Migrations and the New Epoch of Peace

This essay investigates the effects of contemporary migrations on the constitution of a new epoch of peace, with particular emphasis on the European Union as a desired integrating entity for hundreds of thousands of people uprooted from their hearths.

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Is the return of regressive ideologies that openly flirt with the most vicious baggage of the 20th century the key cause of the burgeoning xenophobia in the European countries, particularly antisemitism and Islamophobia? Should these developments be classified as an utter defeat of the very idea of humanity and should the European Union as an incarnation of its universal values, guided by the light of Kant’s Perpetual Peace, succeed in its efforts of overcoming the narrow-mindedness of the nation states? Will the European Union be able to fully realize the colossal idea of the great philosopher and accept the fact that legal foundations of the doctrine of hospitality are firm and unshakable?

Their world wide spread, undeniable influence on the international political, economic and cultural orders, unfathomable human tragedy, actions of fence-making and wall-erecting imposed by authorities of xenophobic states along the routes of migratory peregrinations into the uncertainty and many other criteria of the widest social nature, contemporary migrations, are without a doubt an historical Event. 

In our day and age, migrations are, what Alan Badiou would term, the absolute Event (even when they are treated as a non-event or designated as an occurrence that unfolds alongside us or under the radar of history); migrations are a crucial moment for stacking up the progression or regression of humanity through history:

“I was speeding towards the Croatian border, alone in the car, until the road signs and the seeping rain forced me to finally slow down. Had I not rained on the brakes, I would have missed two lads, just a tad older than my son, walking      by the side of the road towards the border crossing, with a full display of rain-soaked tatters-of-clothes that hauntingly hung on them. I knew they would not make it today, just as they failed many times before. I also knew that my crawling feeling of guilt for being able to cross the border without the fuss and as often as I wanted despite the obvious fact of not being any better than them would not be of particular help to those two boys either. But as I remembered I had a large umbrella for two in the booth of my car, I swerved over to the stopping lane, and hastily gave it to the boys who could have been my own sons, the sons of my sister or the children of my best friend, only mastering to respond to their apparent incredulity by uttering: “Please, forgive”. Please, forgive because the world is such a shitty place; because my own homeland is such a small, timorous place that transforms its timidity into fiendishness; please, forgive because the very border you are so keenly trying to cross did not even exist when I was of your age; please, forgive the fact that even if this rain turned into a deluge it would not be potent enough to even smear the imagined lines across which you are denied the passage. Please, forgive me because I am also very tiny myself, mousy and malign, unable to get you into the bloody car, ram through the check post without stopping while coquettishly winking at the border officer and declaring: I always choose people over the states and borders! By handing you just the umbrella from my booth, I am nothing but quelling my conscience for heading forth into my daily existence in which I pretend that everything is very fine and that we all live in the very best of worlds. I have no idea about the other worlds, but the one in which people get rain soaked and die at the borders over which they are denied the pass is the worst of all. (Đurđica Ćilić, Professor, Faculty of Philosophy, University of Zagreb, Facebook post, 6th November 2019)

This Facebook post belongs to the ethics of responsibility. After gaining considerable traction on social media it was published on telegram.hr, a highly influential news portal in Croatia, only to be retracted shortly thereafter by Professor Ćilić’s explicit demand, after being pilloried by a brutal hate speech form the haranguing online gangs of chauvinist-leaning trolls. Her only transgression, these anonymous commentators alleged, was to express her humanity, empathy and sincere compassion towards the people they consider to belong irredeemably to the nether scope of humanity.

After the grim experience at the border and the stultifying litany of hatred in the online world, colleague Ćilić had promptly organized an ad hoc action at the Faculty of Philosophy in Zagreb to collect much-needed clothes for the migrants.  Her impromptu initiative was more than successful in both collecting the bare essentials as well as demonstrating that many people are, in fact, in their authentic individuality agents of goodness and firmly anchored at the opposite side of the institutionalized, state-propagating evil that sees in the Other the sheer wickedness and nothing but danger.

Why is the modern state, as a governing entity, organized and ordered in the way that it is?

