Posts Tagged Kwame Anthony Appiah

Citizen of the World

 

According to our Prime Minister,

if you believe you’re a citizen of the world, you’re a citizen of nowhere. You don’t understand what the very word ‘citizenship’ means.

The examples she gives are of people who regard themselves as above the obligations and responsibilities to the communities in which they live and work, who identify themselves with ‘international elites’ rather than with ‘the people down the road, the people they employ, the people they pass in the street.’  She talks of ‘the spirit of citizenship’.

Prime Minister : You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

Those of us who identify ourselves as citizens of the world do, indeed, ‘respect the bonds and obligations that make our society work’.   But we see those bonds and obligations as extending beyond the people who live around us, work for us, buy the goods and services we sell.

As a citizen of the UK, I honour my commitments and responsibilities to the country of my birth, the country where I have spent most of my life, where I have worked, paid taxes, and raised a family.  But I also believe that:

In an increasingly connected world, local needs are intertwined with global needs. We are in the midst of serious challenges that threaten the whole world, and which require collective responsibility: climate change, extreme poverty, and the refugee crisis. Being a citizen of the world means acknowledging that we each have a part to play in solving these urgent global problems.

And in a world where 24 people are forced to flee their home each minute, the idea of a fixed national identity is sadly a privilege not all humans can claim. Where do you belong when your country is no longer your own? The tragedy of the biggest refugee crisis since the Second World War is a moving reminder of the need to look beyond borders. We need an inclusive identity for all the world’s displaced people – one that encompasses our responsibility for each other, wherever we call home. Whether you’re a founder of a multimillion-dollar business, a Prime Minister, or a refugee with nothing but a mobile phone and the clothes on your back, you can be a Global Citizen.

I spent some of my childhood years in a newly independent West African nation.  My parents flew out to Ghana in 1960, with three children under four years old. My father taught Physics and Mathematics to undergraduates at Kwame Nkrumah University of Science & Technology in Kumasi.  He wrote a textbook for use in schools, recognising that those imported from the UK not only assumed resources far beyond the means of Ghanaian schools, but also assumed cultural references which would make no sense to Ghanaian children.  He went on to train teachers in the north of Nigeria.  And in his retirement, after years doing the same at Trent Polytechnic (now Nottingham Trent University), he set up an organisation to link retired educators with projects in developing countries, sending them out to work with local teachers to use their lifetimes of expertise where it was most needed, in countries such as Paraguay, Kosovo, Iraq, Liberia, India and Chad.

The country of my parents who instilled in me a sense of public service and of public servants everywhere who want to give something back.

So what was instilled in me by my parents was not only a sense of public service, but the belief that that does not stop at our coastline, that it’s not just ‘the people down the road’, but the people across the oceans who matter.

It’s not about ‘international elites’, it’s about refugees, about people who are persecuted because of their politics, their religion or their sexuality, about people who starve because the world’s resources are so unevenly distributed and because their own and other governments do not have the will to act, about people…  About people.

Global citizenship does not mean what Teresa May thinks (or at least says) it means.

But there’s another troubling undertone here.

‘the people who are at home both nowhere and everywhere … the only ones who can be addressed as international, because they conduct their business everywhere’

‘International elites’, ‘rootless cosmopolitans’ who owe no loyalty to the countries in which they may live and work.  I am not suggesting for a moment that Teresa May is deliberately echoing Adolf Hitler’s 1933 speech, any more than Amber Rudd’s proposal to require firms to list all of their foreign workers is consciously preparing the ground for yellow stars or their equivalent.

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10-points-of-fascist-policy-spread-4But the echoes are worrying.  With the Brexit vote having been interpreted by the government primarily as a vote about immigration, and by racist bigots as a vote against foreigners of all kinds, with the plans to tighten even further the tests which would allow British businesses to employ people from overseas, and those which allow students to come from overseas to study here…

It seems that we are prepared to put into jeopardy our health services and the many other businesses and services which rely on overseas expertise, to put into jeopardy our economy, which gains so much from international students paying £20k a year in fees alone to study here, to put into jeopardy our research culture which thrives on the free movement of academics, all to reduce the net migration total.

