Darkness Visible: Refugees and Immigrants – The Shock and Awe Doctrine

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A few years ago Naomi Klein’s excellent book The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism caught the truth of permanent crisis when she described Milton Friedman’s flippant statement on capital opportunities during crises:

[Milton Friedman] observed that “only a crisis— actual or perceived— produces real change. When that crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around. That, I believe, is our basic function: to develop alternatives to existing policies, to keep them alive and available until the politically impossible becomes politically inevitable.”1

In my last post A Planetary Crisis: The Dark Side of War and Refugee Plight I’ve been wondering about both US and EU policies and how most of what we see in the world today has been brought about by the shock doctrines that Klein portrays in her detailed examination of global capitalism under the auspices of this neoliberal doctrine of exploitation. Her work deals mainly with Latin America where many there saw a direct connection between the economic shocks that impoverished millions and the epidemic of torture that punished hundreds of thousands of people who believed in a different kind of society. (p. 8)

Can we not see the same in the middle-east and Africa? Many dispute the term neoliberalism as even relevant, yet the persistence of this term is widespread and well known. One doesn’t need to be a rocket scientist to understand how inequality and poverty works. War, famine, disease, soil erosion, climate change and an varied assortment of other known and unknown factors are all contributing to the current crisis. But one of the greatest crisis is in that age old dictum that Wordsworth once described as “man’s inhumanity to man”. We’ve become cynical and deaf to the pleas of innocent victims of the darkness around us, as if the people of these less than habitable zones of poverty and death were responsible for their own fates, as if we could wash our hands and rid ourselves of their stain and corruption. As if we, too, were not a part of the evil in the world, that our very passive inability to treat these others as unique, and with dignity and worthy of our love, respect, and help in their time of need. Watching videos and listening, reading, and exploring the plight both in Asia, Africa, the Middle-East, and Latin America one wonders why the Western press beyond a few youtube.com documentaries rarely covers this realm of darkness. It’s as if they could just sweep it under the rug of political correctness, absolve themselves of these oblivions and annihilations, genocides, famines, wars, and apocalypses of human degradation by simply not showing that it exists. The Western media, a Hollywood extravaganza and Reality Studio for the elite would rather worry over the latest non-event than to show forth the dark side of capitalism and its degradation of humanity and the earth.

As one article asks it: Is this all a re-run of old themes, or is something new happening? Taken as a whole, it appears something new is afoot: population movements are taking on increased significance in the context of current global social transformations. First, forced migration is growing in volume and importance, as a result of endemic violence and human rights violations. Second, policy makers are attempting to implement differentiated policies for various categories of migrants. Specifically, there is global competition to attract highly skilled migrants, but refugees, unskilled migrants, and their families are unwelcome. Third, there is growing understanding that migration—both economic and forced—is an integral part of processes of global and regional economic integration. Fourth, it has become clear that immigrants do not simply assimilate into receiving societies, but rather tend to form communities and retain their own languages, religions, and cultures. Finally, migration has become highly politicized, and is now a pivotal issue in both national and international politics.

Most of the time the media portrays it as an invasion of immigrants rather than asylum seekers. The media and politicians sometimes claim that asylum seekers are not real victims of persecution, but simply economic migrants in disguise. Yet in many conflict situations it is difficult to distinguish between flight because of persecution and departure caused by the destruction of the economic and social infrastructure needed for survival. Asylum seekers live in a drawn-out limbo situation, since determination procedures and appeals may take many years. In some countries, asylum seekers are not allowed to work, and have to subsist on meagre welfare handouts. Up to 90 percent of asylum applications are rejected—yet the majority of asylum seekers stay on. In many cases, they cannot be deported because the country of origin will not take them back, or because they have no passports. In fact, asylum seekers are a useful source of labor that fuels Western countries’ burgeoning informal economies.

