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Peace vs. Justice

In the world of soft International Politics, the emergence of International Policing mechanisms, particularly the ones concerned with justice (such as the International Criminal Court (ICC), the International Criminal Tribunals (ICTR, ICTY), and a couple of other acronyms (SCSL, ICJ, ECCC)), have been subject to a debate that has pivoted around the issue of Peace vs. Justice. One of the early acts of the ICC was to indict Joseph Kony, the Ugandan Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) leader. In retaliation, Kony and the LRA upped their rampage and threatened that the LRA would have no other option but to continue the violence in Uganda if the ICC didn’t offer Kony amnesty in return for the LRAs participation in peace talks. Some felt that individuals should not be sacrificed for the sake of justice, others felt that an important precedent needed to be set if the court was going to be able to successful prevent other atrocities in the future.

Months after the Arab League’s asylum offer in July and Obama and Cameron’s clemency offering in exchange for Assad’s participation in peace talks, there has been renewed talk of the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his family seeking political asylum. Apart from the problematic posturing of the Anglo-American leaders to be above International law, the Peace vs. Justice debate can be found at the heart of this decision for political asylum. For many, like Reuters columnist Bernd Debusmann, “The idea that the Syrian leader would leave with impunity is hard to swallow after 15 months (now 22 months) of brutal crackdown.” Others, like Prime Minister Cameron claim that while he would prefer Assad to be subject to International law and justice, but that the priority must be an end to violence and a transition in Syria that cannot begin to happen with Assad in place. So far, no word (that I can find) on what the thoughts are of Syrians and Syrian Rebel fighters on granting Assad asylum………

A Syrian refugee watches a television broadcast of Syria's President Assad speaking in Damascus, in their container at the Al-Zaatari refugee camp in Mafraq

Isola Ponte (Bridge Island)

Isola Ponte (Bridge Island)

isola ponteThe influx of asylum seekers does not ebb for holidays like Christmas (despite how shocking it might be to think of groups of people who have managed to avoid planning their schedules around Christmas, or any Chrisitian holiday for that matter). This triviality seems to have been lost on the Italians responsible for both processing asylum seeker claims and transporting refugees to detention centers on the peninsula. As a result, the reception center on the island of Lampedusa, which normally has room for 381 guests, was 600 strong on the 19th of December (6 full days prior to Christmas mind you). Lampedusa’s mayor, Guisy Nicolini, insisted that Lampedusa is an isola ponte, or bridge island, for asylum seekers – a landing site, a place of reception and first aid. Nicolini justified the necessity for Lampedusa’s reception center to remain empty so as to be better equipped at receiving those coming to it’s shores. Pragmatically speaking, asylum seekers do not intend to remain on the island Lampedusa but capitalize on its proximity to North Africa as an entry point to Europe. However, there is something interesting in the notion of offloading a group of individuals and making them someone else’s problem; there is something unnervingly bureaucratic about it. Then again, it is sensible to replenish one’s resources in order to be of continued service. Let’s hope that this Bridge Island will be a portal to better place (and a not U-Turn like it has been in the past).

Actions are illegal. Never people.

A talk that tugs at the heart strings and leaves you reflecting on insightfully made considerations – in true Ted fashion. Originally accessed the video via the blog Postcards From…. where the following was written by means of introduction:


Inspirational talk by Jose Antonio Vargas at TEDxMidAtlantic in October 2012. You can hear the story of Washington Post journalist, Pulitzer prize winner and undocumented migrant Jose Antonio Vargas in his own words. For some background on his coming out and the possiblebut daunting task of combining a successful career and the fear of being apprehended because undocumented read this article published in the The Guardian.





BEWARE all ye gay men who enter the Czech Republic seeking political asylum from homophobic discrimination; your penis will be hooked up to a machine that will monitor blood flow as you watch straight pornography. This will help the authorities make sure you aren’t lying about your sexual orientation and if you pass, you are granted the gift of asylum.


