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Sunday, September 13, 2015

The Crisis of Humanity and the Euro-Bluffs

The massive influx of west Asian, south-central Asian and east African humanity into Europe has called a series of bluffs we customarily refer to as the European Union.

Bluff 1: 'Europe'. Obviously, there is no "continent" of Europe. That we refer to the northwestern corner of the Afro-Eurasian continent as a separate geographical unit is entirely a matter of (a highly consequential, Euro-centric) convention. The very act of trying to talk of 'Europe' as a continent is a prime example of metageographic reification. If this is not obvious to you, please follow up with Martin Lewis and Karen Wigen's very useful book, The Myth of Continents.

Bluff 2: 'Europe is a thing apart from "Asia" and 'Africa''. For thousands of years, the Mediterranean, the Balkans and (south-)east-central Europe had functioned as the veritable switchboards of the Afro-Eurasian trade system. They were what kept the system--and I mean nothing less than the interconnected world at the time, with 95% of humanity--together, not as borders. (For more on this, please consult my book, especially Chapter 1.) The current European chatter about 'Europe''s self-containedness, "thing-apart"-ness is a geopolitical fantasy, produced by way of equal amounts of selfishness (designed so as not to share the spoils of centuries of colonialism and neocolonialism), narrow-mindedness (the smaller we define "our" unit the safer we feel) and racism (if geography doesn't help, there is always the automatic, smooth turn to 'race' difference). When I hear the conversation about 'Europe' as apart / different from 'Asia' or 'Africa', I hear the voice of malicious whiteness, no matter which political corner it comes from "otherwise."

Bluff 3: 'Concerted "European" action.' The European Union's supposedly unified migration management system, named after the Dutch town of Schengen, was designed, supposedly, to provide a predictable, legally based, fair and just, pan-European supra-state framework for the movement of people from the outside. This influx of labor is absolutely necessary for the sustenance of west European capitalism, and the Schengen idea is that this, crucial inbound resource transfer ought not to be left to the whim of each of the 28, in many ways disparate and congenitally short-sighted, member states of the EU. The current immigrant wave is the first real test of the system. To put it simply, Schengen, and especially its most relevant set of rules pertaining to the processing of asylum claimants, referred to as "Dublin III", is not working. 28 separate EU member states have at least 28 separate immigration policies. (I am saying "at least 28," because the governments of some, like immigration novice Hungary, are painfully confused about both EU-requirements and their own national interests, let alone standards of common decency, and pursue several, mutually contradictory policies, more or less at the same time.) Make a long story short, there is no such thing as a common "European" response to a major humanitarian crisis, and the absence of a shared policy is powerfully exposed by the current, massive influx.

Bluff 4: 'West European Goodness'. I have written extensively about this. This bluff has two components: (1) a claim that there is such a thing as a moral geopolitics of goodness, and (2) that it resides in western Europe. Today, that western Europe which produces and spreads astounding amounts of this ideological poison, could easily show its goodness through compassion, solidarity and overall openness to the downtrodden whose abysmal conditions were produced by geopolitical-strategic wars they had nothing to do with in the first place. Instead, there is the closely watched, minutely apportioned, extremely ungenerous, legalistic "management of asylum-seekers," done almost exclusively by the law enforcement organs of west European societies. Meanwhile, vast majorities of the societies at large hide behind the police, sneer, and wish this "onslaught" of "migrants" had never happened. Politicians understand this, and give carefully measured, cryptic and deeply polysemic statements about the issue. The few pro-immigrant rallies that have taken place in western Europe involve relatively small numbers of people, typically the youngest among the most educated and those who have personal involvement with friends, partners, colleagues, etc. who had come to western Europe from somewhere else. Such rallies take enormous efforts to organize and have almost no political effect--case in point: contrast the UK marches under banners like "Migrants Welcome" and "Nobody Is Illegal" with the reality on the ground at the "Jungle" in Calais, a crisis created singularly by the UK's official anti-immigrant (and, BTW, anti-Schengen) policies. Nobody talks about the future, I suspect to a large extent because it would involve raising the question of the long-durée presence / integration / acceptance of "migrants"--a prospect seen by vast majorities of west European societies as a deplorable, threatening and overall majorly undesirable outcome. This is all the more of a tragedy as pretty much all west European societies suffer severe social care labor shortages (i.e., west European societies are increasingly unable / unwilling to take care of their rapidly aging and ailing societies themselves). So much about west European "goodness."

