Adonis Diaries

Posts Tagged ‘Migration

Migration is a fundamental human right:

Mankind basic acquired law since his inception

I believe in a human right to migration, as fundamental as the right to freedom of expression, or freedom from discrimination on the grounds of gender, race, religion or sexuality.

I have come by this belief by migrating myself. (I’m inclined to prefer the terms migrant and migration to immigrant and immigration: the latter two seem to privilege the country of arrival; every immigrant is also an emigrant, and migrant encompasses both.)

Mohsin Hamid:

why migration is a fundamental human right

Born in Pakistan and educated in the US, Mohsin Hamid has made a home in the UK. He explains why he longs for a world without borders

Mohsin Hamid

Mohsin Hamid in Lahore, Pakistan.

I was born in Pakistan. And I live in Pakistan. But when I was three I moved with my parents to Silicon Valley in California. I returned to Pakistan when I was nine for a decade, then spent most of my 20s on America’s east coast and most of my 30s in London.

I possess a British passport and once possessed an American green card.

My life has come full circle, geographically speaking. Twice.

Most of my education has been in the American system. I suspect this has contributed to my discomfort with a great deal of what I see practised around me in Pakistan.

I have friends who are non-Muslim; non-Muslims are legally persecuted here.

I have friends who are gay; homosexuality is legally proscribed here.

An African friend once told me after visiting that Pakistan was among the most blatantly racist places he had ever been.

Pakistani laws discriminate against women.

Pakistani courts fail to deliver any semblance of due process. Pakistani presidents are frequently unelected generals. My largely American-educated self is continually brimming with disappointment.

Yet my largely American-educated self is profoundly disappointed by America, too.

This is partly because the US’s bellicose excesses in foreign policy become more visible the closer you are to where American bombs are hitting the ground. But it is also because I studied American history with American teachers and American law with American professors.

From them I learned about manifest destiny, the notion that Americans were destined to migrate west until they had settled the entire continent; about the melting pot, uniting people of all races, ethnicities and creeds into one nation; about a country of immigrants, with this poem by Emma Lazarus inscribed at the base of its Statue of Liberty:

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon- hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest- tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Migration and equality are intertwined at the heart of the US’s story of itself.

As the vast migration to America continued, this story goes, the equality offered by America grew. So it was that the US Declaration of Independence could declare only “that all men are created equal”, but a century and a half later, women too would be granted the vote.

So it was that the US Constitution could openly tolerate slavery, but within one century slavery would be outlawed – and within a second some of slavery’s most toxic residues would be partially mitigated by the famed civil rights movement of the 1960s, the decade before my birth.

And yet, in my lifetime, as someone who has often lived in America, I could see, more and more, a new category of person there, neither slave nor free.

They were everywhere and they numbered in their millions: illegal immigrants.

How, I wondered, was such a thing possible? Surely all Americans were immigrants. Yet legally, it now seemed, not all immigrants were Americans, and as the caste of “illegals” swelled in the closing years of the 20th century and initial years of the 21st, the overall inequality of American society began to grow, too.

If the US distances itself from the human right of migration, the tenor of the dominant story of America changes.

For America’s story is also, frighteningly, a story about the genocide of the pre-Columbian population, a story about the importation of disenfranchised underclasses, initially from Africa and more recently from Latin America, and a story about the quest for unrivalled economic and military dominance around the world.

Such a revised story sits uncomfortably with those equality aspiring institutions that America already has.

This has inevitably led to a crisis. And this crisis helps explain why America is flailing today: America has become incoherent.

An America that denies the human right of migration can no longer be the America it imagines itself to be, because it can no longer champion equality. It can no longer claim to be exceptional. It can no longer believe in being its own best self.

America’s greatest hope lies where it always has: with the homeless, tempest-tossed to that golden door.

And migration is the half-forgotten core of Britishness as well. I migrated to the UK 13 years ago, not expecting to remain long. I thought I would experience London for a year, then return to New York.

But I found London remarkably open to migrants, to dissent, to creativity. I stayed for the better part of a decade, becoming a naturalised citizen in the process. I made a home for myself in Britain, wrote a novel there, worked in business there, got married there, had a child there.

Anti-migrant sentiment was always present, but for a while in the early noughties it seemed it was waning, that a new, more cosmopolitan Britain was being born.

Alas, times have changed.

