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borderphobias Arrow vol 1 no 1 contents
About borderlands Volume 1 Number 1, 2002

 

Borderphobias:
the politics of insecurity post-9/11


Anthony Burke
University of Adelaide

I

Borders, knowledge, categories, power – rarely have these things been so at stake as at the present time.

A time of sovereignty asserted and diffused, of borders transgressed, questioned and enforced, of violence that is exercised with uncertain justice and legal foundation, but is exercised nonetheless. A time, a world where states assert their own law, criminalise, deter and detain, and in so doing infringe international law and universal human rights. A world where capital flows across borders with rapidity and impunity but the flow of people is the subject of increasing anxiety and control. The world after September 11, of the second Palestinian Intifada, of Operations 'Enduring Freedom' and 'Defensive Shield', a world of homeland security, border protection and anti-terror. A world where terror is met with terror, where security is premised on insecurity, where the politics of fear and the inevitability of conflict - not freedom or justice - seem the only things enduring.

This, sadly, is a world made for the borderlands ejournal, and we are proud to bring you its first issue focusing on borderphobias: the treatment of refugees and asylum seekers, and the insecurity politics which has emerged to dominate western states in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of September 11. These events have brought enormous levels of organised, military violence - intensifying Israeli Defence Force (IDF) operations in Palestine, the war on Afghanistan and sabre-rattling against Iraq – but also quasi-military, normalised patterns of violence and coercion in the form of domestic security, surveillance, and the 'deterrence' of asylum seekers.

In so doing governments invoke the virtues of reason, stability and order. They claim to bring security to their people, to tame the chaos, to establish effective new modes of government that will banish disturbance and uncertainty. What they disavow, however, is their own anxiety about the way these events have disrupted the dominant categories - the discursive borders - which distinguish inside from outside, safety from fear, order from chaos, justice from injustice.

McKenzie Wark makes just this argument about the phenomenal flows of people at the present time. He reminds us that 'those who seek refuge are a critique of the limits of sovereignty…it is the rule of the border itself that every refugee challenges…it is the justice of national sovereignty itself that every asylum seeker refutes'. (2001: xix) He argues that such flows raise issues not only about refugee protection regimes and national sovereignty, but about the 'justice' of the entire global economic order:

Migration is globalisation from below. If the 'overdeveloped' world refuses to trade with the underdeveloped world on fair terms, to forgive debt, to extend loans, to lift trade barriers against food and basic manufactured goods, then there can only be an increase in the flow of people… The most telling human critique of globalisation is not the black-clad protestors in Seattle or Genoa, it is the still, silent bodies of the illegals, in ships, trucks or car boots, passing through the borders. (Wark 2001: xix)

In a similar vein we could argue that, however criminal and unjustifiable the attacks of 9/11, they undermine America's doctrines of defence and comfortable isolation, they undermine the ability of Americans to remain sanguine about the impact of their power or remote from its effects. How sad that this has been met with perversity - with absurd and dangerous plans for ballistic missile defence, the abrogation of the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) treaty and a threatened war on Iraq. This only brings us closer to the inevitable use of weapons of mass destruction and makes the globe less, rather than more, secure.

This is a time of new strategic, ontological and epistemic uncertainty. Yet instead of embracing this uncertainty as a call for a new kind of politics, the creche of radical conservatives in the Bush Administration, the Sharon Government and the Howard Cabinet shrink back to the most stale, repressive and violent responses. Their solutions only echo their antagonists and are designed to reinforce an untenable status quo: to efface the questions of ethics and justice that assert themselves with a quiet, yet irrepressible, force.

People movements, 9/11, the new Intifada: all events that raise a series of urgent, interrelated questions: of suffering and justice, of violence and policy, of law and transgression of law. But above all they raise questions of their status and narration as events: questions of categorisation, bordering, meaning, of the politics of knowledge and the epistemology of power.

II

The writings that follow all raise and interrogate these issues in various ways, beginning with Robert Hodge's startling conjunction between the attacks on America and the establishment of this journal. His point is not that they bear equal historical weight (we can hear your laughter) but that the borderlands project raises important questions about categorisation and narration; about the meaning and construction of the events in New York and Washington.

