DAY 259: The editor

November 13th, 2018 § 0 comments § permalink



Or, if only I’d had an editorial subcommittee to blame for the last post’s goofs. The suggestions which have come at me from various directions that I should discard it and replace it, pretending that T’d actually written something else, I discard and despise. I shall have to stick with the confusion between postage stamps and banknotes which even the moderately keen-eyed reader will have noticed; and continue with the written work, in all its imperfections. The ever-faithful Corinne Squire (hi there) forgave the error,  read it as if it was OK to write about stamps and gave me some good advice, particularly recalling that there had been a series of stamps in memory of David Bowie; and pointing me to her own much more scholarly blog at https://displacesblog.wordpress.com. Which I’ll leave you to explore.

Major Blow to the hostile environment: Docs not Cops.

A backroom deal allowing the Home Office to request patient data from the NHS to target people for deportation has been scrapped following a legal challenge. The agreement gave the Home Office access to confidential patient information to aid immigration enforcement. It was written in secret before being published in January 2017. This year, Migrants’ Rights Network (MRN), represented by human rights organisation Liberty and Matrix Chambers, took legal action against the arrangement because it VIOLATED PATIENT CONFIDENTIALITY, DISCRIMINATED AGAINST NON-BRITISH PATIENTS 5676

Hostile environment van

AND LEFT SERIOUSLY UNWELL PEOPLE FEARFUL OF SEEKING MEDICAL CARE.Under the pressure of the legal challenge, the Government announced in May 2018 that the data-sharing deal would be suspended – but remain in place. (See https://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/nhs-data-sharing-home-office_uk_5be97198e4b0e843889a1b5d?ncid=other_twitter_cooo9wqtham&utm_campaign=share_twitter.)

NHS DIGITAL HAS NOW CONFIRMED TO THE COURT IT WILL COMPLETELY WITHDRAW THE DATA-SHARING DEAL made between itself, the Department of Health and the Home Office.

Review: The Book of Exodus (Moses)

When this author’s Genesis appeared a few years back, I was impressed by its bold post-modern approach to narrative. The decision to give two directly conflicting versions of the Creation was an encouraging start; from which much else flowed. We were, at all points, presented with a fractured narrative with constant digressions; the character of ‘God’, a capricious being who was capable of destroying everything he had created in a flood recalled many more recent antiheroes; and similarly for God’s reactions as they’re shown in the fine stories of Noah’s sons, cursed for observing his drunkenness, or of the destruction of the Cities of the Plain. The sacrifice of Isaac in particular, as Kierkegaard has pointed out, is exemplary. in its presentation of God as a dubious and contradictory character.

In contrast, it must be said that Exodus comes as something of a disappointment, with a single ‘hero’ and relatively simple linear storyline. The adventures of Moses as a traditional clan ruler follow a fairly routine pattern, the main surprises being God’s role (which has often been pointed out) in hardening Pharaoh’s heart, and the later disturbances around the Children of Israel, the Golden Calf, 321-primary-0-440x400and the tablets of the law. Apart from these, one misses the boldness, the invention, and the constant disruption in Genesis. It’s tempting to think that the author is trying to appeal to a more popular readership, (‘Let my people Go‘) being the main storyline) and he may indeed be successful. However, in terms of literary craft, this reviewer finds Genesis a more exciting and  groundbreaking work. I’m intrigued by a few extracts I’ve seen from the forthcoming sequel Leviticus which suggest that Moses is toying with the idea of abandoning narrative altogether in favour of, one might say, the form of a legal textbook with prohibitions and punishments. We shall see.

 

 

DAY 258: The post

November 10th, 2018 § 0 comments § permalink

 It’s changed names so many times of course, that word, and so many meanings are assigned to posting (where is one posted to?). I keep posting, but do the posts ever arrive where they’re posted to? It’s been on my mind a good deal lately for the ephemeral reason that some people are proposing to put my mother’s image and superscription on the £50 stamp (‘Render unto Caesar…’). But, aside from other objections, what conceivable occasion would I ever have fo needing such a stamp – what extortionate branch of Royal Mail would charge me that much, and or what? Sending quail’s eggs to the Falkland Islands? I use stamps myself pretty rarely, as I imagine you do, relying mainly on email… I know that many countries have, or used to have competing stamps of brightly coloured tropical birds – an unoriginal choice of themes, finally. Does France have a series depicting cheeses? Does any country boast a stamp with a locust or a

images

herpes virus pictured on it to break the monotony of birds, butterflies, famous citizens and what not? I have myself, reader, been out to post a letter at the al-Quds post office on. Salah-al-Din street and survived the rather stressful experience; and I can tell you that if. you were minded to send a postcard from the West Bank, what image you got on the stamp wouldn’t be the first thing on your mind.

Of course, those who know me well (hi, folks!) will know that what I’d really like is a series of stamps depicting human rights judgments – I think of ECtHR – Hirsi Jamaa and Others v Italy [GC], Application No. 27765/09 (handing 200 migrants over to Libya), a. neat judgment, comes to mind. But what would be even better in our day and age would be to get the video of the court’s decision (you can, with the judges trooping in in robes) and fix that the stamp played it when the letter was read – I leave the details to my more technologically adept friends. Of course they might prefer to sell a stamp with a picture of say David Bowie Ziggywhich would play’ e.g. ‘Rock’n’ Roll Suicide’ when you read the letter; and I wouldn’t want, or be able to, stop them. I do recall a series of siamps featuring the Beatles, but they didn’t incorporate the features I’ve suggested.

