March 7, 2017 by John Bruce Leonard
IN NOVEMBER of 2016, Dictionary.com declared “xenophobia” the word of the year. From an article in Time:
The outlet is “right to make xenophobia the word of the year,” Berkeley public-policy professor Robert Reich said in a statement, “but it is also one of the biggest threats we face. It is not a word to be celebrated. It is a sentiment to be fought.”
I wonder why Dr. Reich thought this last caveat necessary? I, for one, cannot think of a single person in all of our society who goes about celebrating his xenophobia. The contrary: everyone shies away from it as if it were a disease. Dr. Reich evidently believes that there are people who have been infected, and do not know it.
An article from the PA Times is more explicit: it argues that xenophobia is the latest form taken by a debilitated racism. It goes so far as to speak of a “ranking of hate” ascribed arbitrarily to foreigners by xenophobic citizens, and it calls xenophobia a “form of illness” which differs from “classic racism” only to the degree that no clear social or economic benefits redound to its holders.
A form of illness! There are, evidently, many, perhaps even a great many, Westerners who are wandering about even now, consumed by a disease they never knew they had. Then it would behoove us to understand the nature of this disease, its symptoms and its cure.
Our diagnosticians, alas, are not so very helpful.
Another article in The Atlantic from a little over a year ago considers the prevalence of xenophobia in Eastern as against Western Europe; naturally, the one thing it takes for granted is that “xenophobia” is detrimental to society. It does not attempt to define xenophobia in any precise way: on the contrary, it follows the contemporary habit of amassing a great number of shameful and a great number of defensible propositions under a single pejorative umbrella. Thus, hate and fear of foreigners, or of the customs, beliefs, or religions of foreigners, are considered xenophobic. Someone who does not like interacting with foreigners is xenophobic, just as someone who does not want to have a foreign neighbor, just as someone who is worried about the waves of incoming immigrants. It is xenophobic to believe that foreigners take our jobs or that an excessive number of them might have consequences for our culture. It is xenophobic to fear that mass immigration might have negative effects on our economy or our society. It is xenophobic to distinguish between the immigrants of a country like Britain, Germany, or Sweden, and those of a country like Somalia, Yemen, or Haiti. It is xenophobic to discriminate between those customs which are similar to ours and compatible with ours, and those which are not. All of this is xenophobic.
We are evidently to believe that the bloated and strident jingoist who proclaims all countries other than his own inferior and worthy of enslavement, is in the same xenophobic family as that tolerant and educated citizen who nonetheless has concerns about the possible effects of mass immigration on his society. Yet this is absurd. It is yet another instance of the inflation of our language, and we are coming fast to the point that these words, just as inflated currency, will no longer hold any real value. Soon, we shall have to dump whole wheelbarrows of derogatory terms on our adversaries, just to make them blink!
Then let us be a little subtler, for once. When I break my arm, I take my case to the doctor, not a witchdoctor. Does that make me xenophobic of African traditions? I might be curious, from an anthropological point of view, about the Korowai people, who to this day practice cannibalism; yet I would not for a moment countenance anyone in our Occidental societies eating their adversaries. Does that make me xenophobic? I consider the culture of the Middle East, its architecture, its poetry, its language, and its philosophy, to be of marked beauty; I find the customs and ways of the Muslims elegant and rich. I dearly hope I might one day visit an Islamic society. Yet I would never live in an Islamic society, and I would shudder to see the countries of Europe adopting Muslim habits, dress, or laws. For that reason, I do not want to see Europe become majority Muslim, any more than I want to see Iran become majority European. Does that make me xenophobic?
I can imagine the responses. “Witch doctors and cannibalism—now, that’s one thing! But this business about the Muslims—really, how dare you!”
Well, then, the other side. Japan, Saudi Arabia, and Israel all have something approaching closed immigration policies. Though part of this has to do with space, it has much more to do with concerns of maintaining cultural and ethnic identity. The Korowai or the tribal Africans mentioned above would rightly be outraged if we began sending our homeless Westerners to live in their tribes. No Muslim country in the world would look on with kindly tolerance if we began to ship millions of our Christian Westerners to live in their cities, to open butcher shops in their markets, or to build churches beside their mosques. Shall we call all these peoples xenophobic? Would that not be rather—xenophobic of us?
Since the propounders of the xenophobia scare refuse to define this disease with any kind of precision whatsoever, permit me to attempt a definition. Xenophobia is that conceptual malady deliberately injected into the Western mindset, which transforms pride of the Occident into shame of the Occident. It is constituted and propagated toward the achievement of three intersecting goals: 1.) to insinuate a liberal view of the world into the public mentality; 2.) to shame and rebuke all those who do not subscribe to this view; and 3.) to force a moratorium on all rational debate as to any of the underlying questions or principles involved.
If xenophobia is really as wide a term as everyone seems to think it is, then I would find it even shameful not to be a little xenophobic. To be xenophiliac under such a conception, one would really have to adopt the premise that there is nothing about the West worth preserving, if not its openness to other and far less tolerant ways. I will say more: xenophobia seems to me a very useful tool toward the reconstitution of borders and identities in a day of erosive “global interconnectedness.” I want my culture to be what it has historically been, and I want the other cultures of the world to remain as they have historically been. I see nothing beautiful nor desirable about introducing into Western societies great influxes of people toting radically different customs; it is degrading to our ways and diluting of theirs. I cannot possibly be “afraid” of all these people, for I would gladly host some of them as guests, or be hosted by them in turn, and I would delight in learning of their views of the world: but just as it would be absurd to be offended by the fact that they do not want me to live in their houses indefinitely, or in many cases even to move to their countries, so I find it ridiculous and offensive that we Occidentals castigate these same attitudes in our own people, as if they were not perfectly normal and healthy.
If such positions as these make a person xenophobic, then really, it is time we wore the term with pride.