Birthism is a new word for a very old kind of bias or prejudice against others according to their birthplace. It is a thinly disguised form of chauvinism, disparaging of different nationalities, ethnicities and any other language than one’s own. For the ancient Greeks, anyone born outside Greece and speaking something other than Greek was by definition a “barbarian”. Its echo in today’s passport-controlled travel is the sign “foreign nationals”, who invariably wait in longer queues than the locals to have their credentials checked at international airports. Birthism has become a more serious threat to democracy in the current conspiracy theory that US President Barack Obama is not really a bona fide citizen because his background is Kenyan. The fact that he was born in Hawaii, and his birth certificate made very public back in the 2008 campaign, does not seem to cut any weight with those who prefer not to accept the visual evidence. These birthers make up about 23 per cent of Republicans, according to a 2011 Gallup poll. They are the Birther Movement, “dedicated to the rebirth of our constitutional republic”, according to its website. But there’s no word on the likely birthplace of the new republic, and Thomas Jefferson must be turning in his grave.

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