But to return to the post, and to set aside for the moment – oh do please let’s set them aside! – Poe’s purloined letter, Lacan’s seminar on its introduction and Derrrida’s discussion of Lacan’s position in his lengthy squib Le Facteur de la Vérité (not one of which seems to make any reference to stamps). What of those posts of which we’re so fond, in Facebook or indeed this one which I’m writing here – equally unstamped? Is the evil Zuckerberg empire phasing out the stamp? Note that when I post 2000 words to tis blog, if I get round to it, I simply click ‘Post’ with no need to pay or get a stamp or anything. But could I opt to ‘buy’ a ‘stamp’ which when I ‘posted’ the letter made a donation to the zakat of my choice? There I think the internet is pretty near to allowing, nay encouraging such behaviour with its constant pop-up windows favouring this or that blameless charity.

Elections

You will have noticed that I’ve avoided commenting on the recent elections in the Maldives, or indeed in the so-called United  States; largely through my huge ignorance of either, although the victories of Native American, Muslim, Palestinian, LGBT etc candidates must be seen as a cause for celebration.I’m hard at work researching both countries in the hopes of providing well-informed commentary, but it would be nice if some organization provided. me with a grant to make me better informed.. Here‘s some music from the Maldives, which as we always know is he best was of learning about a people; if it makes reference to the imminent danger of disappearing under the sea, I can’t make it out. The same goes for those Congressional districts which have been won by Native Americans, Muslims, Palestinians and LGBT candidates.

DAY 257: Possessions

November 4th, 2018 § 0 comments § permalink

One does keep accumulating them, thinking that an extra two books or two bookcases may come in handy. (I don’t mean just great-aunt Layla’a framed watercolours of Tripoli or uncle Hamid’s carpet-slippers.) And then, when one reaches that final shore, as so many have done on the bank of the Evros river which separates Greece from Turkey, one parts with them, and with one’s life, in a moment.

pavlos_takes_whatever_itmes_he_can_off_each_body_individually_bagging_and_cateloguing_each_one_copyThe possessions of the drowned, taken from their bodies on the shoot the Evros, are catalogued in the hope of identification.

We think again of boundaries, of so many kinds. In Greek myth, there is a ferryman to carry you over; in the life of many who seek for asylum, no ferryman appears. As ‘Al Jazeera’ reports, The land border between Greece and Turkey, a nearly 200km frontier mostly formed by the Evros, has seen increased traffic since the European Union and Turkey struck a deal to shut down the route into Europe via the Aegean sea. ‘The bodies are usually discovered half naked. They have been in the Evros, the river dividing Greece from Turkey, for weeks. And the currents or the fish have taken their clothes. Sometimes there are personal effects – a pair of glasses, a chain of beads, a bracelet – that can offer a clue to someone’s identity.But usually they remain unidentified, stored here at a hospital morgue in the northeast Greek town of Alexandroupolis – silent witnesses to the horror of a refugee’s journey. ”It’s very difficult because we have women, we have little boys, girls, we have children,” Pavlos Pavlidis,Screen Shot 2018-11-05 at 10.54.19 a forensic pathologist at Alexandroupolis’ general hospital,  told Al Jazeera. The UN said Turkish authorities at the land border with Greece intercepted almost 20,700 people between January and September this year, compared to 7,500 reported for the same period last year. According to the UN’s refugee agency, an estimated 4,300 people had arrived this year at the Evros Greek-Turkish land border by the end of October. More than 800 crossed using this route in October alone. And we could see the meticulous Pavlos Pavlidis as the chronicler of these lost lives, who at least piles up the possessions in the hope that he can somehow attach a name to a brooch or a sandal.

Because attempting to cross Evros can de deadly. ‘It was so dangerous, so cold,’ recalled Martin Jafari, an Afghan refugee who said that he lost three friends while attempting to cross the border. ”They were three of my best friends,” he told Al Jazeera. ”We were out in the open … We didn’t have any food or clothes.” Refugees are forced into the Evros river because of a double-barbed wire fence on the border, paid for by the EU to keep refugees out,

[Digression: Small animals, For most of my life,  I, like you probably, had thought that the smallest and simplest animal was an amoeba, and that was that. Oh dear, it's never that simple; and. the problem of how you classify rather small shapeless water-borne creatures seems quite fraught: are they a phylum or a genus or what? And how many different kinds? Luckily, it's not my problem; but the hot favourite seems to be something pleasingly called Chaos.Screen Shot 2018-11-04 at 16.47.02Chaos chaos ingesting something (?Paramecium). I don't know whether you'd meet many of them in the Evros and whether they cause the notorious amoebic dysentery.]

 But the barbed wire fence (to return to that) is, as so often, only part of the story. I strongly recommend you, if you have the time, to read the report by the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary and arbjtrary executions of migrants, which focuses on the mass casualties of refugees and migrants in the course of their flight. It addresses killings by both State and non-State actors, and denounces a quasi-generalized regime of impunity, worsened by an absence of accurate data on the dead and missing. To get the whole thing, you’ll probably have as usual to do some fiddling with passwords (it will help to be an academic, or know one) The author is the sharp-sighted Agnes Callamard (see below),

Agnes_Callamard

Agnes Callamard

The report foregrounds the mass casualties of refugees and migrants in the course of their flight. And you might like to the cast an eye on it. I quote a chunk, which once again calls attention   to the growing criminalisation of what should be a duty:

‘The present report focuses on the mass casualties of refugees and migrants in the course of their flight. It addresses killings by both State and non-State actors, and denounces a quasi-generalized regime of impunity, worsened by an absence of accurate data on the dead and missing. The Special Rapporteur of the Human Rights Council on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary killings calls urgently on States to address this human rights crisis by prioritizing the protection of the right to life in their migration and refugee policies.