Why do the criteria of geopolitics, geostrategy, security, identity, worldviews, and, in essence, sovereignty always come first and hamper the outpouring of an evident, apparent and palpable human suffering of colossal proportions? What gives credence to such a manner of understanding the world that neutralizes the apparent, while installing the distorted and utterly falsifying right wing? What contributes to the practice of turning the factitude into the falsehood and masquerades the objective reality (i.e. the inhumane treatment of migrants by the Greek, Serbian, Bosnian, Croatian, Hungarian and Italian authorities) into the far-fetched reality-free concoction of argumentation that is so steeped into the ideology of demonization and dehumanization of the refugee-migratory Other?

The way the states are treating the thousands of misery-stricken hope-seekers who, under the burden of war, terror, non-freedom and other forms of violence, are slogging through arduous odysseys for days, months and years at this time in search of the better life and a modicum of dignity, is deeply troubling. At this historical moment, it corresponds to the burgeoning of regressive, retrograde, xenophobic, primarily, antisemitic and Islamophobic ideologies that are making the momentum and affecting social relations within the European Union, that pinnacle of all worlds.

On one hand, these developments have resulted in the proliferation of the hostile narratives about migrants in the social sphere while reinstating executive security as an overarching institutional paradigm, on the other. Through reinforcement of the borders, administrative demarcations between the states, these markers once again became the vertical, militaristic lines of separation at the expense of the idea of serving as horizontal lines of integration. The European Union was envisioned as a borderless idea, the project whose historical unfolding was predicated on the very end of bordering, deterritorialization and atrophy of the rigid, mythical, sovereignty-laden perception of the border that held an iron grip over Europe in the period between the Treaty of Westphalia and the signing of the Maastricht Treaty.

By being myopic to the growing post-fascist and illiberal tendencies espoused by the new right and allowing it to reap the political victories far and wide, Europe has turned against its very purpose. Sensing that it had been pushed in a corner, the conventional European right regrettably responded by assuming a more radical stance in its own discourse. The net result was that the social pendulum of the political spectrum entered into the realm of rightist populism, the space whose inner logic is based on the demonization of migrants and fear mongering steeped into the prejudice-infused civilizational rigidity.

Distorting the maxim stating that “what is essential is invisible to the eye”, this rigidity goes on to render the real, essential, authentic, obviously evident suffering of the expelled, downtrodden and deprived as trifle and banal. By asserting that some hidden, obscure forces and causes are at play in instigating and sustaining the process of “wandering apatrides”, this line is trying to quell the conscience of the hostile state and legitimize its dehumanizing practices. Two teenage boys from the beginning of this essay could thus be treated not as hungry, barefoot and frostbitten miserable meanderers, but as dangerous extremists, radicals and terrorists in the making!

This is why the real and the essential, that which is sad and miserable, is shrouded into the artificial fear that, even though being nothing but a mere construct, usurps the place of the apparently evident: this is why the forlorn juveniles, in all their sullen predicament, are being dematerialized while the myth of their inherent propensity towards radicalization and extremism is elevated and propagated as a narrative framework. Once enacted, this myth is a necessary and sufficient reason for denying the entrance into the fortress-state, the one that is ready to use its repressive apparatus to punish, repress or even kill anyone that trespasses the borderline. As a result, the permitted terror of the border security forces materializes this mythic construct into the real, physical performative governmentality.

This is why it was possible that the tragedy and tribulation of hundreds of thousands of people we dub migrants solely on the basis of the distorted projection of an exclusionary Other could be read and understood through such a hostile angle. By bending the obvious, this is why the production of narratives on violent extremism, political radicalism and terrorism could be made possible despite the fact that all those morose rows of penurious destitutes from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan are utterly void of such proclivities and that infinitesimal proportion of those among them espousing such macabre convictions and orientations is nothing but a statistical error.  But as we live in the simulacrum of reality while ignoring the real and the obvious, it is simply possible for the domineering, exclusionary new right ideologies of our times to just throw the hook of whichever antisemitism they see more fit for the purpose, and the facts would become irrelevant and irreverent while the culture of fear would become a defining framework that propels the Western states to depart from the civilizational values by crossing migrants off as an ethical consideration. Being reminiscent of the colonialism and hollowing out the axiological imagery of its cultural anchoring, Western states could thus engage in the practice aptly summarized by the luminous African thinker Achille Mbembe: “By asserting to wish more good to the natives tha     n they could ever think of by themselves, the colonial apparatus has made every effort to denigrate their will for life and to diminish their ability of seeing and regarding themselves as moral characters”. (2019:17)