Bluff 5: 'European solidarity and "soft power"'. There is another trope to the self-image that the European Union is projecting to the rest of the world, namely that of 'European solidarity.' Development assistance, technology transfer, education, health care, diplomatic assistance, conflict mediation, all these elements of the west European states' and the European Union's "external" policies are supposed to congeal into a historically new, particularly 'European' kind of global politics, sometimes referred to as "soft power." (I suppose the point is that this concept acknowledges the fact that the EU is a monster, a global powerhouse--only, putatively, a kinder and gentler kind of monster.) What could be a more appropriate and more fascinating opportunity to show the strengths of "European solidarity" by this putative "soft power" than the geopolitical development of a couple hundred thousand asylum claimants showing up on their border? Instead of solidarity and softness, the states of Europe are showing an incredibly measured, alienated, impersonal, technical kind of "treatment," in processing the inflows. Of course that is not the worst, as the government of Hungary has shown over the last few weeks (where impersonal, technical character of the state's reaction is coupled with insufficient technical preparation, substandard, unacceptable conditions, and the breathtakingly dehumanizing treatment of the masses of humanity on their territory). Given this reaction, we can rest assured: Germany's much hailed, recent declaration of accepting Syrian refugees implies that it is less likely that people from other countries will be accepted. And, as for the relatively "luckier" Syrians: They will definitely be pushed back to their war-ravaged country once the first signs of an end to the most gruesome aspects of the war currently tearing apart their homes will appear.

There is more, but this is already long.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Things NOT Happening With Respect to the Refugee Crisis in Europe

Here are the conversations that are NOT happening:

The European Union is not giving any clear signals just what it actually wants the Schengen states most exposed to the refugee inflows--not only Hungary, but also Greece, Bulgaria and Italy--to do. It is completely obvious that, if anybody actually cares about alleviating the crisis, they would have had to have much more of a hands-on approach to this. By NOT doing this, the EU is cynically opening space for local strong men to build their political capital through anti-immigrant propaganda.

Nobody asks what the political calculus in Brussels, Berlin and Paris is about the first-entry states and their neighbors, especially Hungary, Slovakia and Austria. Seriously nobody understands there how the EU's and the strongest EU-member states' policies are pushing Hungarian, Austrian and Slovakian politics toward the right? Is that what they really want, an openly xenophobic, (semi-)fascist central Europe?

Nobody is taking the western media to task on the breathtakingly simplistic, borderline-cultural-racist representation of the crisis. There is almost no reporting that makes an effort to distinguish the society of, say, Hungary, from the government. Nobody tries to disentangle what about the Hungarian government's behavior is /1/ willful neglect, /2/ inexperience, /3/ open racism, /4/ more-or-less accurate execution of EU law (which, supposedly, is superior to national law in issues of immigration in the Schengen area). Nobody wishes to see Hungary, or any of the first-entry states as complex societies, with enormous problems of their own, with their own histories and their own "demons." All that is basically wrapped into a breathtakingly formalistic "west=good, east=no good" representation. In the context of Hungary's EU-application and accession I called this "the rule of European difference." Again it's going on with full force. Part of the story is that the xenophobic PM is way over-featured to the expense of other, better educated people who could speak for "Hungary" in more nuanced ways. This is true not only of the US media (where this is a well known generic problem) but also for west European reporting as well.

Nobody questions the ridiculous allocation of support by Brussels to the states handling the flows: E.g., Austria, with a per capita GDP several times greater than Hungary and virtually no stationary asylum requests, has recently received more refugee-influx-related funds than Hungary. This belies every claim to rationality on part of the EU center in Brussels.

Almost nobody is even beginning to address the structural origins of the crisis. Who invaded Iraq? Who is bombing Syria? (See my previous post for more on that.) Without a clear idea about the origins, it will be difficult to leave this crisis behind.

Nobody is acknowledging the astonishing, selfless, heroic help volunteers have provided the refugees, from high school and university students to retirees, from nurses and doctors to social workers, etc. They are the people who bought, often from their own pocket money, the water, food and basic provisions. The government (represented exclusively by the police) stands idly by. The western media: blind to this heroism.

