THE REFUGEE CRISIS AND RELIGION: Secularism, Security and Hospitality in Question
Edited by Luca Mavelli and Erin K. Wilson. London and New York: Rowman and Littlefield International, 2017. 305 pages, ISBN 9781783488940
Luca Mavelli and Erin Wilson present a thought-provoking collection of articles exploring the multiple entanglements between religion and humanitarian discourse and practice from a post-secularist perspective. The contributors, who are both academics and humanitarian practitioners, partake of the assumption that a Western-centric secularist perspective fails to come to terms with refugees’ and local communities’ experience of humanitarian crises, which entails a religious dimension. The secularist prejudice against religion as backward and illiberal, which persists in the religion/secularism divide and is mainstream in international humanitarian organizations, frames religion as problematic and/or as a cause of persecution. Yet, the book argues, it neglects religion’s potential to promote refugees’ resilience and to mitigate humanitarian emergencies. Thus, the adequacy of secularism, as the ultimate explicatory standpoint on social reality, is questioned and new, post-secular categories are invoked to understand humanitarian crises from below.
The secularist distrust of religion is particularly exacerbated in the context of the current so-called European “refugee crisis,” whereby many public discourses conflate religion with Islam and with violence. The book contends that a reductionist association of Islam with the triad “violence/conflict/terror” is shaping social representations of refugees as potential threats. This results in exclusionary policies, prioritizing security over humanitarianism. In fact, all of the authors agree that the unfolding crisis is self-inflicted by virtue of European states’ lack of political will to implement a coordinated and far-reaching humanitarian response.
Against this backdrop, the book has the twofold goal of, on the one side, exposing how religion is at play in social representations of refugees and in humanitarian responses, and on the other, pointing to alternative ways to conceive of and deal with refugee crises. Contributions mainly refer to the ongoing refugee crisis in the Mediterranean, touching upon cases as diverse as a migrant’s account of his journey to Lampedusa (Italy), to reception programs in France and Canada, to community-led responses in the Middle East. However, different humanitarian crises across time and space are also discussed, including the long-standing Palestinian refugee crisis, the 1999 Kosovo refugee emergency, and the case for protection of lesbian, gay, transgender, bisexual (LGTBI) forced migrants.
The articles are arranged as a journey that begins by questioning the secular/religious divide, moves on to deconstructing representations of the Muslim refugee, then proceeds to an exploration of Christian and Muslim religious traditions of hospitality, and ends by examining the intersection of faith, gender, sexuality, and asylum. However, the collection offers other analytical and argumentative axes as well, thereby allowing for plural readings that yield further insights.
One significant theme that runs across the essays is the faith-based agency of individuals and communities. While a secular perspective has long considered religious faith as a fatalist surrender of agency, the reality in the field shows that spiritual experience can sustain migrants’ rational autonomy and risk assessment along the route (Squire), as well as provide an interpretative framework that facilitates personal and collective healing, as observed with Kosovar Albanian refugees during the US resettlement program, Operation Refuge (Goździak). In this case, the practitioners’ professional response, oriented towards medicalizing the suffering, was at odds with refugees’ own healing process, which integrated spiritual and political dimensions. Not only is faith a powerful coping mechanism for the individual, in the Islamic tradition it also motivates community-based humanitarian responses (Kidwai). In fact, as religion is the defining feature underpinning both displaced and host communities, local faith communities (LFCs) are being recognized as key actors in promoting refugees’ well-being (Ager and Ager). LFCs’ role has also been increasingly acknowledged by international humanitarian agencies, as shown by the UNHCR-led Dialogue on Faith and Protection (2012) and the interreligious document Welcoming the Stranger by UNHCR (2013). As a result, agencies are urged to be more faith-literate.
Giving due attention to religion sheds light on the spiritual rationale of different practices of hospitality. The duty to welcome or protect the stranger is shared by the three monotheistic religions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. It relies on a worldview that differs from the “cosmopolitan individualism” underlying the human rights agenda (Barbato). It is based on understanding reciprocity as inherent to the human condition and on the spiritual meaning of mobility, exemplified by the prophet Abraham, beyond a state-centric perspective or sedentarist metaphysics (Barbato; Carrière; Zaman). This imaginary inspires grassroots initiatives as diverse as the Jesuit Refugee Service’s Welcome Project in France (Carrière), Islamic Relief Worldwide’s community-led approach (Kidway), Rabbis for Human Rights in Israel (Baumgart-Ochse), and the church-based support program, LGTBI Asylum Welcome (McGuirk and Niedwiecki).
Overall, the practices and theoretical perspectives presented in the book call into question not only the religion/secularism divide, but also certain understandings within the religious traditions themselves. Though they may still amount to minority approaches, their value lies in their prophetic function, as they inspire alternative futures, beyond one-dimensional, Islamophobic, or agency-less representations of Muslim refugees (Wagenvoorde; Fiddian-Qasmiyeh). All this makes the book a compelling and necessary read.
