To go on means going from here, means finding me, losing me, vanishing and beginning again, a stranger first, then little by little the same as always, in another place, where I shall say I have always been, of which I shall know nothing, being incapable of seeing, moving, thinking, speaking, but of which little by little, in spite of these handicaps, I shall begin to know something, just enough for it to turn out to be the same place as always, the same which seems made for me and does not want me, which I seem to want and do not want, take your choice, which spews me out or swallows me up, I’ll never know, which is perhaps merely the inside of my distant skull where once I wandered, now am fixed, lost for tininess, or straining against the walls, with my head, my hands, my feet, my back, and ever murmuring my old stories, my old story, as if it were the first time.
-Samuel Beckett, The Unnamable
When I was a child my mother once told me that if ever I found myself being raped, an effective tactic of resistance is to remain immobile in the event that the attacker has reached the point of carrying through the act of penetration. This recollection, coupled with Samuel Beckett’s quote from his novel The Unnamable may be a product of the stream of events laid bare these summer months in Greece. The dismal reality haunting Greece is that it has been unlawfully, forcibly and without consent; suffering through having to accept (what is purported to be) a compulsory line of measures, which have, time and again, proven to strip the country dry of any remaining attribute of sovereignty. It is the issue of the State’s forceful imposition of rightlessness and otherness onto certain subjects that I would like to draw attention to in this piece. More importantly, I would like to submit cases of ‘othering’ from several spheres of society. i.e. how the state can ‘other’ a country, a human being, a politician.
It would be no overstatement to identify the character’s musings in Beckett’s aforementioned quote from his novel The Unnamable, as being analogous to that of a rightless being, a character whose testimony renders their unsystematic nature. A character who could be one of the hundreds of thousands, namely Syrian and Afghani human beings who have entered Greece in a bid to escape visibly and physically concrete, brutal and merciless conditions from their place of origin. In Athens, a sizeable assemblage of these people temporarily accommodated themselves, putting tents up in Pedion tou Areos Park under 40 degree Celsius weather and merciless conditions.
Fariah, a 25-year-old woman from Afghanistan, her brother, husband, four year old son and two year old daughter, are some of the people who had settled at the Park. They relocated to Eleonas neighborhood where the government is providing temporary facilities, i.e. shelter, electricity, water, showers. Today, Fariah and her family are in Austria and aim to reach Sweden. Fariah and her family are another example to the hundreds of thousands of families in similar circumstances.
A short-lived encounter with Fariah is what triggered my current attempt to try and examine the circumstance Fariah has found herself in; as a political subject and presumed ‘other’ whose supposed political deadlock appears to challenge (and/or threaten) to expose the fabrication of what are accepted to be, ‘Universal’ Human Rights in what is otherwise a de-humanizing pluriverse1.
On December 10th, 1948, in Paris, fifty Member States took part in the United Nations General Assembly, drafting the final version of what today is known as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Debatably, one of the most ironic pieces of text that has captured the attention of a sum of thinkers, many of whom have dedicated their lives to creating notable pieces of inquiry investigating the paradoxes posed in the ‘Universal’ Declaration of Human Rights. A declaration that was drafted following the atrocities of the Second World War whose purpose is said to have been to protect and avoid the recurrence of such massive acts of violence. This summer, it has become increasingly evident that rhetoric, coupled with the rule of law, is more often than not, staged in such a way so as to cater to the services of the ruling classes.