The report presents evidence that suggests multiple failures on the part of States to respect and protect refugees’ and migrants’ right to life, such as unlawful killings, including through the excessive use of force and as a result of deterrence policies and practices which increase the risk of death. Other violations to the right to life result from policies of extraterritoriality amounting to aiding and assisting in the arbitrary deprivation of life, and from the failure to prevent preventable and foreseeable deaths, as well as the limited number of investigations into these unlawful deaths. The report also presents best practices in search and rescue operations and for the dignified treatment of the dead, but points out that States do not implement them as they should, and fail to resource them adequately.

The scale of casualties among refugees and migrants demands urgent attention at national, regional and international levels. The report presents recommendations for this purpose. The equal protection of all lives, regardless of migration status, is a central underpinning of the entire international human rights system: it must be upheld in the context of the movement of people and must form the foundation of all governmental and intergovernmental policies.In our modern world, millions are on the move globally, with thousands dying each year as they seek to escape war, persecution, climate degradation, and poverty. Responding in the name of deterrence, governments are exacerbating, not reducing, the dangers faced. Appalled by human suffering, people around the world are stepping up to offer rescue and support, including food, water, medical services, lodging and transportation. The result is that civic humanitarian services are reaching levels not seen since the aftermath of World War II.

Governments have reacted by harassing even prosecuting “spontaneous” or organized humanitarian acts.

At the direction of the Security Council, governments have instituted counterterrorism legislative frameworks that, given their stringency, potentially criminalize even life-saving medical aid or food relief, and in any case impose chilling effect on the provision of humanitarian aid for people desperately needing help.

Various States have also adopted laws or measures preventing or hindering organizations from providing life-saving services to girls, women and LGBTI persons, thus contributing to increased rates of otherwise preventable morbidity and mortality.This report asserts that saving lives should never be a crime. It argues that the failure to exempt humanitarian services from the overreach of punishing policies, active obstruction of the provision of life saving services, and/or criminalization of acts of solidarity and compassion constitute violations of the State’s obligation under the right to life. Any deaths that may be attributable to such measures amount to arbitrary deprivations of life which engages the responsibility of the State.’ Fighting talk! Will we see action to follow it up?

Digression: You’ve asked: ’Is ‘Becks  Blue’ halal or haram? An number of my friends have become quite exercised on the status of the popular ‘non-alcoholic’ beer; turning to the ever reliable Google, I found, naturally, four different answers from different imams. (You’d think were only two, but in religious matters you’d be surprised.) I think that the best advice is to play it safe, whatever that means.

DAY 256: The programme

October 26th, 2018 § 0 comments § permalink

200px-Dome_of_the_church_of_Jacob's_Well

Dome of the church of Jacob’s Well

So what have I been doing during this weeks of silence? The question has often struck me, and yesterday particularly as for the nth time I sat waiting in a hospital for more tests, and reading Finnegans Wake on my phone to pass the time. (Yes, reader, you can easily find it, or at least the first chapter, at http://finwake.com/1024chapter1/1024finn1.htm; and that’ll last  quite a long time even at the hospital. You may notice in particular a great deal of interest in the Qur’an in that many-layered work, as in: ‘Our cubehouse still rocks as earwitness to the thunder of his arafatas but we hear also through successiveages that shebby choruysh of unkalified muzzlenimiissilehims thatwould blackguardise the whitestone ever hurtleturtled out ofheaven. Stay us wherefore in our search for tighteousness, O Sus-tainer, what time we rise and when we take up to toothmick andbefore we lump down upown our leatherbed and in the night andat the fading of the stars!’) I’ve also been reading, as maybe you have, a variety of texts on Syria. In particular (there’s an awful lot to read, even if you stick to texts in English, even if you stick to texts in Jadaliyya, as I tend to do)  by the interview ‘Dissidents of the left’ with Yassin Al-Haj Saleh. Being very long, I can’t begin to give an account of what’s in it, let alone whether I think the author is right. But I was really struck by the following words which I reproduce: ‘The model for new movements could be that of refugees appropriating the world and those conscientious people welcoming and helping them. I feel that states, the richest and most powerful in particular, consider refugees a far more serious threat than terrorist groups. They are right. States are “legitimate” monopolies of terrorism, and those terrorist networks are their “illegitimate” rivals and doubles (they tend to be correlative in a way that you cannot exclude one without excluding the other).’ The relation between the two is an embodiment of the world “stuckedness” in anti-politics, while refugee passage to prosperous Europe represents the alter-politics which ismercury

Mercury, the poisonous planet, patron of thieves [This image was inserted because I found out that Mercury contained an amazing amount of iron. Why?

Why not? And what can we do with all that iron, in the soul of the Solar System as it were. Any reference to Freddie Mercury is purely coincidental.]

becoming a universal necessity (I am referring to Ghassan Hage’s terminology in his book, Alter-Politics: Critical Anthropology and the Radical Imagination). Maybe we have to develop a combination of anti-politics and alter-politics. It is impossible to evade anti-politics vis-à-vis thuggish states like the one we have in Syria, but there is always a need to think of other forms of gathering and organization.

I was struck, as maybe you were, by an article by Owen Jones in the Guardian (a fortnight ago?) suggesting that Europe in general, and Britain in particular, was in a state of crisis from which it could only be rescued by Corbynism; and that people were precisely]y ready for that kind of a solution. Could that be true? I asked a random selection of people on the C11 bus. What things do you see wrong hat you would like to see fixed? The failures which I think of as symbolised by the words ‘Windrush’ and ‘Grenfell’: a  capitalism which has completely lost its self-confidence and can only mouth arrogant slogans proclaiming its ability to perform its duties. It’s time to collect a a list of friends and allies, around a list of what we see as needed. Ranging from the multiple injustices of our legal system (detention, stopping benefits. no housing, rat-infested housing) to the wider field where the UKBA rule and police our borders. The society we have is so obviously not the society we want: what do we want, and how will we get there? Can we? Can we get a society (and I hope this doesn’t only mean Britain) in which everyone can be decently fed, looked after properly treated and not left alone.It’s been the dream of socialists over the ages; the bugger has always been how to get there, and what a lot of junk lie in the way. How many eggs, comrade, must we break to make our precious omelette!

