On backlash and global opinion

A piece published at The Hill on 11 February by András Simonyi about the global backlash Denmark recently received in light of their response to an influx of asylum seekers caught my attention —

But Danes — politicians and the general public alike — need to realize something that strangely eluded them completely: that they are held to higher standards in the world than the overwhelming majority of other countries, like, say, Hungary (my native country, which has veered off-course as a fully fledged democracy). There is an expectation in the world toward it to show the way. It is seen as one of the true defenders of the liberal and democratic values of society, which includes humanitarian values. Denmark is a nation that is seen as a beacon, a standard-setter for the world for decades; its balanced, humane and tolerant policies the example for others to follow. It has worked hard to obtain this status and should do everything it can to maintain it. Together with the other Nordic countries, they hold the solutions to many of the problems of modern society, a source of inspiration for all of us who believe in freedom and democracy in the midst of the onslaught of Putin-esque illiberal thought.

Denmark’s performance in the field of human rights and social policies as a strong transatlanticist has earned the country the ability to punch above its weight in the world. This is important. Denmark has amassed enormous amounts of goodwill in the past. Its fundamental democratic values are strong. It should make every effort to hang on to them. But then, goodwill is like equity. Stocks can skyrocket based on real value added, but also perceptions. However, negative perceptions can be destructive, and a stock that was valuable one day can lose much or all of its value the next. But if the company is basically healthy, and its fundamentals strong, it will get over it.

Given, of course, that leadership is prepared to do the right things to correct mistakes.

see also: Small States Seeking Status: Norway’s Quest for International Standing (2015), edited by Benjamin de Carvalho and Iver B Neumann.


On finding inspiration


Beyond thankful that my singular wish of 2015 – to see Hamilton – came true! The cast album is certainly wonderful, but the brilliance of the live experience is something I won’t soon forget. Happy to report the show exceeded my (very high) expectations and deserves every superlative.


While in NYC, K and I tried to absorb as much other inspiration as we could. ANHM and the Hayden Planetarium playfully reminded us how much more there is to the universe beyond our day jobs and research.


Piet Mondrian, Composition No. 11, with Red and Blue (1929)

MoMA was another favorite stop – I appreciated getting to see the work up close, brushstrokes and pencil guidelines and all. Coming home full of creative inspiration makes the transition back to CET and thesis writing a little less brutal. (Also: the knowledge that we flew out before the east coast shut down due to blizzard Jonas!)


Piet Mondrian, Composition No. 11, with Red and Blue (1929)

On humanization

Some great advice from the recent bell hooks interview that ran in NYT’s The Stone —

George Yancy: What should we do in our daily lives to combat, in that phrase of yours, the power and influence of white supremacist capitalist patriarchy? What can be done on the proverbial ground?

bell hooks: I live in a small, predominantly white town in the Bible Belt. Rather than saying, “What would Jesus do?” I always think, “What does Martin Luther King want me to do today?” Then I decide what Martin Luther King wants me to do today is to go out into the world and in every way that I can, small and large, build a beloved community. As a Buddhist Christian, I also think of Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh’s saying, “Let’s throw this pebble into the water, it may not go far in the beginning, but it will ripple out.” So, every day, I’m challenging myself, “What are you doing, bell, for the creation of the beloved community?” Because that’s the underground, local, insistence that I be a fundamental part of the world that I’m in. I’ve been to the Farmer’s Market, I’ve been to the church bazaar this morning. I really push myself to relate to people, that is, people that I might not feel as comfortable relating to. There are many Kentucky hillbilly white persons who look at me with contempt. They cannot turn me around. I am doing the same thing as those civil rights activists, those black folk and those white folk who sat in at those diners and who marched.

It’s about humanization. And I can’t think of another way to imagine how we’re going to get out of the crisis of racial hatred if it’s not through the will to humanize.

On conferences: the discursive construction of ‘strangers’ @ Uni Birmingham

Ruth Wodak’s lecture on the discursive construction of ‘strangers’ during a conference held by the University of Birmingham on 5.11.15:

Inclusion and exclusion of migrants and refugees are renegotiated in the European Union on almost a daily scale: ever new policies defining and restricting immigration are proposed by European member states. A return to more local policies and ideologies can be observed, on many levels: traditions, rules, languages, visions, and imaginaries are affected. I claim that we are currently experiencing a re/nationalisation in spite of (or perhaps because of) multiple globalising tendencies (Wodak 2015) as well as a normalisation of exclusionary rhetoric. Moreover, recent heated political debates across Europe, about citizenship, language tests related to citizenship and immigration, and the construction of the immigrant as ‘the post-modern stranger’, coincide with the global financial crisis, the ‘refugee crisis’, and the crisis of the welfare state. We are dealing with global and glocal developments (Wodak 2010, 2011). Post-nationalism (Heller 2011) and cosmopolitanism (Bauman 1999) have become utopian concepts. In my lecture, I will analyse recent developments in respect to immigration and asylum policies across Europe from a discourse-historical perspective, especially in respect to the current ‘refugee crisis’: The data – analysed both qualitatively and quantitatively – consist of a range of genres (focus group discussions, party programmes, TV documentaries, and election campaign materials).

see also: 95,000 words, many of them ominous, from Donald Trump’s tongue 

On what the news covers

Max Fisher over at Vox addresses the swirling accusations that the media (at large) ignores certain conflicts for others —

It would be easy to blame the media for this, to say that if only media outlets covered Beirut rather than ignoring it, the world might pay attention. I have bad news: The media does cover Beirut, just as it has been covering Lebanon’s refugee plight for years. That’s an uncomfortable truth, because rather than giving us an easy villain, it forces us to ask what our own role might be in the world’s disproportionate care and concern for one country over another.