Nobody is asking the question: What if what we see now is not a short term problem, a passing wave, but a new normal? What if this is a new form of "Third World" global geopolitical action?

Nobody is asking the question: What does it mean that many of the #refugees, esp. those coming from Syria, are so highly qualified? Clearly, parts of the local intellectual elites are fleeing. Is this basically a brain drain a la Hungary 1956-57? What will this mean for the future of west Asia, and Europe-west-Asia relations?

Nobody is addressing the question of why the people who make up the current inflows so overwhelmingly choose Germany as their destination. Is it a function of the phenomenon--well known from research on labor migration under non-asylum legal frameworks--foregrounding the significance of pre-existing networks for the newcomers? Or, if not, what?

Everybody seems to take for granted the idea that a razor-sharp and definitive distinction needs (can? should?) be made between "genuine refugees" and "economic migrants." In this discussion, "economic migrants" are depicted as if the movement of labor across state borders to respond to changes in labor market conditions--i.e., satisfying location-specific demand on part of capital by providing labor--were some kind of a capital crime, an obvious nonsense.

Why is nobody in the Great European Refugee Conversation raising the possibility that Canada and the United States take an active part in solving the crisis? They do have extremely large-scale and active immigration policies, large and very developed state apparatuses to handle refugee flows, and a long history of doing so.

What does all this mean for the future of the trans-Atlantic relationship? How about the trans-Atlantic treaty? Has Europe been written off in Washington? What does Nato have to say about all this?

Thursday, September 3, 2015

How To Think About A Solution To The Humanitarian Crisis of Displaced Persons

As I am writing this, the European Union is discussing how to "deal" with the striking humanitarian crisis created by the arrival of hundreds of thousands of displaced persons, predominantly from Iraq and Syria in the Schengen countries of the EU. The main line of the 'European' response hitherto has been verbal attacks on "human smugglers and traffickers" (who couldn't care less) and ineffectual gestures toward an abstract category of "refugees" as a depersonalized and passive mass.

Those are  painfully inadequate reactions that do not address the causes of the crisis. Here is what I think needs to be done.

1. The European Union and NATO should jointly admit that the destruction of Iraq was a war crime, and that their continued actions--I repeat, actions by organizations that are part of 'Europe'--have led to humanitarian catastrophes in Iraq, Syria, and other parts of western and south Asia.

2. Based on that, the EU Commission should openly admit to its direct, unconditional and unlimited responsibility for the suffering of the war torn societies, including the plight of the millions of displaced persons--not only those arriving in Europe but also those who have been killed, maimed, otherwise injured, and those who have sought refuge in the neighboring countries, primarily in Lebanon and Turkey.

3. As a logical conclusion to point 2 above, the European Union (very much including Germany) should openly admit responsibility for the future of the people whose lives have been destroyed in these wars, including those who are bound for western Europe and those who are not deciding to go there.

4. The wars in Iraq and Syria must be stopped. A multinational Peace Conference should be organized, with all relevant states of the world, including all permanent members of the UN Security Council, participating and offering tangible, material guarantees for the implementation of whatever resolutions may be brought in the Peace Conference. Those countries which initiated the wars on these societies must foot the bill of the Conference as well as post-war peace building and reconstruction.

5. Immediate, unconditional political asylum to all displaced persons in the European Union. No forced quotas: They should be allowed to settle in whichever EU country they wish.

6. European-Union-wide policies and funds must be created to foster the integration of the newcomers in their new home countries, including generous settlement assistance, health care, as well as assistance in finding jobs, language training, general education, labor re-training and small business assistance schemes (loans as well as legal and marketing assistance).

7. EU-wide policies and funds must be committed to the building of new transnational institutions to create new kinds of nonviolent, non-exploitative linkages between the European Union and Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Turkey, providing institutional vehicles for the integration of these societies in a regional system for the  flows of people, knowledge, culture, as well as commodities and capital. The main objective of these institutions should be the creation of new forms of integration, not a racist insistence on the early repatriation of the asylees.

Short of this, all the talk about smugglers and traffickers, all the tears shed for the dead adults and children, are completely inauthentic and simply not credible.

cover page of the book

cover page of the book
image used for the cover design by Anannya Dasgupta