What Mr Jones recommends (quoting from a commission) is that a genuine, higher living wage should be introduced; and proposes that a target should be set to double the percentage of workers covered by collective bargaining – which has been in a state of collapse since the late 1970s – to 50% by 2030. Workers would get elected representatives on company boards; and the self-employed – poorer today than they were two decades ago, and lacking basic rights – would be granted work-related benefits. The report also recommends reversing recent cuts to corporation tax, which have failed to increase investment as promised, and a cooperative development act to encourage the mutualisation of the economy.

What is striking about these demands isn’t just how much more radical they are than only four years ago: it’s who has endorsed them – from the archbishop of Canterbury to business leaders. The IPPR’s polling shows that, from a radical clampdown on tax avoidance to publicly owned investment banks, to borrowing to invest, there is overwhelming support for the

bitejunking of the old neoliberal order. That I should live to see such a day!

Here’s a cheery Kurdish song, by the name of ‘Loy Loy’; the artist is Nazdar (I think)

And here is a poem (without permission) from Kate Clanchy’s Oxford children’s wonderful refugee poem anthology: ‘England :P oems from a School’. Every one is a winner. Read it, indeed buy it.

To make a homeland

Can anyone teach me

how to make a homeland?

Heartfelt thanks if you can,

Heartiest thanks,

From the house-sparrows,

The apple-trees of Syria

and yours very sincerely.

 

Amineh Abou Kerech (13)

 

 

 

 

 

DAY 255: Criminalization

September 4th, 2018 § 0 comments § permalink

I have as usual come very late into a debate which has been running for a very long time – having been absent for so long from the groves of academe – and having missed some essential contributions to the discussion on the criminalisation of hospitality – oh well

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 I knew about Lisbeth Zornig Andersen who was jailed in Denmark in 2016 for giving lifts to refugee hitchhikers, and  Cedric Herrou the troublesome olive-farmer on the French-Italian border, don’t we all –  but it was not till my FB friend (no don’t start me on that) Sarah Ezzat Mardini and two companions were jailed three weeks ago by the Greek police (see posts of mine passim, has this sentence gone too long?) for trafficking, in other words rescuing people from the Mediterranean, that I realised that the ‘criminalisation of solidarity’ was not only a popular concept – or practice –  among the police, but also among those of us who make it our practice to study the police. Partly, of course, to defeat them, partly to get grants , partly to win the battle for rights, you know for the usual mixture of motives. I didn’t even, such is my ignorance, know about the totally timely publication  of a special issue of my sister publication Race and Class back in February devoted to a round table disunion on the issue.[Migrants, borders and the criminalisation of solidarity in the EU (Liz Fekete, Race & Class Vol 59, Issue 4, pp. 65 - 83 First Published February 12, 2018, https://doi.org/10.1177/0306396818756793] From which (via a bit of annoying fiddling with college passwords etc) I can quote what I think is a fairly punchy account of where things have arrived so far:’And it is not just the obscene response to desperate people in the Mediterranean that should concern us. The attempt to criminalise humanitarian assistance now extends to any area where, thanks to the lack of proper state planning or assistance, bottlenecks of refugees, makeshift camps and squats (‘any place I hang my hat is home)’ emerge, such as Ventimiglia in Italy, Calais in France (where the makeshift camp, known as ‘The Jungle’ was demolished in 2016–2017) and Lesbos, in Greece. On land, then, what we see are first policies of institutional neglect, the rationale being if you just don’t do anything for people, they will move on. And, if they don’t, then what lies in store is intensive territorial policing aimed at creating a hostile environment both for would-be refugees and anyone supporting them.What has unfolded in areas where land borders are closed and displaced people stuck with absolutely nothing, is that volunteers spontaneously come, and, by providing food, shelter, water and basics like that, they make the situation visible, they make the migrants visible. And it is this that cannot be countenanced. The mayor of Calais for example said words to the effect, ‘I don’t want another Jungle, we spent all this money destroying the Jungle with the bulldozers and the riot police and everything’. She responded to the show of humanitarian solidarity by passing a law that made unauthorised distribution of food unlawful. And it is this kind of mentality, viewing displaced people and refugees as an itinerant underclass and a public order nuisance, that means laws to criminalise solidarity.’ [The situation in Calais deserves a special study,; the volunteers in well-organised kitchens the are allowed to prepare meals for twice-daily 'distributions' to a crowd of people with no shelter, and no access to shelter. The insanity should be clear. The volunteers are legal, the people they are serving are not.]    As I say, this recent discussion had completely escaped my attention, or I’d have shared it withScreen Shot 2018-09-04 at 16.12.09

you. Even worse, an earlier debate (around 2012) about the Greek attitude to strangers, migrants, the term philoxenia (remember how much Odysseus was made welcome or unwelcome by his various hosts, Nausicaa, Polyphemus, Circe,.. It’s  probably in its turn  the continuation of a long earlier discussion of how we treat others/strangers in which I suspect I can see the names of Giorgio Agamben among other old mates surfacing. The author of the 2012 piece (no I won’t give you the doi, you’ll have to find it out for yourselves)  was already describing a Greek camp by trying to rephrase the experience in the lingo of biopower: (Where any place I hang my hat is home)

‘Among the street volunteers, however, I noticed the reversal of hospitality. During their visits to refugees, volunteers cast them as hosts and interpreted their own offerings to them as the reciprocated gifts of guests. This was a conscious political act: As hosts—though “disputable” ones—refugees were attributed the power and agency that they are typically denied in institutional aid contexts. Even the selection of the term refugee instead of the bureaucratic label asylum seeker that is adopted in the setting of the camp was a political choice made by volunteers to challenge established political hierarchies. However, in practice, volunteers on the street exercised biopolitical power over their hosts through their attempts to “educate” and “advise” them. The camp and the street are thus more than physical spaces; they also synopsize models of refugee management and overcome dualistic simplifications and binary oppositions. They speak volumes about alternative political modes of dealing with the stranger.’