PhD Candidate, Department of Social Science, University College London
MUSLIMISCHE DIVERSITÄT: Ein Kompass zur religiösen Alltagspraxis in Österreich [Muslim Diversity: A Guide to Religious Everyday Practices in Austria]
Wiener Beiträge zur Islamforschung series. Edited by Ednan Aslan, Jonas Kolb, and Erol Yildiz. Wiesbaden: Springer VS, 2017. 506 pages, ISBN 9783658175535 (print); 9783658175542 (e-book)
This book offers an in-depth analysis (including graphs and maps) of the data collected in a joint qualitative (interviews) and quantitative (questionnaires) research project on religious practices by Muslims living in Austria implemented in 2013. The individuals questioned and interviewed include Muslims of all age groups (18+) coming from different migrant backgrounds, having and not having Austrian citizenship, and being born into Muslim faith or being converted. The data analyzed is put into perspective by discussing and evaluating previous studies on Muslims in Austria, most of which have been state ordered, and been unmasked by the study authors as being not just widely one-sided in approach but also (ideologically) suggestive in their interpretation of the data collected.
Muslim Diversity consists of seven chapters which build on one another but can still be read separately due to a sufficient number of links to relating chapters. While the first chapter offers an introduction to the issue and the research literature available, chapters two, three, and four provide readers with the theoretical background (methods etc.) of the research done, on 59 pages in total. Chapter five (384 pages) is made up of six sub-chapters each discussing one of the five patterns of Muslim religious practices that have been isolated by the study authors as the major result of their research. Chapter six presents readers with the final conclusion of the findings; chapter seven consists of an extensive appendix.
The five patterns of Muslim religious practices isolated and presented in chapter five are (1) “bewahrende Religiosität” (“preserving religiosity”), (2) “pragmatische Religiosität” (“pragmatic religiosity”), (3) “offene Religiosität” (“open religiosity”), (4) “Religiosität als kulturelle Gewohnheit” (“religiosity as a cultural habit”), and (5) “ungebundene Restreligiosität” (“freely picked elements of religiosity”). According to the study, the patterns of a preserving, pragmatic, and open religiosity are to be seen as highly religious, while the patterns of a culturally habitual religiosity and the freely picked elements of religiosity are not. Another finding is that Muslims describing themselves as preserving, pragmatic, and open are older on average than those seeing themselves as culturally habitual and as freely picking elements of religiosity in their religious practice. While with the patterns of a preserving, pragmatic, and open religiosity the factor of rural vs. urban environments does not seem to be of relevance, with the patterns of a culturally habitual religiosity and freely picked elements of religiosity the focus clearly is on urban environments. As far as the approach and attitude to other religions is concerned, the study shows a Muslim community that is diverse but not extreme in their statements on the issue, though the patterns of a preserving, pragmatic, and open religiosity show a slight tendency towards ranking Islam highest in value. Finally, the view of the relation between religion and state reflects a very similar diversity in range between the several patterns. While the patterns of a preserving, pragmatic, and open religiosity see a place for religion in politics when it comes to describing character traits of politicians qualified or not qualified for the job and concerning the range of political action, the patterns of a culturally habitual religiosity and freely picked elements of religiosity call for a clear separation of religion and politics.
Apart from the general result of the study, the thrilling element in this book is certainly the transcribed quotes from the face-to-face interviews, which allow readers to not just rely on the study authors’ analysis but to double check on what is presented as the analytical result. The transcripts give an insight not only into the religious practices the interviewers were asking for but also into the interviewees’ language habits. In this way, they also allow reading between the lines in terms of cultural self-perception and potential acculturation processes involved with those interviewees having migrant backgrounds.
The innovative aspect of Muslim Diversity is its thoroughly analytic approach to the issue of Muslim practices, which strictly avoids interpreting data on an ideologically inspired basis (keywords: Muslim fundamentalism = terrorist radicalization vs. Muslim fundamentalism = strict interpretation of Muslim faith), and the well-balanced sample from which it derives its data.
The study deserves to be translated into English to reach a wider academic and general public.
Associate Professor, Department of German Language and Literature, University of Innsbruck, Austria
BUREAUCRACY, LAW AND DYSTOPIA IN THE UNITED KINGDOM’S ASYLUM SYSTEM
John R. Campbell. London: Routledge, 2017. 202 pages, ISBN 978113821495
John Campbell’s book is an elaborate ethnographic study of the British asylum system. By looking at the different actors and institutions in the field, Campbell exposes the connections within and between them and the way in which they shape the experience of seeking asylum in the UK. Ultimately, he describes the confrontations and power relations in the institutions’ attempt to govern the asylum field.
Following the trajectory of an asylum claim, the book moves from a description of the evolution and development of the British asylum system to examining the structure and operation of the Home Office and the UK Border Agency. In the subsequent chapters, Campbell turns to analyze the work of refugee lawyers and case workers, and their function in translating, preparing, and litigating an asylum claim. He provides detailed notes and transcripts of these interactions, which offer a close look at the role of the interpreter and an idea of how a claim takes shape. He describes in depth the difference between smaller and larger law firms, legal aid, cost reduction, and reforms of legal services and the ensuing division of labor between solicitors, case workers, and barristers. The following chapters trail the cases into the relevant institutions, first into the Immigration and Asylum Tribunal, where Campbell focuses on recruitment and training, as well as on its legal and spatial architecture, and second, onto the appellate level, the Court of Appeal, examining the basis for appeals in the courts, including the legal changes pursed between 2002 and 2007 and the role of the tribunal in filtering applications for reconsideration before the court. The two final chapters complete the picture by moving towards the role of interest groups in shaping asylum policies and the “Kafkaesque” experience of seeking asylum in the UK.
