INFO LEAFLET ON DEFINITIONS
From: MINELRES moderator <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: Tue, 07 Oct 1997 13:35:51 -0700
Subject: INFO LEAFLET ON DEFINITIONS
From: MINELRES moderator <email@example.com>
Original sender: <firstname.lastname@example.org>
INFO LEAFLET ON DEFINITIONS
(From the moderator: longer piece than usually, but I believe worth
reading. Not all definitions look absolutely irreproachable, so, any
comments are welcome. - Boris)
WHAT DO YOU MEAN BY THAT? INFO LEAFLET ON DEFINITIONS
Have you ever been on an international meeting and tried to speak about
complex concepts, such as nationalism? Did you encounter any problems?
so, this is the info leaflet for you. UNITED information leaflet No. 13
"Definitions of concepts most used in anti-racist work: the danger of
words" has just been published.
UNITED INFORMATION LEAFLET NO. 13
A paper version is now available and can be ordered from
UNITED for Intercultural Action
European network against nationalism, racism, fascism
and in support of migrants and refugees
Pb 413, NL - 1000 AK Amsterdam
phone +31-20-6834778, fax +31-20-6834582
THE DANGER OF WORDS
DEFINITIONS OF CONCEPTS MOST USED IN ANTI-RACIST WORK
"I am not a racist, because I have nothing against black people, if they
assimilate and follow our rules. In fact, some of my friends are
Maybe you have been confronted with this opinion, or a similar one.
Maybe you have tried to explain that what you mean by tolerance does not
mean that everything is permitted.
Maybe you have experienced confusion when speaking with someone from
another part of Europe about 'left' and 'right'.
In this information leaflet we want to start a discussion about certain
terms we use often in our daily work. The 'definitions' in this leaflet
are ideas. They are not the unique and only expression of an
truth. Language is constantly changing and so are terms and concepts. In
time they may change and come to mean something else. In international
cooperation, but in fact even in cooperation with our next door
neighbours, we must be aware that what we say may mean something else to
another person. We should be aware of the 'danger of words'.
Human Rights are those rights that every human being, with no exception,
should enjoy. These rights are based on the ideas of philosophers of the
"Enlightenment" of the 18th century. Human Rights include social rights
(such as work, housing, food, etc.) and political rights (such as the
freedom of thought and expression, protection against detention and
torture, etc.). All countries in Europe, except a few very small or new
ones, have signed the European Declaration of Human Rights or the UN
Declaration of Human Rights.
Equality is the state of being equal. It means that no person counts
than another, whatever his or her parents are, whatever his or her
position is. Of course, people are not identical to one another in their
interests, abilities, and lifestyles. So equality for people is about
having the same rights and the same chances. People must have equal
opportunities to succeed in education or work, depending on their own
efforts. Equality will only be a reality when people have the same
to housing, social security, civil rights and citizenship.
Tolerance is respect, acceptance and appreciation of the rich diversity
our world's cultures, forms of expression and ways of being human.
Tolerance is harmony in difference. It is fostered by knowledge,
communication and freedom of thought, conscience and belief. Tolerance
being yourself without imposing your views on others. Tolerance is not
giving in or giving up. Tolerance is, above all, an active attitude
prompted by recognition of the universal human rights and fundamental
freedoms of others. The practice of tolerance doesn't mean toleration of
social injustice or the abandonment or weakening of one's conviction.
Tolerance is not always a positive concept. More traditional meanings of
the word tolerance do not include respect or acceptance.
Intolerance is a lack of respect for practices or beliefs of others.
is shown when someone is not willing to let other people act in a
way or hold different opinions. Intolerance can mean that people are not
treated fairly because of their religious beliefs, their sexuality, or
even their clothes and hairstyle. Intolerance does not accept
difference. It lies at the basis of racism, anti-Semitism, xenophobia
and discrimination in general. It can often lead to violence.
When you form an opinion about a person, without knowing him, on the
of assumed characteristics of the group you think he belongs to, then
are prejudiced. Prejudices are complex ideas that are preformed and
presumed without being proven right. When they take on a permanent form
they are called stereotypes. When someone is prejudiced, he will be
inclined to see only those things that confirm his ideas and thus
strengthen his prejudice, and the stereotypes he believes in.