Member states of the European Union who betrayed the cosmopolitan idea of Europe have reduced the horror of the peregrinating migrants to the life of homo sacer, to a natural, bare life, pure biologism and engaged in an animalization of migrants into amoral figures. And then, as an institutional gesture of the betrayal of the very idea of cosmopolitanism, the concept of a strong border is enacted, while the EU backed down and retracted under the galloping advance of the Hungarian, Croatian, Greek, Italian governments as well as other terrors of sovereignty, waiting for post-fascism to dissipate into thin air all by itself as if it is but a mere nuisance, a provisory aberrant of our enduring European civility, our bureaucratic, liberal utopia in which it feels so good to get occupied, even immersed, into kooky deliberations over the desired shape, size and form of cucumbers, bell peppers and tomatoes. Unfortunately, post-fascism will not dissipate into thin air! Rather, it will imbue its essence into the specter of European values (tersely denying potentially the benevolent intention of Ursula von der Leyen,      President of the European Commission, to develop a separate portfolio for the protection of the European way of life), reminding us all of the antisemitic production of the European way of life in Germany, Italy and other European counties in the 1930s!

This cult of the border is burgeoning again, such negation of the Host is a worrying departure from the key ideational sources of the European idea, among which the politico-philosophical essay Towards the Perpetual Peace by Immanuel Kant, stands firm and tall. Why is it of any importance to invoke such a work into the debate over the meaning of contemporary migrations? Because Kant in this utopian tract of the nature and modes of attainment of peace counts on “the better angles of our nature”, (Pinker, 2012) equating humanum as anthropological immanence to the justified right of humans to expect humane consideration and treatment.

The third definitive article of Perpetual Peace ultimately states: “Cosmopolitan right shall be limited to the conditions of universal hospitality”. Subsequently, this legal-philosophical dictum is forcefully elaborated through several normative angles, all of which firmly hold that hospitality is not an act of charity or philanthropy, but an emanation of law:

As in the previous articles, we are concerned here with right, not with philanthropy, and in this context hospitality (a host’s conduct to his guest means the right of a stranger not to be treated in a hostile manner by another upon his arrival on the other’s territory. If it can be done without causing his death, the stranger can be turned away, yet as long as the stranger behaves peacefully where he happens to be, his host may not treat him with hostility. It is not the right of a guest that the stranger has a claim to (which would require a special, charitable contract stipulating that he be made a member of the household for a certain period of time), but rather a right to visit, to which all human beings have a claim, to present oneself to society by virtue of the right of common possession of the surface of the earth. Since it is the surface of a sphere, they cannot scatter themselves on it without limit, but they must rather ultimately tolerate one another as neighbors, and originally no one has more of a right to be at a given place on earth than anyone else.”

With this understanding of hospitality, written more than two centuries ago, in 1795, Kant affirmed himself to be the historical friend of migrants, an articulated Western ally, the one who is at the other side of their negation as human beings, the process we witness in our times in equal measures in the EU and its immediate vicinity. Did the West betray Kant through an elaborate development of a myriad of reasons to deny the hospitality to people who inhabit the same planet, our spherical globe?

Such question could be affirmatively resolved, especially if we take into consideration Kant’s rational framework of hospitality that transcends the shallow utopism:

The right of hospitality, that is, the right of foreign arrivals, pertains, however, only to conditions of the possibility of attempting interaction with the old inhabitants.—In this way, remote parts of the world can establish relations peacefully with one another, relations which ultimately become regulated by public laws and can thus finally bring the human species ever closer to a cosmopolitan constitution.”

By departing from Kant’s doctrine of hospitality that de facto ended in 2015 with Angela Merkel’s magnanimous hospitable act of accepting hundreds of thousand of migrants into Germany, the EU is forgetting the past of some Western states that actively participated in the colonial expansion, into the very same states and regions from where the asylum seekers are fleeing nowadays. Kant is explicit:

If one compares with this the inhospitable behavior of the civilized states in our part of the world, especially the commercial ones, the injustice that the latter show when visiting foreign lands and peoples (which to them is one and the same as conquering those lands and peoples) takes on terrifying proportions. America, the negro countries, the Spice Islands, the Cape, etc., were at the time of their discovery lands that they regarded as belonging to n one, for the native inhabitants counted as nothing to them. In East India (Hindustan) they brought in foreign troops under the pretext of merely intending to establish trading posts. But with these they introduced the oppression of the native inhabitants, the incitement of the different states involved to expansive wars, famine, unrest, faithlessness, and the whole litany of evils that weigh upon the human species. […] doing this for powers which make much ado about their piety, and who, while drinking injustice like water, consider their being the chosen ones to be a matter of orthodoxy”.