The article goes on to say that migration is seen as a crisis because it is symbolic of the erosion of nation-state sovereignty in the era of globalization. It is becoming increasingly difficult for states to control their borders, since flows of investment, trade, and intellectual property are inextricably linked with movements of people. Elites generally benefit from transborder flows. It is the groups who feel threatened in their security by economic restructuring and social service cuts that generally oppose migration most vocally. The visible presence of migrants in Northern cities symbolizes wider changes in economy, culture, and society.

Many scholarly works have been devoted to understanding the issue. As one article suggests the longer refugees from the Syrian crisis and other Middle Eastern governance failures continue to live in limbo, the more traction extremists groups will get because they will successfully argue that theirs is the only feasible option to changing what is an intractable and inhumane situation for millions across the Middle East.

Much of the problem can be blamed on the ineptitude of the Middle-East countries for their lack of leadership and ingrained social and political elite. As one article from 2013 portrayed it. Governmental ineptitude in many middle-eastern nations such as Syria – as well as opposition from Hizbollah – has thus far kept Lebanon from building permanent camps for the Syrian refugees. It is feared, particularly by Hizbollah, that refugee camps will become permanent abodes, encouraging the Syrian refugees to remain, and become a center for Syrian opposition groups that will make them a base of operations against the Assad regime and Hizbollah itself. In contrast to the situation in Jordan and Turkey, the Syrian refugees in Lebanon are spread according to their ethnic distribution throughout hundreds of communities and villages, and in improvised refugee camps, mostly in the border area. If they remain in the country, they are liable to dramatically alter the demographic ethnic balance in Lebanon.

Underfunded relief agencies and the UN are unable to cope with current issues. As one analysis from the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) reported on Syria, in Erbil alone there are around 650 families living rough in partly-constructed buildings and makeshift shelters. Many more are sharing rooms in small apartments, bed-hopping between shifts.

“We have people living in unfinished houses, with no doors, walls, windows or roofs, and sometimes there are three families in each room,” explained Wiyra Jawhar Ahmed, the manager of the Protection Assistance Reintegration Centre (PARC) in Erbil, run by Swedish NGO Qandil, but mainly funded by UNHCR.

“They are collecting rotten food from outside shops and begging at restaurants for scraps. They are also being in some cases exploited by people here who are giving them work but for very low wages,” he added.

Even the Guardian is reporting that more funds are needed and is asking private citizens to donate. Even UNICEF is bogging down, reporting that refugee camps in the countries bordering Syria are overflowing. There are now 2 million child refugees who have fled Syria. That’s more than the combined under-18 populations of Los Angeles and Boston. To support Syria’s children, UNICEF has helped mobilize the largest humanitarian operation in history, supplying food, water, education, clothing and critical immunizations in Syria and neighboring countries. More than 2.9 million children have been vaccinated against polio.

In the USA refugee admission is difficult and lengthy, and the statistics are not promising. David G. Gutiérrez gives an overview of the history of immigration issues in the US. As CNN reports it the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees is pushing for the United States, Mexico, and Central American countries to treat many of the children as “refugees,” which could prompt more from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador to seek asylum. However, the White House has said most want qualify as refugees:

“We don’t want to send people back into harm’s way … but the more they expand access to asylum, the more people will feel they have a case,” said Adam Isacson, a senior associate for regional security for Washington Office on Latin America, a nonprofit humanitarian organization.

This quibbling over categories seems fruitless while actual humans and especially children get marked out with illegal status as if their plight and suffering were a criminal act. My own country makes me sick at the moment. People on the right want to build giant fences against what they perceive as invasions and security threats. The Left uses it as a political weapon and does nothing to solve the issue for eight solid years they’ve had in the White House, Congress, and Senate. Government has failed both its citizens and the people from these countries who only seek to survive in a deadly and inhospitable world. But no we bicker and fight about words and do nothing for the people suffering.

Yet, when I see what is happening to Africans and Syrians in the EU with the youtube.com documentaries and the right-wing resurgence against them in many of the countries of the EU I see that it too has an even greater problem. Have we come to the end of democracy and what it once stood for? Yes. I think its sick that people have no sense of purpose, no sense of dignity, no pride, no life left to offer others who are not fortunate. Rather we get obvious clowns and morons like Donald Trump who want to hide behind the fence of his secure borders with guns and fear mongering.

