Sunday 21 September 2008

Intolerance and Xenophobia

As I stroll through my neighbourhood in the 11th arrondissment in Paris near to the cemetery at Pere Lachaise, I pass several moslem run shops, and restaurants around Menilmontant, as I wonder further I see a Jewish synagogue and a number of Jewish North African outlets finally in just 15 minutes I arrive at Belleville with its large Chinese population.

I feel blessed that I live large and, despite a number of high-profile cases, a tolerant cosmopolitan society, the very same thing could also be said of my home town of London.

Unfortunately this is not necessarily the case in many other parts of the world. Living in a melting pot like Paris we are somewhat cocooned from an outside world where ignorance and intolerance is rife. On a recent trip to China I found myself in the touristy town of Yangsuo. Along the main drag stalls sold trinkets and other souvenirs and among them were a number of hand painted t-shirt sellers. Mixed along with t-shirts of Mr Bean, David Beckham there were other western "heroes" portrayed such as Osama Bin Laden and Adolf Hitler (see photo).

A recent survey by the Pew organisation as reported in the International Herald Tribune shows the extent of anti-muslim and anti-Jewish sentiment around the world. In Asia "half or more of the Japanese, Indians, Chinese and South Koreans surveyed said they had negative impressions of Muslims. " While negative atitudes towards jews ranged from 32% in India to 55% in China. In Europe "46 percent of the Spanish held negative opinions of Jews, as did 36 percent of Poles and 34 percent of Russians."

Overcoming fear and xenophobia is going to be a challenge and it's a fight that starts on our doorstep.

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