But if that reflection leads people to express greater interest in what happens in Beirut or Abuja or Baghdad, then few will be happier than those of us in the media. We’ve been trying for years to break through reader apathy and disinterest. If we take some unfair criticisms but it gets people to finally pay attention, I think that is a trade-off every reporter on Earth would accept.

On refugees after Paris, et al.




On panel discussions: The Migrant and Refugee Crisis @ Oxford Martin School

Interesting set up, really interesting result: The Oxford Martin School hosted a panel to discuss the migrant and refugee crisis + responses and solutions.

In her six minutes to address the panel, Bridget Anderson brought up issues around victimhood, agency and morals [@35:20] —

On September the 7th in response to the so-called ‘refugee crisis in Europe ‘, David Cameron announced the extension of the Syrian Vulnerable Persons Protections scheme to operate alongside the regular asylum claim system. The UK won’t accept for resettlement people who have reached Europe or its borders, but it will accept 4000 people a year from the refugee camps bordering Syria. People who are identified as being victims of sexual violence, the elderly, the disabled, orphaned children, and so on.

So this is what a genuine refugee looks like: living in a camp, helpless, a broken body, a broken mind, a broken heart, and no control over their lives. But one of the challenges of the refugee crisis – let’s call it that for now, though I appreciate what Julien [Brachet] has said – lies in the refusal to be that deserving refugee who waits to be rescued from the camp. People are making choices to move, albeit within very constrained limitations. The reassertion of vulnerability as a sign of deservingness equates refugee with a very particular kind of victimhood that making decisions delegitimizes people’s status as victims, and therefore as a refugee. Choosing to move from Turkey, Jordan, or Lebanon, especially if you can afford to pay people to help you move suggests that you’re not somehow genuinely in need. Now of course, you all know that in practice refugees are not only helpless victims, but the broader truth is that .this determined.. focus on those who are believed to be the so-called ‘most vulnerable’ reveals that .all of our. models inevitably exclude as they include. The most vulnerable would in all likelihood not include the family of Aylan Kurdi. Even if we widen criteria to include all Syrians, we exclude all people from Afghanistan, Eritrea, and Iraq. If we widen inclusion to encompass all refugees, we exclude those attempting to cross the Mediterranean in rickety boats in order to build more sustainable lives. And this is a profound challenge to European claims to respect the moral equality of persons because we are living in a world of increasingly grotesque inequality both in terms of security and economic opportunity.

We don’t have to only think about the horrors of Syria and Iraq. Research by the World Bank has demonstrated that while in the 19th century, what determined your place in the noble hierarchy of income was basically whether you were a worker or a boss, a master or a servant. And today, this is much less important than in the state in which you live. And lets not forget that this inequality is not a natural state of affairs but has historical roots, both recent – and we heard about the disasterous foreign policy, but also as Colin [Bundy] talked about, colonialism and imperialism. Indeed, perhaps, rather than a refugee crisis confronting Europe, what we are seeing is a European crisis confronting refugees. Like the apocryphal story that  the Haitian slave revolution greeted the repressive French army by singing La Marseillaise, so some of the people walking along the motorways of Hungary and Austria are carrying the European flag. ‘We share your respect for justice, freedom, and human rights, and here we are, we belong.’

This is where the potential power of where the refugees are welcome lies. Probably like many people in this room, I went to the demonstration in Oxford that was actually just outside this very building. It was an expression of humanitarian impulse, but more than that, it was an assertion that we, the residents of Oxford in this case, but also other cities, have the moral authority to include. It shifts the ‘we’. ‘You’ might not welcome refugees, but we do. In this, it is a welcome contrast of the rejection of asylum-seekers and the demonization of non-citizens that has marked both the British and the European scene for many years. But who is the refugee we are welcoming – and to pick up on something that Cathryn [Costello] has said – does this refugee have to be a person who has the victim in premature or is it someone that we, the residents, has a genuine claim? The two are not necessarily the same. If we are welcoming the person on the road in Austria or risking the Channel tunnel in Calais, the emotional impulse must engage with the bureaucratic and legal process and move from the terrain from the moral to the political. For if refugees really are welcome, then something must be done at the European level about the Dublin system. But also at the national level. In Britain, each refugee welcomed counts against the net migration target, which is the critical measure of the government’s immigration policy’s success or failure. and if refugees really are welcome, there are plenty already in the UK and Oxford who are destitute and homeless. For we live in a country that has declared a hostile environment for unwanted migrants, including people who have been refused asylum but who cannot be returned because, despite the rejection of their asylum claims, it is acknowledged that their country of citizenship is too dangerous.

Furthermore, every refugee welcomed needs a place to live. Unfortunately, in the UK, homelessness and hunger are not confined to refugees. If the environment is to be truly welcoming for refugees, it is critical that they are not positioned as competitors for scarce resources – that is, welcoming refugees cannot be treated as an isolated social issue, and this makes it intensely political. ‘Refugees are welcome’ is indeed a very bold statement.