During one of the most monumental refugee crisis’ Europe has ever faced, there are differing views within each country on whether the acceptance or denial of refugees into their countries and within their borders is appropriate. The concept of Othering has never proved more important than in today’s contemporary society. Othering has been seen as a social construct and extremely exclusionary, labeling differing societies and countries as ‘us’ vs ‘them’.
A speech given by President Barack Obama, linked below, highlights how each individual stems from a largely diverse cultural background, irrespective of where they were born. When addressing his fellow Americans, he states that unless one is a Native American, they all came from someplace else; a statement that addresses notions of extreme nationalism and anti-immigration. Worryingly, the same cannot be said for current presidential candidate Donald Trump who constantly refers to those without American citizenship as ‘aliens’ and has announced that until Mexico pay for a wall across the Southern border, there will be a number of financial punishments. (Trump, 2016). This is a clear indication of ‘us’ vs ‘them’, present within the political spectrum.
So why does Othering occur? With reference to Ireland, those who either publicly or privately state their opinions on why Syrian refugees should not breach Irish shores was the main reason as to why the key concept of Othering was the focus of this blog post. What reasons could an individual have for brandishing another human being as an ‘outsider’, to the extent that they don’t believe in granting them refuge in ‘their’ country during times of war? How does one justify their refusal to aid these fleeing people by welcoming them into ‘their’ society? Three possible influences and instigators of anti-immigration will be focused on;
- The role of the media
The media has arguably been a huge instigator towards the seemingly increasing intolerance towards migrants, refugees and asylum seekers. Large, bold headlines splashed across newspapers that are available for all to see, with many holding subtle (and many not so subtle) notions of ‘us vs them’. As evident in the picture on the right, the implications of ‘us vs them’ is quite obvious, with dehumanising headlines that portray all migrants in an extremely negative fashion. In a study conducted by Haynes, Devereux and Breen (2006), they aim to understand and confirm the Othering of immigrants in the Irish print media. They claim there may be an association between negative media outlets and public opinion towards anti-immigration. A recent article published by the Sunday Independent (2016) had the following title scrawled in huge, bold letters across it’s front page; Poll: terrorists hide among our refugees. The question must be asked; how many people felt a surge of fear reading this headline and in turn, how many edged closer to identify these ‘terrorists’ as ‘others’?
- Nationalistic tendencies
“Natives may derive utility from living in a society with a well-defined sense of national
identity and well-understood and accepted social norms” (O’Rourke & Sinnott, 2006, p. 844). The desire to preserve national identity is quite present within our society, with traditions and cultural norms playing an ultimate role in maintaining our heritage and ‘Irishness’. With our society ever diversifying, introducing an array of new and different cultures into our society has been faced with backlash. The study conducted by O’Rourke and Sinnott on Irish citizens’ attitudes towards migrants concludes that patriarchy and national identity are large contributing factors to anti-immigration. “The results show that nationalist sentiment is an extremely strong determinant of attitudes towards immigration, with patriotism and especially chauvinism, having a large positive effect on anti-immigrant sentiment” (O’Rourke & Sinnott, 2006, p.851).
- Government policies
According to the Department of Justice and Equality (2010) direct provision “is a means of meeting the basic needs of food and shelter for asylum seekers directly while their claims for refugee status are being processed rather than through full cash payments. Direct provision commenced on 10 April, 2000 from which time asylum seekers have received full board accommodation and personal allowances of €19.10 per adult and €9.60 per child per week.” However, this system has been fraught with controversy and backlash. Authors such as Loyal, Fanning and Veale have been extremely critical of direct provision, with Loyal stating that living in direct provision is solely responsible for “undercutting their individuality and destroying their dignity and self-determination.” (Loyal, 2011, p.106-107). It could be argued that this huge divide within our society builds yet another wall between Irish citizens and asylum seekers and refugees. That, although they are now in ‘our’ country, they are still stuck in the limbo of direct provision; so are they really part of ‘our’ society? With the government continuing to use the flawed and unfair system of direct provision as the method in dealing with asylum seekers, is it completely surprising when people start branding and seeing them as ‘others’?
It is difficult to pinpoint the exact reasons and influences behind Othering however, when faced with the select few focused on in this blog, it becomes easier to understand where anti-immigration attitudes may stem from. Distancing ourselves from those who don’t share our physical appearance, culture, traits and country of origin, etc, has been a long-standing practice by many, but has never proved more controversial and significant than in today’s contemporary society. While the civil war occurring in Syria is still ongoing, there are still going to be people seeking refuge from the terror. Perhaps if citizens of countries such as Ireland looked past the physical and cultural differences of these fleeing people, it wouldn’t be ‘us’ vs ‘them’. It would just be ‘us’.
Corcoran, J. (2016). Poll: terrorists hide among our refugees. Sunday Independent, p.1.
Haynes, A., Breen, M. and Devereux, E. (2005). Smuggling Zebras far Lunch : Media Framing of Asylum Seekers in the Irish Print Media. irlan, 30(1), pp.109-130.
Loyal, Steven. (2011). Understanding Immigration in Ireland: State, Capital and Labour in a Global Age. Manchester, NH: Manchester University Press.
O’Rourke, K.H. & Sinnott, R. (2006). The determinants of individual attitudes towards immigration. European Journal of Political Economy, 22(4), pp.838-861.
Reception and Integration Agency (RIA) Ireland: Direct Provision. (2010). Ria.gov.ie. Available at: http://www.ria.gov.ie/en/RIA/Pages/Direct_Provision_FAQs [Accessed 26 Feb. 2016].
Trump, D. (2016). Immigration Reform. [online] Donaldjtrump.com. Available at: https://www.donaldjtrump.com/positions/immigration-reform [Accessed 28 Feb. 2016].