Migration – Emigration – Fleeing
The terror and the refugees
I was in Paris for the second time. I was there after the attacks on the offices of Charlie Hebdo and saw people standing together, night after night at the Place de la République, because they were shocked, angry and sad – and thereby forgetting that they were only one portion of the city. The other portion of the city wasn’t at the Place de la République; they were outside, on the other side of the city walls, which have taken on the form of a highway today, but are similarly as insurmountable as they were in the Middle Ages. They were in the banlieues and they weren’t invited to the celebration of self-assurance. And some of them were openly celebrating the dead cartoonists and the dead Jews.
The mood was different ten months later. There were more deaths, but in a certain sense, it was the group of people who had lit candles at the statue of Marianne in January, who had become the target this time around. It was their friends or they themselves who sat in Petit Cambodge or in Belle Équipe, a few meters away from the Place de la République; it was their friends or they themselves who danced in the Bataclan. And, since it’s easier to mourn others than it is to mourn yourself, they were more quiet, more baffled, less angry and less solidary. They really were hurt, because they could feel in their gut where terror comes from: from their country, from their society, bypassing the war in Syria and fueled by the Islamists’ murderous mania. Nevertheless, they were kids that were born here.
I think it’s important to understand that. Because an attempt was immediately made of course to make that connection, between the terror and the refugees. That is cynical and wrong, and Mao has nothing to do with it. The people coming to Europe happen to be fleeing exactly the kind of people who killed in Paris. If there are a few terrorists among the hundreds of thousands of people coming, then that’s both statistically a strong probability and is absolutely a problem in terms of its implications for security; however, it’s not a problem that can be fixed by putting a fence up right in front of the refugees’ faces and thereby punishing the masses for something they’ve already been the victims of.
I think Slavoj Zizek said it quite clearly: "The greatest victims of the Paris terror attacks will be the refugees themselves, and the true winner, behind the platitudes in the style of je suis Paris, will be simply the partisans of total war on both sides. This is how we should really condemn the Paris killings: not just to engage in shows of anti-terrorist solidarity but to insist on the simple cui bono question." He also wrote that the terrorists are “the Islamo-Fascist counterpart of the European immigration racists.”
And so both things actually do correlate – the terror and the refugees –, but not as plainly as a faked Syrian passport would suggest. Both fundamentalism and racism are extreme answers to a reality that is perceived to be increasingly complex. What gets lost here are the reasons for social tensions, economic inequality and tendencies towards societal breakup. I don’t mean that in a sweeping and overarching way. And a lot of the things that both fundamentalists and racists attack are things that I love and are important to me: freedom, individualism, hedonism. But there are also forces in the essence of capitalism that reveal themselves in this reciprocal violence. And Zizek also points this out: “We can’t address the EU refugee crisis without confronting global capitalism,” he writes.
What does this have to do with Lageso, with the Landesamt für Gesundheit und Soziales [Office of Health and Social Affairs Berlin]? You were right to point out the strange circumstance, in which a agency for public health is responsible for the question of refugees. And this is perhaps where the problem begins. Your association with Foucault was also very right. Because evidently what’s happening here, day for day in fact, is one thing: Discipline and Punishment. A veritable biopolitical regime reveals itself here; Giorgio Agamben would be appalled at how validated he has been now. The state manifests itself here in its contemporary biformity: as the administrator of conditions it created itself without laying blame – each individual is just an official in the machine; and as the dysfunctional extension of a system, which isn’t prepared for the almost metaphysical shift that awaits Europe.
Metaphysical? Maybe you’re right, I’m probably exaggerating. But that’s the mood at the moment – the insecurity, a bewilderment, that’s created with a specific goal in mind and is being exploited. The events aren’t metaphysical, they just appear to be so in the eyes of Europeans, which have adjusted to a few calm centuries. What’s happening right now between North Africa, the Middle East and Europe is rather routine in many parts of the world. And that’s exactly why what you can observe in Lageso, night after night, is so severe and alarming. The image of Europe is being deliberately destroyed here; the image, that Europe had of itself, as a continent of civilization or at least of civilizedness. Now you’ll say, Yes but at whose cost? Who were the victims of colonialism that were necessary for this civilizedness? Or you’ll say, There’s another whiny self-deprecating European, who enjoys nothing more than self-hatred.
I don’t know. All I know is that Lageso has made it into the New York Times by now, that there are online petitions and segments in the national news, that leading politicians are going there and writing open letters, that Berlin’s governing coalition could break up over it – and that none of that matters to me. Because it’s already taking too long. And because I’ve seen it for weeks and months, and couldn’t change anything. I wrote about it in my column and many people who agree with me read it. The others wrote vitriolic comments. I was there again after writing you; it was during the day and it seemed more calm and organized than it did during my first visits. But nothing had changed, as we now know. There was still the same chaos and the same arbitrariness. They were playing with people there.
And yes, it makes me angry. It may well be that Berlin’s government will fall in the end because of what it tolerated or created in Lageso, this intentional and inhumane mess in which children are lost and peoples’ hope, the most precious thing they still have, is destroyed. It’s the moment that will inform their image of Germany; and if they don’t arrive here, then they will withdraw back into themselves, and that in turn means that there will be parallel societies. But here it is the German state creating this situation of ostracization. Some lawyers in Berlin are filing charges against the senator of social affairs, and they are right in doing so. The pressure must grow. But it’s both sad and sobering that this situation had been tolerated for so long already.
The Front National just won in France’s regional elections. Donald Trump just uttered a few exceptionally dumb sentences: No Muslims should be allowed to enter the US. He’s a clown; but he’s a clown that wants to be president. And with each of his utterances of hogwash that get applauded, the measure of rationality slides a bit further to the right. And when somebody makes the suggestion of maybe only registering all Muslims, as Trump himself said a few days ago, then they even seem rational in comparison to the insanity of latter statements. It’s a sick cycle that can be observed here, a study of communicative dysfunctionality. Jürgen Habermas, the great theorist of communicative democracy, always started from the premise that participating parties are rational. But what happens when they simply denounce reason? How does legitimacy through communication work then?
These are the questions I’m concerned with right now. I’ll tell you about the history of gastarbeiter [guest laborers] in this country next time. With pleasure. And again about Lageso. Because everything is connected to everything else.
Sincerely yours, as always,
Berlin, 10th of December 2015