Opinion | Columnists

Xenophobia is rampant in the Arab world

Discrimination based on region, creed and institutions is rife

  • By Mohammad Hassan Al Harbi | Special to Gulf News
  • Published: 20:00 June 13, 2013
  • Gulf News

Xenophobia has been a topic of interest for most countries around the world. Xenophobia is basically the fear and hatred of strangers or foreigners. In recent years, both France and Britain have shown indications and signs of an increase in this phenomenon due to the presence of a large immigrant population.

Years following the events of September 11, xenophobia appeared in various states of the US. However, upon realising the occurrence of this phenomenon, the country began to quickly work on avoiding it and reducing its intensity, on a superficial level, that is.

At present, specialists in the field of social science and psychology are trying to formulate an identity and classify this type of hatred for strangers. Some of these specialists have said that this hatred is a form of racism.

However, racism is mostly based on religion, ethnicity or gender, while xenophobia is based on the place of birth. So these specialists have resorted to the following example for clarification: To hate a black woman from France because she is actually French falls into the category of hatred for foreigners and strangers, while hating a black woman from France because she is black can be classified as a form of racism and discrimination.

In reality, xenophobia is primarily based on cultural hatred, and hating cultural elements that are considered strange.

Are there any new categories or forms that can be included? The answer is yes, and such forms are present in many Arab countries.

Ageism is stereotyping or discrimination against an individual or group of people because of their age. This form of discrimination was predicted decades ago but was never activated, and was identified in 1969 by American gerontologist Robert Butler. This form of discrimination also applies to children and teenagers, including ignoring their ideas because they are too young, or assuming that they should behave in certain ways because of their age.

Arabs, for example, view children as immature, and nothing they say or do can be taken seriously until they pass a certain age. Butler also states that ageism covers employees who are 60 years old.

There is also sexism, in which discrimination is based on gender. Such a form of discrimination is based on beliefs or opinions that one of the genders is naturally more superior to the other. This includes the concept of masculinity in males and feminism in females, in which a male or female harbours a sense of distrust for the other sex.

Let us now discuss academic discrimination, which is based on the non-scientific classification of universities. A university in India, for example, will not be seen as equal in standards to a British university, no matter how excellent the Indian university is. This is not based on poor academic levels, curriculums, or poorly equipped science labs, but is simply based on the fact that the university is located geographically in India. Such discrimination takes place despite the fact that India is a developing and nuclear-weapons state that enjoys heavy industries and has carried out Moon missions.

All these facts, however, do not change the fact that it is a Third World country. Therefore, a surgeon with a degree from India will not be sought after in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) or global job market as much as a surgeon holding a degree from Britain or the US. And let’s not forget the manner in which Third World passports are viewed as ‘inferiors’ at airports and job market.

This form of academic discrimination also applies to high schools, and not based on their scientific accreditation. A diploma from a school for the sons and daughters of members of the wealthy social class is viewed more favourably in the job market than diplomas from other schools, even if the curriculums and educational standards of both institutions are similar. The graduates of such high-status schools are also viewed more favourably on a social level.

Discrimination based on the region is also a form of discrimination that is witnessed in Arab countries, including the GCC. In Jordan, for example, Bedouins are in control of military institutions, such as the army, border guards, and riot police, while minorities such as the Circassians are in control of service providing institutions such as municipalities, planning departments and the personal guards.

Another example of such a form of discrimination can also be seen in Syria, where most people living in coastal areas are in control of all military and security institutions, as well as the air force. In the Syrian army, a Syrian Bedouin is placed on the frontlines, while people from urban areas are placed in the rear defensive line.

In Saudi Arabia, a survey published online showed that residents of Al Qassim province constitute 80 per cent of judges in the country’s courts, and they are graduates from two universities: Al Qassim University and Al Imam Mohammad Bin Saud Islamic University. Descendants from the southern region of the country, which is close to Yemen, are in control of Saudi military and security bodies, while residents of Makkah and Medina dominate the airlines, to an extent that it can be categorised as a monopoly.

Regionalism also takes on some strange forms in GCC countries. In Saudi Arabia, a policeman may dismiss a motorist’s fine simply because they are from the same area or tribe. This issue becomes all the more prominent during distribution of financial and land grants to citizens. Saudi Arabia is not the only GCC country in which regionalism is widespread, but it is present in varying proportions in other Gulf nations. It is difficult to imagine that these countries would one day adopt the slogan “skill not skin”, or “efficiency not social status”, which was embraced by the US in the 1960s, and this is why it has achieved so much progress.

Mohammad Hassan Al Harbi is a writer and journalist.

Gulf News
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