The blame game
“Italians riot against Gypsies in their midst; South Africans riot against Zimbabweans and other immigrants. In troubled times, the foreigner is always hated.”
So says Theodore Dalrymple, writing in today’s Times.
And I would add: not just the foreigner – but anyone who can be “blamed”. I was listening to one of those Melvin Bragg “In Our Time” programmes the other week about how the plague in medieval Europe was blamed on the Jews. Yeah, it’s killing everyone in the village – it must be those Jews poisoning us all.
Anyway, as anyone who ever reads my blog might know (come on, both of you, own up!), I’m a regular visitor to (and big fan of) Italy, and I’m always seeing the ubiquitous Lega Nord grafitti from a political party that’s regularly accused of stoking anti-foreigner sentiment.
When I was last in Italy a few weeks ago the story of an alleged attempt by a Roma teenager to abduct a baby from a flat in Naples was getting big-time coverage. This seems to have been played up by the people – possibly the Naples Mafia, the Camorra – apparently behind the arson attacks on Roma shanty town camps in Naples.
It is, you’ve got to admit, totally depressing when racism rears its ugly head like this. Check out what we’ve said on this front for Italy, South Africa and dozens of other countries in our just-published annual report. (But don’t try to read it all at once – it’s nearly 400 pages on 150 countries!)
Meanwhile, according to a feature on the BNP in Stoke-on-Trent in yesterday’s Guardian, BNP supporters in this country have been known to go into pubs spreading totally false (but authentic-sounding) rumours about Kosovan asylum-seekers receiving big “handouts” and ethnic minority families preferential treatment when it comes to local authority housing. Needless to say, the Guardian explodes these rumours as the racist urban myths that they are.
So, scan back to South Africa and you’ve now got the horribly ironic fact that a country that suffered apartheid racism for nearly 50 years is now seeing poor black South Africans meting out vicious violence on migrants from places like Zimbabwe. It’s the poor lashing out at the even poorer, and as we know racism and xenophobia are the ready stand-bys when the going gets tough.
The problem, as Theodore Dalrymple suggests, is that hardship and scapegoating go hand in hand. As the mighty Buff Medways used to say, “we live in troubled times” – but why does that mean we should take it out on someone else? Call me a woolly-minded liberal, but isn’t it time we stopped playing the blame game?
Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.