Screen Shot 2018-09-04 at 16.12.09And so on (I refer you to the article and subsequent discussion.) and the biopolitical implications of such projects. The placement of the refugees–asylum seekers in the setting of filoksenia, as indicated by the figures I employ of the “worthy guest” and the “disputable host,” links the workings of biopolitical power with established cultural schemata of sociality and social relations.’

The placement of the refugees–asylum seekers in the setting of filoksenia, as indicated by the figures I employ of the “worthy guest” and the “disputable host,” links the workings of biopolitical power with established cultural schemata of sociality and social relations.’

But we, where we are, have to start somewhere, and why not start now with today’s injustice? We can be sure that it’s here to stay, and the triangle refugee rescuer cop will remain in place – along with the smuggler, who is certainly an important player, and should be brought in. But not in the way that the current EU leaders are doing.

 

DAY 254: Roaming

September 1st, 2018 § 0 comments § permalink

So, I find it almost impossible to write about where we are, or what we can do in what seems like (but is surely not) an almos surely terminal state of affairs. Nothing is by defnition ever terninal, alas, we must keep struggling on though the mire. To get quickly through the least absorbing and quickest subject (me), I can hardly see and I can’t walk more than a few yards. So that’s that dealt with. Here we are in early September, past ‘Id sl-Adha and nowhere near Rosh Hashanah. But what of our poor world, we might ask? I’ve been talking to friends about what Khaled Hosseini calls ‘compassion fatigue’, which is why he says Europe’s sympathy for refugees has been drying up, and in certain cases has been replaced by hostility. (I’m not suggesting it’s that simple; but some people will surely be getting tired of compassion and other people (not the same) will be drifting towards open hostility. In particular, this week, the Greek authorities have arrested the Syriansyria refugee Sarah Ezzat Mardini, with two companions, on a charge of ‘people-smuggling.Of course, the initial ‘generous’ reaction of Europe to the large number of Syrian arrivals in late 2015 was always bound to gov way to something more repressive, generosity not being the habit of modern states. I won’t bore you with the ins and outs, and the various factions, in the attitudes of Western Europe to refugees. You all know it by now. What we all know, but no one will acknowledge, is that – for many reasons, civil war, dictatorship, climate change -refugees will keep coming, they will find ways of doing it; and Western Europe is powerless to stop them. All that can be done is to ensure the maximum of misery for those who try to come – drowning them, confining them in uninhabitable disease-ridden camps, locking them behind razor wire – to what end? How have they deserved this treatment? Is there an alternative to such stark inhumanity?

Well, my old confrère Étienne Balibar, author of the 60s pop classic Reading Capital, is still I’m glad to say going and still fighting in his 70s and has come up with a hugely relevant theory which deserves wide circulation – that of the ‘right to hospitality. Hospitality being something very like what your more up-to-date religious leaders are beginning to recognise as your expectation from your neighbour. (‘Because’, if you remember, ‘you were a sojourner yourself’, you owe it to other sojourners.) In the brief account of what the right to hospitality should be which he gives, he introduces the category of ‘roamers’ – and we have plenty of them, it must be said – and tries to lay down some rights for them which I for one find surprising, but very encouraging as a starting point for new thought [You could think of them as 'wanderers' of course, a classic European happy bunch of people.] Aside, of course, from ‘non-refoulement’, i.e. you can’t send them back to the dangerous place they came from (which these days is turned into a pretty rigid test of who qualifies as a ‘convention refugee’, a narrow category indeed, but one which could, and should be broadened); Further, and very relevant now, ‘States and their police operating on the borders or inside the territory must not brutalize the roamers:

roaming

A roamer

a notion that, alas, covers a huge range of harm stretching from the violence inflicted on undocumented individuals to the creation of what Theresa May (then Home Secretary) called a “hostile environment” for foreigners as well as their internment in camps and the separation of families.’ And, particularly relevant to the recent news from Greece, ‘ Military operations must not try to destroy smuggling networks or organisations at the risk of harming the roamers who are the victims of the latter and not their paymasters. A fortiori, decisions that forbid rescue operations or

hospitality

Hospitality

that try to thwart them should be viewed as complicity in crimes (possibly crimes against humanity).’

I suggest you let those ideas sink in. Are we, in fact, being governed by criminals; or should we rather be putting the roamers in power – and lessening the bonds of power in any case? Hard questions. If the roamers are the oppressed (and they are), are thy due a festival? How might the world change?

DAY 253: Suffering

August 3rd, 2018 § 0 comments § permalink

Mine, yours, that of the world. (Have I told you about my knees, which seem to get worse every day? And my cataracts in both eyes?) There’s always plenty enough to go round, and what a bewildering variety! And all of us are always competing, promoting the particular brand of suffering which most concerns us. As I’ve been saying, as I keep saying, it’s lately been that of migrants facing drowning in the Mediterranean; but there are so many different categories of suffering, so many circles in today’s hell? Today’s good news Is that  the Court of Appeal has finally, at the end of an astonishingly long-drawn-out process,Unknown ruled that the Home Office’s actions during the idemolition of the Calais jungle were an incompetent shambles, in which the interests of the children, which should have been the first consideration, were consistently ignored by the Home Office. But why has it taken nearly two years to reveal this typically devious behaviour by the H.O.? Basically, because that’s how they operate, through obstruction and obfuscation

To quote our own Sonal Ghelani of the Islington Law Centre:: “It is extremely disturbing that these emails show the government was advised by the Home Office’s own lawyers to act unfairly and unlawfully, in order to avoid legal challenges by the children concerned.
This is in direct contravention of a fundamental tenet of fair decision-making, where reasons are often required precisely to allow the person against whom a decision is taken to know if they have a basis on which to challenge it.