One cannot help but pose the question of whether or not it is possible to use the rule of law and the justice system for the benefit of society? It has been encouraging and refreshing to see people using their knowledge in jurisprudence and the justice system for the benefit of humanity. I specifically have in mind a person in the government who since her elected post on February 6th, 2015 as the Speaker of the Hellenic Parliament, has drawn attention from many with her tireless efforts to promote what is possibly the single, most crucial vocation the SYRIZA government could have occupied itself with while it was still in power. Zoi Konstantopoulou, has a critical role in the formation of the Truth Committee on the Greek Public Debt, calling on international law, regulations, and agreements to act responsibly on the issue of Greece’s subjugation to the Troika measures as well as to bring to the forefront the illegal aspects pertaining to the debt and sequentially take into serious consideration the Greek debt cancelation. Zoi Konstantopoulou is the woman in the Greek parliament who adamantly and persistently uses the rule of law to implement and demand (from international powers that be as well as Greek parliamentary participants) a just system in what is known to be a deeply, historically misogynistic and corrupt Greek government.
It has been interesting and terrifying to witness how fast elements in Greek society have tried to scapegoat and dismiss Kostantopoulou and her unyielding drive in attempting to confront a polluted system via the use of petty, superficial remarks in an attempt to render her as (in the words of most politicians, media personas, reporters and a good handful of society) a “crazy and emotionally unstable lady”.
Conscious of the risks too much theorizing can have at the expense of the current, very concrete humanitarian crisis, I think it would be noteworthy to mention some statements from thinkers whose work my limited of knowledge self, has encountered.
“The protector decides who the enemy is by virtue of the eternal relation of protection and obedience.”2 Is a line scooped up from Carl Schmitt’s The Concept of the Political; my understanding of the statement is that, if the State were to be regarded as the ‘chosen’ ‘protector’; the degree of protection is realized in relation to the subject, to the extent that the subject complies with the state’s desires. Jacques Rancire, in his critique of the ambiguous, paradoxical nature manifested in the relationship of the bequeathed and the bearer of rights, articulates Schmitt’s account of political authority when in his essay Who is the Subject of the Rights of Man? He says that political authority “finds its principle in the state of exception, meaning that sovereign power is the power to decide on the state in which normal legality is suspended…that the law hinges on a power of decision that is outside of law.”3 In other words, the influence of authority is dependent on a source that is outside of its conviction. State power therefore defines itself through projecting rights (as well as removing rights) onto (and from) a (supposed) specific body of people.
The challenges Fariah and her family are facing together with so many other families seeking refuge in Greece and elsewhere are the subjects which political authority has positioned in a state of exception, in a bid to have its power validated. Furthermore their struggle is magnified due to the fact that Greece is in a state of exception itself (i.e. austerity measures). It is in this moment at which Greece and the rest of the world is called to be cautious of the fundamental significance of the Human Life.
In her early works, Hannah Arendt would argue that denationalization is the process of ostracizing inhabitants from all human communities. The condition of absolute “rightlessness,” Arendt argues is established before one is given the right to live. These new forms of statelessness are on the level of the abject, or the literalness of “sheer” or “mere” life. Today, it is vital to be reminded that the process of making individuals stateless was the basis for the rise of totalitarian politics (Jews were first stripped of their citizenship, before being marched to extermination camps). A politics in which the notion of individuality and the human will is decimated and replaced by a total domination of the state.
What happens however when the condition of rightlesness is employed to such a degree where by the mere physicality of the rightless being, where their life’s becoming, is perceived as an absolute threat? What does one do when one realizes that being born does not guarantee our bodies the phenomenological relationship with the soil the soles of our feet stand on?
Daily reports on clusters of human beings found dead, (these past weeks hundreds have drowned off the Libyan coast from a boat carrying what is reported to have been 500 people as well as the 71 people found suffocated to death in a truck in Austria and children’s drowned bodies are found washed ashore); are unveiled in the news while the internet world hovers over images depicting the humanitarian demise, as the Mediterranean is converted into its main graveyard.
Before bidding Fariah and her family farewell, I found myself in the oblivious and insensible position, asking Fariah, “will you be okay?” As the words uttered themselves out of my mouth and sequentially the question was completed; images of bodies scored by barbed wire, mined and electrified boarder fences, checkpoints, Identity papers, bombings, famine, death, and, in the midst of it all, children: orphaned, homeless, abandoned… washed ashore; jolted into my thoughts. The politically correct, ‘first world,’ Westerner inside me was asking a family bereft of their most basic Human Rights whether or not they, “will be okay?” I was quickly silenced by the tragic absurdity of my own foolish question.