Overall, Campbell paints a somber picture of the UK asylum system by putting an end to the illusion that there is an objective, straightforward, and arguably “just” way of conducting asylum processes. Campbell argues that a focus on the wider social field in which UK asylum law and practice operates shows both the fundamentally political nature of the entire field and the tensions between different institutions. These unique insights into a complex and insulated system not only serve to illustrate the importance of Campbell’s long-term and persistent ethnographic fieldwork, but also widen the analytical focus of previous studies into the same domain. As a result, the value of the book lies in its very detailed and well-written account of the nitty-gritty functioning, work processes, and influence of the legal and policy environment in the relevant institutions, including an important collection of Freedom of Information requests that shed light on the distribution of legal aid expenditure over the years, which has so far been inaccessible.
However, this breadth in scope and perspectives is at the same time the book’s main drawback. Because it attempts to tackle the asylum system as a field, it speaks with different voices and from different vantage points. As a result, it leaves the reader wanting to know more and in more depth. In particular, when it comes to those working inside the relevant institutions, one longs to step from the perspective of the critical outsider into the minds and workplaces of those shaping the asylum system with their actions. Therefore, as Campbell acknowledges himself, the main methodological constraint of the book lies in its limited access to the bureaucratic institutions and actors themselves. While his outside perspective is incredibly valuable, the book naturally hinges on the perspectives of those attempting to successfully “work the system,” while at the same time striving to paint a detached picture of the inner workings of the institutions in question. As a result, the book appears slightly unbalanced at times.
More importantly, however, the book raises invaluable theoretical questions about the two concepts to Campbell’s argument—“political” and “law”—as they remain largely undissolved in the book. While frequently referring to the “political nature” of the asylum field throughout the book, it remains unclear what “political” stands for, if not for descriptions of variations and ambiguities in the application of the law. But does this establish a specifically “political” nature or rather arbitrariness, self-interestedness, or a drive for power? In positing “law” against politics, the book evokes references to the body of literature that in fact links “law” and “politics,” suggesting law-making as political in itself and the judiciary as a law and policy-making body. Therefore, the book ultimately leads us to grapple with another, maybe more far-reaching question: can (and should) the asylum system ever be entirely a-political?
Teresa S Büchsel
DPhil Candidate in Socio-Legal Studies, Centre for Socio-Legal Studies, University of Oxford
ETHNIC CHURCH MEETS MEGACHURCH: Indian American Christianity in Motion
Prema A. Kurien. New York: New York University Press, 2017. 281 pages, ISBN 9781479804757 (hardback); 9781479826377 (paperback)
Prema Kurien’s Ethnic Church Meets Megachurch addresses the confluence of religion, ethnicity, and (im)migration in contemporary America. Focused on Syrian Christians from India and the Mar Thoma Church, an ancient church from the Middle East, the book traces their migration from Kerala to the United States, and from religious minority to religious majority. The book is distinctive for several reasons. Its historically informed approach reveals a complex transnational story of the entwinement of Christianity and mobility. It details shifts in intra-and inter-group dynamics as a result of Syrian Christians’ assimilation into Hindu society, encounters with Portuguese and, later, British missionaries, Indian nationalism, and international migration. In doing so, the book offers a nuanced picture of Mar Thoma Christians, highlighting generational dynamics, while being attentive to issues of class and gender. At the same time, it is a story of a church in the Global South, spreading, through the migration of its members, to the North, the Middle East, and elsewhere, thereby complicating narratives of how religion moves.
Kurien takes as a departure point the fact that, while first-generation Mar Thomites have remained loyal to the church, the picture is more varied for the second generation: many attend non-denominational evangelical megachurches, though some continue to be members of the Mar Thoma Church and still others attend both types of churches. She explores their respective understandings of what it means to be a Christian, of religion, of the role of the church in their lives, and of civic engagement. Among the first generation, being a Christian is something one is born into, and Mar Thoma’s communal model of Christianity provides them with an important sense of community. The younger generation, in contrast, seeks a personal relationship with God; they “shop around” for a church, with many choosing the emotionally charged services of megachurches, which they liken to “free concerts.”
A central argument is how a paradigm shift in the traditional model of assimilation is shaping the intergenerational transmission of religion. Individualistic in orientation, the theory posited that immigrants and their children would shed their ethnic identities and become American. Nonetheless, earlier European immigrants maintained their communitarian traditions through American denominations. With the rise of multiculturalism, “spiritual seeking,” and post-denominationalism, more recent migrants are thought to integrate through their ethnic group identifications, with religion becoming a “personal quest.” However, in the case of Mar Thomites, the first generation see being Christian as irrevocably intertwined with being Syrian Christian Malayalis, whereas the second generation separate ethnic and religious identity, identifying primarily as Christians, with their Indian ethnic identity more salient in secular spheres. Notably, younger Syrian Christians say they became Christians when they left home to attend college. Given the seeming secularity of US college campuses, it would have been interesting to learn about their conversion experiences. Regardless, their experiences resonate, for example, with those of second-generation Somali Muslims and African Pentecostal migrants who separate “culture” and “religion,” suggesting the value of a comparative discussion on religious modes of migrant identification.
