About Fikrun

    Fikrun wa Fann was a cultural magazine published by the Goethe Institute from 1963 to 2016 that supported and shaped the cultural exchange between Germany and Islamic countries. Together with the publishing of the last issue, “Flight and Displacement” (issue 105), in autumn of 2016 the maintenance and updating of this online portal was ceased.

    Creative Fear
    An Essay on Migrants’ Relationship with Place

    The refugee is a person who is defined by his relationship to place, but is not limited by it. Because no matter where the refugee actually is, he still carries within him a second place, an interior place: his memories, his fears, his hopes. There is a tension between these and the refugee’s old and new realities; they harbour a subversive potential that also infects the societies to which the refugee has fled.

    Cruel guards guard the secret gates deep inside us. Wherever we travel, we always cower in the homeland – the East, to which God sends the damned when Hell, at the other end, is full. ‘Don’t leave,’ they say. There’s always someone who makes that appeal – ‘Don’t leave your homeland, don’t leave the land of your forefathers, don’t go.’ But place follows us with its diktats, with its secret orders.

    About fear

    Someone planted a fascist memory deep inside us. We migrate, and that memory remains, defiantly marking time. It defies the body, it defies the dimensions of place, it defies geographic expanses and distances. Memory stays where it was born. It remains in the form of our fears and the anxieties that oppress us. When we live a long time in the shadow of despotism, memory cannot shake off the fear that comes with it. It’s a creative fear, and without it other places wouldn’t be able to possess their identity. Only the fear that’s buried inside us can give names to things, because it is the only real spokesperson inside us.

    For those fleeing hell in countries struck by disaster, there are two kinds of migration. The first is when we migrate to forget, in the opposite direction to memory. We don’t save our lives; we change our identities. We change ourselves radically, not to save what must be saved from the clutches of despotism, but to eliminate all the things that despotism was unable to eliminate inside our selves, which are paralysed by fear. In this case, migration ends in complete integration and assimilation into new communities. The second kind takes place when we move away from our home country to protect memory from oblivion, and to spend the rest of our lives celebrating the fear, relishing it, boasting that we possess it, living it. It’s a fear we evoke every day so that we can see, so that we can name things, so that we can tell the difference between us and the way humans should properly be.

    It is this fear that distinguishes us from others – we who have lived under the yoke of despotism. It is a distinctive fear, a fear that has changed over time into a form of insight that not only colours things by its prescience but also leaves its dirty marks on the future. A fugitive is someone who cannot move far from his house, which is haunted by fears. It’s only from this approach that we can reinterpret what Gilles Deleuze said: ‘The migrant is a creature that does not move from his place and that becomes a migrant only when he decides to stay in his own home.’

    To some extent I reject the term refugee, because refuge implies stopping, peace of mind and rest. But running away doesn’t end when one reaches safety. Refuge implies obligatory stopping, since the place does not allow one to go forwards, whereas the process of running away continues in other guises. There is definitely nowhere the fugitive can feel free of fear. It goes beyond the simple political matter of escaping the authority of the state or getting out of the immediate danger zone. In fact the real purpose of running away is to break the cycle of fear. Running away is a mythical process, subject to the logic of the imaginary and not to the logic of purely rational thought. There is a radical difference between what we call the danger zone and the circle of fear. The fugitive may leave the danger zone, but final departure from the circle of fear requires more complex psychological and political strategies, because fear is an imaginary psychological concept that doesn’t simply end when the immediate danger disappears.

    The most dramatic moments in the psychological development of a fugitive are those transitional moments when fear ceases to be a phenomenon associated with a particular political reality and becomes an existential reality, when it ceases to be a phenomenon that is fixed in time and place and becomes a situation that reflects an existential condition that cannot be transcended; in other words, when the hypothetical has more impact than what is real, and the imaginary becomes more solid than reality.

    Resting in a state of fear does not necessarily lead to people hiding away, unable to move. People who are fearful can carry on with the help of their active imaginations. They can prolong their journey on a variety of imaginary levels, but those levels do not entail overcoming the fear that prevails psychologically. Erich Kästner once said, ‘He who has no fear has no imagination.’ That remark reveals, to some extent, the quality of the interactions taking place inside the psychological space of the fugitive. It is impossible to understand what is happening in the minds of migrants only by reading the traditional elements stored in the subconscious or by making simplistic judgments about the religious and ideological background of the migrants. Fugitives imagine more than they think and produce more fantasies than rational notions.