In a US News “Words Matter” article we learn that rhetoric around immigrants has taken an ugly turn of late. Recent comments by Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump are but the tip of a dark iceberg. While the public rhetoric has been loosely focused on the southern border, undocumented immigrants and “anchor babies” a toxic narrative paints with an expansive brush, tarnishing many hapless targets along its way. The United States has always been an immigrant nation and throughout its history the arrival of large numbers of immigrants has spawned xenophobic narratives. We love and celebrate immigrant backgrounds but always resent newcomers in the here and now. That was true of the Irish in Boston and the Eastern European Jews in New York then and it is true of the Mexicans today. This is a disturbing constant in our love-hate affair with immigration.

This shouldn’t be about politics. This should be about human dignity and suffering, of humans helping unfortunate others to find not only a life worth living but a better life. Governments need to come together on this planet and begin solving the issues of our world rather than promoting further and further inequality and degradation. Will they do that? I doubt it. They’ll continue to ignore, berate, vilify, condemn and exclude the unfortunate, the poor, the exiled and refugee: either through silence and law, or through caging these unfortunate humans into encampments and behind poverty stained factories of isolation and prison to be forced into a slow and inhumane death. Nothing ever seems to change, people talk a good game but when it comes down to it they are just out for their own lives and to hell with everyone else. People are inhumane and are becoming more and more alien and inhuman day by day.

I think what broke the camels back for me was one documentary about Greece. A child was taken from a young refugee couple who have no help, since the authorities refuse to help and have even imprisoned many of the refugees in subhuman prisons where they lie down in their own filth. This couple was sleeping at night and their young child, a boy of 4 years of age was stolen, raped, sodomized, and beaten then left like so much meat hidden in a trash bin. The young couple found him half-alive but were unable to receive help at the local hospital nor anyone else. They’ve been abandoned to live in desolation. The residents in the area speaking to the interviewers blamed the victims, saying they should go home, there is no one here who gives a shit. They even called police in late one night who beat them and then took many of the young men to prisons where they are locked up like caged animals with bare food etc. It’s disgusting. Syriza throws up its hands. Obviously it is bankrupt, yet most of the EU is not willing to help. Germany wants them for cheap labor. It makes me wish I were young again to do something, instead of a man who can only feel for these poor outcasts left to die in a world that doesn’t give a fuck. Sad is not even the word for it.

In another of the docu-vids I saw a Muslim Iman, a Greek man who was saying prayers as he walked among newly turned hills of rock and stone that ran along the dirt road above the Aegean Sea as far as the eye could see. The interviewer asked him about this. He said the government had asked him to bury these anonymous dead who had either drowned or starved along the way to freedom coming out of Africa, Syria, and other places unknown. He told the reporter he was required by his religion to bury the dead of all Muslims, otherwise he would not have done it. There seemed to be anguish in his eyes. He added: “It is hard work, and I am alone. No one else will help me.” This image of a lone man burying hundreds if not thousands of people he did not know, but who were of his own faith. People of the Book. A lone man walking among the dead along a barren road by an ancient sea where so many have gone below the earth before these. Desolation is the name of an impossible event, a catastrophe that seems always happening, a continuous engulfment in the horror of life trying to survive itself one more day. In Rilke’s tenth elegy another man is walking among the dead:

He climbs the mountains of primal pain alone.
And not once does he step ring from that mute fate.


Naomi Klein offered one more apt appraisal that we in this situation might heed:

Without a story, we are, as many of us were after September 11, intensely vulnerable to those people who are ready to take advantage of the chaos for their own ends. As soon as we have a new narrative that offers a perspective on the shocking events, we become reoriented and the world begins to make sense once again. (p. 580)

As we watch on passively or actively at the inhumanity against refugees everywhere what is the story we will tell our children. We’ll we tell them that we were afraid, fearful of the repercussions of our repressive do-nothing governments and institutions; or, will our story be one of how we as dignified humans and ethical creatures finally said enough is enough and began to reach out with what little remained of our human inheritance and helped those who needed our help most of all.