While primarily about Syrian Christians, Ethnic Church Meets Megachurch also describes a powerful central church, (re-)shaped consciously, reluctantly, and inadvertently over time and across space. Achens, church leaders from Kerala who circulate among the parishes, are interesting figures. Transnational and mobile, they are influential leaders, but because their tenures are short, they struggle to understand the local concerns of their (younger) members. Given their centrality to the church’s perpetuation, a more sustained discussion about who these men are would enrich this complex picture of tradition and change.
In capturing the nuances of transnational Mar Thoma Christian life, however, the book pays less attention to their views of American society and everyday encounters, which constrains our understanding of the interplay between context and agency. For example, Kurien notes that the younger generation has not experienced the kind of racialization that their East Asian American contemporaries have, which has led them to establish their own churches. Knowing more about the specificities of these Syrian Christians’ lives would allow us to contextualize their experiences of being both religiously familiar and racially and culturally different. Similarly, because the book focuses on “Indian Christianity in America,” variations in racial politics, multicultural discourses, and evangelicalism’s relative popularity across the United States are not taken into account. While methodological and analytical choices are inevitable, scholars of immigration know such specificities profoundly shape pathways of incorporation. These points notwithstanding, the book makes a valuable contribution to studies of transnational religion and to the study of Christianity in the contemporary world. It will be of interest to scholars of immigration and civic engagement, and of religious and ethnic inter-relations in America and in wider comparative perspective.
Lecturer in the Anthropology of Africa, Department of African Studies and Anthropology, University of Birmingham
FORGING AFRICAN COMMUNITIES: Mobility, Integration and Belongin
Edited by Oliver Bakewell and Loren B. Landau. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2018. 321 pages, ISBN 9781137581938 (hardcover); 9781137581945 (e-book)
International migration scholarship has long been grounded in the experiences of the Global North. Whether concerned with how labor markets and wage differentials influence decisions or how migrants integrate with their hosts, our established models have emerged out of generations of research in European and North American societies. Forging African Communities, an important new volume edited by Oliver Bakewell and Loren Landau, unsettles these models and challenges their application to migrant flows in Africa and beyond.
This volume showcases work by an interdisciplinary array of scholars and practitioners, including many based at African universities. The range of contributions, largely drawn from ethnographic fieldwork, reflects two underappreciated facts: most of sub-Saharan Africa’s international migrants remain on the continent, and most are not refugees. While people fleeing conflict, along with prospective and actual African migrants to Europe, figure in these pages, the emphasis is on Africans seeking their fortunes in other African countries. The inclusion they pursue abroad arises less from legal texts than from informal systems of labor and exchange in their host communities. These are settings, writes one contributor, in which belonging is “negotiated from the ground up, through processes that are made and unmade on a daily basis in a dialectic that revolves around claiming space” (p. 198). Forging African Communities reveals how neighbors and strangers manage to build a degree of belonging in the absence of state policy.
The chapters are divided into three thematic sections. Part I, “Agents of Integration,” begins with Lucy Hovil’s analysis of Burundian refugees in rural Tanzania. She argues that “legal belonging where poorly deployed is not a substitute for the multiple other manifestations of locally-based integration that have been built up over decades” (p. 46). In the Congolese port of Pointe-Noire, Gabriel Tati describes a climate of grassroots tolerance facilitating inclusion for immigrant West African fishermen. Johara Berriane’s chapter considers everyday interactions between sub-Saharan migrants and Moroccans in the city of Fès. Oliver Bakewell finds that highly flexible patterns of national identification amid long-standing mobility in the rural borderlands of Angola and Zambia have erased the distinction between refugees and non-refugees. The Zambian government’s efforts to exclude Angolan refugees from citizenship and belonging in fact “inspired local responses that have achieved the opposite” (p. 103). Taken together, these chapters stress that rights bestowed by the state cannot guarantee greater security or better lives, and may actually endanger them in some African societies.
Part II, “Negotiating Scales and Spaces of Belonging,” looks at how urban spaces foster interaction and conviviality. Peter Kankonde Bukasa’s chapter explains why Pentecostal churches established by Nigerian and Congolese immigrants draw growing numbers of Johannesburg residents, despite their city’s deep-rooted spatial segregation and frequent hostility towards immigrants. The key is what he terms “tactical creolisation”: the churches’ active mixing together of cultural symbols, rituals, and doctrines creates hybrid religious experiences that are neither “native” nor “foreign.” In Harare, Zimbabwe, Pedzisayi Leslie Mangezvo shows how Nigerian entrepreneurs use market, church, and neighborhood as sites of fleeting integration; their churches become “cosmopolitan entities that align Nigerian forms of praise and worship with Zimbabwean idiosyncrasies” (p. 169). Germain Tshibambe Ngoie argues that Chinese and Nigerian immigrants in Lubumbashi, Democratic Republic of Congo, have reshaped the city yet remain inwardly oriented. And Naluwembe Binaisa finds that Ugandans who reside in the UK and return to Kampala confront a double exclusion—too Black to feel at home in London, but also too distant from Kampala’s own ethnicized landscape to belong.
