The Unraveling of Legal Asylum

In October 2013, 368 mostly Eritrean migrants died after their ship sank off the coast of the Italian island of Lampedusa. Italy honored them with honorary citizenship and a memorial broadcast on state television. The 155 survivors were detained for illegal entry at an overcrowded holding center and excluded from the ceremony to honor the dead.

This is how Noah Lanard starts his Mother Jones interview piece with David Scott FitzGerald about his book Refuge Beyond Reach: How Rich Democracies Repel Asylum Seekers.

This interview struck a chord. A global tide of isolationism and strongman despotism is growing. The United States has an soulless authoritarian president who uses his platforms to dehumanize immigrants, people of color, and Muslims. His base, mostly white voters experiencing changing national demographics, loves it. But Europe is also dealing with far-right political parties rattling their sabers, with some in power refusing to offer safe harbor for migrant boats in the Mediterranean, or using their parliamentary seats to change agreed-upon norms.

And here I sit this morning in my flat in Cologne. A white Muslim with a strong Californian accent, I will never experience the fear my brothers and sisters feel from Honduras, Somalia, Western Sahara, or Kurdistan, at home under occupation in some circumstances or abroad in foreign countries. Though I receive many looks from Kölners, I pass. I walk around town with some general ambiguity (language and cultural norms), but I do not live with the dread of encountering PEGIDA members while grocery shopping.

The ruling class has been dismantling a system of asylum created after our moral failings to help Jewish refugees fleeing Hitler. Now, the system does everything to deter the people who need help the most. The ones fleeing violence or famine just want a normal life. It is incredible that in the 21st century we still place so much importance on imaginary borders. If we removed all of them, the world’s GDP would double.

Here are two quotes from FitzGerald, about Europe and the United States that speak volumes about our culpability.

“One of the perverse things about the system of control [in Europe] is that it’s undermined the basic principle of the law of the sea, which is that mariners are obligated to give aid to other mariners in distress. Because a lot of the ship crews that have rescued people at sea have been prosecuted by the Italian government, in particular, it has created a disincentive for mariners passing through those waters to help people who are drowning. We know that the result is that those people are being abandoned to drown.”

“[The United States] is the wealthiest country in human history. We have the technical capacity to move hundreds of thousands of troops around the world in fairly short order. The idea that we don’t have the capacity to deal with people asking for asylum, I think is simply false. Maybe on day one you don’t. But if you care about it, within a few weeks, the capacity would be developed to do that. The fact that we don’t have this system that is able to effectively process asylum seekers and determine which of them have legitimate claims is a failure of political will.”

We should also direct our rancor at Australia as well, who lock asylum seekers up in open-air prisons on Nauru, or any number of countries such as Israel, Libya, Turkey, and Mexico who help facilitate the West’s desire to keep people out.

Confronting Islamophobia On Social Media

Juan Cole’s deconstruction of Adam Milstein’s islamophobic tweet should be highlighted.

  • Cole unpacks the conspiracies surrounding the supposed connection between the Muslim Brotherhood and the Council of American-Islamic Relations (CAIR),
  • he highlights Milstein’s own history and biases,
  • and finishes by touching on Reps. Tlaib and Omar’s backgrounds. Even with a cursory understanding of contemporary political Islam, it’s clear these representatives are singled out for being Muslim and willing to question the political status quo vis-à-vis Israel.

Juan Cole is an informed scholar and blogger on Islam and Muslims. If right-wing pundits and politicians refuse good-faith attempts by Muslims to engage in dialogue, the least they can do is listen to non-Muslim experts. Take the short history lesson of Muslim Brotherhood as an example:

In short, the US government has had a complex relationship with Muslim Brotherhood branches, but for the most part has been perfectly willing to cooperate with them, and sometimes has actively promoted them. The outlier is Hamas in Gaza, which has its origins in the Muslim Brotherhood, and which was promoted by Israeli intelligence in the 1980s and after as a way of dividing the Palestinians.

We need to work against these lazy attacks by those who wish to score political points with their base. It’s dangerous.

Bernie Is Running, Thank God

Bernie Sanders finally announced his run for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination. Even in a crowded field, I think he is the right person for the task of taking down Trump.

Meagan Day had a good article on his announcement and why we should support Sanders over at Jacobin:

Some progressive voters may want to gravitate toward another candidate in the crowded field. But don’t be fooled — if you seek economic and social justice, you should support Bernie Sanders for president.

Why? Because there’s a class war raging, and Sanders is the only one running who sees it, and who wants to build working-class forces to fight back.

Day also addresses this liberal desire to endorse someone plays more identity politics:

In a race where progressivism is in vogue, his platform will be hard to run against without changing the conversation. Other candidates and their proxies will argue that Sanders can’t represent the interests of women and people of color because he’s an old white guy. But whatever the importance of symbolic representation, the social-democratic reforms Sanders proposes would do incomparably more to materially transform the lives of hundreds of millions of ordinary women and people of color.

Yes, he’s old and white. He’s also been using the same language on class, corruption, and inequality for decades. We don’t need a symbol; we need a movement. With Bernie, the vestiges of 2016 and the enthusiasm around bold progressive ideas of this election cycle can leverage his campaign to be that movement’s electoral foundation. In a video announcing his run, he asks for one million volunteers. I think the Democratic Socialists of America will endorse him sometime, and there are ~50,000 members with real grassroots organizing power.

Go, Bernie, Go.

TV President

James Poniewozik on Trump’s tough guy fascination and Game of Thrones for the New York Times:

The president is a creation of TV and a voracious consumer of it, but his tastes are limited and specific. He likes cable news in general, and news about himself best of all. He became a star in reality TV, which relies on condensing human experience into catchphrases and simple, broad symbols, and he applied its lessons on the campaign trail by rendering the idea of security as a great big wall.

He has never, however, seemed to be much of a follower of scripted TV dramas, which at their best draw out life’s complexities.

Greta Thunberg’s Speech at COP24

Fifteen-year-old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg spoke at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Katowice, Poland:

But I’ve learned you are never too small to make a difference. And if a few children can get headlines all over the world just by not going to school, then imagine what we could all do together if we really wanted to. But to do that, we have to speak clearly, no matter how uncomfortable that may be. You only speak of green eternal economic growth because you are too scared of being unpopular. You only talk about moving forward with the same bad ideas that got us into this mess, even when the only sensible thing to do is pull the emergency brake. You are not mature enough to tell it like it is. Even that burden you leave to us children. But I don’t care about being popular. I care about climate justice and the living planet. Our civilization is being sacrificed for the opportunity of a very small number of people to continue making enormous amounts of money. so that rich people in countries like mine can live in luxury. It is the sufferings of the many which pay for the luxuries of the few. The year 2078, I will celebrate my 75th birthday. If I have children, maybe they will spend that day with me. Maybe they will ask me about you. Maybe they will ask why you didn’t do anything while there still was time to act. You say you love your children above all else, and yet you are stealing their future in front of their very eyes. Until you start focusing on what needs to be done rather than what is politically possible, there is no hope. We cannot solve a crisis without treating it as a crisis. We need to keep the fossil fuels in the ground, and we need to focus on equity. And if solutions within the system are so impossible to find, maybe we should change the system itself. We have not come here to beg world leaders to care. You have ignored us in the past and you will ignore us again. We have run out of excuses and we are running out of time. We have come here to let you know that change is coming, whether you like it or not. The real power belongs to the people.

This simultaneously saddens me (since generations to follow have inherited our mess) and gives me hope for us to wake up, see this inexorable catastrophe that we are heading toward, and change our behaviors and politics.