It seems like xenophobia can never be defeated for long. Certainly not quickly or easily: When I reflect on the persistence of authoritarian populism—it has existed for a millenium—I fear for the ‘other.’ And not just here in the U.S. It’s a common impulse found throughout the world and not always with the same expression.
The European example looks a lot like that in the U.S., where coast guards—Italy’s, for example—are deployed to prevent migration, even to prevent rescue ships from docking. The message is, let them drown: It does not matter what drives human beings from home or that they must fear for their lives to undertake such perilous journeys. They—“them”—should stay there.
On another shore of the Mediterranean, Israelis elect the ingredients for successive right-wing coalition governments engaged in what can only be described as an often-lethal ethnic cleansing campaign against Palestinians. As I read Israeli politicians’ statements, I sense that they lust—yes, lust—for the killing of civilians, whether innocent or not: It seems to affirm their manhood.
Brexit is not just about European bureaucracy or people who have been left behind by so-called “free” (always ask for whom? to do what? to whom?) trade; it seems significantly to be about keeping even other Europeans out.
But at least in one place in China, we see what Benedict Anderson describes: The quest to erase Uyghur identity promotes an imagined homogeneity—a form of genocide, barely if at all better than letting human beings drown in the Rio Grande or the Mediterranean. That imagination is a fantasy: Chinese dialects can be difficult even for other Chinese to understand. But the authorities seek to impose it nonetheless even at the cost of human lives (and yes, people do die).
I find myself back at one of the questions I was asking at the beginning of my Ph.D. work, really that Simone de Beauvoir pointed to, why must we divide ourselves into “us” and “them?” And then, why must we—“us”—hate “them?”
It’s not enough here to say, begging the question, that we do; or that we imagine a threat. The threat doesn’t really exist—see Brexit, for example—and mostly never has, except as a projection by elites in their infernal and eternal competition over which of them will control which territory and the people and resources therein, the same projection that leads us to endless wars. That projection works because the enough of the rest of us believe it. We fear or hate even those we have no reason to fear, even as we destroy them.
- David Benfell, “Barack Obama asks, ‘Why is it that the folks that won the last election are so mad all the time?’” Not Housebroken, November 4, 2018, https://disunitedstates.org/2018/11/04/barack-obama-asks-why-is-it-that-the-folks-that-won-the-last-election-are-so-mad-all-the-time/↩
- Current events in the United States render this fear far from abstract: Priscilla Alvarez, “Lawmakers, including Ocasio-Cortez, lash out over conditions following border facility tours,” CNN, July 2, 2019, https://www.cnn.com/2019/07/01/politics/alexandria-ocasio-cortez-clint-texas-facility/index.html; Josh Dawsey and Colby Itkowitz, “‘This is tough stuff’: At Texas detention facility, Pence sees hundreds of migrants crammed with no beds,” Washington Post, July 12, 2019, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/pence-tours-detention-facilities-at-the-border-defends-administrations-treatment-of-migrants/2019/07/12/993f54e0-a4bc-11e9-b8c8-75dae2607e60_story.html; Caitlin Dickerson, “‘There Is a Stench’: No Soap and Overcrowding in Detention Centers for Migrant Children,” New York Times, June 21, 2019, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/06/21/us/migrant-children-border-soap.html; Adam Harris, “An Astonishing Government Report on Conditions at the Border,” Atlantic, July 3, 2019, https://www.theatlantic.com/family/archive/2019/07/government-report-details-inhumane-conditions-migrant-facilities/593242/; Miriam Jordan, “Judge Orders Swift Action to Improve Conditions for Migrant Children in Texas,” New York Times, June 29, 2019, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/06/29/us/migrant-children-detention-texas.html; Alejandro Lazo and Jacob Gershman, “Lawsuit Alleges Government Mistreatment of Migrant Children,” Wall Street Journal, June 27, 2019, https://www.wsj.com/articles/lawsuit-alleges-government-mistreatment-of-migrant-children-11561608969; Sam Levin, “‘Happy hunting!’ Immigration agents swapped cheery messages about raids, records reveal,” Guardian, July 3, 2019, https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2019/jul/03/ice-us-immigration-messages-raids; Katie Mettler, Mike DeBonis, and Reis Thebault, “Border agents confiscated lawmakers’ phones. Joaquin Castro captured photo and video anyway,” Washington Post, July 2, 2019, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2019/07/02/ocasio-cortez-says-dispute-with-border-patrol-agents-started-after-one-tried-take-stealth-selfie/; Geneva Sands and Nick Valencia, “2nd Customs and Border Protection-connected secret Facebook group shows mocking images,” CNN, July 5, 2019, https://www.cnn.com/2019/07/05/politics/cbp-second-facebook-group-images/index.html; Jacob Soboroff and Julia Ainsley, “Migrant kids in overcrowded Arizona border station allege sex assault, retaliation from U.S. agents,” NBC News, July 9, 2019, https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/immigration/migrant-kids-overcrowded-arizona-border-station-allege-sex-assault-retaliation-n1027886↩
