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Fear and Loathing in Arizona

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The first of seven lawsuits against Arizona's controversial immigration law is being heard this week in federal court in Phoenix. The Justice Department will challenge the state for usurping federal authority to enforce immigration laws. Americans are divided on the issue, as is always the case with immigration. Some worry the legislation will lead to police harassment of people of color. Others are busy making private donations for a defense fund of the law.

On the other side of the world, another battle over immigration drags on.

In Mumbai, India, the Shiv Sena and MNS political parties continues to declare that Mumbai is a city only for Marathis (people from the state in which Mumbai is located). The parties enforce this notion with gangster tactics. In the past, party members have beaten up non-Marathis working in Mumbai, threatened Marathi celebrities who call themselves 'Indian' instead of 'Marathi', and attacked media offices. Just this week, the Shiv Sena told a radio station it must start playing more Marathi songs or 'face the music.'

There are fundamental differences between these two battles, of course. Arizona's law seeks to discriminate on the basis of a person's color. The Shiv Sena and MNS seek to discriminate on the basis of a person's home state. Arizona's law attempts to control immigration from outside of the country, while the Shiv Sena and MNS want to control immigration from within. Arizona wants to do it legally, while the Shiv Sena and MNS resort to violence.

What is common between the two cases, however, is fear.

At a recent town hall meeting in Casa Grande, Arizona, televised by CNN, one Arizonan woman expressed her concern over immigrants in her state to Senator John McCain: "As a normal citizen what do we do? ...Besides sitting here, you know, worried and wondering and frustrated?" Another resident proposed a violent solution: "Shoot, shovel and shut up." The room laughed nervously. The fear of the Casa Grande residents, whose town sees around 80 percent of illegal immigrants pass through, was unmistakable.

In Mumbai, the Shiv Sena and MNS parties continue to warn the Marathi people that Indians from the north will come and steal their jobs, destroy their language, and dilute their customs. Most of the parties' rhetoric is laced with these kinds of fears.

In Robert S. Wistrich's book Demonizing the Other: Antisemitism, Racism, and Xenophobia, he talks about how we demonize that which is other than us in part because we fear them. Our fear is used to fabricate images of the "other" as an enemy that must be destroyed.

Change.org last year put up a Global Anti-Immigrant Hall of Shame (a list which the Shiv Sena was on), and writer Prerna Lal pointed out that xenophobia was to blame. Xenophobia is defined as the uncontrollable fear of foreigners. That fear should not dictate the immigration dialogue any longer.

Lal wrote: "Governments have the right to control their borders and numbers of immigrants but in a way that protects and safeguards human rights." Let's hope that Mumbai's government can find a way to deal with the Shiv Sena and MNS parties' concerns in a less violent manner. And that Arizona's law, however it may turn out, protects and safeguards both American and immigrant rights.

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