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Persecution is a form of antisocial behavior, the persistent mistreatment of an individual or group by another group. The most common forms are religious persecution, ethnic persecution, and political persecution, though there is naturally some overlap between these terms.
The most common scenario is a majority/ingroup persecuting a minority/outgroup, since the reverse is usually impractical, although Apartheid in South Africa is considered an exception. Majority groups, however, can inspire resentment where they are locally a minority and find themselves persecuted; persons of an ethnic majority who venture within a large minority neighborhood may experience or perceive a hostility towards them. See reverse discrimination.
As part of the Nuremberg Principles, crimes against humanity are part of international law. Principle VI of the Nuremberg Principles states that
The crimes hereinafter set out are punishable as crimes under international law:...
(c)Crimes against humanity:
- Murder, extermination, enslavement, deportation and other inhumane acts done against any civilian population, or persecutions on political, racial, or religious grounds, when such acts are done or such persecutions are carried on in execution of or in connection with any crime against peace or any war crime.
There are various possible origins of persecutory behavior. For instance, a movement which is publicly or implicitly identified with a minority group — such as a religion, a genetic heritage, a region, or other traditional distinction — might be successful enough to disrupt the status quo or become associated with violent acts. A reflective persecutory movement might then arise within the majority, not necessarily distinguishing between those who are and are not part of the movement. This persecution might in turn radicalize the minority group, resulting in a feedback cycle.
So-called opportunistic persecution occurs when someone exploits and stirs up an existing current of resentment to enhance his own political power. This opportunism can be applied "in reverse", as where a minority orator provokes persecution in order to unify a minority movement.
Persecution and identity
Past persecutions can become important elements of a persecuted group's identity. Members of many ethnic groups and religions can name at least one time when their group was persecuted by others. Periods of persecution may include martyrdom, in which a person killed by the persecutor becomes a powerful cultural symbol for the persecuted group.
The historical memory of persecution may long outlast a group's status as an oppressed minority, becoming a symbol of group membership. For instance, Christianity's two best-known symbols -- the Christian cross and the ichthus -- are relics of persecution: the cross is the means by which Christ was martyred, while the ichthus was (according to one story) a secret symbol used by Christians to identify one another under Roman persecution. Even where Christianity is the majority religion and has had greater power, these symbols of persecution recall the oppressive past.
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