This article from Le Monde Diplomatique provides us a mirror image of the Looking Glass of lies and repression we call “immigration policy” in the Good Ole U.S. of A. Developments in Berlusconi’s Italia seem to prove one of the main theses behind this blog: that immigrants provide the state with the perfect excuse with which to pass authoritarian legislation that impacts the larger, non-immigrant populace. Consider how the Italian state is using the more than 150,000 Roma and Sinti people throughout the former fascista state
“In Rome, police in battle dress have evacuated Gypsy settlements and prevented children from going to school, and the city’s rightwing mayor, Gianni Alemanno, is having fingerprints taken of those who remain. In Milan, Silvio Berlusconi’s government has appointed a “commissioner extraordinary for the Roma emergency” and enforced ID checks for people entering their camps. In Naples, the police charged a settlement with Molotov cocktails, forcing families to flee; the faces of the terrified children were seen on television screens around the country that evening.”
The policies, language and generalized terror inspired by these policies harken back to a previous period, but would not be so foreign to undocumented migrants living in towns like Hazleton, Pennsylvania or Postville, Iowa. In both cases, the high-profile (ie; Italy’s Berlusconi, owner of much of Italy’s media, networks government actions with private sector media spin) actions of government take us beyond the lethargic and long-held explanations of too many well-intentioned, but dangerously naive “immigrant rights activists” in the U.S.: that immigrants are scapegoats; that immigration is a wedge issue that eases up after each election cycle. Such faulty thinking fails to consider the crisis of economic stability and political legitimacy that has, for many years, fundamentally altered the role of most governments and heads of state in this dizzyingly chaotic world system. And, as a result, we here in the U.S. fail to critique what’s happening around immigration with the broader lens used by people like the mayor of Venice, Massimo Cacciari, who said, “If they (the government) continue like that, they’ll be a threat to democracy.”
As the political and economic crisis upon us unfolds into what all economists agree will be a long (2-3 year or much, much more) downturn, we should expect and prepare for the even greater repressive measures unleashed by a political and economic system in severe decline, measures that, on the surface appear to target migrants, but that, in fact, have a much larger populace in the cross hairs of the state. Speaking of gypsies, migrants and other stateless and displaced peoples, philosopher Hannah Arendt, gave us a warning back in 1943 in her short essay, “We Refugees”,
“For him (the refugee) history is no longer a closed book, and politics ceases to be the privilege of the Gentiles. He knows that the banishment of the Jewish people in Europe was followed immediately by that of the majority of the European peoples. Refugees expelled from one country to the next represent the avant-garde of their people.”
As many of you may know, Arendt went on to pen her most prescient and popular work, The Origins of Totalitarianism, in no small part thanks to her studies of the effects on and actions against some of society’s most vulnerable groups: Jews, migrants and gypsies. In our time of perpetual war, economic devastation and unprecedented problems of political legitimacy, let us take note of what history tells us is the coming crush
And we should also remember what Arendt told us about how totalitarian practices survive the death of more blatantly totalitarian states like those of Nazi Germany and the former Soviet Union. More than any time in memory, I think we need to find the language and words appropriate to describe the morphing monster of a system that is ours, which combines human, democratic space with the many-headed hydra of repression we see normalized on our TV sets and browsers with a frequency found in old-school propaganda and in sci-fi flicks. In addition to holding little analytical value, screeching “fascism” won’t do much beyond deadening the mind and closing the heart to political cliches. The monster of our government feeds off of the dead. All the more reason to create the kind of living, critical language that must be part of any antidote to the crisis upon us.