Hodge's writing on transdisciplinary knowledge helped to inspire borderlands, and he describes the journal's emergence as 'a small monster created to thrive in interstices, between and across borders' just as he had, in 1995, promoted a 'teratology of learning' - that is, the study of monsters. We should, he wrote then, 'be open to the monstrous, and 'take seriously those problems, beliefs and experiences that are annulled by a dominant discipline'. Thus 9/11, he says 'creates problems for disciplinary knowledge, since no one discipline will provide more than a fragment of what is needed'. Yet 'it also creates problems for most current forms of ‘transdisciplinary’ studies, because too many relevant ideas and information are buried in disciplinary or non-academic hiding places, not part of a ‘transdisciplinary’ formation.' (Hodge 2002: pts. 1, 11)

Suvendrini Perera, in the course of her essay on the Camp in western modernity, too raises issues of the fluid and problematic categorisations that animate a post-911 security politics. She talks of the war on terror as one of 'category confusions and bizarre doublings':

…a war where soldier, terrorist and refugee can be made indistinguishable, where victims fleeing Taliban oppression can be constructed as potential 'sleepers' for its terror, where international conventions fail to protect asylum-seekers from being criminalised as 'illegal'; a war where cluster bombs and food parcels share similar packaging; where loyal, long-term residents are denuded overnight of rights by the quaintly named 'USA-PATRIOT Act', and secret trials, forced interrogations and summary executions are re-imaged as no longer instruments of tyranny but the prerogatives of Enduring Freedom. (Perera 2002: 15)

In particular, her essay raises a question not only about how events such as terrorism or refugees seeking asylum can problematise categories and divisions, but about the way in which policy responses also wilfully do so, searching their own interstices for new repressive and disciplinary potentials. She utilises Giorgio Agamben's work to explain how the Camp appears now as a permanent 'state of exception based on considerations of 'national security' rather than criminal behaviour on the part of those imprisoned'. (Perera 2002: 9)

This state of exception, she explains, exists in the new categories of imprisoned persons named 'illegal immigrant' and 'battlefield detainee' – categories created expressly to circumvent existing legal categories like 'prisoner of war' and 'asylum seeker'. (2002) Criminality may often be alleged, but that is not longer necessary, merely the assignment of certain persons into the existential container marked 'threat' in opposition to the security of an existential fiction called 'nation', 'home', 'identity'.

That such categorisations occur under regimes of national security is no accident: as I argue in In Fear of Security, modern discourses of security have long been premised on irony, on the achievement of security for the self through the suffering and insecurity of others. While this creates an aporia within the very concept of security (given its claims to be a universal desire and value) it is nonetheless a terribly functional one. (Burke 2001, 2002: 6)

Implicit in Perera's essay is a warning about prematurely celebrating the dissolution of categories. Rather, her essay implies that it is important to understand how fluid they in practice are, even while the stability and certainty of a spatial, existential, juridical and epistemological status quo is asserted. This irony is exemplified by states that claim to strengthen and protect the nation and its identity, but draw and redraw its boundaries of location, right and belonging at whim. (Consider the Australian Government legislation which aimed to excise areas of Australia's coast from its migration zone; the legal sleight-of-hand of the 'temporary protection visa', or Israel's settlement policies in Palestine so revealingly termed the creation of 'facts-on-the-ground'.) The operation and effacement of this politics of the exception is central to modern in/security politics, and exposing it must be crucial to fighting and reversing its persuasive effects.

We are also pleased to excerpt in this issue Alain Joxe's new Semiotext[e] publication The Empire of Disorder, along with an interview he conducted with Sylvere Lotringer. Joxe too works on this register of uncertainty and category dissolution in his consideration of how we should analyse and understand the new forms of conflict that have proliferated since the end of the Cold War. Joxe's book goes well beyond such themes, but he offers a warning as relevant to the immediate post-9/11 period as it was to that which brought us the tragedies of the former Yugoslavia, Rwanda or the first Intifada. 'Our contact with chaos', he cautions, 'must not become a chance for parties on either side to cynically depoliticize or grossly simplify its implications, as a result of intellectual laziness or misinformation - as can be seen in the many examples over the past few years in the Balkans, the Mediterranean or the Caribbean.' (Joxe 2002: pt. 9) Indeed, he makes a warning doubly prophetic of the current violence our leaders insist on calling 'policy':

