Xenophobia vs Xenophilia

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Source: Getty

By Bilal Qudisat

Xenophobia and racism are difficult to oppose since these phenomena are subject to transformations and often become confused. Interestingly, however, unlike racism and other related notions, xenophobia has an antonym: Xenophilia, meaning sympathy for the stranger. Thus, xenophobia can be considered as the opposite of hospitality. In a variety of historical situations, foreigners have been marked out as not belonging to the political community. Yet, embodying different characters – the merchant, the pilgrim, the beggar, the fairground stallholder – they held a designed place among local citizens and natives. According to the roman distinction between urbs – the material town – and civitas – the civic city – they brought novelty to the former while being excluded from the latter. While xenophobia reflects the refusal to incorporate the foreigner as a citizen, it develops in the framework of a bond or even interdependence between outsiders and the host society.

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Indeed, whereas the total stranger triggers fears and hostile reactions, the foreigner can become familiar when his or her otherness is mastered through categorization processes, social practices, and institutional controls that define his or her status within a given community. Besides antagonism, the relationship with the stranger is also open to alliance and reciprocity, sometimes represented through rituals or recognition signs. In pre-modern times, for example, the traveler receiving hospitality would give his host half of a piece of clay, a Symbolon, and keep the other half for himself, in such a way that, when the host traveled in turn, he could be recognized abroad as a guest rather than a stranger.

Nowadays, the rising of xenophobia conceals opposing trends in most Western societies toward the development of multiculturalism, the adoption of anti-discrimination laws and diverse forms of support to immigrants and asylum seekers claiming for their rights. Opposing xenophobia through institutional devices, volunteer support, or political mobilization contributes to shape today’s complex and contradictory forms of the relationships with foreigners.

Contemporary manifestations of xenophilia involve political and ideological positions as well as individual and collective behaviors, which still realize nowadays some of the fundamental dimensions of human experience, such as persons mobility, inter-group contact, mutual social influence, and integration of novelty.”

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