“The Secretary of State should now launch an investigation into how all this came about, given that an unknown number of children have been denied the opportunity to know why their cases were rejected and whether these rejections could be challenged.”

Speaking on behalf of refugee charity Safe Passage, which works to reunite child refugees and their families in the UK, Beth Gardiner-Smith, Project Lead, said:

“Tragically, many of the children that were refused by the government with no good reason have since gone missing from French authorities’ care, and we have never little to no information on their whereabouts or wellbeing.
“Today’s judgment reveals not only the failure of the Home Office to comply with law but also its abysmal disregard for the safety and welfare of incredibly vulnerable children.

“By refusing these applications without providing reasons, the Home Office left potentially hundreds of unaccompanied children in Calais with no viable legal avenues to join their families. The Home Office knew the risk that these children might lose faith in the legal process and attempt to find their own way to their families. But it withheld the information anyway. And that’s the way the Home Office continues to act; and the culture within which it acts, with impunity; unless we challenge it.

‘ I heartily agree; but the Home Office, who has never prioritized the care of the weak nd the defenceless, is now in the context of the ‘hostile environment’ making their persecution a priority.  Both as.regards my body and over the whole of Europe, nay, the world. (I I am minded to say) rights count for nothing as children are starved and incaceration rules.

Remember that this decision has not ended the suffering of the Calais children, simply by declaring that they were wrongfully detained. Have they found secure homes in Britain? Not yet. The key point concerns  - I must repeat – the unknown number of children out there. Europe is being overtaken by a disaster of an unknown size. A report, already a year old, describes the growing disaster cross France. We must rely on charities like Safe Passage to keep us  focused on this central fact, as once friendly countries become increasingly hostile; or on SOS-Mediterranee whose daily updates I recommend to you.

Still, these children at least have (I must suppose) been given a home in Britain. But we have to note that a French Senate report from July 2017 found that 709 children removed during the clearances of the camps in Calais had subsequently gone missing from French care shelters. Just let that figure sink in – 709. How many children were there in the jungle at its peak? Could anyone kindly do an analysis?

[It's all enough to make you wish, like Thomas Campion, that the Lord would take your weather-beaten soul to rest. I did at least drag my weather-beaten feet about 100 yards along Oxford St. It. did my weather-beaten knees no bit of good.]

How many children were in the jungle at the time of the clearances? (all right, approximately)

How many children did the UK government record in its lists as acceptable for transfer to the UK? And how was this process conducted?

What happened to the rest of them?

While in other news of suffering, let’s not forget that over 150 Palestinians have been shot since April in the course of the “Great March of Return”. I’m quoting an article – which is interesting and though-provoking even where you don’t agree – from ‘al-Shabaka’ by Haidar Eid on the shift which the march 2526represents, in his opinion,, not least in representing the unity of the whole people.

‘Given the failure of the dominant political class after 70 years of displacement and dispossession since the Nakba, 11 years of blockade that international human rights organizations have described as a crime against humanity, and three Israeli wars that have killed more than 4,000 men, women, and children, the Palestinians of Gaza have decided to peacefully mobilize to enforce international resolutions, beginning with UN Resolution 194 regarding the return of Palestinian refugees to their homes and lands.

Indeed, as Gaza-based civil society and political activists have concluded, the only dependable power is that of the people, especially after the Palestinian leadership turned its back on the Gaza Strip and began to impose punitive measures against it in April 2017. The struggle against apartheid in South Africa has inspired Palestinian activists since the late 1980s and the popular mobilization of the First Intifada. Palestinian activists also draw on a history of popular resistance in Palestine, including the 1936 strike and later uprisings in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and Israel.

The Friends have their occasional meetings for sufferings. Never having been at one of these occasions I’m naturally inquisitive at what goes on (particularly as the Friends aren’t given to talking much anyway). Do you get up and describe your recent sufferings – imprisonment, as it might be, or backache? And then, after a long pause, another Friend says ‘It’s funny that thou shouldst say that, I’ve been having the same problems but I find Arnica very useful.’ (Not with imprisonment.) I’d welcome enlightenment.

Poetry

Israeli poet Dareen Tatour has been courting suffering by writing a poem (‘Resist, my people, resist them’) which has landed her a five months jail sentence. This is stiff for a poet, whose poems are mld in comparison with those of, say, Shellley. One can only applaud a writer who would be prepared to risk so much, rather than collecting the rewards (such as they are) of the published poet.

Music

For various reasons (I’m reminded of ‘Dido’s problem’, the isoperimetric inequality, recent studies e.g. by the erudite Marina Warner on Dido as a migrant, from Tyre to Carthage and so on), I’ve lately had Carthage, the lost and destroyed city, on my mind. So here is a pleasingly camp song from some of the local witches.

 

DAY 252: The summary

July 14th, 2018 § 0 comments § permalink

This is the promised Part 2 (or whatever) of my accounts of life, death, and the actions of governments in the Mediterranean over the last month or so. It’s very much abbreviated, and I urge you to keep following the news as it unfolds; the pages and tweets of SOS-Mediterranee and MSF are a good place to start. We have on one side the rulers, the makers of camps and barbed wire, the culture of detention, sending back, and separating families; on the other side the culture of hospitality and welcome. It’s looking like an increasingly long haul; but I urge you to believe with me that the future of Europe,whatever it is, lies with the culture of the rainbow.

First, a report from Judith Sunderland of Human Rights Watch.  They (HRW) recently issued an effective statement against leaving people to drown: but she expresses a personal view forcefully. Note the figures: 200 drowned in three days, 1,000 this year.