Of late, the Czech government has been taking heat from other EU countries, particularly the Austrian-based European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, over the violation of privacy that phallometric testing asylum seekers entails. What is striking to me, is how this serves as an absurd example of the pervasive  biopolitical reality that dominates the political asylum process in the EU.  In this case, the Czech authorities justified their invasive control of bodies and biology with political jargon about the need for security against terroristic asylum impostors. I couldn’t help but chuckle when reading about their verification technology though… a morbid sort of laughter I might add.

Victim See Victim Do

Radovan Krejcir: Czech political asylum seeker. Accused Mobster. Self-Defined Victim aka “the banana skin man.”

Radovan, aka banana skin man, sees himself as a classic scapegoat, the victim of other’s misplaced blame. He is currently in a Pretoria holding cell hamming it up for the media when it serves him and shunning them when it doesn’t. He left the Czech Republic to escape accusations of fraud and tax evasion. He has since been convicted in absentia for tax evasion and charged with six and a half years in prison. While Radovan claims to have been the victim of a political conspiracy, Czech authorities assert that he was part of a vicious Czech crime ring. Radovan retorted that it was the Czech authorities who psychologically and physically tortured him and abducted his father. Perhaps I should mention that Radovan is very wealthy. Oh and that he is being accused of faking cancer in order to secure a pardon. Somewhere, there are allegations that he robbed Pakistani businesses. So, who is Radovan Krejcir? Mobster in sheep’s clothing? A victim impostor? Or innocent business man framed for political gain? The trope of asylum seeker falsely accused or framed is a common one, one that could certainly be capitalized on and employed for ill-gotten gains.

The case of Radovan could be read as a fairy tale example of asylum corruption, where a criminal plays the part of the victim in order to get away with murder so to speak (Radovan is actually also accused of conspiracy to murder by the by). My contention however, is that the co-opting of the victim trope is necessitated by the political asylum system, systematically enforced you could say, and I would. Like most bureaucratic institutions, the political asylum system is both narrowly prescriptive, where cultural contexts like FGM set important precedents that determine what kind of persecution is deemed qualifying and ambiguously contingent on the whims of the judiciaries, in true Kafkan fashion. Often, personal narratives of persecution are collapsed and translated into a language that the courts have been known to recognize. I would argue that one would be hard-pressed to to demonize or criminalize a young girl who experienced life-threatening gender persecution (not necessarily FGM) but who uses the language of FGM in order to make her case legible to the asylum system judiciaries. Furthermore, there is something tautologically confusing about the current asylum system that encourages the victim narrative for political asylum seekers. While it is sensible to expect someone seeking asylum to be the victim of persecution, the work of thinkers like Miriam Ticktin in  Casualties of Care demonstrate how helpless victims are privileged in an asylum system predicated on humanitarian tropes. The helpless, young, innocent female body is the archetype of an asylum seeker whereas the dark young revolutionary Tunisian male fighter is criminalized. His virility is thought to not only foreclose him for the need of aid or assistance but further, that this agentic figure must have ill parasitic intentions to seek help when it is not needed.

Persecuting Asylum Seekers – Life upturned on Nauru

On the lovely island of Nauru is a makeshift detention center, constructed in a state of emergency in order to divert the “hoards” of political asylum seekers, primarily from South East Asia and Sri Lanka, seeking asylum in Australia and New Zealand. Apart from the absurd politicization of the concept of hoards (which usually tends to be an exaggeration in order to push through policy decisions) there is something to be said about the convergences this act of outsourcing asylum claims has with offshoring manufacturing and extraordinary rendition practices (however, we’ll save this for a future post).

The foiled attempts made by a number of asylum seekers, to reach the shores of a country with enough infrastructure to provide some modicum of economic stability and physical security, have left them wasting away in the Nauru detention center. Recently,  15 iranian asylum seekers have been charged by the Nauruan police for causing $24,000 worth of damage to kitchens, tents, and lights at the islands processing center. In my opinion, this certainly seems to be a sensible way of reacting to the bureaucratically organized treatment of asylum seekers as disposable. Perhaps we could call it a demand to be reckoned with, acknowledged. It certainly casts light on the inexcusable paradox that “There is no law to process asylum seekers, but plenty of laws it seems to persecute them” in the words of Mr. Ian Rintoul from the Refugee Action Coalition in Australia.