It’s bigger than Greece or any one nation now as this documentary shows:

  1. Klein, Naomi (2010-04-01). The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism (p. 7). Henry Holt and Co.. Kindle Edition.

9 thoughts on “Darkness Visible: Refugees and Immigrants – The Shock and Awe Doctrine

    • If you were a Syrian refugee would you walk toward ISIS or in the opposite direction? And, as the article points out, there for the most part not welcome by these ultra-rich elite Arab nations… once again people become pawns in a rigged game that always ends in inhumanity….

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  1. http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p031y3m3
    Seventy-nine year old Hilde Schramm is the daughter of Hitler’s architect, Albert Speer – something she has struggled with all her life. She became a driving force in the German peace movement and the fledgling Green party. She’s also been very involved in efforts to combat racism, and now, in the wake of the conflict in Syria, has opened her home to refugees. Outlook’s Abby d’Arcy went to meet her and two of her Syrian lodgers, Nizar and Ahmad.

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  2. A fair amount of what’s going on also devolves onto the future primitive of the new barbarism that is a flourishing cancer on the blasted face of the earth. We should keep our eyes on the ethno-nationalism of countries like Hungary that spin themselves ever more intimately to their own nativist blood and language ideologies- the existential security projects offered through the re-engineering of a small and exclusive coalition against death: the ethno-nationalist state.

    And it is on this that we should always come back: the figure of the state. Perhaps it is possible to utilize the state in order to rationally plan an economy as the socialists think, or perhaps this needs to be a project coordinated with a more flexible and nuanced approach to the problem of scale; either way, it is the traditional state system that is kicking its heels in here, as much as it is regional wannabe regional quasi-superstates. The refugee essentially becomes a stateless person insofar as the regime of nation-states fails to recognise her as a legitimate person, hence the once-militant but increasingly quotidian cry “no one is illegal”. Telling is your comment that many refugees are not welcome to return to their states of origin, thereby forming a de facto stateless population.

    Here is Agamben on the same distinction in a 1994 article “We Refugees”:

    ‘We are accustomed to distinguishing between stateless persons and refugees, but this distinction, now as then, is not as simple as it might at first glance appear. From the beginning, many refugees who technically were not stateless preferred to become so rather than to return to their homeland (this is the case of Polish and Romanian Jews who were in France or Germany at the end of the war, or today of victims of political persecution as well as of those for whom returning to their homeland would mean the impossibility of survival). On the other hand, the Russian, Armenian and Hungarian refugees were promptly denationalized by the new Soviet or Turkish governments, etc. It is important to note that starting with the period of World War I, many European states began to introduce laws which permitted their own citizens to be denaturalized and denationalized. The first was France, in 1915, with regard to naturalized citizens of “enemy” origins; in 1922 the example was followed by Belgium, which revoked the naturalization of citizens who had committed “anti-national” acts during the war; in 1926 the Fascist regime in Italy passed a similar law concerning citizens who had shown themselves to be “unworthy of Italian citizenship”; in 1933 it was Austria’s turn, and so forth, until in 1935 the Nuremberg Laws divided German citizens into full citizens and citizens without political rights. These laws – and the mass statelessness that resulted – mark a decisive turning point in the life of the modern nation-state and its definitive emancipation from the naive notions of “people” and “citizen.”‘

    It is possible to point out that all this is integral to the nation-state and its simulacra without coming off all deconstructionist. In a book I would probably have never read save for being his student, the Marxist Philip Cole points to a fundamental inconsistency in the constituent codes of the liberal state regime:

    ‘the right to cross borders is embodied in international law, but only in one direction. Everyone has the right to leave any state including their own. This is a right that can only be over-ridden by states in extreme circumstances, some kind of public emergency which threatens the life of the nation. What we have is an asymmetry between immigration and emigration, where states have to meet highly stringent tests to justify any degree of control over emigration, but aren’t required to justify their control over immigration at all.