- Annalisa Camilli and Frances D’Emilio, “Migrant aid ship captain detained; Italy police boat rammed,” Associated Press, June 29, 2019, https://apnews.com/a68a99dd9f4c49d995a21f12f75cc3ac↩
- David Benfell, “Two wrongs do not make a right: The case for ending Israel,” Not Housebroken, August 3, 2014, https://disunitedstates.org/2014/08/03/two-wrongs-do-not-make-a-right-the-case-for-ending-israel/↩
- Jonathan Hopkin, “Brexit Backlash: The Populist Rage Fueling the Referendum,” Foreign Affairs, June 21, 2016, https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/united-kingdom/2016-06-21/brexit-backlash; Boris Johnson, “Of course our City fat cats love the EU – it’s why they earn so much,” Telegraph, May 15, 2016, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/05/15/of-course-our-city-fat-cats-love-the-eu–its-why-they-earn-so-mu/; Jules Johnston, “Boris Johnson compares EU to Nazi superstate,” Politico, May 15, 2016, http://www.politico.eu/article/boris-johnson-compares-eu-to-nazi-superstate-brexit-ukip/; Timothy B. Lee, “Brexit: Britain just voted to leave the EU,” Vox, June 24, 2016, http://www.vox.com/2016/6/24/12012930/brexit-britain-votes-leave; Matthias Matthijs, “Britain’s Point of No Return,” Foreign Affairs, June 21, 2016, https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/united-kingdom/2016-06-21/britain-s-point-no-return; Tim Ross, “Boris Johnson: The EU wants a superstate, just as Hitler did,” Telegraph, May 15, 2016, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/05/14/boris-johnson-the-eu-wants-a-superstate-just-as-hitler-did/; Jonathan Stearns, “Europe’s Frustration With Cameron Mounts at Ministerial Meeting,” Bloomberg, June 24, 2016, http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-06-24/europe-s-frustration-with-cameron-mounts-at-ministerial-meeting; Joel Stonington, “UKIP’s Deputy Chair on Brexit: “A huge gamble for both sides,” Deutschewelle, May 31, 2016, http://www.dw.com/en/ukips-deputy-chair-on-brexit-a-huge-gamble-for-both-sides/a-19295750?maca=en-newsletter_en_Newsline-2356-html-newsletter; Griff Witte, Karla Adam, and Dan Balz, “Britain shocks world, breaks with European Union; British leader steps down,” Washington Post, June 24, 2016, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/europe/britain-shocks-the-world-by-voting-to-leave-the-european-union/2016/06/24/3d100f4e-3998-11e6-af02-1df55f0c77ff_story.html↩
- Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism, rev. ed. (London: Verso, 2006).↩
- I am recalling an explanation, almost certainly from a professor then (I attended from Fall 2003 to Spring 2009) at California State University, East Bay, that the difference between a dialect and an accent lies in whether speakers can understand each other: With a dialect, they cannot.↩
- Ivan Watson and Ben Westcott, “Uyghur refugee tells of death and fear inside China’s Xinjiang camps,” CNN, January 29, 2019, https://www.cnn.com/2019/01/18/asia/uyghur-china-detention-center-intl/index.html↩
- I was seeing what Elizabeth Kamarck Minnich calls hierarchically invidious monism, in Transforming Knowledge, 2nd ed. (Philadelphia: Temple University, 2005), as an impediment to anarchism. This is about valuing the rich and devaluing the poor, valuing whites and devaluing people of color, valuing men and devaluing women, valuing heterosexuality and devaluing other sexual orientations, and the list goes on, seemingly endlessly, even just among humans. See also Lorraine Code, What Can She Know? Feminist Theory and the Construction of Knowledge (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University, 1991). Minnich explains that always one, in what would otherwise be considered a binary, is preferred over the other. This lies at the heart of our attitudes toward non-human animals and to the environment, where even ultimately to our own detriment, we prefer ourselves, as well. Hence vegetarian ecofeminism. See Steven Best and Anthony J. Nocella, II, eds. Terrorists or Freedom Fighters? Reflections on the Liberation of Animals(New York: Lantern, 2004); Greta Gaard, “Vegetarian Ecofeminism: A Review Essay,” Frontiers 23, no. 3 (2002): 117-146.↩
- Simone de Beauvoir, “Women as Other,” in Social Theory: The Multicultural and Classic Readings, ed. Charles Lemert, 4th ed. (Boulder, CO: Westview, 2010).↩
- David Benfell, “We ‘need to know how it works,’” Not Housebroken, March 19, 2012, https://disunitedstates.org/2012/03/19/we-need-to-know-how-it-works/↩