From an early age, we develop the concept of “best friends.” These are the people with whom we are vulnerable and accepting. These are the people that we care about and love. This is a part of our “in-group.” When there is an “in,” there is an “out.” Little do we know that as soon as there are lines drawn, boundaries set, we are isolating ourselves. You are correct. I wrote isolating ourselves. Wars and political conflicts are the most obvious xenophobic behaviours and attitudes. During the Second World War, girls and women from Korea, China, Japan, Philippians, and other Southeast Asian countries occupied by the Imperial Japanese Army were kidnapped or ripped from their families and placed into forced prostitution. Xenophobia is the fear of the “Other,” the foreigner, the stranger.
Some may suggest that war has an effect on the humanity of individuals. Instead, I would say fear impacts our humanity and the recognition of humanity in others. In times of war and political conflicts, women and children receive the most traumatic impact of such xenophobic behaviours and during WWII, it has become one of the most horrific expressions of it. These “Comfort Women” were stolen from their families, often they were young girls and then placed into camps where they serve anywhere from 6 or 7 up to 60 men daily.1 Such vulgar and inhumane treatment of another human being, foreign or familiar, male or female, young or old, is simply unacceptable and incomprehensible. On the one hand, the Japanese military was taking captives, but more importantly, the intention was to insult and violate the occupied peoples whereby from that moment forward, the Japanese “seed” has eternally infiltrated into the people of Korea, China, and so on. The fact was that most of these young women died from disease and inhumane treatments rendered this possibility slim, but women are the source of life in any community. To slaughter or violate them in such a way is to perform a genocide that is eventual and certain. The reasons for war are complex and greed and fear are two of the major components in that equation. We fear the “Other” will attack us and steal from us. We fear the “Other” will disrupt our sense of security and peace. Self-centeredness and egocentrism create a constant state of fear that inevitably end in conflicts because in our limited human capacity, only in the elimination of the “Other” will there be peace. Unfortunately, that is neither true nor reasonable. When our “in” circle becomes smaller and smaller, the level of external threat increases and fear continues to constrict our ability to be open and hospitable to the surprising experiences waiting for us outside of our prisons of self-protection.
My most recent xenophobic experience was in Turkey or in the preparation of going to Turkey. As always, I would research about the country, the cuisines, and tourist attractions. As this was a study tour with the seminary, the itinerary was set and not much worried me. However, through an Internet search, there were numerous items stating the political turmoil Turkey was experiencing as well as the Islamic influence in this country. All of a sudden, sirens rang in my head and anxieties rose to alarming levels. What should I do to protect myself? Would “they” be discriminatory because I am an “outsider?” After weeks of concern, the reality of a welcoming and hospitable Turkey called me to critique my xenophobic tendencies. Despite not knowing anything concrete or factual about the country, I had created a fantastical version of a country that would also exhibit xenophobic attitudes. Perhaps a psychoanalysis of my emotional state would explain my sources of insecurity and fear, or maybe not. This aspect of human limitation brings greater awareness to my biases and prejudices. On a positive note, one of the Muslim guides from our study tour has become one of my close friends since our study tour around Turkish historical sites.
Stereotypes and assumptions act as steel walls that separate us as one humanity. The unity in our humanness may be the antidote to our creation of “in-groups” and “out-groups.” To see another person firstly as human and second as a skin colour, foreign accent, scents and smells etc. would possibly be the up-turning approach to our ways of behaving with one another. To be human is to recognize our brokenness, our frailty, and our ability to be cruel and excluding. In changing our current world paradigm and being witnesses to the God who created all creation, maybe we should start greeting the “Other” in a hospitable embrace of grace.
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