The Migration Backwards

The ancient Mediterranean world—what euro-centric historians normally refer to as Antiquity—knew an international relations convention, one called the ‘’right of innocent passage.’’ People fleeing in droves from a major cataclysm, perhaps an invasion or trying to escape the Mongols, were granted ‘’innocent passage” to seek harbor and safety in a foreign country.

Within the roman empire, North Africans in what is today Algeria sought refuge fleeing Carthage during the Vandals’ invasions (Augustine, later to be canonized, was among them.) The existence of ‘’innocent passage’’ predated christianity, though christianity perpetuated it during the Roman Empire’s conversion. The Europe of the middle ages, a time when pilgrimage was considered among the highest acts of religious devotion, also recognized the right of movement and saw the prominence of what was called “homo viator’’ Man as Wayfarer in a time of constant crises (the most recent and striking artistic depictions of homo viator are in the cinema of Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal, among other modern depictions.)

It is only recently, during a cultural phase that the philosopher and survivor of the holocaust Zygmunt Bauman has ironically named ‘’liquid Modernity’’ that nearly all parts of social life and past certainties in human relations have been liquefied. In modernity’s ‘liquid’ phase, the imaginary and artificial stratifications (such as ever-rigorous border controls) have been made into unbreakable static entities. Cultures and societies, once having accepted liquid modernity (with its current economics of neoliberalism, or its predecessor, speculations capital) seek to grapple a tangible and solid existence.

The search for solidity can be fulfilled by a conservative means; perhaps reaching for archaic vanities such as a revival of the Nation-state; or nostalgia for an era of guiltless imperialism as is prevalent today in Germany (among other examples) But the quest for solidity can also fulfill itself in futuristic means disguised as the logic of an activist left: a fixation on biopolitics (skin-color, gender, the various postmodernist utterances about ‘’the body,’’ anti-ageism, moral crusades against GM foods or in favor of organic foods) The fixation on biopolitics and an almost apocalyptic, religious-seeming morality has devoured the left, but has also stolen its attention from the actual and necessary topics such as migration, war, and socio-economic impoverishment.

“Color” has become a safer, and artificial substitute for serious talk about how to secure rights for immigrants and the poor. By changing the subject to ‘’color,’’ ‘’skin’’ and ‘’gender’’ one can maintain an aura of morality, all the while evading politics altogether.

During a time in which the imperial societies are exporting warfare and closing up their borders, a focus on color can deceptively allow the imperial society further along its path of insularity, introspection and national cathartic dramas: for example, by choosing to exclusively discuss the grievances of racism’s victims who long-ago attained the EU or US citizenship or some level of assimilation. The emphasis on a bio-politics of color pretends to rally dissent, while it fosters a divisive politics between black and white working classes, black middle and black lower classes, and natives versus immigrants. Immigrants denied port can be white or non-white, and natives can be white or non-white. The rampant police violence in societies with increasingly desperate conditions for the poor and ghettoized, are always explained by the bio-political skin-color of the victims, and not by the geographical place (the slum, the impoverished inner city, the favela) where the police chooses to loosen its gunfire with impunity.

(And apparently, evidenced by the recent cases of German dominance over Greece, even the subjects of colonialism can at times be white Mediterraneans.)

In the United States, there is a necessary protest movement against police violence. Yet by shoe-horning every aspect of police brutality into the backdrop of the 1960s black civil rights struggle, that movement seems to ignore the plight of immigrant Mexican and Salvadoran citizens, frequently murdered by the police on US soil. The cause of two murdered poor men should not be divided. Poor black second-class citizens and immigrant latinos should be in solidarity, whereas the current immigration and economic politics has created brutal divide-and-conquer oppositions between blacks, hispanics and other minorities in poor areas of the United States. A Left movement would seek to overcome these divisions rather than the tendency of middle class protestors to generate hagiographies for one group of the oppressed while ignoring the envious other.

And in the UK, when Cameron was reelected on the bid of closing the gates to immigrants within the European Union, was he speaking only of the immigrants from Afro-Asian descent already naturalized and living in neighboring EU countries? Was the Tory anti-immigrant rhetoric and legislation not also directed against the poor ”whites” from the former East Bloc, as well as South Asians? The Mediterranean crisis had not yet broken loose, though these most vulnerable migrants are inevitably affected. Labour had chosen to disguise its rather conservative and compromising positions on many issues, with emphasis on bio-political questions: avoid talking immigration by talking up colour politics, implying these are always the same; avoid talking about economic reform by talking gender equality, implying these are all one and the same. The outcome of that PR strategy is now made clear: numbing victory for an unpopular conservative opponent.

The Left’s discussions of biopolitics (skin, color, genetics and gender) can proceed, entertaining the xenophobic establishment and its electorates with the tongue-and-cheek, absurdist p.c. performances attributed to the Left, instead of directly challenging the xenophobic consensus with actual political content.

There is no democratic right in itself for a country to deny safe harbour to people fleeing a cataclysm and who might otherwise drown in the sea.

