children.
On the anniversary of Adolph Hitler’s birthday in April 1999, a planned killing spree49 at the now infamous Columbine High School in America by two children claimed the lives of many fellow school mates. It is reported that they were targeting ethnic minorities50 and were involved in some Nazi related activities.
President Clinton’s reaction seemed very ironic given the situation in Kosovo at the time. His reaction, to the incident in this high school, while welcome, was contradictory51 to what was then happening in Kosovo52 at the time and so the message was a bit unclear:
We do know that we must do more to reach out to our children and teach them to express their anger and to resolve their conflicts with words, not weapons. And we do know we have to do more to recognize the early warning signs that are sent before children act violently
The anger and conflict in Kosovo was being resolved with weapons, while many early warning signs, which had been recognized by many groups for a number of years, were not heeded.
In USA, the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995 (incidentally, the day before the birthday of Adolph Hitler) triggered anti-Muslim53 sentiments, even though it was not an Islamic group at all. The previous link reports that there was a 60% increase in discrimination of Muslims in the USA.
And during the week of Adolf Hitler’s birthday, in 1999, neo-Nazi groups were suspected of planting two nail bombs54 that exploded in predominantly ethnic minority areas of London. The following week, a gay bar in London’s Soho area was also bombed killing at least 3 people. The fact that the Stephen Lawrence55 case, which, in UK is one of the perhaps most infamous on-going cases of racism in the police force and has received much attention56 at the time of this bombing could be more than coincidence.
One group of people that often go unnoticed when it comes to racism and discrimination are Gypsies57. In Europe they have been persecuted to a similar extent as the Jews throughout history, including World War II and even now they are largely mistreated or ignored58.
And while the World Wide Web is a great proponent for the ideals of free speech, it can also be a breeding ground harboring hatred60. This is very serious as the number of hate sites61 that have sprung up in the recent years is shocking and also increasing at an alarming rate.
There has been much talk of Internet sites hosting hate material. Some groups such as HateWatch62 have gone as far as buying racist domain names63 so that real racists cannot buy these domains themselves!
For more about the Internet and free speech, check out this site’s section on human rights and the Internet64. It has some useful links to additional sites and material.
As globalization in its current form expands, so too does the inequality that accompanies it, as discussed throughout the Trade, Economy, & Related Issues65 section on this web site. Rising inequality can result in an increase in racial bias for scapegoating or advancing xenophobic and isolationist tendencies.
During French and British Imperial days for example, racial bias was ingrained within the culture itself (as explored in great detail by Edward Said, in his books such as Orientalism (Vintage Books, 1979) and Culture & Imperialism (Vintage Books, 1993)). However, an element of this is also seen in today’s period of globalization, with what A. Sivanandan describes as the increasing xenophobic culture of globalisation seen in some parts of the world:
With expanding globalization, the demands for more skilled workers, especially in North America, Europe and elsewhere (while they cut back on education spending themselves, little by little), has led to increased efforts to attract foreign workers — but filtered, based on skill. At the same time, this increases resentment by those in those nations who are not benefitting from globalization.
Additionally, those trying to escape authoritarian regimes etc are finding it harder and harder to get into these countries, due to tighter immigration policies. Hence it is harder to immigrate to the wealthier nations unless, says67 Liz Fekete, these citizens are part of the chosen few: highly-skilled computer wizards, doctors and nurses trained at Third World expense and sought after by the West. Global migration management strategy saps the Third World and the former Soviet bloc of its economic lifeblood, by creaming off their most skilled and educated workforces. From the perspective of globalization, Liz continues, the skills pool, not the genes pool, is key.
Immigrants face numerous criticisms and challenges; It is difficult enough often, to get into another nation as mentioned above. If one succeeds, then additional struggles (some to naturally be expected, of course) are faced:
Living in a new country can be daunting, especially when the cultural differences are great.
As a result it can be expected that an immigrant would try to maintain some semblance of their own culture in their new country of stay.
Or, due to fears of racism or due to the culture shock it would be expected that immigrant communities would form as a way to deal with this and as a means to help each other through.
By doing this, sometimes they face criticism of not integrating and of sticking with their own kind;
Yet, on the other hand, if they do integrate in some way, they face critique from certain types of environmentalists and others of contributing to environmental degradation by increasing their consumption to the high levels typical of the host nation.
(And if environmental degradation is the concern, then it would make sense that one of the main issues at hand to address would be the consumption itself and its roots, regardless of who is doing it — in this context
That is, if the host nation had different modes of consumptions, immigrants would likely follow those too.
Hence, singling out immigrants for being a factor in environmental degradation is often unfair, and itself hints of prejudice and of attitudes — intentional or not — almost like stay out; we want to maintain and not share our lifestyle and standards of living; we recognize it is wasteful but if not too many are doing it, then it is ok etc.)
For more about these issues of resource consumption, blaming the poor and immigrants etc, see this web site’s section debating population and consumption issues68.
A UN Global Conference to discuss racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance was held from 31st August to 7 September 2001.
While it was brave enough for the United Nations to attempt to hold such a meeting, it proved to be a heated challenge. While all nations are good at being critical of others (and often very accurately, although often not!), when it comes to one’s own criticisms, most would be uncomfortable to say the least. As an example:
United States and Europe were against effective discussions of slavery reparations (and sent in only low-level delegates — a possible sign on how they really feel about this conference, and what it is about)
Israel and United States were against discussing the possibility that Zionism is racist against Palestinians, causing both to walk out of the conference altogether
India was against including discussions about caste-based discrimination
Some Arab nations were against discussions on oppression of Kurds or Arab slave trade
A watered down declaration was eventually made.
Such an eventful week shows how far we all have to go! It is also a detailed issue, and the following links may provide more details:
World Conference Against Racism69 is the official United Nations web site
OneWorld.net Special Report on Racism70 provides a huge number of articles from all sorts of NGO and other partners.