…the analysis of conjoining destruction today must maintain a large-scale project for peace and reject the blunt, day-by-day myopic realism of the sordid accountants of other people’s misery. The contemptuous post- or neo-colonial mindset displayed by mediocre leaders often hastens these crises towards the worst catastrophes, which they follow with a sort of Schadenfreude, a neo-Darwinian pleasure in watching others suffer, close to an ‘unconscious fascism’ valid for the exterior. (Joxe 2002: pt. 17)

III

The writings in borderphobias also raise questions of voice, speech and power - questions closely linked to the perpetuation of regimes of incarceration, belonging and exclusion. Who possesses the authority to name and categorise, to turn such categorisations into truth and power, into barbed wire, naval operations, visa categories, deportations and strip searches?

We are privileged to reproduce in this issue the testimony given by Omeima Sukkarieh & Mia Zahra to the November 2001 forum, Women reporting violence in a time of war: The silenced voices of the 'race election', held at the University of Technology Sydney. Theirs are words of extraordinary power, in the face of an unrelenting campaign of vilification of Muslim Australians by media figures. 'I am a Muslim Arab Australian Woman', they say:

I am here representing my individual views and experiences only. I speak in uncertainty, yet in necessity. I'm exhausted! I'm tired of having my tears painted by your words! I'm sick of being interrupted! I'm frustrated with having my experiences and memories manipulated! (Sukkarieh and Zahra 2002: pt. I)

Their desire not to have to speak but the necessity of speaking; their anger at misrepresentation; their wish to be present in discourse as well as in belonging and citizenship; theirs are the kinds of anxieties forced on so many non-white Australians in the current retro-racist climate. Their words are reminders that the lives of people - their experiences of being, embodiment and pain - are at stake now. They refuse to be political 'cards', or the whipping-posts of racist radio-men, and their voice, and equally their silence, has infinite power to disturb the self-satisfied space of the nation:

I stand before you...naked, wearing nothing but my voice. I will not be silenced.
Silence is my power for it keeps you guessing and drives you crazy.
(Sukkarieh and Zahra 2002: pt. I)

There is an intriguing dilemma expressed by Omeima and Mia, which is also the subject of Joseph Pugliese's challenging and disturbing essay on the phenomenon of lip-sewing in Australia's immigration prisons. To speak or be silent? If we speak, will we be heard? Listened to? Understood? And if we are not, or if we are silenced, how do we speak? Into this appalling and distressing space enters the Event of lip sewing.

For Pugliese, lip sewing must be understood as an attempt to be heard and understood in the context of 'assymetrical relations of power'; as such it is 'a tortured gesture of agency, and its pain resonates across a number of levels of signification'. How to speak, in a space where signification is colonised and controlled? How to rebel, when one's body is imprisoned and detained? Tragically, ambivalently, lip sewing enables the asylum seeker to 'exercise a degree of control over [their] fate in the context of a space that has stripped [them] of any autonomy'. (Pugliese 2002: pts. 6 & 12)

In a striking argument Pugliese directly places ultimate responsibility for this self-mutilating violence at the feet of the Australian government and its policies; indeed he argues that it must be located within the very 'corpus of the nation':

this individual act must also be read as an act that reflects back to the nation the gestures of refusal and rejection that it violently deploys in the detention, imprisonment and expulsion of refugees and asylum seekers. (Pugliese 2002: pt. 7)

Pugliese's is a powerful, controversial argument that undermines the politics of identity and otherness that the Australian Government uses to create moral distance between the asylum seeker and the citizen. Remarks such as that of Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock - that 'lip sewing is a practice unknown in our culture…something that offends the sensitivities of Australians' - reproduce what Pugliese calls an 'occulting logic' (pt. 5) which seeks to cast the perpetrators of carceral violence as its victims.

What are we to conclude from this?

Could it be that the Government that seeks to criminalise the very act of boarding a boat and seeking asylum, that seeks to punish and deter this act, that seeks through language ('illegals') to name the asylum seeker criminal before they are human, is in fact criminal itself? Viewed from the perspective of a different normative regime – international human rights law, as embodied in the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights [see Bhagwati 2002] – the Australian Government's actions and policies are criminal. Australian democracy gives encouragement and succour to a criminal state; in turn, it imagines and establishes a criminal nation.