    The illusion that refugees automatically see the West as an earthly paradise is completely unrealistic. The fear inside the fugitive reflects a more complicated reality. The image of the West as a kind of earthly paradise appears at various stages as part of the exile experience and under the influence of certain mechanisms, as an attempt to suppress the overwhelming desire to escape all places, and as an attempt to curb the temptation to keep moving forever.

    From the start the West shows the migrant that paradise has been lost forever. This painful fact adds to the degree of alienation between the fugitive and real places. Migrants’ reservations about the West do not fundamentally arise from purely ideological or religious considerations. Admiration for the West or exaggerated hostility towards it arises from a problematic and unresolved relationship between the self and the place.

    About the disappearance of place

    The shift from ‘fear of what is visible’ to ‘fear of the invisible’ is a landmark on the fugitive’s itinerary. After reaching the West, fugitives cannot escape the circle of hypothetical dangers. I don’t mean the natural dangers than any humans might face, but the direct and frightening sense that the escape journey is endless, because whenever fugitives arrive at a particular place they feel that the place is not the destination they intended and that other roads await them. Taking refuge is just one stage in an endless journey, no more than one stop out of many. So the migrant’s body, when it lies on a bed in one of those camps, does not enjoy rest. There is always some voice whispering in their ear, saying that there is still further to go.

    The fugitives’ problem is basically with the idea of place, in that their vision of place defines their psychological state, because every escape is escape from a particular political circumstance, escape from a particular partition of natural space. By the process of running away, migrants try to restore the place to its primordial state, to how it was as a background for life, that is: to how it was before it was partitioned into states or communities.

    In the mind of the fugitive there is no such thing as a ‘Western paradise’. The idea of the paradise that awaits the refugee at the other end is a purely Western version of the migration story. The fugitive aspires to restore place to its apolitical nature, to recreate a spot that has not yet been subjected to the process of partition. Running away from the circle of death is also the primary objective. It is the first step. The basic aim is to move away from politicised place towards a natural place, not in order to survive but to reach a different world. Migrants hope to find unpoliticised spaces in the West. They don’t aim to escape from Hell to Heaven, but to move in search of a piece of territory that no longer exists. Running away is a process that is doomed to fail because it is an attempt to redefine territory as the common property of all.

    When fugitives reach Europe, they stand at a crossroads: either they submit to the imperative of the place or, in random reactions to everyday phenomena, they continue mentally on their hypothetical journey that is at the intellectual-imaginary level or within the part of the subconscious that has been repressed.

    Submission to the imperative of the place means abandoning the moral sense and the philosophical dimension of the escape process. Here, fugitives need a mythical text that is effective and a distinctive story such as the ‘West/Paradise’ legend in order to justify their submission. The question of whether the image of the West is identical to the image of the imaginary place is not one of the basic impulses behind migration. The ‘West/Paradise’ legend only appears when migrants need a moral and intellectual justification for ending their travels and accepting that their search for a place unburdened with political markers is unrealistic.

    The concept of a Western paradise arises in the psychological space of migrants only as a self-defence mechanism that has nothing to do with the migrants’ understanding and real experience of the West. It also has nothing to do with the real nature of the West as a political and cultural entity. The paradise image plays a basic function in counteracting the secret desire to continue; in other words, it is a kind of psychological trick to force the self to submit to the place that is available. The widespread Western understanding of migrants as people who aspire to occupy the European paradise overlooks the fact that this image is just a psychological device to save migrants from the weight of the imaginary, to distance them from the secret call inside them to go on forever in some direction. In the eyes of migrants, the European paradise has nothing to do with the concept of paradise in its usual sense. It is not an economic or political paradise. It is a symbolic indicator, a psychological marker that the imaginary has been defeated by the realistic.

    To see the world through the prism of the East/Hell : West/Heaven binary is in a sense to finally eliminate the radical imaginary : realistic binary. It isn’t possible to eliminate the radical dimension in the latter binary without resorting to a concept of another kind that helps the migrant reintegrate with the world. The myth of the West as paradise is one of the most important elements driving the integration process. Fugitives will not be able to join the process of integrating with Western society and the new political and cultural environment without resorting to a myth equal in power to that of the underlying binary that drove them to flee in the first place. Taming the imaginary requires promising language that is able to merge the mythical with the real. This merger can only come about by relying on realistic data, as in the Western case.

    Immigrants who believe in the myth of the Western paradise will work hard to blend completely into the new melting point, without nostalgia for other places, either imaginary or real. They are the parvenus, to use Hannah Arendt’s term – those who are impatient to dissolve in the new ocean without hesitation, because in the end integration leads not only to reconciliation with place but also undermines any inclination to rebel against the political environment. Assimilated immigrants are the least complaining of people and the ones who try hardest to appear disciplined.