Part III, “Emergent Socialities and Subjectivities,” features the volume’s only survey-based chapter, Steven Lawrence Gordon’s study of South Africans’ views of and contact with foreigners. Despite increasing frequency of contact between South Africans and immigrants, racial fragmentation and distrust “seem to limit migrants’ opportunity for tactical insertion into host communities,” he writes (p. 246). Based on fieldwork in Johannesburg and Bilbao, Spain, Rafael Cazarin finds that Nigerian and Congolese churches in both settings help migrants adapt to their new settings without, however, promising local belonging. They instead provide spaces for establishing fictive kin networks and insulating them from the perceived moral corruption of the host society. The chapter by Loren Landau and Iriann Freemantle compares peri-urban spaces outside Johannesburg and Nairobi where “people (co)operate through a largely instrumental ethics: oriented towards accessing and extracting the ‘fruits’ of urban space while simultaneously imagining or enacting life elsewhere” (p. 278). Residents share only a general ethos of getting along without needing or claiming full membership. Robin Cohen’s closing essay offers a long view on mobility in African history.
These chapters demonstrate that immigrant inclusion is highly contingent and reversible, can coexist with durable forms of strangerhood, and may be better served by informal structures than by legal mechanisms. These lessons are not for Africa alone, the editors point out: “in many of the fluid and hyper diverse communities in which immigrants live elsewhere—Europe, North America, Asia—the kind of extra-legal, socially determined and often trans-local processes that we describe are equally at play” (p. 11). Perhaps migrants in London, Paris, and New York have more in common with migrants in Johannesburg, Nairobi, and Kampala than many scholars have realized.
Department of Sociology & Anthropology, Lehigh University
DETAINING THE IMMIGRANT OTHER: Global and Transnational Issues
Edited by R. Furman, D. Epps, and G. Lamphear. New York: Oxford University Press, 2016. 220 pages, ISBN 9780190222574 (hardback)
The trauma of immigration detention lingers. Family separation, exacerbation of mental health conditions, and lack of access to justice and psychosocial support trap migrants in an unending panopticon of bureaucracy.
Detaining the Immigrant Other explores the many facets of immigration detention, a shadowy phenomenon that simultaneously operates in opaque ways while highlighting the anxieties of nation-states about controlling migration. Globally, migrants are detained for a host of reasons, including identity considerations, perceived public safety, or more arbitrary reasons such as being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Importantly, immigration detention is administrative and the tens of thousands incarcerated have not committed a crime by migrating or by virtue of their legal status. This edited volume brings the lived experiences of migrants in detention to the fore. Sixteen different contexts are profiled, including Afghanistan, Australia, Canada, France, Greece, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Malaysia, Malta, Mexico, the Netherlands, South Africa, Sweden, Turkey, the UK, and the USA. The book weaves a rich tapestry of comparative analysis of the many intersecting similarities connecting these divergent perspectives.
The strongest contribution of the book is the rigorous focus on the lived experiences of migrants in detention. The essays highlight the various struggles of migrants to understand the bureaucracy of administrative detention, which comingles with frustrations around insufficient support, such as access to counsel or medical care, geographic segregation and extraterritorialization, and the ever present threat of removal or deporta tion. These perspectives situate broader ideas around the criminalization of migration and how it functions to increase the proliferation of immigration detention in France (Le Courant and Kobelinski), Greece and the UK (Bosworth and Fili), Turkey (Baklacioglu), and Malaysia (Kudo), among others. Geopolitics and transnational policies also play a part, including Australia’s influence on the detention policies of the nations that have been contracted to off-shore its detained migrants, such as Malaysia and Indonesia, or the US border enforcement policies and their influences on Mexico (Wolf). It is the profound psychosocial impacts on immigration detainees that ground these analyses so cogently. For example, Kosravi’s analysis of double abandonments of young Afghan men (and the birth of the “deportspora”) shows just how far the ramifications of detention and deportation reach to create new diasporas of displacement. This volume makes it clear: immigration detention is a tragic phenomenon ensnaring thousands while also working to advance larger nation-building projects.
However, it is precisely these national and transnational projects that could have been unpacked more in this collection. A minor flaw of this volume is its insufficient engagement with broader theories around forced migration and detention. For example, interrogating territoriality and space/place-making literature in the context of migration would have situated the punitive nature of immigration detention in broader state projects. Also, drawing clearer linkages between the lived experiences of detainees, discourse theory, and the Othering of migrants in the border anxieties literature would have highlighted how the use of language, tropes, and policies is contingent on visceral conceptualizations such as “flood” and “fear.” Immigration detention is tragic precisely because detainees lose their individuality and become interchangeable for one another in their roles as pawns to strengthen borders and stoke our anxieties about uncontrollable immigrants.
Focusing on linking together the many diverging and moving perspectives in this volume through these broader themes could have provided greater cohesion for the work. Perhaps a more fulsome introduction (or even a conclusion section) would have sufficed. However, working with so many geographic regions, diverse policies, and multiplicities of experiences is inherently a mammoth task. Detaining the Immigrant Other is an excellent snapshot of the many troubling aspects of the global immigration detention paradigm, particularly for newer readers delving into the murky world of immigration detention for the first time. Established scholars well-versed in detention will also benefit from the many powerful insights in this volume, particularly highlighting perspectives of groups not often examined in immigration detention, such as the experiences and psychosocial impacts on children, women, and LGBTQ migrants, among others.