The Real Criminals are those with Parliamentary Immunity

Racist politicians are certainly nothing new. Trying to prosecute politicians for being racist? Now that is a contemporary phenomena. In recent news the rightwing Swiss People’s Party have been making headlines for their evasion of discrimination prosecution. In September, the Zurich public prosecutor’s office opened a racial discrimination case against People’s Party parliamentarian Alfred Heer after he claimed on regional television show “Tele Züri” that Tunisian asylum seekers are all coming to Switzerland with”the aim of becoming criminals.”

Alfred Heer

As it currently stands, the Swiss Parliament is examining the case after Heer claimed parliamentary immunity. What is ironic is that Heer committed a crime by calling the Tunisians criminals. What I find hypocritical is that apart from his defamatory crime, Heer is committing a further crime by evading arrest, or rather, prosecution. Perhaps we can rest somewhat assured knowing the track record of the parliamentary office enforcing this double standard… err I mean… investigating the accusations. In fact it is the same office that investigated the allegations against Alexander Müller who tweeted in June “Maybe we need a new Kristallnacht… this time against the mosques.” Apparently Müller was fired from his committee membership position, publicly apologized and resigned from the right wing party. The Swiss will certainly not tolerate any invocation of Holocaust references, which is wise considering their problematic M.O. during WWII.

While there is certainly something to be said about the discriminatory associations being made between brown Tunisians and criminality, it is important to note the lineage between political asylum seekers and criminals, of criminals seeking political asylum. While this certainly does not excuse Alfred Heer’s remarks especially since his understanding is that Tunisians are planning on coming to Switzerland to commit crimes, whereas the above points to the fact that asylum seekers were historically criminals, or accused of crimes. Asylum hosts reconciled their fear that those granted asylum would engage in criminal activity by making asylum contingent on the asylee abiding by the rules else be thrown to the wolves, and hence the motivation for not engaging in criminal activity. Considering the ease with which infractions can be committed in contemporary society (think traffic violations or possession of drug charges which are seen as federal crimes  it would be absurd to expect this nowadays.

What tends to be the reality of political asylum seekers and other undocumented individuals is that they become the targets for criminals to take advantage of THEM. As a result from their necessitated low profile, they cannot rely on the law enforcement system to police those who harm them because as non-citizens they theoretically do not have any rights and could be face deportation as a consequence.

The Bureaucratization of Refugees

Refugees from the emergency in North Africa took to the streets of Rome yesterday to demand basic humanitarian assistance and an end to the clandestinity of their daily lives in Italy. As Franco Calzini, president of ARCI di Perugia explains, the fate of these individuals, the majority of whom have begun the political asylum process, is currently in limbo. (ARCI is currently the biggest Italian cultural and recreational association founded in 1957 and born of the liberation struggle against Fascism. It is currently known for its stand against the war in the former Yugoslavia, anti-racism initiatives, and activism around the integration of immigrants.) Calzini speculates that the decision by the Civil Protection department to grant temporary residence visas, which is set to expire in December, was a tactical act to bide enough time for people to acclimate to the situation, rendering it less a crisis and thus a problem that could be transfered to the Department of the Interior Ministry to handle.

This is another clear example of the tension between – the rule of law regarding political asylum seekers and refugees as dictated by transnational governing institutions like the European Union and the United Nations – and the bureaucratic and administrative state of exceptionalism that is enacted by nation states when handling political asylum and refugee cases. I can’t help but think of Hannah Arendt’s writing on bureaucracy.

In Origins of Totalitarianism, Arendt details two main political devices of imperialist rule: namely race and bureaucracy. Bureaucracy was employed to solve the colonial problem: the impossibility of governing ‘a people by a people – the people of India by the people of England,’ the majority of native people by a minority of foreigners. She describes how the tropes of the colonized as inferior, in need of tutelage and protection, were used to legitimize bureaucracy and “its government of experts, of an ‘experienced minority which has to resist as well as it knows how the constant pressure from ‘the inexperienced majority.’” Bureaucracy relies on decrees not law, and considers the law to be powerless because it is by definition separated from its application while the decree is justified by its applicability and used by all governments in times of emergency. In turn, “legally, government by bureaucracy is government by decree, and this means that power, which in constitutional government only enforces the law, becomes the direct source of all legislation.”

