Our world is volatile and with the last century’s mass movement of people across the globe a clash of cultures has taken place. It is difficult to encounter any culture or country that is immune to discrimination or fear of foreigners or foreign ideas. Acts of violence are often the result of predetermined ideas and perceptions against an individual or group who represent a particular culture, religion or race. More often than not, these acts are unprovoked and the perceptions of the attacker misplaced, inaccurate or blatantly unfounded. In this situation, what role and impact do both knowledge and information have in curbing xenophobia and the negative behavior that results from it?
Some people base their ideas off of their personal experience, some off of facts and figures and most off of both. With fake news and terrorist acts becoming commonplace this changes the ways beliefs and ideas are formed. Take for example the story of a man who enters a restaurant and attacks a foreigner because he believes that the influx of immigrants into his country is taking jobs away from locals. Unless this man personally lost his job to a foreigner, or that man in particular, than he has no knowledge about this situation, he has no experience or understanding. More than likely he has been fed information from media sources about foreigners taking jobs and is building off of pre-established xenophobic beliefs to take out his anger. Now the concept of foreigners taking jobs has been proven time and again to be false and propaganda used for anti-immigrant agendas. So in the age of internet, fake news and information overload how can xenophobia be fought?
Cross-cultural integration initiatives have been proven to soften the lines of discrimination. The key is increasing positive knowledge building experiences. The more people interact the more they see each other as human beings who share the same hopes and fears. When people don’t interact and are simply fed harmful information about “the others”, distancing, desensitation and justification for actions comes easily. Acts of violence and discrimination no longer impact the aggressor because they view their perceived enemy as less than human. Some of the best places to carry out integration initiatives are on university campuses and schools, in the workplace and at local community centres and places of worship. Universities perhaps have the most potential for change because students work together on multiple levels and become inspired to create things not only together but that will bring their countries and cultures together. It is a place for knowledge and information to abound.
It is in fact xenophobia, not immigrants, that negatively impacts a country’s economy. Two years ago in South Africa, one of Africa’s most culturally diverse nations, there were a series of anti-immigrant attacks on foreign nationals and businesses. This raised legitimate concern that the nation’s economy would suffer, and it did. Rating agencies downgraded South Africa’s sovereign credit rating and bank rating, businesses closed, social instability increased, relations with other nations tightened and foreign investment confidence decreased. There are countless other examples of similar situations around the world. It remains true in South Africa and just about every other country that immigrants contribute positively to the economy, they don’t steal jobs or burden the economy. In many cases as well, immigrants are responsible for the initial socio-economic foundations of a country having built the railroads, cities, harbors and many other things.
With the constant battle between knowledge and information it is up to each individual to do research and think strongly about their own stances instead of being drawn in by the crowd.
Studies by the UN have suggested that education that focuses on contributions of all groups to society can build cohesion and lower xenophobia. Additionally, access to education for migrant, stateless or otherwise marginalised groups, who are often discriminated against, is also necessary. The Roma, for example, rarely have access to quality education for their children and have been vilified by communities and states around Europe for decades. Thick lines of divide continue and neither side engages in enough positive interaction with the other or learns positive things about the other in schools. Due to pre-established negative knowledge, interactions that do occur tend to be negative and further solidify the views each side shares. Governments must also strictly deal with those who “falsify” history and establish inaccurate ideas and events to push a xenophobic agenda.
Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, Mutuma Ruteere in his briefing to the Geneva-based Human Rights Council said, “Education has a central role in creating new values and attitudes and provides us with important tools for addressing deep-rooted discrimination and the legacy of historical injustices.” The key is not only to learn about positive aspects of other cultures but to have positive real-life experiences with them. This means that classrooms and workplaces should be multicultural and teachers, managers and leaders should have the capability and dedication to help in building those experiences in a safe space that will eventually continue on outside the classroom and workplace to transform societies. In that way, the two inseparable components of progress—knowledge and information—can contribute to a nation’s social and economic development not its downfall.