With immigration detention on the rise globally, it is precisely volumes such as Detaining the Immigrant Other that can help us unpack the many facets of this troubling phenomenon, and offer some guidance on how to move away from the Othering that seems to come so naturally.
International Human Rights Program, University of Toronto Faculty of Law
THIS IS LONDON: Life and Death in the World City
Ben Judah. London: Picador, 2016. 423 pages, ISBN 9781447272441 (hardback); 9781447274797 (paperback)
THE ROAD TO SOMEWHERE: The New Tribes Shaping British Politics
THE GOOD IMMIGRANT
Edited by Nikesh Shukla. London: Unbound, 2017. 254 pages, ISBN 9781783522958 (hardback); 9781783522965 (e-book)
Since the 2015 European “refugee/migration crisis” and the 2016 “Brexit” vote, immigration has become more central to British public debate than usual. The three non-fiction bestsellers considered in this review participate in this conversation, though with strikingly different perspectives and agendas. One point of consensus, however, is that British society is becoming increasingly hostile towards immigration.
In This Is London, journalist Ben Judah documents the experiences of migrants in modern London. The book is motivated by Judah’s mission to learn more about the city he was born in: “I have to see everything for myself, I don’t trust statistics” (p. 1). The structure of the book revolves around locations; each chapter is named after a different place (e.g. Victoria Coach Station, or “our miserable Ellis Island” [p. 1]). In each location, Judah describes the atmosphere in rich detail, setting up interview(s), which form the bulk of the chapter. His interviewees include a Nigerian policeman, Roma beggars, a Ghanaian Tube train cleaner, Filipina maids, and a Polish wedding registrar.
Although Judah’s choice of interviewees highlights extreme diversity in migrant experiences of London, it is particularly focused on experiences of hardship. Homelessness, poverty, precarious employment, exploitation, and addiction are repeating themes. Even in Judah’s few interviews with affluent migrants, such as a Russian housewife in a Knightsbridge penthouse (ch. 17), misery and disappointment remain key motifs. In some ways this focus evokes compassion for London’s migrant underclass. It reveals inequality and the day-to-day struggle of working, commuting, and living in poverty. However, it also constructs migrants as victims or villains, providing very few counter-examples to these stereotypes.
Despite his stated distrust of statistics, Judah peppers his account with figures that evoke tabloid headlines and UKIP political slogans. For instance, he makes the well-worn comparison between the number of illegal immigrants in London and the population of a major city: “more than 600,000 people, making it larger than Glasgow or Edinburgh” (p. 91). Judah’s investigative style also contributes to the sensationalist quality of the book. He uses an under-cover approach to gain the trust of interviewees, donning beggar’s clothing or inventing phony backstories. Although he anonymizes many of his interlocutors, he does so with epithets, such as “Bright Eyes” and “The President,” which feel slightly disrespectful. Perhaps most affecting are the author’s autobiographical asides, in which he describes his apprehension, fear, shock, and distrust, inviting the reader to experience these emotions as they vicariously discover what London is “really like.”
David Goodhart, founding editor of Prospect magazine and author of The British Dream: Successes and Failures of Post-War Immigration (2013), has become notorious for his controversial “post-liberal” commentary on the key political issues of the moment. In The Road to Somewhere, Goodhart develops these arguments, describing a new fault-line in British politics and proposing a direction for future governance.
Goodhart argues that British politics has become dominated by a minority group of highly educated, mobile “Anywheres” (20–25% of the population [p. 24]), who value individual autonomy, openness, and social change. A much larger group (approximately half of the population) are “Somewheres,” who tend to be less well educated, more rooted to the places they grew up in, and uneasy about economic and social change that they feel threatens their traditional values (e.g. family and security). The rest are “Inbetweeners.” In chapters 1 and 2, Goodhart fleshes out the two “tribes,” drawing on opinion polls and demographic surveys and identifying “attitudes to immigration … [as] … the single biggest litmus test of Anywhere/Somewhere difference” (p. 25). In chapters 3–8, he traces trends precipitating the power imbalance between the two groups (e.g. the shift towards an “education-driven economy” [p. 51]). In the final chapter, “A New Settlement,” he argues that to achieve harmony, leaders need to accept “Somewhere” values as legitimate, and begin moving down a “Road to Somewhere.”
The Road to Somewhere is undoubtedly prescient, offering plausible explanations for contemporary political tensions and allegiances. Goodhart’s proposed framework evokes seminal papers in the interdisciplinary field of Migration Studies, which identify similar “strange bedfellow” political coalitions around immigration. Furthermore, it offers a plausible explanation for the 2016 “Brexit” vote: a “Somewhere” backlash against “Anywhere” dominance. However, the title argument, for a “Road to Somewhere,” is predicated on a controversial defense of “decent populism,” and is strongly influenced by Goodhart’s personal political preferences for “progressive nationalism.”