Arendt details how the colonial bureaucrat was employed to mask history and legitimize the keeping of gains that had been accidentally begotten through conquest. Indeed, in bureaucratic governments the objectification of decrees obfuscates the powerful men that are issuing them as if they “were the incarnation of power itself and the administrator only its accidental agent.” Furthermore, the replacement of decree by law in bureaucracy staves off the universalizing and equalizing force of law, which “threatens to establish a permanent community in which nobody could possibly be a god because all would have to obey a law.”

It is important to understand how bureaucracy obfuscates power. The consequences of this bureaucratic role assumes that the “people being ruled by decree never know what rules them because of the impossibility of understanding decrees in themselves and the carefully organized ignorance of specific circumstances and their practical significance in which all administrators keep their subjects.” Bureaucracy and the rule of the experts, subjectifies those who are governed by bureaucratic structures and precludes them from the political realm.

Ok, so perhaps I am trying to square a circle by conflating the colonial period with the refugee situation in contemporary Europe but bear with me for a second. The main point I want to make is that bureaucratic administrative decrees about whether an entire group of individuals will have the opportunity to seek citizenship within a country renders these individuals outside of humanity again in the Arendtian sense. These stateless individuals are reduced to bare life by the act of being expelled from having a polity in which they can participate. As a result of this banishment, this clandestine life, they are foreclosed from social life and political life and more importantly economic life. Indeed the biggest concern of these individuals is the ability to work in their host country and support their existence. Paradoxically, this is the greatest fear that the citizens of the host country have about these individuals, namely that they are mere labor migrants and not subject to political prosecution, and more importantly, unwanted competition for resources, namely jobs.
This bureaucratization effectively relegates these individuals to an inferior social status, even further disenfranchised than second-class citizens, since they are denied citizenship altogether. This is where I see the crucial tie to colonialism. The subjectification of an entire social group, only now the privileged are no longer the few and no longer the travelers but the native masses. In this way, the use of bureaucracy to tame the masses and precondition the rule of the few is no longer necessary, but the ability to subjectify an entire group of people through the bureaucratic obfuscation of power remains and I would argue is problematic and unjust.


La Lega Nord political party in Italy has a long history of exclusionary policies. Therefore, their new slogan Contro I profughi, or against the refugees, should come as no surprise. During the 1990s, the party wielded the term Padania to make claims to an autonomous northern Italy that would effectively excise what they viewed as the corrupt and lazy southern Italians from partaking in the riches wrought by the industrial north. Nowadays the leader of the party, Umberto Bossi has invoked autochthony to clamor for political privileging of Italians over Arab immigrants and refugees.

As Peter Geschiere elaborates in his book The Perils of Belonging, the etymology of the term autochthony can be traced back to Ancient Greece. The Athenians prided themselves on their homogenous demographic, which was unique among the rest of the immigrant founded Greek polies. The term that was used to refer to being born from the land where they lived was autochthonous and Geschiere, among others, claims that this is what preconditioned their propensity for demokratia. While the reality of this is contested by a number of scholars, the myth of Erechtheus by Euripidies is used to illustrate the underlying connotations of the autochthonic concept in Athens. King Erechteus disappears in a chasm Poseidon makes through the Akropolis and remains forever locked in the earth. Inherent in the coinage of the term autochthoon is both a connotation of indignity and chronic-ity according to Vincent Rosivach. “Throughout this book this double meaning will come up time and again: the autochthon as prestigious first-comer but also as primitive or even prehuman” (11).

The main point of Geschiere’s work is to point out how these claims of belonging to the soil are often seemingly self-evident empty categories and while they have great emotional appeal and while those who politically manipulate them often have great electoral success, they elude any ability to clearly define who are autochthoons. Or in other words – don’t believe the hype.

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