Discrimination is judging someone, and acting towards that person in a
negative way, on the basis of certain irrelevant characteristics such as
skin colour, sex, sexuality, nationality, social class, ethnic origin,
Taken literally, "xenophobia" means a fear of strangers. The word is
to describe hostility towards people who come from other countries or
other ethnic groups, as well as a lack of respect for their traditions
Racism is the belief that some people are superior because they belong
to a particular race. Racists define a race as a group of people with
ancestry. They distinguish different races from one another by physical
characteristics, such as skin colour and hair texture. In fact, there
no clear differences, and especially no significant differences that
matter. Recent research shows that race is an imagined entity. "Race"
no biological basis. The word "racism" is also used to describe abusive
aggressive behaviour towards members of an "inferior race". Racism takes
different forms in different countries, according to history, culture
other social factors. A relatively new form of racism sometimes called
"ethnic or cultural differentiation" says that all races or cultures are
equal but they should not mix together to keep their originality. There
no scientific proof of the existence of different races. Biology has
determined one race: the human race.
Anti-Semitism is prejudice against Jewish people. Anti-Semites wrongly
believe that Jews are fundamentally different from other people, that
want to rule the world and are trying to reach this goal through a
world-wide conspiracy. This form of xenophobic intolerance leads to
discrimination against individuals as well as the persecution of Jews as
group. The most horrific manifestation of anti-Semitism came with
rise to power and the Nazi ideology of racial purity. Millions of Jewish
people, deported from all countries controlled by Germany, died in
concentration camps during the Holocaust.
Fascism is a violent reactionary right-wing political movement, and
manifests itself ultimately in an openly terrorist dictatorship. Fascism
gains support among all social groups especially in times of political
economical crises, it destroys democratic liberties and discriminates
members of specific (ethnic) minorities and people with different views.
Fascists believe in the just leadership of a strong man, instead of
parliamentary democracy. Fascism builds on a strong nationalism, that
often turns racist. The first fascist dictatorship was established in
1919 in Hungary, then 1922 in Italy, 1923 in Bulgaria and Spain, 1926 in
Poland and Lithuania, 1936 in Japan. The most brutal form of fascism was
national-socialist dictatorship in Germany 1933-1945. Nowadays there are
groups, organisations and parties that follow that ideology again. They
are called neo-fascists.
Nazism is an ideology and policy of the German fascism, which was
characterised by racism, anti-Semitism, totalitarianism, social
aggressivity and superiority claims over other nations. The word Nazism
derived from the expression national socialism, which was a political
movement in Germany led by NSDAP (The German national-socialistic
party). NSDAP was founded in 1919 and in 1933 took absolute power in
Germany. It was pronounced a criminal organisation at the Nuremberg
after World War II. The nazi regime was responsible for the deaths of
millions of civilians, part of whom were gassed in concentration camps,
because of their (presumed) difference. Especially persecuted groups
Jews, Roma, homosexuals and communists/socialists. Some groups identify
themselves with the ideals of nazism even today. They are called
neo-nazis. Neo-nazis sometimes manifest themselves as skinheads, but not
all of them do and not all skinheads are neo-nazis. Neo-nazis do not
believe in reason but in the force of violence.
Societies' fear of homosexuals is called homophobia. Homosexuals are
sometimes seen as perverts. A lot of homophobia comes from religious
beliefs. In general, homophobic people see another person's
first and his/her humanity only later. Homosexuals have been persecuted
centuries and are still persecuted in many countries.
Sexism is making an unfounded difference between men and women. Men and
women are built differently physiologically speaking, that is the only
reason why it is sometimes appropriate to treat them differently. But in
most cases there is no reason to make a difference at all. Sexism is a
A nation is a group of people who have the desire to see themselves as
coherent group. They recognise a common ancestry, a common history and
often a common territory. Nations are not organical, biological or
entities. They exist because of the will of people. They are 'imagined'.
This does not make them less real in the world, as we have to deal with
what people believe exists. The idea of the existence of nations is
relatively new, it has come up during the 19th century. States which
to unify the people in their country propagated the idea of one nation,
with one history, one language and one territory.
Nationalism is a political ideology that puts interests of one "nation"
national group above the interests of others and above all other
relationships, be they to family, friends, gender or humanity.
makes a difference between people as a result of a border which often
nothing to do with the people living in the region but with the king or
other authority putting a line on a map. This political movement
citizens of one nation to be superior to others and usually leads to
suspicion of other nations. An extreme form of this is chauvinism.
Patriotism means being proud to be a member of one's own nation.
stems from emotional attitude to nationality and its culture and
Friendship with other countries and nationalities is still possible in
way of thinking, and it can respect their rights and interests. Although
is different from (political) nationalism, patriotism can easily become
motor for an intolerant nationalism.