Sovereignty seems to be the rage in Britain these days. But this sovereignty, at its heart, is imagined not merely as more rights for people in Britain, but as more rights for those whose ancestors have been in Britain longer.

In nativist-sovereign Britain, the plumber of Bulgarian citizenship is a plausible candidate for expulsion. In nativist-sovereign Britain, the British woman with Bangladeshi parents is a problem to be solved.

Surely the dangers of such an outlook are self-evident.

What becomes of Northern Ireland under such a concept of sovereignty?

What becomes of Scotland, which has been ruled from London for less time than England has?

What of the migrant-peopled dominions of Gibraltar and the Falklands?

Treating nativist sovereignty as a virtue, and migration as a crime, threatens to make the United Kingdom dysfunctional.

For Britain, too, is a land of migration, indeed of extreme migration. Without migration, the human population of these and all other islands would be zero.

Without migration, the English language would not exist.

There would be no Commonwealth without migration – no Canada, no Australia, no New Zealand – for without migration there would have been no empire.

And without the British empire there would be precious little of the accumulated wealth and knowledge underpinning the industries on which the British economy is now based.

But as a British person who reads the press of my own (British) country, I encounter a sadly predictable narrative. It sums up the last couple centuries of world history as follows. When a Briton goes abroad, he or she is a hero. When someone else tries to come to Britain, he or she is a villain.

It is not a take on history that suggests future greatness. It suggests instead a retreat into fear and insularity. It deserves more robust challenges than it has received thus far.

The deepest threat Britain faces comes not from migration. It comes from the relentless transfer of wealth and opportunity from the poor and middle class to the wealthy, a transfer masked and rendered temporarily palatable by the chest-thumping of resurgent nationalism and the paper gains of credit-fuelled property prices.

Britain and America are by no means unique in denying the human right to migration. All wealthy democracies do much the same. China and some other countries even restrict the migration of their citizens within their own borders.

This problem must be addressed. The scale of migration we will see in the coming centuries is likely to dwarf what has come before. Climate change, disease, state failure, wars: all these will push hundreds of millions, perhaps billions, to leave one country for another.

If we do not recognise their right to move, we will be attempting to build an apartheid planet where our passports will be our castes, and where obedience will be enforceable only through ever-increasing uses of force.

There is another way. We can recognise the human right to migration. We can recognise that we are ourselves, all of us, doubly migrants. We are migrants historically: our ancestors came from somewhere else, and originated, long ago, in the same spot in Africa.

And we are migrants personally: life is the experience of moving through time, of abandoning each present moment for the next, of temporal migration.

Acknowledging this, we can accept that we have no right to forbid or stigmatise migration. We have only the power to try to do so. And we ought to endeavour to use that power as little as we can manage, less and less over time, for we are using it to deny the human rights of others.

It is we, those who stop migration, who are the criminals, not those who are migrants.

And slowly, at a pace that does not terrify us, but whose direction is clear, we must gradually let go, and allow things to change. Only in doing so can we hope to build a world in accordance with the values we claim to believe in – liberty, equality, democracy – and wash clean the taste of hypocrisy that burns so bitter in so many of our mouths.

I imagine that centuries hence, when people are finally free to move as they please around the planet Earth, they will look back at this moment and wonder, just as we wonder about those who kept slaves, how people who seemed so modern could do such things to their fellow human beings, caging them like animals – merely for wanting to wander, as our species always has and always will.

Mohsin Hamid’s Discontent and Its Civilizations: Dispatches from Lahore, New York and London is published by Hamish Hamilton on Thursday at £16.99.

Bi-Weekly Report (#11) on the Middle East and Lebanon (February 19, 2009)

            The Sudanese author Al Tayyeb Saleh died in London this Wednesday at the age of 80; he had cancer.  I reviewed one of his books “Seasons of Migration to the North” which received so far more than 180 hits before it was surpassed last week by my review of the biography of Al Waleed Bin Talal.

            The theocratic Saudi regime has undergone an “artificial” skin shedding re-structuring of its government posts.  The media claim that the Saudi Monarch is moderating the religious leaders of the Wahhabi sect; he appointed 150 members to the “Shoura” (an assembly of theologian versed in the Islam laws).  Maybe it is a first step re-organization before some changes in the Ministry of the Interior and the National Security administrations.  