Taking into consideration that the EU is a successor to those violent, colonial powers, should not such a past be a necessary and sufficient reason for moral acting?

Given the fact that the EU is not an inheritor to the practice of organized use of force and horrendous production of violence which colonial powers espoused throughout the centuries, but an agent that has been dwelling in history over the past 70 years as an entity of peace and nonviolence, in the manner not dissimilar to Kant’s projection of a federation of peace-sustaining states, its very axiology demands that the principle of hospitality be reinstated without hesitation and impediments imposed towards those who, through the great movement of peoples we are witnessing now, want nothing else but to live in the western parts of our common spherical planet. For the simple reason, the EU is the best of all worlds currently possible, the one in which the guest must be accepted and not exposed to any hostility. Evidently, Kant advocates for the right of visit “that belongs to all human beings’ as citizens of the world:

The growing prevalence of a (narrower or wider) community among the peoples of the earth has now reached a point at which the violation of right at any one place on the earth is felt in all places. For this reason the idea of cosmopolitan right is no fantastic or exaggerated conception of right. Rather it is a necessary supplement to the unwritten code of constitutional and international right, for public human right in general, and hence for perpetual peace. Only under this condition can one flatter oneself to be continually progressing toward perpetual peace.”

The new epoch of peace with its cornerstone contemporary movement of humanity across the territory of Earth that should belong to everyone in equal measure, by dint of its nature, includes Kant’s irenological tract, the work that is nothing but the surge of the brooding mind onto the realm of our human horizon, the one defined not only by prejudices, violence and humiliation but also by love and hope.

The new epoch of peace implies the pro-migrant reading of Kant, resurrection of the perpetual peace in gloomy refugee camps through the process of eradication of the culture of fear and elimination of, in Dominique Moisi’s words, considerable  “‘Israelization' of life around the world has become a reality“ (Moisi, 2010:131), marking the triumph of the Leviathanian security over freedom. 

It is of paramount importance to prevent the advent of a dark epoch in which the migrants and refugees might get crushed under postfascist feet. Signs of the advancing darkness are not to be overlooked. For example, in Italian historian Enzo Traverso’s perception, Eric Zemmour, a controversial French anti-immigrant and anti-liberal writer and political journalist, “does not consider nothing less than the ethnic cleansing of gargantuan proportion the expulsion of five million Muslims, the program that should be modeled after the expulsion of Germans from the central and eastern Europe in 1945” (?!?) (Zemmour, 2019:35)

However, the smoldering hope can flicker indeed. It can get sparked in the form of Europe’s return to itself, to its Kantian roots, to its postmodern paradise in which borders connect, not separate.  After all, the EU is, as Urlich Beck would assert, a cosmopolitan, inclusive community of permanent hope in the better life, the project that is now in the phase of immobility due to the surging proclivities of nationalist and postfascist tendencies that strive to harken it back into the barbarism. No pasaran.

Let this global screech of the downtrodden and the insulted be encouraged by the words of the great Howard Zinn:

To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness…And if we do act, in however small a way, we don’t have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory. (Zinn, 2002:171)

The endless rows of migrants are the signposts for our humanity, for our journey into the new epoch of peace which will never be attained without the goodness of each and every one of us as well as without the institutional Goodness of the EU, the very one that is temporarily sequestered into the labyrinths of poor historical memory.

Literature :

  • Mbembe, A. (2019), Politike neprijateljstva (Beograd: Fakultet za medije i komunikacije).
  • Moisi, D. (2010), The Geopolitics of Emotion: How Cultures of Fear, Humiliation, and Hope are Reshaping the World (New York : Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group).
  •  Traverso, E. (2019), Bauci fašizma (Beograd: Fakultet za medije i komunikacije).
  • Kant, I (2006), Quotes from the Perpetual Peace taken from: Kant, Immanuel. Toward Perpetual Peace and Other Writings in Politics, Peace and History. edited by Pauline Kleingeld, translated by David L. Colclasure with essays by Jeremy Waldron, Michael W. Doyle and Allen W. Wood (New Heaven and London: Yale University Press).
  • Zinn, H. (2002), You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train: A Personal History of Our Time (Boston: Beacon Press).
  • Pinker, S. (2011), The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined (New York:Viking).