DAY 254: Roaming

September 1st, 2018 § 0 comments

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‘compassion fatigue’, which is why he says Europe’s sympathy for refugees has been drying up, and in certain cases has been replaced by hostility.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:


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



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?

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