‘That’s not who we are, we are better than this’

From Traces of Racial Exception: Racializing Israeli Settler Colonialism (Bloomsbury Academic 2018).

Preface



  • We stole the lands of another people, but that’s not who we are we are better than this.
  • We expelled 800,000 of the owners of the land, or made them flee; we renamed their villages and urban neighbourhoods and settled our own people in them, but that’s not who we are we are better than this.
  • We uprooted the trees planted by the owners of the land and planted European conifers to cover the ruins of their depopulated villages, which they are not allowed to settle in and many of which we have made our own, but that’s not who we are we are better than this.
  • We massacred the populations of whole villages, tortured their men, raped their women and beat and tortured their children, but that’s not who we are we are better than this.
  • We occupied and annexed those parts of the land we had conquered in our ‘war of independence’ that the owners of the land call their Nakba, or catastrophe, but that’s not who we are we are better than this.
  • We bombed their cities, demolished their homes, flattened their refugee camps, and since 2002 built a 700 kilometres long concrete wall, which we call the separation barrier and the owners of the land call the Apartheid wall, to cut the owners of the land off from each other, but that’s not who we are we are better than this.
  • We installed hundreds of checkpoints preventing the owners of the land from getting to work, visiting their families, or reaching hospital to receive medical treatment or give birth, but that’s not who we are we are better than this.
  • We started war after war outside the 1949 armistice borders of our state, making hundreds of thousands homeless, claiming self-defence, but that’s not who we are we are better than this.
  • We put the owners of the land under a military government regime, ruled them with emergency regulations inherited from the British colonizers, enlisted them as collaborators and informers, and controlled their freedom of movement and expression, but that’s not who we are we are better than this.
  • We operate a separate military court system to try the owners of the land, imprison thousands of them including women and children, and put hundreds in administrative detention without trial, but that’s not who we are we are better than this.
  • We build our settlements on their lands and allow our illegal settlers to prevent the owners of the land from herding their flocks, tilling their fields and picking their olives, but that’s not who we are we are better than this
  • We allow the settlers to take over the homes of the owners of the land and to beat their children on their way to school, but that’s not who we are we are better than this.
  • We transferred thousands of Bedouin citizens off their lands and left them in ‘unrecognized villages’ without electricity, water, roads and schools, and demolish these ‘unrecognized villages again and again, but that’s not who we are we are better than this.
  • We extra-judicially execute the owners of the land when we suspect that their resistance amounts to ‘terrorist’ acts even after they are ‘neutralized’ and are lying defenceless on the ground; we arrest their children in dawn raids, interrogate them without any adults present, and try them in military courts, but that’s not who we are we are better than this.
  • We lock up asylum seekers, who we call ‘infiltrators’, and most of whose cases we never process, in concentration camps away from our towns that they are not permitted to enter, but that’s not who we are we are better than this.
  • We deny the owners of the land the right to remember and commemorate their Nakba, and force them to study our writers and poets, but that’s not who we are we are better than this.
  • You see, we are victims of persecution and Holocaust survivors, and their land had been promised to us by our god, and is thus legally ours, and anyone questioning our right to conquer, settle, expropriate, kill, imprison, shoot, bomb, torture, transfer and deport is antisemitic or a ‘self-hating Jew’. [1]

 

[1] This is an adaptation of Ghassan Hage’s elegiac and angry J’Accuse against settler colonial white Australia, posted on Facebook on 19 October 2016. With Ghassan Hage’s kind permission.

 

Incarceration, disavowal and Ireland’s prison industrial complex

Incarceration, disavowal and Ireland’s prison industrial complex

Paper presented at the ‘Irish Prisons: incarceration, repression and control’ conference, Crumlin Road Gaol, Belfast 26-27 October 2017.

Introduction

In September 2014 residents of several asylum centres in Ireland staged protests against their incarceration. Since April 2000 asylum seekers have been dispersed to ‘Direct Provision’ centres, managed by private for-profit companies under the supervision of the Reception and Integration Agency (RIA), an arm of the Department of Justice and Equality, costing the state around 50 million euro per annum. Residents, who get bed and board, are not allowed to work or access third level education, and until August 2017 were given a small weekly ‘residual income maintenance payment to cover personal requisites’ of €19.10 per adult and €9.60 per child, increased to €21.60 per adult and first to €15.60 and then to €21.60 per child per week (Bardon 2017). Steven Loyal (2011) describes the Direct Provision centres as Goffman’s (1991[1961]) ‘total institutions’, where residents are controlled as to what and when they eat, who they share rooms with, who can visit them, and what access they have to crèches, laundries, kitchen facilities and appliances, and argues that ‘the negatively socially valued category of “asylum-seeker” becomes their master status.’

Although the Direct Provision system was originally intended for no more than a six months stay, 19.5 per cent have stayed for over three years. The average length of stay was 38 months while 450 people had been living in Direct Provision for more than seven years, leading to people becoming de-skilled, bored, depressed, destitute, and institutionalised. By September 2017, there were 5,063 people in Direct Provision centres. Seven of the centres are State-owned, the others are operated by for profit companies (Gartland, 2016) – making the Direct Provision system part of what Angela Davis term the ‘prison industrial complex’.