    The aesthetics of not integrating

    The other kind of migrants represent the counter-example. They are the people who evade the imperative of place and are unable to settle in peace. In them the hypothetical place continues to stir the desire to move on in some direction. They may travel from continent to continent, from country to country and from one city to another, haunted by the idea of moving. We would be making a massive mistake if we understood ‘running away’ to mean only physical movement from place to place, because real fugitives, those looking for terra nullius, for a patch of land untainted by nationalism or religion, even if they stay in the place allocated to them by the immigration authorities, will continue to pursue their psychological and mental journey internally, through deep misgivings about their new environment, and through a doubt that may lead them either to a form of alienation that has creative effects, or to a relapse and return to the past where they have a store of childhood memories about their places of origin, which have acquired a mythical magic from memories of their mothers’ arms. The idea of the hypothetical place in the imagination of the migrant stems from the idea of the first maternal place, where the harmony between the self and the world is not subjected to tribal criteria. If migrants turn towards regression, that is towards nostalgia for things related to childhood memories, that shift can lead in some cases to a form of aggressiveness towards the world, and then, instead of the image of the West as a paradise, the migrant can develop a Satanic vision of which ideologically extremist groups can take advantage in order to widen the gulf between the migrant and the Western environment.

    It is not frightening or negative that some people do not fall for the temptations of the idea that the West is a paradise. It is of considerable importance that migrants preserve some of their rebellious spirit, i.e. that they do not completely assimilate in their new homes, because complete integration into the environment or blending passively into the social melting pot eliminates the necessary critical distance between the human being and the socio-political environment. Maintaining that distance is a fundamental condition for us not turning into socially compliant tools.

    Failure to integrate does not mean we turn into passive, isolated individuals, or that we are culturally or linguistically alienated. It means we are preserving that creative fear that leads to permanent evolution. It means we are ready for the Nietzschean call to live dangerously, in danger of transformation and advancement. Migrants have to transform themselves into real ‘Bedouin nomads’ in the Deleuzian sense. They not only move across geographic space but also open Deleuzian ‘escape routes’ and new spaces. In other words, they try to expand the meaning of place and add new detour lines around the structures that are static in the overall system. Someone who is cowering in fear is not the same as someone who is sitting comfortably. Those who are frightened do not appreciate the comforts of the place, the conditions of superficial luxury, but culturally they open up fields that did not previously exist. In other words, their presence is important for human civilisation because they represent those who are no longer either oriental or occidental. Instead they are harbingers of what is to come, guides to a type of person that has not dissolved in the melting pot.

    So there are two kinds of failure to integrate. The first is the regressive type that tries to go back, that is reactionary and isolationist, that produces a certain desire to destroy, and that lives on the delusion of abolishing real-life places in order to make space for the imaginary and hypothetical. Their constant search for a religious justification and their pressing desire to destroy the West ‘and the East too’ are two signs of their regressive desire to go back to a childhood paradise. The crisis of self and place culminates here. The emergence of the hypothetical place is conditional on the complete destruction of both self and place. In the ‘suicidal religious fighter’ type, we come across the kind of person in whom the regressive tendency is associated with an obsession with destroying the self and real-life places.

    The second type, those who do not believe in the West as a paradise, develop a kind of realistic sense and critical grasp of the human situation in general. They are not impressed, but they do not succumb to hatred. Their crisis with the places they come from becomes the basis for an overall vision and a constant incentive to uncover new possibilities and ways of life that have not yet been tried. The intensity of experience they have had leads to the development of a kind of general humane sense that takes them beyond a narrow understanding of identity. It points to the emergence of a humane vision based on defining the human element only by what it is, beyond political terminology. Deep inside the migrant experience there is a hidden humanitarian discourse that is against human beings submitting to the terms set by the political environment, and against reducing human beings to religious, political or ethnic categories. It is against reducing people to beings that do not rebel against the political state of affairs, not only in the East, where identities are at war, but also against the logic of European modernism, by rejecting the systems of obligatory categorisation, the mechanisms of pragmatic partition, and the purely utilitarian criteria for the concept of social integration. Tying someone’s identity to a particular state, to a particular political entity, to a religion, and defining and categorising that person on that basis, is one of the most dangerous phenomena that have accompanied the project of European modernity.