Is this shocking? Intemperate? We assert merely that the current situation demands a few bucketfuls of ontological cold water to raise the contemporary polity from its egoistic slumber. Listen again to Omeima and Mia:

Sept. 11th events were described as 'an attack on freedom, an attack on democracy'! Whose freedom and who's definition of democracy? … You do not have to commit murder you see...to be a murderer. You have built a cage around us not realising that you have locked yourself out. (Sukkarieh and Zahra 2002: pt. II)

John Docker too echoes such calls for self-examination. In his moving 'Untimely Meditations' on the conjunction of 9/11 and the Tampa crisis, he writes of America's refusal 'to ratify important elements of evolving international law concerned with human rights and crimes against humanity'. This provokes his powerful and undeniable conclusion:

On 11 September 2001 an outlaw state was attacked by outlaws.

Australia, under the Howard-Beazley Doctrine of expulsion of refugees, is rapidly becoming an outlaw state, despised and ridiculed amongst the nations. (Docker 2002: pt. XIII)

IV

If the movement of the refugee exposes the moral bankruptcy of modern sovereignty, their demonisation and incarceration exposes a constitutive ugliness at the heart of the unity they are alleged to so threaten. In the Epilogue to In Fear of Security I suggested that 'the asylum seekers stranded aboard the Tampa, and suffering in our detention centres, stand as a living indictment of the inhumane image of being at the heart of the Australian identity'. This is not self-hatred, because I have never subscribed to such an image of being. This is self-refusal, in the spirit of Michel Foucault's suggestion that instead of attempting to 'become what we are' (a desire central to the powerful images of subjectification and consent deployed by the current politics of security) we 'refuse what we are'. (Burke 2001: 329, 306, 311-2)

To those who would find in such a call merely postmodern nihilism or self-abnegation, I would ask you to consider the thoroughly political crisis of subjectivity forced on Omeima and Mia through their struggle with the current racist politics:

The pain shrinks my body inside itself. As a result of the terror that has imposed on our space, we find ourself constantly trying to create order from the chaos that has invaded our space. Trying to redefine our reality. Trying to redefine our identity.

In creating and recreating my space, I found myself vomiting myself out...in desperation for a new self. You have dragged me by my feet on your dusty ground and each humiliation has led the onlooker to feel more indignant than fearful. (Sukkarieh and Zahra 2002: pt. V)

The onlooker, the citizen, 'more indignant than fearful': could we hope for a new mode of being which is no longer hostage to fear, which seeks no longer to exclude, demonise or repress, whose security is no longer premised on the suffering of the Other but on their welfare?

This is the import of Joseph Pugliese's concluding argument that in seeking moral superiority over the self-mutilating refugee, what the Minister and his nation betray is ethics; namely an 'ethic of hospitality' of the kind imagined by the philosopher Emmanuel Levinas. This ethics Pugliese finds in the statement by Wadjularbinna, reproduced in this issue. There the Gungalidda elder imagines a different Australia voiced in the hospitality of the Land's traditional owners:

This is a spiritual country and we are a spiritual people, we are ready to embrace other people in their need…We can't separate ourselves from other human beings - it's a duty. (Wadjularbinna 2002)

Explicit in her statement is a rejection of the Australian government's claim to speak with authority about belonging and sovereignty. She shows how the denial of Aboriginal history, trauma and self-determination are closely linked with the exclusion and detention of asylum seekers. She shows how the constitutive violence of the past is perpetuated and echoed in the constitutive violence of the present.

In a hopeful and contrast to this calculated 'politics of forgetting' (Connolly 1995: 138) Wadjularbinna proposes a different form of being which is not so much an ontology but an ethics in which violent divisions – between humans and nations, humans and ecosystems – disappear entirely. Only lines of uniqueness, connection and responsibility remain:

The refugees were coming here, to OUR country, which we as Aboriginal people have a spiritual connection to. Our culture teaches us that we are all connected, to the land and to everybody else. Our Spirit Creator and our ancient law and culture would not stand for how these refugees are being treated…Before Europeans came here (illegally) in the Aboriginal world, we were all different, speaking different languages, but we all had the same kinship system for all human beings, in a spiritual way. Our religion and cultural beliefs teaches us that everyone is a part of us and we should care about them. (Wadjularbinna 2002: pts. 4, 6)

V


We should take heart. We already possess the tools to think our way out: to understand and exercise sovereignty differently, to acknowledge the violence hidden in its arrogance to even presume to exclude in the face of human rights law, to question the link between terra nullius and 'border protection', to think of identity as connection rather than mastery, vulnerability or possession.