The Good Immigrant, edited by writer Nikesh Shukla, is a collection of essays by 21 Black, Asian, and minority ethnic authors about their experiences of living in a society that is hostile towards perceived immigrants. The 21 authors include actors, comedians, writers, students, teachers, rappers, broadcasters, and bloggers. Their contributions are an incongruous mixture of comedic anecdotes, serious political arguments, and heartfelt personal testimonies. While some essays are stronger than others, they all contribute to a staggering demonstration of diversity, achieving the book’s aim to disrupt generalizations and caricatures.
The Good Immigrant is, predominantly, an account of persisting racism in the UK. Essays include experiences of prejudice, micro-aggression, cultural appropriation, unequal representation, and misrepresentation. In particular, probably due to their media backgrounds, contributors focus on discriminatory practices of representation. For instance, Miss L, Riz Ahmed, and Inua Ellams all describe their experiences of being cast as “representatives” of their ethnic groups—sometimes in-accurately attributed groups—whereas their White colleagues are cast as individuals. They long for “the Promised Land, where you play a character whose story is not intrinsically linked to his race” (Ahmed, p. 160). Darren Chetty’s essay, “You Can’t Say That! Stories Have to Be about White People,” reveals the trickle-down effect of whitewashed media on the worldview of his multiracial students, and many authors recall growing up with an extremely limited pool of public figures with whom to identify (e.g. Loh and Eddo-Lodge).
The book’s title links racism directly to anti-immigration attitudes and emphasizes that in the UK, hospitality towards perceived immigrants is conditional. The authors argue that to be accepted—even as second- or third-generation immigrants—they must work twice as hard to prove that they are not “bad immigrants—job-stealers, benefit scroungers, girlfriend-thieves, refugees” (editor’s note). “The Ungrateful Country” by Musa Okwonga demonstrates this point most forcefully, concluding the book with the author’s decision to leave the UK and the haunting remark that, “It wasn’t lost on me that the very advice that racists in the UK had long spat at foreigners—‘If you don’t like it, then go ahead and leave’—was that which I took … I had my new home of Berlin … one which, not without racial issues of its own, had shown a great willingness to embrace newcomers from all quarters” (p. 234).
These bestsellers demonstrate, in different ways, that modern Britain is hostile towards immigration. This Is London suggests that migrants are confined to unpleasant marginal roles in British society. The Road to Somewhere presents immigration as the most significant threat to “Somewhere” values—held by the majority of British citizens—and suggests reducing immigration as the first step down the “Road to Somewhere.” The Good Immigrant documents racism and discrimination towards perceived immigrants and reveals impermeable barriers to acceptance. However, although they all indicate that Britain is hostile towards immigration, these books represent different voices in the debate about immigration, and consequently are at odds on key issues.
Perhaps the most striking discrepancy is between The Road to Somewhere and The Good Immigrant on the matter of racism. Goodhart argues that “The Great Liberalisation” has rendered society accepting of racial equality, and that modern anti-immigration sentiment is economically founded rather than racist or xenophobic. The authors of The Good Immigrant insist on the deep entanglement between “backwards attitude to immigration and refugees, [and] the systemic racism that runs through this country to this day” (Shukla, editor’s note). This Is London doesn’t address racism directly, but several interviewees report experiences of discrimination similar to those in The Good Immigrant. In light of these personal accounts of racism, as well as clear evidence of widespread, racist anti-immigration sentiment (e.g. the record rise in hate crimes following the EU referendum), Goodhart’s claims seem, at best, foolishly optimistic. They are evidence of a more global difference in the way these authors perceive “migration.”
This Is London and The Road to Somewhere reinforce narratives that pathologize migration. This Is London repeatedly associates high levels of immigration with social problems (e.g. overcrowding, drug misuse, crime, and unemployment), implying that they are directly related. The Road to Somewhere, similarly, identifies immigration as the key threat to national citizen protection. Both, therefore, construct immigration as a relatively new problem, obscuring the reality that people have always moved and that Britain has been a country of immigration for far longer than it has been a national community. They also neglect the fact that social change is complex and influenced by manifold factors, not least economic recession.
The Good Immigrant disrupts oversimplified and pathologized representations of migration in several ways. The authors demonstrate the messy complexity of Britain’s history, revealing complicated transnational ancestries (e.g. Yates) and highlighting Britain’s colonial past—an important historical factor that explains a great deal of modern migration to this country. Furthermore, it challenges the victim/villain stereotypes presented in This Is London, with examples of success and normality; the authors of this book (and their migrant parents) are relatable rather than “other.”
These books give a sense of the many perspectives and issues involved in contemporary British debate about immigration, but they are not representative of this debate. Despite the success of The Good Immigrant, the narratives presented in This Is London and The Road to Somewhere tend to be much more prevalent in mainstream media and public consciousness. This is somewhat unsurprising, given that they offer simple explanations for complex issues, and come with ready scapegoats. Counter-narratives remain marginal, usually only finding footholds on media platforms explicitly designed to redress unequal representation (e.g. Media Diversified). Together, these books remind the reader that when it comes to immigration, some voices are much louder than others. Furthermore, they show that, at present, anti-immigration voices are the loudest in the British conversation.
