By the end of the sixteenth century, it had become apparent that the Reformation era and its religious passions had marked the end of spiritual unity across Europe. The religious tension and divisions pitting the Catholics against Protestants, which characterized medieval Europe, were particularly prevalent in France in the seventeenth century. According to Barnett (2003), the wars of religion resulted from the ideologies of the Reformation era, which left little to no room for tolerance, dissent, or compromise.
In France, the wars between the Huguenots, also referred to as the French Calvinists and the Catholics were caused by several social, economic, and religious reasons. Barnett (2003) explains that European Reformation had seen Protestantism gradually gain popularity in an otherwise predominantly Roman Catholic, seventeenth-century France. With the population of Huguenots growing to around two million by the end of the sixteenth century, French kings grew increasingly worried about the growth of Calvinism, even though the catholic majority greatly outnumbered the Huguenots’ minority.
The Valois monarchy controlled the Catholic Church and was also staunchly Catholic, seeing him hate Protestants, especially the Huguenots, who were seen as opposing the crown (Barnett, 2003). The ultra-Catholics, led by the Guise family, who held an uncompromising Catholic position, persuaded King Charles and his mother, Catherine de Medici, that the Huguenots posed a threat to the monarchy and should be eliminated. The massacre of the Huguenots began on August 24th, 1572, in Paris, where many Huguenots had convened for a wedding. The day is known as Saint Bartholomew’s Day, when over three thousand Huguenots were massacred. The massacre lasted for three days, with frenzied Catholics patrolling the streets of Paris, killing Huguenots (Barnett, 2003). Many thousands of Huguenots were also murdered in various provincial towns across France. It was not until the 1598 Edict of Nantes that the Huguenots, the minority in a predominantly catholic France, were given the right to worship and enjoy political privileges.
Anti-Irish sentiments were also prevalent in nineteenth-century Victorian Britain. These sentiments often manifested themselves in the various stereotyping of individuals of Irish descent as alcoholic and violent. Lee (2017) explains that Ireland experienced a great famine in the mid-nineteenth century, which led to poverty. With calls for assistance from the British government not being heeded, over one million people in Ireland died from starvation, with over two hundred thousand others migrating to London, Glasgow, and Manchester, which became known as the ‘Little Irelands.’ However, upon arrival, the Irish were met by unwelcoming and hostile hosts, who stereotyped the Irish as ungrateful, violent, unhygienic, and inherently criminal (Lee, 2017). The cruel treatment of the Irish immigrants can be attributed to several factors, including the accusation that the Irish were taking over English jobs, the perceived degrading and contagious nature of the Irish, and the Irish’s unwillingness to denounce Catholicism.
However, as Lee (2017) further states, the Irish immigrants, who comprised the minority, were victims of poor timing. This situation arose because thousands of Irish immigrants arrived in Great Britain when the country was besieged by various social, religious, and economic problems. Therefore, the English were looking for a scapegoat to pin their problems on, which became the Irish immigrants. The English believed that the Irish people’s arrival threatened the security of their income and jobs.
One should note that having been ravaged by famine and great poverty, the Irish were ready to take any jobs, work for longer hours, and in much worse conditions, all for less pay. Rather than endear them to the English people, this willingness effectively made the Irish a ready-made scapegoat and target for the frustrations of the English people grappling with poor living standards and job insecurity in a newly industrialized country. For instance, the English blamed the Irish for poor sanitation, overcrowding, diseases, and a rise in crime, even though these were characteristic of all industrializing states. Similarly, the English people were suspicious of the Irish people’s reluctance to renounce Catholicism in line with the intense waves of anti-Catholicism sweeping across Great Britain.
The Jews are believed to have lived in Europe for about two thousand years. By 1933, there were over nine million five hundred thousand Jews in various countries of Europe, including Central and Eastern Europe. The most significant portion of the Jewish population in Europe was concentrated in Eastern European countries, such as Romania, Hungary, the Soviet Union, and Poland. While the Jews in Eastern Europe constituted a minority and lived within a majority’s culture, they spoke Yiddish, their language, and practiced their traditional customs and rites. According to Perry and Schweitzer (2002), anti-Semitism, which refers to the discrimination or prejudice against Jews as a group and individuals, has a long history based on myths and stereotypes about the Jewish State of Israel, the Jews, and their religious beliefs and practices.
These myths and stereotypes laid the foundations for a systematic social, economic, and political exclusion policy and isolation. They attempted the destruction of the Jews in Central and Eastern Europe in the twentieth century. Perry and Schweitzer (2002) explain that the exclusion and discrimination of the Jews did not start during the Hitler-led Nazi regime. Instead, it was a continuation of centuries of scapegoating and discrimination of a minority group historically perceived as the ‘other.’ Besides being accused of being bloodthirsty and spreading diseases that threatened the future of Europe, the Jews in Central and Eastern Europe were also accused of contaminating the purity of the superior white race. They were portrayed as greedy, money-hungry individuals siding with rabbis in their supposedly secret plot to rule the world.
- Barnett, S. J. (2003). The Enlightenment and Religion: The Myths of Modernity. New York/Manchester: Manchester University Press.
- Lee, G. (2017). Dirty, diseased, and demented: The Irish, the Chinese, and racist representation. Transtext(e)s Transcultures [Online]. https://doi.org/10.4000/transtexts.1011.
- Perry, M., & Schweitzer, F. M. (2002). Anti-Semitism: Myth and Hate from Antiquity to the Present. New York: Palgrave MacMillan.