    In effect all I’m proposing is that immigration should be brought under the same international legal framework as emigration. Immigration controls would become the exception rather than the rule, and would need to meet stringent tests in terms of evidence of national catastrophe that threatens the life of the nation, and so would be subject to international standards of fairness and legality. This is far from a picture of borderless, lawless anarchy’.

    Cole expands on all this in his book Philosophies of Exclusion where the statist asymmetry is mapped back throughout the history of the nation-state as a necessary feature built into it from the Treaty of Westphalia.

    But what is it states do? I think by now I’ve said a few times, without really going into why (a lazy move I have to make again), that states continue to exist as bulwarks against existential threat: this is, at least, how they usually justify themselves. Internally they will act to unify a population and police the threats locatable within the sovereign territory while externally they will aggressively pursue enemies of ‘our way of life’. This may be so much ideology but it nonetheless chimes with real psychophysical concerns people have over their own survival- although perhaps this is all too simple, a scaling up from primeval needs for security that chimes too well with statists, and providing an almost inane answer that reveals its own question to be ludicrously overblown, ie: why do people desire their own oppression as though it were freedom. Well, whatever, they do, and that’s a fact.

    So this is part of what we should remember. The question of politics versus human dignity, or perhaps we would be better placed to call it the question of narrow egoism over compassion, can meet a kind of answer (that answers nothing) in one simple reminder: the people who would help are also the people who have been or are (made to) feel threatened.

    It’s sad though, sad and telling, that your distinction of politics and compassion is even made, as though the organization of human affairs and our ethical sentiments were necessarily set apart. This is part of the problem that no existing element in our political spectra are really good at. For me the major critique of the left must be that it forgot what it was for: the elimination of suffering. Or maybe that’s too pessimist a statement, too much “engaged Buddhism” and not enough radical communist praxis?

    “As if we, too, were not a part of the evil in the world, that our very passive inability to treat these others as unique, and with dignity and worthy of our love, respect, and help in their time of need”.

    I think this is part of it. But it must also be the sense of being overwhelmed. Few structures of action exist today. Individuals and aid agencies and so on are thrown onto a plethora of crises, catastrophes, collapses………….

    …………working in the field of mental health and addiction, being something of an activist in that field, and having friends I support with mental health problems, and having my own history (as by now we all surely do), there is a limited. To see all the suffering of the world that is always there whether we are looking or not is to be an exposed nerve…………… the options narrow: one can act; weep; kill oneself; or go on living by looking away when it gets too much to bear.

    What is the limit of what we can do? Or to phrase it in Epictetan terms: what is under our “control”?

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    • I think the big thing here is that we’re seeing a void in leadership in the world. What will that lead too? Think of 1915 – 1917… WWI, Russian Revolution, Pre-Weimer Germany, Fascism (your ethno-nationalism), and Stalinism… I see bad times ahead on this planet, even if the players are different. With Putin moving troops into Syria one wonders where that will lead? Both Sunni and Shite are looking for their Mahdi and the Dajjal. Self-fulfilling prophecies? Or hyperstitional constructs creating the very future of apocalypse all monotheisms seem bent on enacting? Either way the world is beginning to breakdown and crumble under the pressure of stupid leaders and moronic capitalism that continues to suck the life blood of the planet as if there were no tomorrow while turning a blank eye of the misery everywhere….

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      • All part of the reason for a renewed emphasis on suffering over the current rhetorical fixation on luxury. The world is crumbling. What is the role of the left in such a world? It’s difficult to determine.

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      • Pretty much, although from within leftist circles you’d think it were otherwise. At the moment this is the best we have (in the UK)… it’s difficult to accept it but really, beyond the mere survivalism of grass roots, here is “our” best hope in the UK, the new leader of the opposition speaking 3 hours after his election at a Refugee rally:

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