    The immigrant as destroyer of place

    The arrival of waves of immigrants in the West has been associated with the emergence of major social and political crises in many countries of western Europe. The nature of these crises cannot be understood solely through current political and economic conditions. The roots of the present crisis go back to the beginnings of the Enlightenment and the bitter struggle at that time over the meaning of a number of fundamental concepts, such as the individual, the citizen and the foreigner. It’s hard to understand the present scene without going back to Foucauldian ideas about vital policies that have prevailed in the West for more than three centuries. The xenophobia that is now rampant is linked to the political and economic system’s fear that groups of people might appear that cannot easily be integrated into the general biopolitical framework.

    Migrants must be converted at high speed into objects for control, into a part of the structure of categorisation, in order to let the state carry out processes of understanding and monitoring, because the fear is basically that a group of people might emerge that has not been understood and that cannot easily be monitored directly and permanently. The system, which has constantly developed rigid monitoring and punishment mechanisms, finds itself faced with a phenomenon that it cannot accommodate quickly enough. In other words, it cannot integrate these groups into the biopolitical system so that they can be monitored and used appropriately at the appropriate time.

    Linking fear of terrorism with fear of foreigners and immigrants is a frightening sign that the public mood is prepared for a return to irrationality when it comes to tackling dangers. It also reflects the fact that the West has reached its own limits, because the system of technical control over people collides here with its own inadequacy, with an internal fissure in the West that cannot be patched up. Many of the political institutions active in the West are still resisting and trying to exclude foreigners from the overall legal category of ‘human beings’. Exaggerating the fear and raising it to insane levels is not the work only of the extreme right: it is one of the defence mechanisms by which the West is trying to restore and tighten up monitoring systems. In this case, the place pretends to be collapsing in order to equip itself with additional rights that will help to tighten up the systems of isolation and monitoring.

    In Germany the warnings of complete collapse and the renewed promulgation of concepts such as ‘the fall of Western civilisation’, ‘cultural suicide’ and ‘cultural adulteration’ are not confined to writers such as Thilo Sarrazin and Akif Pirinçci. They are also to be found in major philosophers such as Rüdiger Safranski and Peter Sloterdijk. This level of fear has nothing to do with immigrants but is linked to a return to the use of fear as a weapon for tightening the modern state’s totalitarian control over individual lives.

    With the appearance of migrants in large numbers on Western streets, a part of Western space has reverted to the time of anarchy, to its natural status before the myth of a paradise on earth appeared. The idea of a paradise was not only a symbol promoted by the West to win the admiration of others and to plant an inferiority complex in civilisations that are industrially and politically backward. It was also a kind of auto-suggestion, to build a constructive relationship between the people and the place, between Western individuals and the political environment around them. The fear that is now astir is designed not only to enlighten Western individuals on the dangers of migration and immigrants, but also to contain other dangerous repercussions, such as the collapse of the integration of Western individuals into the political environment and their shifts to the right or to the left.

    In recent decades, security and ensuring that infiltrator elements do not turn up to disturb daily life have become prominent characteristics of life for people in industrial societies. For decades Westerners have not lived under direct social and political pressures that impel them towards extremism. Since the Second World War anxious Westerners have not been subjected to any real moral test of their tolerance or rationality. So there is as much to be feared from what is hidden inside Western individuals as there is to be feared from what is hidden and satanic inside migrants. There is as much to be feared from the unknown forces that may emerge from the Western political mind and destroy the rational system in the West as there is to be feared from the things that immigrants are hiding in the dark recesses of their minds. The first signs suggest that there is serious confusion in the idea that broad segments of society in the West have of place. There are elements that pave the way for a return of the idea of frightening places in Western memory.

    In the case of some people, as a result of purely imaginary obsessions, the arrival of fugitives, with their strange appearance, their different faces and their frightening backgrounds, is responsible for changing the image of the place and turning it into a zone psychologically haunted by dangers. These strange creatures that have paved the way for the return of the idea of the ‘dangerous place’ to Western memory, that have revived the sense of paranoia that has been asleep at the bottom of Western psyches, and that have been responsible for waves of unconscious reactions towards foreigners, are now seen as primitive creatures that cannot be tamed, like predatory animals that disturb the West’s historic peace of mind. The famous night in Cologne was no more than a typical and predictable expression of a tribal stereotype that exists in the Western imagination about immigrants. Immigrants are not just frightened people: they are also frightening people. They are not just people who are escaping from some place: place is escaping them too. Unwittingly, wherever they stop and wherever they set out on new journeys, people escaping from countries that are being destroyed become destructive to the system of things and places.
    Bakhtiyar Ali is a famous writer from Iraqi Kurdistan. He lives in Cologne, Germany. His novels are translated into many languages.

    Translated by Jonathan Wright

    Copyright: Goethe-Institut e. V., Fikrun wa Fann
    June 2016

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