Lancaster University historian Aristotle Kallis has documented the suspension of moral and legal norms to establish sealed-off spaces of mass violence. Here he sketches the extraordinary surge in immigration to Greece – most undocumented immigration enters the EU through the Greek / Turkish border – which allowed the issue to dominate political competition in the recent elections, second only to the EU-IMF bailout plan, to the extent that,
“Shortly before the elections, the socialist-led government trumped the card of instituting a network of detention facilities for illegal immigrants across the country, euphemistically called “centres of closed hospitality”. It had also pursued the construction of a security razor wire fence along the land border with Turkey – a major entry-point for illegal immigrants.”
Kallis, author of Genocide and Fascism: The Eliminationist Drive in Fascist Europe identifies a corrosive zero-sum-gain, anti-immigrant perception of existential security threat in Greece which,
“has significantly weakened the appeal of a human rights perspective on immigration or a moderate, pragmatic approach based on effective, long-term ‘migration management’.”
In the comments, Don Flynn (presumably of the Migrants Rights Network) asks,
“Whilst the political rhetoric of Syriza, favouring regularisation, etc, is welcome I would like to know what is being done to include migrants in the measures which are being taken at neighbourhood level in the most pressing immediate struggle – which is to build resilience into working class communities enabling them to survive austerity and initiate activities which strengthen the fightback.”
Only the most dunderheaded of the political left believe that this resilience is solely economic – material insecurity merely sharpens the edge of an existing but latent hostility to immigrants which Kallis observes in Greece and many observe here in the UK. Being aware of the concept of antisemitism without Jews, I was struck by the reference (also in the comments) to the findings of Charles Husband (now co-director of Bradford University’s Applied Social Science Centre) that in 1970s schools the strongest racist beliefs were held in schools with no immigrant pupils.
As somebody else points out in the comments, it isn’t racist to discuss whether free movement between the countries of the world is a good idea – but hostility has no place in a debate about immigrants, and is no more or less than a perception. Shame is one counter-approach (one I try with some comfortably-off people in my acquaintance who hate Muslims) but it’s no protection against the kind of existential insecurity observed by Kallis. In the long term only positive arguments will work – arguments for a politics of hospitality – addressed to the prosperous in particular (Alex Balch writes and speaks on this, but ironically and unfruitfully closed access) to lay down a foundation of non-racist concern. And in the case of European Monetary Union – where proposals are afoot for those rakish member states unable to run their economic affairs responsibly, to forfeit their national sovereignty before they become an undue burden on the others – why there are better alternatives for prosperity than nationalism.
Kant and later the emigre Levinas have gone about this by relating the personal ethic of hospitality in one’s own home to a law or politics of hospitality in one’s own homeland. More on that next post.