This is a vision of the world in which human life, human rights and
dignity are viewed as more important and more essential than
Internationalism is the refusal of recognising any real basic
between members of the human race of all nationalities. People who
in internationalism, will as a consequence struggle against nationalism,
racism, fascism, sexism, Anti-Semitism, homophobia and other forms of
This is the belief that we become richer persons by knowing and
experiencing other cultures, that we add to our personality because of
encounters with other cultures. Different people should be able to live
together, although they have different cultural backgrounds.
Interculturalism is about accepting and respecting differences. People
believe in interculturalism, believe they can learn and profit from
Multiculturalism means the existence or the promotion of the existence
different cultures beside each other, usually in one country. Many
use this concept when they speak of an anti-racist future. But
multiculturalism can also mean the mutual isolation of cultures. Some
racists believe in a kind of multiculturalism that is close to the
'apartheid'-system that existed in South Africa, where different
were separatedin a cruel and unjust way.
Integration is a process of unifying individuals and activities into a
system. It means that minority groups and the majority group develop a
way of living, which includes elements of the values and ideas of both
groups. Integration also means that everyone finds a place in society.
There are no fundamental divisions between groups.
Assimilation is the suppression of differences. Sometimes individuals
choose to assimilate of their free will, but this process is mostly
on groups against their wishes. Assimilation forces one group to give up
its culture in favour of another culture. Usually the minority takes
the culture of the majority.
Social exclusion is the opposite of social integration. It is usually
as a result of discrimination on the basis of cultural background,
background, disability, sexual orientation, etc. It usually results in
poverty, animosity between groups and exclusion from essential social
provisions as education, health care, community activities. This
is not always based on laws (although it often is) but also often on
attitude: making standards too high to reach for certain groups,
reinforcing a dress code a group can't comply with, etc. One example of
socially excluded group is homeless people.
A minority group is a group of persons resident within a area in which
constitutes less than half the population and whose members share common
characteristics of an ethnic, religious or linguistic or other nature
distinguish them from the rest of the population. Sometimes a minority
itself as a separate nation. Sometimes we consider a group a minority,
because of the percentage of people it contains in an area, but because
the position they are in. A minority has a lower social and/or economic
position than the minority. It does not have as much power as the
A migrant is a person who moves from his home country to another
Migrants are different from refugees. They have not fled from danger of
persecution. Most migrants move to another country to build a better
for themselves and their families. In modern terminology, all refugees
are not awarded refugee status are migrants. The differences are often
administrative and not based on a fundamental difference. A lot of
have faced life-threatening situations in their homelands.
A refugee is a person who flees in the face of danger or a
situation. Refugees are sometimes defined as those asylum-seekers that
awarded a refugee status and sometimes as anyone who needs refuge from
danger. The choice between those definitions is a political one, not a
linguistic one. Sometimes economic refugees are also recognised. They
people who flee from economic uncertainty, exploitation, hunger and
The Geneva Convention definition is detailed and somewhat restrictive.
includes those persons that are persecuted on the basis of their
race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or
political opinion. The African definition of refugee includes those
refuge from natural disasters and famine too. The recent Dublin
limit the Geneva Convention definition to refer only to political
persecution of individuals by the state.
An asylum-seeker is a person who seeks protection in a country, and
to receive the status of refugee. In many countries asylum-seekers are
in detention. Some are turned back at the border. Only a small
of asylum-seekers are granted the permission to stay.
Most people in our working fields don't use the term illegal any more,
refer to people without the right papers as 'sans-papiers' (which
means "without papers"). Someone can be illegal because he comes into
country without permission, or does not have a residency permit while
living in the country, or because the government decides to change its
rules and suddenly the right to stay is withdrawn.
We define solidarity as a sense of togetherness, commonness of a certain
degree (sympathy, moral support, material help, co-operation), which is
displayed towards each other by countries, nations, groups of people or
individuals. Solidarity can be both passive (as in sympathy) and active
in material help and cooperation).
Democracy is a word from ancient Greek, which means "government by the
people". This means more than just voting for representatives in an
election. Democracy also means being able to participate in society with
the same rights as other people. Participation is taking part in an
activity together with other people, such as in a youth organisation,
being involved in making decisions. Democracy includes listening to
opinions of the minority even if the majority has a different opinion.
means being able to deal with diversity and eventually to come to a
compromise for the good of everybody.
LEFT - RIGHT
The political terms of 'left and 'right' originally refer to the seating
positions in the General Assembly of the first French republic. They
come to mean different things over time and probably will change meaning
again as years go by. In general 'left' usually means: progressive,
believing in the possibility of change, in favour of equality and the
protection of the weaker. 'Right' usually means: conservative, believing
stability and continuity, in favour of the victory of the best and the
leadership of an elite.
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