Which raises the question of action. How do we effect change? How should we think, argue, organise? What resources, mechanisms, ideas and tactics offer hope? What barriers stand in our way? These are issues specifically raised by two of our contributors, Ben Hoh and Robyn Lui, and borderlands would like to publish more on the issues they raise and host discussion about the very real challenges in reforming and defeating security practices and fighting racism.

Ben Hoh's piece, initially a contribution to a National Union of Students conference in July 2002, artfully challenges what he perceives to be a naïve faith in the promises of liberalism in the face of a neo-conservative attack on multiculturalism and the rule of law. He is critical of commentators such as Guy Rundle who focus not on the direct defence of minority communities under attacks from racist law and violence, but instead on the defence of 'the liberal political sphere':

[Rundle] fetishises concepts and institutions whose universalising impulses have not only been hollow but individualising, always erasing the social. Let’s be in no doubt that our rights granted under the State mean something. And yes, the disappearance of these rights is even more telling. But at best, they signify the partial gains of more radical struggles – struggles that have a racialised, social specificity. (Hoh, 2002: pt 6)

Hoh points out how racialising violence and exclusion, the legitimation of colonialism and imperialism, and the control and subjugation of Others has historically coexisted with liberalism – and how conservative inroads into individual rights rest on a deeper liberal bedrock of governmental machinery. He reminds us, as writers like Foucault had much earlier, to be suspicious of essentialist appeals to liberalism, because hidden in its promise of freedom are also systems of discipline, control and subjectification. This point he tellingly makes about a time now held up by some as a paragon of multicultural acceptance, one which in part echoes Ghassan Hage's powerful critique in White Nation (1998):

Do we just want to make the current nation-building system of multiculturalism more coherent? A system that reinforces white culture’s centrality as the tolerant controller and consumer of domesticated 'diversity'? Really, what kind of society created our concentration camps in the first place? One managed by a Federal Labor Government – let’s never ever forget that – a government that at the time was creating extensive rhetoric about a sophisticated, postmodern and multicultural republic with an 'openness to Asia'. But those coloured people who can’t quite fit into your enlightened plans for economic progress, you punish. (2002: pt. 16)

Yet it may be that Hoh's argument slips into a different kind of essentialism to Rundle, one based now in an utter loss of faith in the potential of the liberal state for change: '…we can’t rely on a liberal intelligentsia for anything. We can’t reinflate the liberal public sphere, because it has burst like a balloon. We can’t rely on our mediating institutions, our leaders, our representatives.' (Hoh, 2002: pt 25)

I understand this despair - and Hoh's argument to focus on direct defence of Mosques, migrant communities and on grassroots action makes sense – but it avoids the unavoidable fact that the immigration prisons, the anti-terror laws and the racist leadership derive their power from the party system, legislative processes and ultimately the Constitution. Change and freedom must occur there - it ought to be a focus for more intensified action, not less. Campaigning for a Bill of Rights, for a blocking of the anti-terror laws, writing submissions and letters, making phone calls, making the politicians lose a little sleep – this too must be part of the struggle. If we think we can't rely on them, it's too bad - to some extent we are forced to.

At the conclusion of her erudite and illuminating analysis of the development of the biopolitical international regime governing refugees, Robyn Lui makes a similar warning against essentialising the promises of liberalism, now in the form of International Law's Kantian pretensions to be a power-neutral container for universal values. 'I hope this historical exploration has,' she writes, 'demystified the current attraction to international law as a panacea to issues of justice and the faith in refugee agencies':

The refugee regime is made up of inter-state and non-state institutions, emergency aid assistance, handbooks and code of conduct manuals, experts, research institutions, academic publications, briefing notes, information kits, evaluations, camps and transit centres, safe havens, international laws and travel documents. Taken together, they produce a regime of truth about political life and social relations, and more directly, the nature, character, and causes of refugee movement. They legitimate certain kinds of political interactions and solutions … The question of who is included and excluded from the category of 'refugee' and the benefits of international protection is just as important as inclusion and exclusion from the nation-state community. Categorisation and characterisation of population displacement are techniques of ordering that reflect power relations and political calculations. International protection is a political act. (Lui, 2002: pt 66)