Many asylum seekers live with deportation orders in a state of deportability (Lentin and Moreo 2015), arguably making them what the Italian political philosopher Giorgio Agamben (1995) calls ‘bare life’, at the mercy of the laws of the sovereign state, which exempts itself from these very laws. And as Eithne Luibhéid (2013: 91) argues, ‘Direct Provision institutionalized the construct of the “asylum-seeker” as a distinct, undesirable type of person who must be subjected to relations of governance that were intended to deter, control, and incapacitate’.

The Direct Provision protesters demanded that all asylum centres be closed, that all residents be given the right to remain and work in Ireland, and that all deportations end. These demands are articulated by MASI, the Movement of Asylum Seekers in Ireland, a platform for asylum seekers to join together in unity and purpose.

In October 2014, apparently in response to these protests, the government appointed a working group ‘to report to Government on improvements to the protection process, including Direct Provision and supports to asylum seekers.’ The Working Group was made up of representatives of migrant-support NGOs but had no significant representation of asylum seekers themselves. While the then deputy Justice Minister Aodhán Ó Ríordáin admitted that the Direct Provision system is ‘inhumane’, and that ‘the way we treat asylum seekers and people in the (Direct Provision) system says a lot about us as a country’, the Working Group was charged with reforming rather than closing the Direct Provision system (The Journal 2014).

The Working Group’s recommendations were largely not adopted by the government (although the Minister for Justice said in October at the Senead that 98 per cent were adopted), and the Direct Provision system remains in place. However, in 2016 the government increased the ‘comfort allowance’ paid to asylum seekers in Direct Provision centres by an insulting amount. In 2016 the government introduced the International Protection Act based on a Single Application Procedure. The new act raises serious concerns in relation to firstly, the erosion of refugee families’ reunification rights; secondly, the impact on the applicants already in the asylum process in relation to the availability of appropriate legal advice and sufficient time and resources to shorten the waiting time; and thirdly, the ease with which deportations could be effected. In May 2017 the Supreme Court unanimously agreed that the absolute ban on asylum seekers working was unconstitutional (Carolan 2017), and in October 2017 the Minister for Justice announced the intention to give asylum seekers in Ireland the right to work after six months in Direct Provision, a problematic announcement as very few details have been worked out. Lucky Khambule will elaborate on these developments.

Against this background, this paper makes three interlinked propositions. Firstly, I propose that as Irish state and society managed to ignore Ireland’s system of ‘coercive confinement’: workhouses, mental health asylums, mother and baby homes, Magdalene Laundries and industrial schools (O’Sullivan and O’Donnell 2012), they also ‘manage not to know’ about the plight of asylum seekers in Direct Provision. The Direct Provision system isolates asylum applicants, makes them dependent on state handouts and carceral rules, and makes it difficult for them to organize on a national level. ‘Managing not to know,’ or disavowing, erases the Direct Provision system from Ireland’s collective consciousness, but I suggest that asylum seekers signify the return of Ireland’s repressed, confronting Irish people, themselves e/migrants par excellence.

Secondly, I propose that we must not theorize residents of the Direct Provision system as passive victims at the mercy of sovereign power, to whom everything is done, but rather as active agents of resistance.

Thirdly, and more broadly, the incarceration of asylum seekers must be seen as continuing the tradition of administrative detention of political prisoners in the north of Ireland and of the widespread Irish practice of incarceration. I therefore theorize the Direct Provision system as the current embodiment of the island of Ireland as two parallel carceral states, where the prison industrial complex has historically incarcerated one in every hundred people in the Republic and administratively detained political prisoners in the north. I conclude, following Angela Davis, by calling for the total abolition of imprisonment and incarceration. Continue reading “Incarceration, disavowal and Ireland’s prison industrial complex”

The unspoken whiteness of Brexit

brexit-racismA couple of days after British referendum on exiting the EU I witnessed a disturbing altercation between two hard working Indian sub-continent migrant owners of a Dublin city centre Spar shop and a bunch of white Irish drunks who were kicking the shop’s door and harassing the owners in an attempt to steal booze. Without being there I was sure that the confrontation had racist undertones (as confirmed to me by the shop owners the following day). It lasted some twenty minutes and was only resolved when the gardai arrived, but it left me wondering whether the racism of the white marauders – like the Nazi graffiti sprayed in the last few days in Northern Ireland – had anything to do with the Brexit vote.

Social media have been abuzz with posts on the Brexit repercussions with much written about David Cameron’s resignation, Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn failure to prevent the exit vote, UKIP leader Nigel Farage and his fascist followers and the implications for Ireland. However, much more significant is the permission the vote has given to racists in Britain and elsewhere in Europe to express their anti-immigrant and anti-minorities toxic views. Continue reading “The unspoken whiteness of Brexit”