Migrants are seen onboard the charity ship Lifeline at Boiler Wharf in Senglea, in Valletta's Grand Harbour, Malta June 27, 2018.
Migrants are seen onboard the charity ship Lifeline at Boiler Wharf in Senglea, in Valletta’s Grand Harbour, Malta June 27, 2018.

© 2018 Reuters

As an American living in Italy, I feel almost choked by despair. The country of my parents ripped young children from their parents and put them in cages. The country of my children is condemning people to drown in the Mediterranean.

Over 200 people have drowned or gone missing off the Libyan coast in the last three days, including young babies, bringing the death toll so far this year to over 1,000.

The new Italian government closed its ports to rescue boats in June. After years of laudable efforts to save lives in the Central Mediterranean, the Italian state-run Maritime Rescue Coordination Center is denying any further responsibility, insisting Libyan coast guard forces are in charge or that the countries where rescue ships are registered should take responsibility.

Migrants and refugees are already exploited by unscrupulous smugglers who pack them into unseaworthy vessels. Confusion, uncertainty, and delays by the European Union contribute to loss of life at sea.

In a devastating chain reaction, Malta – which is host to many asylum seekers, but studiously avoids responsibility for rescues and disembarkation – is aping Italy’s hardline approach. After 200 people floated adrift at sea on the Mission Lifeline rescue boat for five days, Malta finally allowed survivors to disembark– only to place the captain under investigation.

Malta has since also refused the rescue group Proactiva’s request to refuel, and is blocking another rescue organization, Sea-Watch, from leaving port.

At a migration summit last week, EU leaders agreed on little except to further empower Libyan coast guard forces to intercept boats in international waters and tell NGO rescue boats not to intervene. Never mind that everyone taken back to Libya is locked up in horrific prisons where they face filthy conditions and risk torture, sexual violence, forced labor, and extortion.

I want my three sons to be proud of their two countries. I tell them about the outrage across America over the caging of children that forced the Trump administration to change its policy. I talk about the compassionate European volunteers trying to save lives at sea.

I hope to tell them soon that European leaders have pledged to support European rescue operations at sea and share responsibility for disembarking rescued people on European soil, and then to sort out humanely – on dry land – who needs protection and who may be safely returned home.

Next, the International Federation of the Red Cross has denounced the ”criminalisation of compassion’; or what in France is called the ‘crime of solidarity’: offering hospitality to strangers, or rescuing them:

And third, as I’ve again mentioned elsewhere, the pope has jumped on the bandwagon, using the terms ‘sterile hypocrisy’ to attack the European governments; and invoking the Good Samaritan who notoriously rescued a bloke who probably had no papers, and even paid for his hotel bill. What more should I say? As Paul says (Romans 8.31 I think) What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us? [Well, we know who,...]

In the meanwhile. we need to remember the men,women and children who keep on drowning… I was going to give you a rendering of Shakspeares ‘Full Fathom Fove’; but I prefer Bessie Smith’s Back Water Blues; even if no one drowns for sure, Bessie makes it clear that the ones who are getting a hard time are the poor.

DAY 251: Live for ever?

July 11th, 2018 § 0 comments § permalink

The other day, at one of those Catholic revival meetings in South Sudan which she’s addicted to attending, my sister was asked if she wanted to live for ever. (So were the rest of the congregation; understandably they preferred the option of cutting short their stay in this vale of tears ASAP.) Me, while i can see  some attractive points in life on earth as opposed to life as a ghost, or as a zombie, or any of the other available alternatives – say watching the arrival of the spring, or listening to Lebanese pop music – things on this particular planet do seem to be going a bit out of control to the point where I can’t see much point in hanging around to wait for History to get its act together and let the toiling masses finally grab the cup of plenty which is due to them and declarerevolution ‘It’s coming home!’ I’ve been waiting for sixty-six years, and things have been getting steadily worse – I know about gay marriage and the Convention on the Rights of the Child and that, but having seen the invasion of Iraq, the war in Syria, the rise of Daesh, and now the election of a racist misogynist President who then goes on to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel – I’m about ready to hand on the torch to my friends in their 20s and 30s to whom I can only wish good luck. I suppose that, like Hamlet, I might be put off by the prospect of visiting that undiscovered country from whose bourne no traveller returns, but frankly I don’t see that it would be much worse. Hand me a bare bodkin, I’ll make my quietus.

These thoughts have been sharpened, and my few remaining friends have been noticing my obsession, by the completely unacceptable actions of the European Union. Never a reliable agent of progress at the best of times, whatever you may say about the role of Defrenne v. Sabena in advancing equal rights, or about the Social Chapter which the Tories opted out of and Labour opted into, or… it has most recently been rushed into a decision which effectively endorses the position of the fascist Italian government on humanitarian rescue at sea.

As MSF has said:

 London/Amsterdam: European governments must come to their senses and end policies which trap extremely vulnerable people in Libya or leave them to die at sea, said the medical humanitarian organisation Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) following the conclusions of yesterday’s talks at the EU summit.
Last week was the deadliest so far this year on the Mediterranean, as at least 220 people drowned. These were avoidable tragedies. European Governments have blocked non-governmental search and rescue operations, while turning over responsibility for rescues to the Libyan coastguard.European governments are financing, training and equipping the Libyan coastguard to intercept boats in distress and return them to Libya, where they are held in inhumane conditions. In an unprecedented development some 2,000 people were returned to Libya over the course of last weekend. Upon arrival they were sent to arbitrary detention, with no due legal process.

The same European governments that were just a few months ago strongly condemning reports of slave markets in Libya, seem today to have no hesitation in escalating policies that will increase the suffering of people trapped there. People whose only ‘crime’ is that they flee conflict, violence or poverty.