The countries of the European Union’s “Economic Area” (Northern EU member states) have assumed the right to boycott droves of refugees. The EU fort has imposed them on Greece, the country most under pressure and scapegoated for the economic crises. Tens of thousands of the Eritreans, Syrians and Libyans who survived the journey across the sea are currently in Greek island facilities, as European states who in a concerted effort put pressure upon the Greek government simultaneously refuse to share in absorbing the immigration. A Dutch Labour minister, Liliane Ploumen has responded to the mediterranean refugee crisis; she proposed an inane solution of donating money to Africa in order to prevent immigration. Ploumen’s vulgar suggestion implies that the fugitives are coming to Holland exclusively for an economic betterment or theft, but it belies how corruption works in the developed world: behind the curtain of humanitarianism, she openly declares how her government supports an Eritrean dictator, a client state in the resource-rich region, with financial aid. Similarly, Angela Merkel’s government is one of the foremost backers of the Egyptian Sisi regime, a military junta that orchestrates targeted disappearances, jailing and assassination of specifically the most talented young Egyptians who might threaten the dictatorship’s rule. Among those drowned in the sea where some of the most highly educated and talented youths of Eritrea who were fleeing a tyranny supported by the likes of Ploumen and Angela Merkel.

The only political constituencies in North Europe who consistently oppose the fortress-Europe policies have been Christian Democratic unions (as they are consistent at least with their ancient rhetoric) and the radical Left. The Labour Party of the Netherlands has the record of building the most detention facilities and the harshest anti-migrant legislation in recent Dutch history—the harshest, in any case, since its collaboration with the German occupier in the second world war, when the second generation descendants of immigrants, mostly Jews and gypsies from within Europe, where deported to annihilation camps.

There was a similar fate for a generation of victims of military juntas in Latin America in the 1970s, when the military regimes of Chile and Argentina, enjoying full support from the United States in armaments and loans, targeted specifically the most outstanding, the most talented young people to become ‘’desaparecidos’’, as fascism traditionally requires a mediocracy, a society of meek, unthinking and obedient bureaucrats, the genetic pool needed to be cleaned by its well-funded janitor. Today it is happening again. Europe is supporting Sisi’s military regime and discussing how to transfer money to the Eritrean regime of Isaias Afwerki. The Euro-humanitarian charity ball masks the laundering of money to client state dictators who buy weapons from the multitude of arms manufacturers and defense contractors in Europe, whose beneficiaries include active supporters and members of the Dutch Labour party.

The retentive, prudish constipation of Northern Europe’s ports, is also a strategy of punishing the Greek political party that was elected upon campaign promises of defiance as well as opposing the anti-immigrant rhetoric: what the former finance minister Varoufakis called the misanthropy and racism rampant throughout much of the European Union.

As countries such as the Netherlands agree to let in the smallest amount of immigrants, the right wing opposition in Greece can point out how the Greek leftists are harbouring thousands of refugees during a time of Greek crisis: again, the Eurogroup proves itself to be the foremost strategic ally of the extremist group Golden Dawn, whose brownshirt ministers occupied the Athenian parliament in 2013 and read classical anti-semitic propaganda from the Protocols of the Elders of zion.

The Dutch newspapers like Volkskrant run headlines with the slogan “Minder Minder Minder!” “Less! Less! Less!’’ as if they are burdened by the stench and density, the intolerable presence of the foreigners. The columnists and reporters present it as a matter of common sense. What is most counter-intuitive, unnatural and modern is presented as human logic and timeless morality: they did not create the problem, therefore it is not their responsibility if the hordes drown in the sea. When in history was port denied on such a massive scale? During the 17th and 18th centuries the colonies provided a gateway for those who wanted to flee to refuge or disappear if they could no longer subsist within Europe or if they sought any avenue of escape from the nation-states-wars and persecution.

There is one cardinal point in modern times when it became common convention to deny port to innocent people trying to escape war-zones and persecution: when the European Jewry was denied port internationally. Even the British Mandate in Palestine denied European Jews the right of innocent passage, refuge, or harbour in Palestine. (The collective memory of that global denial of refuge, contributed the inevitable birth of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the Israeli ‘’Law of Return’’ and its inconsistencies with allowing the Palestinian right of return from exile.)

The smug and common-sensical explanations for closing up European ports in 2015 might very well therefore become part of a collective memory just as it was in the 1930s. Whether the Greek leftist party survives the regular assault by the Euro-group, history will remember how those who were denied by the stronger Europe, found that the poorer European at least made the motions of sheltering them. But perhaps to say ‘’history will remember’’ is too optimistic: clearly, nothing has been learned. And the coordinators and technocrats of Europe—all highly-educated, versed in European culture—are the grinning illiterates of history. They are the same ones who hurled passengers from the trains, who helped the diggers of mass-graves in Andean countries, and who sent the European Jews back to their no-man’s land in that most decisive conflict.

Arturo Desimone (Aruba, 1984) is an Aruban-Argentine writer, poet and visual artist. His articles on politics previously appeared in  CounterPunch, DemocraciaAbiertaBerfrois UKDiem25news and elsewhere. Author of the poetry collection Mare Nostrum/Costa Nostra (Hesterglock 2019) and the bilingual book “La Amada de Túnez” which  appeared in Argentina during the pandemic, he has performed at international poetry festivals in Granada, Nicaragua, Buenos Aires and Havana.