She points out, for example, that the 1951 Convention on Refugees is not an unproblematic measure of justice that can be held up as an answer to repressive state policies toward asylum seekers. She reminds us that 'the principle of non-refoulement, considered as one of the core protection mechanisms of the 1951 Refugee Convention, is the outcome of political compromises in response to the Jewish refugee problem in the 1930s'. This in turn helped generate a contradiction at the core of the Convention 'between the right of an individual to seek asylum and the absence of the obligation of a state to grant asylum'. She cautions that 'the crucial task of the international refugee regime is simply humanitarian assistance…The international refugee regime, I contend, is a set of interventions that produces norms and principles which affirms the state-citizen order.' (Lui 2002: pts 4, 5)

Hers is another salutary warning against political essentialism, to look for the trace of power in law and the entire network of institutions, norms and compromises that limit the rights of refugees and enable their confinement and management (at the same time as it claims to protect them). The 1951 Convention creates ambiguities which can be easily exploited by states who want to avoid their (ethical, if not legal) obligations, and it does not preclude the use of mechanisms of deferred exclusion like the Temporary Protection Visa.

This does not, however, allow us to avoid the responsibility to seek improvements in international law relating to refugees - especially in the face of the fact that states like Australia and Britain sought to further weaken the Convention at the inter-governmental meeting of the Convention parties in Geneva in December 2001. (Achiron 2001) Against British and Australian complaints that the Convention unfairly obliges them to assess every claim for asylum, Marilyn Achiron suggests that it actually needs improvement in a number of areas:

- the test of 'persecution', which often excludes those fleeing civil war, famine and societal breakdown, and excludes violence from bandits and militias;
- the way it is applies only to individuals rather than masses of people;
- the fact that it involves no clear obligations on the part of states to admit asylum seekers so that they can make a claim; and
- its failure to include gender-violence in the persecution test or deal with the problems of internally displaced persons. (Achiron 2001)

This list affirms Lui's warning against a naïve faith in international law - but we should also remember that the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention on the Rights of the Child strongly suggest that the indefinite detention of refugees (and especially the detention of children) is illegal. (Bhagwati 2002: pt 42; Burke 2001: 327) Such law still provides a resource, and pressure to encode and enforce such obligations in national law should also be a priority.

Lui and Hoh remind us that liberalism – historical and contemporary, national and international – is the outcome of compromises and power struggles. But there is more than one kind of liberalism: repressive laws are often enacted under regimes of Utilitarian liberalism which is strongly opposed to notions of human rights and universal values. (This philosophical superstructure is what enabled, for example, both the Howard Government's conservative 'backlash' and the Australian Labor Party's regime of disciplinary and exclusionary multiculturalism [Burke 2001: 159-222, 265-321].)

Can a contrasting rights-based liberalism help us? Is it worth fighting for? At such a point, Angela Mitropoulos presses further into an interrogation of the historical aporia that lies at the centre of modern notions of human rights. She reminds us that:

advocates of human rights cannot avoid the fact that human rights rely on a sphere of determination (for historical reasons, the nation-state) that, from the beginning, was less the assertion of human rights in any universalisable and inclusive sense than the inauguration of a power to grant rights and not to grant them according to a particular division: citizen/non-citizen. (2001: 52)

Like Lui, she reminds us that 'the UN's various conventions and protocols, far from providing a place for a universal humanity, secure the right of nation-states to discriminate'. (2001: 52) Such a situation is probably unavoidable, and the existence of the Universal Declaration, the International Criminal Court, and of the UN's human rights machinery (terribly flawed in the case of the Commission, and fearless in the case of the former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson) are still seemingly miraculous if frustratingly weak constraints on the sovereign power of violence and exclusion.

The privilege granted to sovereignty, national interests and state power under the doctrine of utilitarianism only makes such a situation worse, but natural rights concepts are still going to be constrained within utilitarian superstructures of citizenship and subjectivity as 'interest'. (Burke 2001: 282). This point Mitropoulos makes when she questions Don McMaster's reluctance to develop an understanding of how so much migration policy discriminates on the basis of the person-as-commodity. (McMaster 2001: 162; Mitropoulos 2001: 54) Such a commodification is visible in Australia's broader immigration policy and evokes Bauman's (1987) analysis of such a new de-valuation of humans under regimes of neo-liberal exploitation and control. The struggle for human rights must be joined by a struggle against the bio-political - and bio-economic - valuation of the human-as-citizen.

