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Islam and xenophobia in South Africa – Part 2

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Xenophobia in South Africa


But as is common today with ‘breaking news’, and ‘breaking posts’ on ‘whatsapp’ platforms, video clips of xenophobic attacks on non-South Africans quickly witnessed multiple postings as if my compatriots were deriving certain pleasures in the madness displayed in the video. Or was it the case that it was the images in the video that was awakening latent ‘madness’ in us: the temptation to post hideous images conflict with our faith, demean our values and corrupt our society.

Now let us try to see the ‘sense’ in xenophobia and situate same against Islam. Xenophobia is the fear and distrust of that which is perceived to be foreign or strange. It thrives in negative constructions and perceptions of others as outsiders, not insiders. It feeds on prejudices and stereotypes of others based on their tribe, race, religion and other identity markers which are usually not of the victim’s making. Xenophobia is not simply an attitude or state of mind. Rather, it is a fire which seeks to burn and eliminate its object in order that an imagined nationalistic, ethnic or racial space or borders may be secured or protected from being ‘contaminated’.

Again xenophobia is a warped and falsified posture against reality. It burdens the other for the failure of and in the self. It thrives on escapism and flight from critical self-reflection that are expurgative of the cultural and psychological valences which feed life of lax and lack. This inability to creatively interface with reality often stimulate the herd instinct- an instinct which, according to Bertrand Russell tends to produce ferocity toward those who are not regarded as members of the herd.” The herd instinct has made unconscionable commission of murder in parts of South Africa fashionable.

It needs no emphasis to say that Islam abhors and anathemizes all postures and perspectives which thrives on exclusion of people or their dehumanization based on their racial, religious or ethnic background. Islam sees humanity as belonging to same origin and are fated, ultimately, to same destination – return to their Lord. Sequel to his arrival in Madinah, the Prophet discovered traits of racialism in the conduct, statement and activities of some of his companions. He is reported to have subsequently issued a proclamation and an exhortation that sought to invalidate all racial or ethnic allegiances. He said- ‘All of you are from Prophet Adam (a.s); and Adam is from the earth”. The necessity to put colour and race to shame in inter- and intra-cultural relationships partly led to the appointment of a former slave and a black man, Bilal bn Rabah, as the first Muadhin (caller to prayer) in Islamic annals. The same philosophy informed the revelation of verses that emphasize stellar characters as preeminent in the scale of preferences of the divine.

But taken to global and contemporary period, it is axiomatic that the notion or assumption that freedom of a nation from nationalities other than its citizens is a precondition for greatness is puerile and stupid. It is puerile because no nation today can survive on its own without inputs from entities and subjectivities from outside its shores. The United States of America has achieved its power and prestige today partly because it prides itself as the nation, until recently, of immigrants. Malaysia is reputed to be an Asian giant partly because it is culturally and racially ‘contaminated’.

Thus incidences of xenophobia attacks that has reared its ugly head once again in South Africa are wake-up call to the South African state to the emergence of deeper threats to its sovereignty and existence. This is based on the eternal wisdom that whenever the firewood fails to find what it can ‘eat’ and burn, it begins to ‘eat’ and burn itself. In other words, the South African state needs to confront intra-South African social, economic, and political factors that feed xenophobia. It needs to ask the hard questions: why is it that mass of South African youths prefer life of docility to productivity? Why is it that gangsterism is fast becoming a big business in our country? Has it not become a necessity and an urgent one for that matter, that a rereading of South African history in a way that would remind apparently uninformed young South Africans that the country they call theirs today was fought for by Africans across races and religion? Are these incidences of xenophobia not signs and effects of lack of good governance the same way lack of good governance led to the emergence of the Boko Haram in Nigeria? Whenever the hyenas of hate eventually fails to find foreign subjects to feast upon, it is certain that it shall begin to feed on its own; jackals of violence in the rainbow country would begin to feed on fellow South Africans! Indeed xenophobia is a form of madness and there is no doubting the fact that there are pleasures in being mad which none but the madman knows.
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