Teresa May referred to the UK’s remarkable number of Nobel Laureates.  But one of this year’s prize winners, Sir Fraser Stoddart, has reminded us that ‘recruiting from a wider pool and bringing in talent from abroad raises everyone’s standard’.

“When you get people from Messina or Madrid moving to a cold place like Sheffield, they’re serious about science,” he said. “It’s better for everyone.”

Sir Martin Rees, emeritus professor of physics at the University of Cambridge, and the Astronomer Royal, warns:

“The UK scientific scene is now much stronger than it was [in the 1980s] – thanks in part of the strengthening of science on mainland Europe. But there is a serious risk, aggravated by the tone of Amber Rudd’s deplorable speech on Tuesday, that there will be a renewed surge of defections, weakening UK science and causing us to fail to recoup our investments over the last 20 years.”

Amber Rudd spoke of the resident labour market test, which determines whether an organisation can recruit outside the UK (and, at present, EU).

The test should ensure people coming here are filling gaps in the labour market, not taking jobs British people could do.

But it’s become a tick box exercise, allowing some firms to get away with not training local people. We won’t win in the world if we don’t do more to upskill our own workforce.

It’s not fair on companies doing the right thing. So I want us to look again at whether our immigration system provides the right incentives for businesses to invest in British workers.

Most people hearing this will not know how onerous it already is to appoint someone from outside the UK/EU, how many hoops the employer will have to jump through to satisfy the requirements for a Tier 2 visa to be issued, and how many hoops the applicant will have to jump through.  Amber Rudd knows this perfectly well, as do many in her audience.  But none of that really matters – what it’s about is meeting this arbritrary net migration target, by whatever means.

She also tackled the issue of international students:

The current system allows all students, irrespective of their talents and the university’s quality, favourable employment prospects when they stop studying. … And foreign students, even those studying English Language degrees, don’t even have to be proficient in speaking English. We need to look at whether this one size fits all approach really is right for the hundreds of different universities, providing thousands of different courses across the country.

Her first point is moot.  An international student can apply to stay on after their studies are complete under a Tier 1 Entrepreneur visa – if they have access to at least £50k investment funds to set up or run a UK business.  Or, they may apply for a Tier 2 visa, if they have been offered a job by a licensed UK employer, and if they can rack up 70 points under the points based system (yes, we do have a points based system!), which requires them, amongst other things, to have English language qualifications at a suitable level, and sufficient funds in their personal bank account.  And all overseas students have to meet English language proficiency requirements at a level set by their institution.

But important as it is to call her out on the inaccuracies in her statement, the really important thing is what underlies it.  The assumption that students are flooding here, unable to speak the language, getting favourable treatment post-study, bringing their entire extended families with them – that they are a burden and a problem.

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To quote Rudd:

try and stand up for a multiracial Britain and you are labelled part of the liberal elite; point out the £20 billion net contribution from immigrants over a decade and you are told you are not listening to the people; oppose hate crime and you are mocked for political correctness. It is easier to vilify foreigners in the new Britain than it is to espouse European values.

OK, not that Rudd.  Her brother, in fact, who has founded an organisation called Open Britain, a place for those who find the denigration of non-British workers appalling and campaigning for Britain to be open and inclusive, open for business, open to trade and investment, open to talent and hard work, open to Europe and to the world.

For Teresa May and Amber Rudd and so many in the Tory Party (and elsewhere) EU migrants are a problem.  Overseas workers and students are a problem.  Refugees are a problem.  Foreigners are a problem.

And the problem can be solved by ending free movement of EU citizens, if need be losing out on beneficial trade deals as a quid pro quo, by tightening up still further on the freedom of employers to bring in the skills and expertise they need to contribute to our economy and to our academic research, by reducing the numbers of students paying substantial fees and contributing to the local economy whilst acquiring skills and qualifications which might be useful both here and in their home country.

The problem can be solved by stating repeatedly that we are doing ‘everything we can’ (whilst doing nothing at all) to bring unaccompanied child refugees who have the right to come to Britain, out of the camp at Calais – due to be demolished shortly – and to safety with family here.