There is no doubt more debate to be had on how we ground an effective universal discourse (and concept) of human rights without, as Mitropoulos warns, 'delegating this ability to recognise another's humanity away to transcendental authorities whose structures presuppose alienation'. (2001: 55)

It may be that we should shift our understanding of universality away from its 'ground' and on to its implementation, codification and practice (where it must grow or founder in any case). Feminist and Levinasian efforts to think identity and sovereignty differently - as ethics and connection - form part of this escape route, as do Foucauldian injunctions to understand universal claims to reason or justice at the level of tactics, and regimes of truth and power. (Diprose 1994; Gatens 1996; Foucault 1988; Burke 2001: 307-21) In short, any effort to make human rights universal must tackle both the metaphysical (sovereignty) and concrete (discipline) power to define, control and limit the human subject.

There is still value in pushing for a rights-based liberalism, but one stripped of its essentialist gloss. Perhaps what we should seek is a postmodern liberalism, sensitive to difference and attuned to the political manoeuvring, the myriad tactics and compromises of power: a non-metaphysical liberality, an ethos of freedom that begins with the responsibility to others rather than the security of ourselves.

VI

Sadly along with this – the deconstruction of the border, the call to ethics, the creation of new spaces of human responsibility and interconnection – comes the despair we associate with politics. A politics soaked in the rhetoric of fear, pervaded by technologies of security and intent on defending ever more rigid categories with a senseless and barely rational violence.

I remain haunted by the polls that were released during the week of the Tampa crisis, which suggested that upwards of 70 per cent of voters supported the decision to exclude the ship from Australian waters and to imprison asylum seekers indefinitely. The entire globe should be haunted by the electoral popularity of George W. Bush. (Hodge 2002: pt. 38) How is it that citizens cheer the exclusion, punishment and repression of Others while so compliantly watching as their civil rights are eroded, possibly forever? Why is that neo-liberals like Howard can so effectively garnish the votes of disaffected long-term unemployed with rhetorics of punishment, certainty and security, in a bizarre reversal of Zygmunt Bauman's (1997: 21) diagnosis of post-modern uncertainty and the making of strangers? Who is reading whom?

This challenge - of reaching those whose political subjectivities provide a powerful framework of consent for punishment and exclusion - has not been met, and it will not go away. How to reach them? How to communicate? How to change convictions which now seem to reach into the very core and structure of their existence?

I think of two films of recent years, The Sixth Sense and The Others. In both of those films we encounter two worlds within one: a world of the dead and a world of the living. Even though the dead and the living inhabit the same world, they cannot communicate or touch. The dead strain to be heard, but can only make their presence felt as a disturbance, a breath of cold in the homes of the living.

At this time, in this post-9/11 world, we are the dead.

We can see the suffering around us, the suffering that makes the world of the living possible. We are the breath of cold in the illusory warmth of the national 'home'. And we must find a way across the barrier, to reach those who live and govern the living but have made life into a thing to be bartered and sold at will, who barter life against suffering and call it security.

It could be as simple as the saying, 'walk a mile in my shoes'. The living should learn to die a little; the dying deserve a breath of life, the oxygen of freedom.

VII

This borderlands issue also sets a hopeful precedent in its collaboration of writers and editors. Suvendrini Perera was crucial to the development of this issue, commissioning work from and liaising with many of the contributors. She has helped to assemble a wonderful diversity of voices, experiences and perspectives who are working within and between the boundaries of various lives and institutions: former asylum seekers and immigration detainees; Aboriginal elders; community workers; political activists; younger intellectuals and senior academics; artists and poets. We hope this kind of diversity and collaboration will continue, and that we can build interaction with the borderlands readership through our discussion list and by publishing their contributions.

