During most of the 19th and 20th centuries, it was held that humans are made up of several races. The oldest and most visible distinction was based on the colour of the skin: black and white. Moreover Mongol races were called "yellow", an obvious mistake as anyone having frequented Chinese and Japanese - or even true Mongols - can confirm. The distinctive sign in this case is rather the configuration of the eyelids. Today we know that genetic differences between humans are minimal and not at all related to so-called racial characteristics. Two blond Scandinavians may be more different genetically than any of them with regard to a Senegalese or an Indonesian.
Another element for the determination of "race" is cultural. Thus the "Aryan race" was supposed to be made up of people speaking Indo-Germanic languages. The "Semitic race" was seen as made up of people speaking Semitic languages. This would mean that speaking of "anti-Semitic" Arabs is total nonsense, as Arabs and Jews are both speaking Semitic languages, which moreover are closely related. In Europe language-based definition of race is completely impossible. The people presently occupying that continent are a hopeless mix of groups that have moved into it over millennia. Some have brought languages and others have adopted the language of the people they found on arrival. Thus the arbitrariness of language-based racism should be obvious to all. Albanians are descended mostly from the same people as Serbs or Macedonian Slavs. Today's Greeks are a mix of Slavs, Turks and some remanents of earlier inhabitants of their country. Even Anatolian Turks are a mix of older inhabitants of the region later superseded by Turkic invaders. Hungarians and Finns should be of the same language-based "race", although the former are as difficult to distinguish from their Balkanic neighbours as are the latter from other Scandinavians.
A particulary interesting case is the Indian sub-continent. Its inhabitants are of most diverse origins, although the Aryan (Indo-German speaking) invaders that arrived some 3500 years ago from central Asia have brought a degree of cultural homogeneity based i.a. on the caste system. In Durban it was claimed that caste is racially based, which of course is untrue, even if members of the so-called upper castes tend to be more fair-skinned than those of lower castes. But historically caste has to do with the occupation (priest, warrior, artisan, peasant). The only potentially racial discrimination might be that of the caste-less (Dalit) people, who are probably the descendants of older indigenous human groups.
In Rwanda and Burundi too the conflict between Hutus and Tutsis is based as much on caste than on ethnice differences. Tutsis have originally subdued the longer settled Hutus and made them their subjects. But the barrier between the two groups, prior to colonisation, was not absolute. Being a Tutsi meant owning a herd of cattle. By fulfilling this requirement a Hutu could become a Tutsi and by loosing his cattle and being forced to work the land a Tutsi could become a Hutu. Both groups speak the same language.
Intolerance and Discrimination
It would appear that "racism" is simply one of several manifestations of intolerance among human groups. Such intolerance is typical of animal categories living in groups and thus not at all a human speciality. It was however a very marked characteristic of human societies throughout the history of mankind. The outsider was seen as an enemy and if captured either killed or made a slave. At later stages, different groups were forced to live together, which mostly meant that one dominant group forced others into subjection. In some cases this subjection became increasingly light so that a degree of equality evolved among the various groups forming a large entity such as the Persian and the Roman empires.
Religious intolerance is largely devoid of racial elements, even if both the Jews and their enemies pretend the contrary. Today's Jews are not a race by any stretch of imagination, but they are held together by their religion. As they never were very numerous, strict adherence to their religion and clear differentiation with regard to all other religions became a matter of group survival. It led other, often more tolerant religions because they had many more adherents, to view Judaism with mistrust and sometimes hostility. But the real problem always was with Christians who began as a deviant sect of Judaism and later achieved a most effective and worldwide religion. Although its Prophet was very disappointed by the refusal of the Jews to convert to his creed, Islam never developed the kind of deep-rooted hostility towards Judaism that Christianity did. The current anti-Zionist and therefore anti-Israeli stance is based on the claim to Palestine and not on religious differences. Inevitably however, it has produced anti-Jewish attitudes in general, confusing all Jews with Zionists.
This is not the place to enumerate all the horrors committed in the name of God and religion over the last 2000 years. Let's be content with the present. In Northern Ireland we watch with horrified amazement what people who have the same ethnic background and speak the same language can do to each other in the name of religion. In particular the Protestant extremits in Ulster seem to defy any kind of human understanding. On one hand they insist on marching through Catholic neighbourhoods to celebrate a defeat inflicted by their ancestors on Catholic Irish some 300 years ago, with the clear intent of humiliating the latter each year again. On the other hand they are willing to use force to prevent Catholic schoolchildren to innocently walk to their schools past the garden walls of Protestant homes.
This extreme kind of intolerance was never mentioned in Durban. It is part of a more general trend plaguing today's humanity. Hostility in the Balkans is based on religion (Orthodox vs Catholic) and language (Albanian vs. Slav). Language is also what separates the Basques from Spaniards and French. The various antagonisms among sects of Islam are reminiscent of those among Christians. They are not based on language or ethnic background.
Discrimination is the product of the same thought system as intolerance. It means that ethnic, linguistic and social groups living together in a same area refuse to grant each other equal treatment. Normally it is the dominant group that discriminates the lesser ones. Domination may be in terms of numbers (majority vs. minorities) or power (conquerors vs, conquered, upper classe vs. lower). As the caste system in India shows, discrimination may be mutual. Most issues raised in Durban, and most internal conflicts that trouble countries today are the result of discrimination. In some cases,as in Norther Ireland or the Basque country, intolerance is the more instrumental aspect. It creates or promotes discrimination.
· 1 decade ago