“EU member states are abdicating their responsibilities to save lives and deliberately condemning vulnerable people to be trapped in Libya, or die at sea” said Karline Kleijer, MSF head of emergencies “They do this fully aware of the extreme violence and abuses that refugees and migrants suffer in Libya.”

“MSF urges European governments to show some basic decency and remember that we are talking about human lives and human suffering. They can start by committing to search and rescue and facilitate swift disembarkation in places of safety, this does not mean Libya”.

People trapped in Libyan detention centres are largely without any assistance, as access for international humanitarian organisations including MSF and the UN is severely limited. This affects the ability to monitor and provide protection, however over the last month MSF has conducted over 3,300 medical consultations in four detention centres. Medical teams found that the main health issues are linked to poor living conditions, including overcrowding, and lack of sufficient water or sanitation.

Meanwhile despite the overwhelming need for search and rescue, an orchestrated campaign against non-governmental search and rescue operations is reaching breaking point. Independent search and rescue missions are increasingly obstructed from carrying out rescues in international waters and are denied access to local ports. This weekend the Aquarius was one of the only three dedicated search and rescue vessels in the Central Mediterranean.

“Saving lives at sea is not a crime” continued Kleijer. “Yet, the message from European governments is loud and clear: humanitarian assistance is not welcome. Scapegoating NGOs is a tactic to distract from the real issues: lack of solidarity or vision in the EU, and a broken asylum system. These actions block and obstruct us from doing the work EU governments are failing to do, all the while de-humanising people in need. Any deaths caused by this are now at their hands.”

DAY 250 – Relativity

July 4th, 2018 § 0 comments § permalink

But what are  my pain, woes and griefs (I exclaimed) compared with those of countless others, smuggled, trafficked, beaten by the police of this or that increasingly Fascist country? Who will burn their children alive, or shoot their paramedics, simply because they belong to an inferior race? Or confine them in concentration camps, as seems to be the current plan in Hungary? A friend commented as Italy turned away a boatful of refugees that it made him ashamed to be European. I’d never thought of the reasons to be proud of being European (we have Socrates, Galileo, Michelangelo, Beethoven, and all that,  - or even Newton – but it doesn’t have anything to do with treatment of refugees who were very likely being tortured at the same time as the Sistine Chapel was being painted).

No, comrades, we have to be proud, if anything, of being human, an amazing thing when you think of some of the amazing human beings you know – I could go back to David Bowie, or Martin Luther King, or my friends X, Y and Z who are even now fighting fearlessly on behalf of the dispossessed. Think of them, and try not to despair, if you . Look at the lady next to you on the 41 bus; trying to maintain a tolerable relationship with her three-year old son. A driwnedhuman being, if ever I saw one, even if she isn’t an asylum-seeker or an asylum law barrister. Any cook, as Lenin said, should be able to run the country (How did I stray into quotes from Lenin? And what a lot of terrific ones there are! They’re enough to put you in good heart even when you’re at your most despairing.) Look at Dido, who made the dreadful mistake of falling for a man who lured her with his tall tales, and then had no choice but – to be laid in earth…

On Jone 29th MSF (who aren’t given to being sensationalist) summed the situation up as follows:—

London/Amsterdam: “European governments must come to their senses and end policies which trap extremely vulnerable people in Libya or leave them to die at sea, said the medical humanitarian organisation Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) following the conclusions of yesterday’s talks at the EU summit.

Last week was the deadliest so far this year on the Mediterranean, as at least 220 people drowned. These were avoidable tragedies. European Governments have blocked non-governmental search and rescue operations, while turning over responsibility for rescues to the Libyan coastguard. European governments are financing, training and equipping the Libyan coastguard

libya

 

`The same European governments that were just a few months ago strongly condemning reports of slave markets in Libya, seem today to have no hesitation in escalating policies that will increase the suffering of people trapped there. People whose only ‘crime’ is that they flee conflict, violence or poverty.

“EU member states are abdicating their responsibilities to save lives and deliberately condemning vulnerable people to be trapped in Libya, or die at sea” said Karline Kleijer, MSF head of emergencies “They do this fully aware of the extreme violence and abuses that refugees and migrants suffer in Libya.”

“MSF urges European governments to show some basic decency and remember that we are talking about human lives and human suffering. They can start by committing to search and rescue and facilitate swift disembarkation in places of safety, this does not mean Libya”.

People trapped in Libyan detention centres are largely without any assistance, as access for international humanitarian organisations including MSF and the UN is severely limited. This affects the ability to monitor and provide protection, however over the last month MSF has conducted over 3,300 medical consultations in four detention centres. Medical teams found that the main health issues are linked to poor living conditions, including overcrowding, and lack of sufficient water or sanitation.

Meanwhile despite the overwhelming need for search and rescue, an orchestrated campaign against non-governmental search and rescue operations is reaching breaking point. Independent search and rescue missions are increasingly obstructed from carrying out rescues in international waters and are denied access to local ports. This weekend the Aquarius was one of the only three dedicated search and rescue vessels in the Central Mediterranean.

“Saving lives at sea is not a crime” continued Kleijer. “Yet, the message from European governments is loud and clear: humanitarian assistance is not welcome. Scapegoating NGOs is a tactic to distract from the real issues: lack of solidarity or vision in the EU, and a broken asylum system. These actions block and obstruct us from doing the work EU governments are failing to do, all the while de-humanising people in need. Any deaths caused by this are now at their hands.”

The heads of governments in Europe seem to be finally falling into two categories: the harshly repressive and the openly racist. There is opposition, but it only comes from grassroots activists, and from organisations like MSF who are committed by their very existence (the Hippocratic oath?) to saving lives. No such oath binds politicians, who willingly consign any number of unknown souls to death by water, or confinement and torture.