Saudi Arabia had launched in the last three decades vast proselytizing campaigns of the Wahhabi sect in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sudan, and Egypt.  Extremist Islam is the trademark of the Najd sect mainly funded by the Saudi regime and applied by Al Qaeda, Taliban, and the Somali Moslem regime.  They tried to infiltrate Lebanon via the city of Tripoli but were crushed in the Nahr Al Bared Palestinian refugees’ camp by the Lebanese army. With the advent of a new era in the USA and the serious willingness of Obama to negotiate with Iran then Saudi Arabia is scrambling to put up a face of a viable and sustainable regime to deal with in the region.

            The Ambassador of Saudi Arabia in Lebanon, Al Shaer, was made Minister of the Media.  There are strong rumors in Lebanon that Al Shaer had “fishy financial transactions” with the Hariri clan and our Seniora P.M.   Seniora stated that he used the cash money aid of Saudi Arabia for the reconstruction of South Lebanon as collateral for borrowing money; go figure, using cash as collateral to borrow money!

            That many foreign officials, who overstayed in their positions in Lebanon, ended up learning the trade of financial embezzlements and bribery is no news. The Syrian mandated officials in Lebanon, for over 15 years, learned the trade and almost wrecked havoc to the Syrian economy.  Before the Syrian, the Israeli army had to retreat quickly to the southern strip in Lebanon because hashish transactions and arms selling business flourished enormously among the Israel Defense Force.  No wonder that the stoned Israeli soldiers were no match to the clean, sober, and decided Lebanese resistance forces.

            The people of Gaza are waiting for an agreement among the political factions for the entrances normal re-opening to traffic.  It appears that Israel is unwilling to come to an agreement before its government is formed; the latest election did not produce any clear cut winner and no single party has enough power to decide for peace; all that Israel is capable of doing is engaging in more of the useless offensive wars for internal benefits among the political parties.  Hamas has shown enough flexibility but Egypt has proven to be just a mediator with no will or capability to impose any change on any of the belligerent parties until Obama makes up his mind.

            Parliamentary election is priority on the mind of the Lebanese politicians.  The Hariri clan has already paid for chartered airplane prior to June 7 for expatriates.  Millions are earmarked for the election though every politician agrees that the difference in seats between the government and the opposition alliances will not exceed three deputies out of a total number of 120 deputies. Saad Hariri is visiting the Sunni Arab States and submitting his obedience, especially Egypt as the vanguard of the Sunni power and dominance.

The real battlefield in the election is in the Christian districts.  The government alliances want to recoup the Christian majority seats off the Change and Reform Movement (Tayyar) of General Aoun who offered critical internal credibility to Hezbollah.  The one special district is the Christian Metn district where the government wants to discredit the dominance of the Tayyar of General Aoun.  The Phalange (Kataeb) is joining with Michel Murr (two major electoral forces in Metn).  Michel Murr is saying that the Tayyar barely contributed 10,000 votes for a total of 50,000 votes to win; that he let the Tayyar win the Metn district and then they discarded his opinions in the last four years and thus this fight is “kasser athem” (bone breaking). 

The last election to fill the vacancy of late deputy Pierre Gemayel was a close call to the Tayyar; the Armenian voter made the difference. During the defeat speech, the ex-President Amine Gemayel (the candidate) alienated the Armenian voter even further by branding this “minority” as essentially not Lebanese patriot.  Michel Murr gave his supporters the choice; the majority of his supporters favored the leader of the Phalange Amine Gemayel.  The other district is Baabda with sizeable Druze voters; in the last election Hezbollah’s Shiaa voters made the difference because it was then allied to the government coalition and thus, permitted Walid Jumblatt to make a clean sweep of both districts of Baabda/Aley and the Choof.

Senator (D) John Kerry visited Damascus, Beirut, Gaza, and Israel.  What I heard from Kerry is that Bush Junior was not wrong in his Middle Eastern policies and that the Obama Administration has no plans to review these policies. According to Kerry, the only fault of Bush Junior is for not starting with political negotiations but to sending out Powell and Ramsfeld to dictate the US policies to the regional leaders through a short list of “do and don’t do”. 

Either Obama is using up these stupid democrats in the higher echelon of the Democratic Party and burning out their credibility or he is indeed comfortable with a bunch of lame outdated Democratic leaders.  Either way, the Obama Administration is on the path of fishy decisions that will inefficiently consume the better part of his four years first tenure.

Note: I have updated my About.




May 2023

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