I would also like to thank a range of others for their help with this issue and with the development of borderlands: Jenny Millea, who designed and built the website, and patiently coached me through the intricacies of Dreamweaver™; Nick Harvey, Caroline Doust and Clement Macintyre in the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences at the University of Adelaide, who facilitated the hosting of the website; and for their assistance with advice, content and permissions Bruce Buchan, Stephen Muecke, Anthony Langlois, Pal Ahluwalia, Sylvere Lotringer, Chris Kraus, Andrew Jakubowicz, John Docker, Ann Curthoys, Ien Ang, Barry Hindess and Jindy Pettman.

We hope you enjoy this issue, want to argue with it, respond to it and tell others about it. It forms part of an ever-widening, interconnecting 'rhizome' - pull on a strand, there is someone there.


Anthony Burke is the publisher of the borderlands ejournal, and currently works as a lecturer in politics at the University of Adelaide. He has published fiction in Meanjin (4/1995) and essays on security, ethics, Indonesia, Australia and warfare in Alternatives, Communal/Plural, Pacifica Review and Postmodern Culture. His book In Fear of Security: Australia's Invasion Anxiety was published by Pluto Press Australia in November 2001.



Bibliography

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Bhagwati, P. N. (2002), Human Rights and Immigration Detention in Australia: report of the Mission to Australia 24 May to 2 June 2002 (Geneva: United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights).

Burke Anthony (2001), In Fear of Security: Australia's Invasion Anxiety (Annandale: Pluto Press Australia).

_________ (2002), "Aporias of Security", Alternatives: Global, Local, Political, Vol. 27 No. 1, pp 1-27.

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Docker, John (2002), 'Untimely Meditations: The Tampa and the World Trade Centre' borderlands ejournal, Vol 1 No 1 August. <http://www.borderlandsejournal.adelaide. edu.au/issues/ vol1no1_2002/docker2.html>

Gatens, Moira (1996), Imaginary Bodies: Ethics Power and Corporeality (London: Routledge).

Hage, Ghassan (1998), White Nation: Fantasies of White Supremacy in a Multicultural Society (Annandale: Pluto Press Australia).

Hodge, Robert (2002), 'Monstrous Knowledge in a World Without Borders', borderlands ejournal, Vol 1 No 1 August. <http://www.borderlandsejournal.adelaide.edu.au/ issues/vol1no1_2002/hodge_monstrous.html>

Hoh, Ben (2002), 'We Are All Barbarians: Racism, Civility and the War on Terror', borderlands ejournal, Vol 1 No 1 August. <http://www.borderlandsejournal.adelaide.edu.au/ issues/vol1no1_2002/hoh_barbarians.html>

Lui, Robyn (2002), 'Governing Refugees 1919-1945', borderlands ejournal, Vol 1 No 1 August. <http://www.borderlandsejournal.adelaide.edu.au/issues/vol1no1_2002 /lui_governing.html>

McMaster, Don (2001), Asylum Seekers: Australia's Response to Refugees (Melbourne University Press).

Mitropoulos, Angela (2001), 'The Barbed End of Human Rights', Overland No. 164, pp 51-55.

Perera, Suvendrini (2002) 'What is a Camp?', borderlands ejournal, Vol 1 No 1 August. <http://www.borderlandsejournal.adelaide.edu.au/issues/vol1no1_2002/ Sukkarieh_silence.html>

Pugliese, Joseph (2002), 'Penal Asylum: Refugees, Ethics, Hospitality', borderlands ejournal, Vol 1 No 1 August. <http://www.borderlandsejournal.adelaide.edu.au/issues/ vol1no1_2002/pugliese.html>

Sukkarieh, Omeima & Zahra, Mia (2002), 'Silence that Speaks and Dreams that Cry' borderlands ejournal, Vol 1 No 1 August. <http://www.borderlandsejournal.adelaide. edu.au/issues/ vol1no1_2002/sukkarieh_silence.html>

Wadjularbinna (2002), 'A Gungalidda grassroots perspective on refugees
and the events in the US', borderlands ejournal, Vol 1 No 1 August. <http://www.borderlands ejournal.adelaide.edu.au/ issues/vol1no1_2002/wadjularbinna.html>

Wark, McKenzie (2001), 'Preface' to Anthony Burke, In Fear of Security: Australia's Invasion Anxiety (Annandale: Pluto Press Australia).

The URL for this document is:
http://www.borderlandsejournal.adelaide.edu.au/vol1no1_2002/ burke_phobias.html

© borderlands ejournal 2002

 

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