Bonny Astor (MSc in Migration Studies, University of Oxford) Mind in Camden, London
THE SOVIET PASSPORT: Its History—Structure—Practices
Albert Baiburin. St. Petersburg: Publishing House of the European University in St. Petersburg, 2017. 488 pages, ISBN 978-94380-232-4 (In Russian: Советский паспорт. История-структура-практики. СпБ: Издательство Европейского университета. Альберт Байбурин, 2017. 488. / Sovetskiy pasport. Istoriya-struktura-praktiki. SpB: Izdatel’stvo Yevropeyskogo universiteta, Albert Baiburin, 2017. 488)
Albert Baiburin’s book is an astonishing achievement in researching the passport system and practice of its use in tsarist, Soviet, and post-Soviet Russia. The book investigates the formation, development, and transformation of Russia’s passport system and the state’s measures for governing and controlling human movement on the territory of Russia from the seventeenth century to the present. Over decades, the mobility of the Russian and foreign population was subject to tough legal regulation, which prioritized the interests of the state, such as resettlement of various social groups, religious or ethnic homogenization of the country’s regions, or the development of new and distant territories.
The reviewed book consists of a foreword, three parts united in eight chapters, a questionnaire sample, and an index. The first part of the book, entitled “Looking Beyond the Social History of the Soviet Passport System,” includes four chapters. The first of them reviews tsarist and imperial practices for a person’s identification and measures for internal and external migration control (pp. 43–45, 60–63). It also explains how name and surname determine the social status of a person in tsarist and imperial Russia and why the patronymic name plays an important role in identification documents (pp. 46–50). It is important to note that at the turn of the twentieth century, European countries simplified passport mechanisms and decriminalized and authorized travel on their territories, but Russia did not. In imperial Russia, railway passengers were required to have a passport in order to buy a ticket for travel between Moscow and St. Petersburg (p. 58).
The second chapter reviews changes in Russia’s passport system after the Great October Revolution (pp. 69–91). This was a time of total chaos and legal anarchy within Russia. Bolsheviks abolished the identification system for tsarist persons on 24 November 1917. Two years later, the Bolsheviks introduced a labor book—trudovaya knizhka—as a document for personal identification that summarizes a person’s labor experiences and job history. Surprisingly, one purpose of the labor book was to catch asocial and unemployed persons—those who did not accept the Bolsheviks’ new power (pp. 73–74). Nowadays, the labor book remains an important document for Russians. It records a person’s labor history, previous employment, length of work, and employee description.
Baiburin analyzes the formation of the Soviet passport system in 1932–1936 in the third chapter (pp. 91–136) and passport re-forms in the fourth chapter of the book (pp. 136–189). The passport system in Soviet Russia was not only a mechanism for a person’s identification, but also an instrument of human rights violation and an instrument of privilege. For example, Soviet citizens of Jewish origin had limited rights to education or employment due to the ethnic belonging information inscribed in their passports. These discrimination practices applied to many Soviet citizens—nobles and their descendants, church servants, unemployed persons, and other social “parasites” such as in-telligentsia (pp. 103–106). Also, rural area workers (kolkhozniki), in contrast to the cities’ residents, had no right to apply for a passport until 1974.
The second part of the book, “Passport as a Bureaucratic Instrument,” includes two chapters that outline the background of the Soviet and post-Soviet passport requirements—elements such as name, surname, date and place of birth, ethnic belonging, social status, photo requirements, signature, information regarding the authorities that issued the passport, and so on (pp. 189–279). Introducing the Soviet passport system, the new government was motivated to avoid tsarist social and ethnic discrimination practices. However, Bolsheviks destroyed the social system of tsarist Russia, but on its ruins created a new social system. This consists of workers, rural workers (kolkhozniki), individual peasants (krest’yanin yedinolichnik), state servants, pensioners, students and pupils, church servants, dependents, persons without certain occupation (litso bez opredelennykh zanyatiy), and former prisoners (pp. 241–248). Ethnic belonging as a mandatory element of the Soviet passport was a creation of a new government. De jure, its introduction did not lead to discrimination among Soviet ethnics, but de facto, ethnic belonging as a requirement in passports reinforced Soviet discrimination practices against minorities. Those who have read the second part of the book will also understand the old Soviet joke, why a (wo)man who has a tiny photo album with one ugly photo could only be a holder of a Soviet or a Russian passport (pp. 261–267, 314–326).
The third part of the book outlines the Soviet and post-Soviet passport practices through personal memories (pp. 279–439). It is the most personalized part of the book, collecting stories about how passport practices have changed and influenced human lives. The respondents told of how the collapse of the Soviet Union and the procedure for obtaining a Russian passport instead of a Soviet passport applied to them, why sham/fake marriage in Soviet times was a way to obtain registration in cities like Moscow or St. Petersburg, and why the loss of a passport is still combined with feelings of dread for the Russian passport holder. Also included in the book are remarkable Russian and foreign reference sections, photocopies of personal identification documents issued by tsarist, Soviet, and Russian authorities, and various portrayed/depicted aspects of the state-individuum relations in the three centuries of Russian history.
Albert Baiburin’s book is an outstanding and valuable contribution to the historical, legal, and anthropological study of personal identification documents in tsarist, Soviet, and modern Russia. It is a book telling the history of the Russian state through state-individuum contradictions. The book will be of interest to academics, politicians, practitioners, and anyone curious about Russia’s dynamic transformation over the last three centuries.
Olga R. Gulina (PhD in Law, PhD in Migration Studies)