Migration – Emigration – Fleeing The “nation-state” as a lens

Correspondence
Correspondence | Photo: © Colourbox.de/Goethe Institut Max Mueller Bhavan New Delhi

Dear Georg,
 
It seems Europe has changed since we last corresponded: Paris is stricken, Brussels is in lockdown and if early intelligence is to be believed, at least one of the attackers in the Paris attacks this November was traveling on a forged Syrian passport and breached Europe’s borders, to use a Maoist phrase, like a fish amidst a sea of migrants. 
 
Islamic State’s use of a forged Syrian passport appears to be strategic – to make it easy for their agent to slip through borders, while simultaneously preying on European fears about Syrian immigrants. In sections of the public imagination, the figure of the migrant/musafir transforms once more: from one who flees terror into one who perpetrates terror. Some in Europe were waiting for this moment – Poland has already announced its intention to seal its borders.
 
France, the country that gave us the Déclaration des droits de l'homme et du citoyen, the rights of man and citizens (which didn’t apply in the colonies), is in a state of emergency where many of these rights stand suspended, and the question of citizenship is open to question. Earlier this year, French courts ruled it lawful to rescind the citizenship of dual-passport holders convicted of terrorism, effectively creating two classes of citizen. This interpretation of the French civil code was applied to man originally from Morocco, a former colony.
 
The journey of the musafir has suddenly become still harder. Does this mean, as some have suggested, that the terrorists are ‘winning’? I don’t think so, but let us set that imprecise question aside for the moment, and turn to your vivid account of your visit to the Landesamt für Gesundheit und Soziales, or Lageso – it offers us some ideas to think with.
 
It is fascinating that the Office for Health and Social Affairs is responsible for the registration of refugees. 
It reminds me of Panopticism, the third chapter of Discipline and Punish, where Foucault describes how transformation of Power’s dreams can be read in the difference in its response to leprosy – which gave rise to rituals of exclusion – and the plague – which gave to disciplinary projects.
 
Those afflicted by leprosy are excluded from society; those with the plague are registered, numbered, quarantined to their quarters and continuously monitored by authority. 
 
In this new form of power, which relentlessly partitions and subdivides itself down to the level of the individual, Focault writes, “The registration of the pathological must be constantly centralized.”
 
But what he writes next is even more insightful and beautiful, “Behind the disciplinary mechanisms can be read the haunting memory of ‘contagions', of the plague, of rebellions, crimes, vagabondage, desertions, people who appear and disappear, live and die in disorder.”
 
So it is very important to document this process, as you have in your letter. The immigrant - a person who appears and disappears, lives and dies in disorder - is always a troublesome subject for a nation, because she destablisizes the category of the "citizen". 
Thank you for sharing this, and I look forward to more news and details of your visits to Legeso.
 
You ask, “Aman, how do you see an ideal order? What do you see for the future? What can Europe learn, from India, from other parts of the world?”
 
These are interesting and difficult questions. 
Let’s start with the last one: what can Europe learn from India and the rest of the world? 
 
I’m not sure if this particular email is the right place to delve into this in great detail, but in 1947 approximately 14 million people were displaced when the Indian sub-continent was divided into India and Pakistan. 
 
There were riots, massacres, transit camps and incidents of compassion on both sides of the new border. My grandparents were part of this mass migration – they came from the Pakistan-Afghanistan border and settled in New Delhi. In time, in their new surroundings, the shock and horror of the partition lessened and presumably gave way to more banal and ordinary skirmishes, arguments and ultimately some sort of truce. 
 
The memory of partition and the existence of Pakistan continue to inform a significant part of public discourse in India. Of late, supporters of our current government have taken to telling their critics to “go to Pakistan” if they express dissatisfaction with the policies and (in)actions of the ruling party.
 
This insult is often hurled by Hindus, who came from present day Pakistan, at Muslims who actually chose to remain in present day India. It is an interesting dynamic where those who chose to move challenge the patriotism of those who chose to stay: revealing the fragility of terms like “culture”, “migrant”, “original inhabitants” – terms that are used with great frequency, but with little sense of history, in current discourse.
 
My brief description of the Partition is a gross simplification of a long and messy process; but I think the broad lesson is that the current situation in Europe is far from insurmountable.
 
You ask – is the nation state breaking up? I don’t think the administrative frameworks of state-form are in too much danger, but I think the “nation-state” as a lens for understanding the world, movement of capital, interests of “people”, the deployment of labour, the assessment of fair wages etc, is becoming less and less useful. 
 
Populations appear less interested in the nationality question, as is evident from the millions of people from the developing world trying their best to acquire a new passport. Rather than view the march of the musafir as the emigration of Syrians/ Iraqis/ Libyans/ Gambians/ Somalis to Germany/France/Austria/ Greece; let us view this as the march of labour to the citadel of capital in an effort to secure a new deal. 
 
What if we consider this current process as a logical extension of the “Occupy” movements that we have witnessed across the world post “Occupy Wall Street”.
 
If the world is a single, increasingly integrated, economic unit (as we are often told it is), and every person is evaluated on her economic worth as a potential worker in this economy (as is usually the case) – then perhaps this summer was an instance of a global workers revolt, involving workers from Africa and the Middle East.
 
Adopting such a worldview may result in more useful solutions; particularly since the rest of the world is already viewing the migration along these terms.
 
Here’s an excerpt from a news report from the recently concluded emergency meeting on migration between the EU and African leaders at Malta.
 
“African leaders such as Niger President Mahamadou Issoufou say that $2 billion — which comes in addition to more than $20 billion that the EU and its members already contribute to Africa — is not enough. There should be less aid and more investment, they say, and multinationals should pay their taxes. The African Union estimates that the continent loses $50 billion annually through tax fraud and illicit practices by such companies.
"If we could combat tax evasion, that would stop us calling for aid," Sall [Prime Minister of Senegal] said. "Terrorism is an issue, wherever war is waged people flee — where there's less development people flee towards development."
"We have to look at migration serenely, take the drama out of it," he added.
 
Of course the pronouncement of African leaders reflect their own domestic compulsions – it is easier to explain out-migration from your country (say Senegal) if you can blame it elsewhere (say Europe) – but the suggestion to look at migration “serenely” suggests a realistic assessment of the limits of governance and coercion.
 
I’ll end here with some questions of my own. I am interested in knowing more about West Germany’s “guest worker programme” that saw millions of Turkish citizens come to work in German factories in the post-war boom. Looking back, how did this program play out, and is there any way in which the experiences of the 1960s may inform our thinking of the present?
 
As always, I look forward to your reply
yrs
Aman

New Delhi, 30th of November 2015