A while after parting with the family I re-visited a book I had read while still a student called A Desert Named Peace (the violence of France’s empire in the Algerian Sahara, 1844-1902) where, through analyzing the violence in France and Algeria, Benjamin Claude Brower talks of situations in which violence is masked through posing itself in various logical forms. Early on in the book, Brower traces the origin of the word’s meaning back to the French 13th century definition of violence, said to mean “the abuse of force.” He then expands its meaning to state that violence “is force that injures living beings and ideas, or damages property, conveying the original sense of abuse.” He later says:
We live with a degree of violence today that has become ubiquitous, pushed into people’s lives both as a result of events, conflicts accompanying the global redistribution of power following the Cold War, and because—yet again—violence and its rhetoric yields valuable political currency both for those holding power and those contesting it.
(Brower, A Desert Named Peace;[x])
Brower’s positioning of violence is easily applicable to what is going on in Greece today. His suggestion that logic (in certain situations) is used as a gateway to exercising violence, can’t help but beg the question, what is more logical than the European Powers that be implementing the rule of law? What is more logical than arranged words and sentences orchestrated to serve multinational corporate interests, but always in the name of preserving peace? In today’s world, the concept of peace is further abstracted; this is becoming increasingly evident in the phenomenon of the images of dead children.
That a document’s declaration of peace is closely mended with political tactics of violence whose main objective is to obtain absolute power at the expense of human lives is an indication that the mechanisms driving these systems need to be changed. In less than 10 days Greece will be holding yet another round of elections, this time it will be the parliamentary elections and Zoi Konstantopoulou, after the SYRIZA government’s refusal to support her struggle and after SYRIZA’s complicity with the sexists dismissal of Kosnantopoulou as a crazed and hormonal woman, has announced she will be collaborating with Laiki Enotita the political party formed by dissident members of the SYRIZA party. Konstantopoulou’s main argument is that the memoranda, austerity and unemployment in Greece have led the country to a humanitarian crisis. The committees Konstantopoulou has formed, can prove that the debt is onerous and illegal. The humanitarian crisis exists in war stricken countries but the Greek case goes to show that the humanitarian crisis on a different degree is present in European countries as well. These countries namely Greece have been greatly afflicted by conditions that have been forced upon them through the memoranda that have resulted in a great degree of destitution which has resulted in thousands of young generational Greeks migrating abroad. Greece is a victim of a ruthless economic war.
It has been hard for me to articulate my thoughts on this summer; part of the difficulty rests in the fact that it is hard to accept the very blatant, tragic, absurdity of the systems of power, the violence they deploy and the very real threat that is being posed to humanity. It is hard, in a perpetually disencouraging world to locate the courage to mobilize oneself. But it is often the case where states of immobility may brew elements of surprise. Much like a recent report I came across on the story of Nevin Yildirim, a Turkish woman from a village in the southwestern province of Isparta who after countless rape assaults by her supervisor from work; on August 28th, 2012 she tossed her attackers decapitated head out in the middle of the town square shouting, “this is the head of the one who dishonored me!”
Artwork by Greek graffitti artist NAR
1 In reference to Carl Schmitt’s world of politics: he says, “The political entity presupposes the real existence of an enemy and therefore coexistence with another political entity. As long as a state exists, there will thus always be in the world more than just on state. A world state which embraces the entire globe and all of humanity cannot exist. The political world is a pluriverse, not a universe. In this sense every theory of state is pluralistic.” -Concept of the political, Schmitt,p.53-
2 The Concept of the Political, Schmitt Carl. p.52
3 Who is the Subject of the Rights of Man? Rancire Jacques. p.65