Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW)/日本からの意見

We Must Mitigate the Frictions Caused by Xenophobia
IWAMA Yoko / Professor, National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies

March 3, 2017
Recent political phenomena such as Brexit and Donald Trump’s electoral victory in the United States had been a form of protest against the ruling elite, who had failed to recognize the discontent felt by a considerable portion of the populace. “Populism” is a word that is dogged by negative connotations, but as far as democracy goes it is only natural that when people become dissatisfied, they demand to be heard. If we were to fool ourselves by simply attaching a “populist” label to the phenomena, we would misread the true issues at stake.

As a backlash to the rapid advance of globalization that began in the 1990s, we saw an outburst of popular sentiment seeking a “return to the old ways” in both the UK referendum and the US presidential election. But we can’t turn the clock backwards. More often than not, the populist camp looks only to the past in setting their agenda, offering nothing but an illusion and making it seem as though shutting out immigrants and quitting free trade would bring back manufacturing and jobs back home.

Yet, it is also true that people harbor a deep mistrust of the current political elite. In Europe this year, general elections are scheduled to take place in the Netherlands and Germany, while France will hold a presidential election. These countries will hold elections under the same circumstances, in the sense that expectations run high for non-establishment candidates. Even in Germany, where its Nazi past has made its people extra vigilant against xenophobia and populism, right-wing parties are enjoying a renewed vigor. Although change will come in varying degrees due to differences in the respective electoral systems of each country, if right-wing parties were to capture a significant portion of the protest vote, it would have a destabilizing effect on European politics.

In my view, this is the biggest crisis the world has faced since the 1930s. The global movement of goods and money accelerated rapidly at the end of the 19th century. The rise of mass media such as newspapers and radio was accompanied by an expansion in railway networks and trans-continental shipping routes, which triggered the global movement of people. All kinds of social anxiety emerged in the form of racism. And as the stock market bubble burst in the United States, the political elites at the time were unable to prevent the chain reaction of fear, which eventually led to the rise of fascism.

Today, with the spread of the Internet and proliferation of mobile devices, information travels instantly, causing events such as the influx of millions of immigrants into Germany in the span of only several months. In terms of the sea change that has occurred in the way people think and act, the current situation is similar in quality to the 1920s. And precisely for that reason, I hope what follows will not be the same. We must do more than just opposing xenophobia; we must get to the root of the crisis and give serious thought to what solutions there may be.

In Europe, where there is a strong sense of insecurity towards social change and fear of terrorism, xenophobia has become a fixture within party politics. In such a social climate, the only political solution is to temporarily slow down the flow of immigrants into the country and wait for society to calm down. Adjustments must be made for accepting the groups of people that would cause the least cultural friction, in a manner that would cause the least friction. Unless prompt action is taken, the spread of xenophobia could escalate.

As a general trend, advanced countries faced with declining populations cannot avoid accepting foreign labor. Having evaded this issue until now, it is Japan’s turn to take half a step forward and open its door to foreign workers by considering ways to mitigate frictions caused by differences in culture, religion and customs. Japan should start implementing policies aimed at social integration before it is too late.

Yoko Iwama is Professor at the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies. This article is a summary of an interview published by the Mainichi Shimbun newspaper on January 18, 2017.
The English-Speaking Union of Japan

岩間陽子 / 政策研究大学院大教授

2017年 3月 3日







一般社団法人 日本英語交流連盟

English Speaking Union of Japan > Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW) > We Must Mitigate the Frictions Caused by Xenophobia