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?