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Meanwhile the children remain in the squalor and misery of the camps, prey to traffickers and abusers, desperate enough to risk and lose their lives in attempts to board lorries crossing the Channel.  Every day they remain puts them at greater risk of harm, and increases their trauma.  But refugees – even these children – are a problem, and therefore we stall and hedge and do nothing.

And whilst we make that arbitrary division between those who live and work here holding a British passport and those who live and work here holding EU or overseas passports, we are about to guarantee for Britons who have settled overseas permanently a “vote for life” in British general elections…

The word ‘cosmopolitan’ is often used in a way that perhaps feeds into Teresa May’s characterisation, of someone who is part of ‘a meritocratic order that transforms difference into similarity, by plucking the best and brightest from everywhere and homogenizing them into the peculiar species that we call ‘global citizens’”.

But that’s a distortion of what it means.

Genuine cosmopolitanism is a rare thing. It requires comfort with real difference, with forms of life that are truly exotic relative to one’s own. It takes its cue from a Roman playwright’s line that “nothing human is alien to me,” and goes outward ready to be transformed by what it finds.

A global or world citizen places their shared humanity above nationalistic or local identities.   They recognise our interconnectedness, and that the problems and threats we face – climate change, terrorism, the displacement of peoples through war and famine – cannot be solved other than by nations working together and that our response is hindered rather than helped by borders and barriers. Global citizenship only comes into conflict with national and local identities, and with the obligations and responsibilities of national citizenship, if that nation demands of its citizens allegiance to values which are inhumane.

Kwame Anthony Appiah, Professor of Philosophy and Law at New York University, is about as cosmopolitan as anyone could be.  His mother was English (daughter of Sir Stafford Cripps), his father Ghanaian.  He was educated in Ghana and the UK, and taught in Germany, Ghana, South Africa and France as well as in the US.  His family and that of his husband, Henry Finder, is scattered across four continents.

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He defines cosmopolitanism as ‘universality plus difference’ asserting that the first takes precedence over the latter, that is: different cultures are respected “not because cultures matter in themselves, but because people matter, and culture matters to people.”

The foreignness of foreigners, the strangeness of strangers, these things are real enough, but Appiah suggests that intellectuals and leaders, on the left and the right, have wildly exaggerated their significance. He scrutinizes the treacly celebration of “diversity,” the hushed invocations of the “Other,” and the brow-furrowing talk of “difference.” In developing a cosmopolitanism for our times, he defends a vision of art and literature as a common human possession, distinguishes the global claims of cosmopolitanism from those of its fundamentalist enemies, and explores what we do, and do not, owe to strangers. This deeply humane account will make it harder for us to think of the world as divided between the West and the Rest, between locals and moderns, between Us and Them.

That the language around immigration is becoming ever more toxic is recognised across the political spectrum.  What might have been unsurprising in a UKIP manifesto is now mainstream Tory policy, and whilst many in Labour have been quick and vigorous in opposition, the Party’s Press Office inexplicably seemed to think that pointing out the government’s failure to meet its targets in reducing net migration was the best response.

More hopefully, the Green Party, SNP and Plaid Cymru were unequivocal:

The narrow vote in favour of leaving the EU has now been interpreted as the pretext for a drastic cutting of ties with Europe… and as an excuse for the most toxic rhetoric on immigration we have seen from any government in living memory.

This is a profoundly moral question which gets to the heart of what sort of country we think we live in. We will not tolerate the contribution of people from overseas to our NHS being called into question, or a new version of the divisive rhetoric of ‘British jobs for British workers’. Neither will we allow the people of these islands, no matter how they voted on June 23rd, to be presented as a reactionary, xenophobic mass whose only concern is somehow taking the UK back to a lost imperial age. At a time of increasing violence and tension, we will call out the actions of politicians who threaten to enflame those same things.

It’s perilously easy to despair.  But if we do, if we let the seemingly endless tide of sickening rhetoric and bad news overwhelm us and reduce us to silence and inaction, those who will suffer will be those who are already vulnerable, those who are already being told to ‘go home’, facing abuse and discrimination, those who are desperately trying to reach safety and encountering the impermeable indifference of bureaucracy, those who have made their lives and careers here and now feel unwelcome.

‘There is no us and them. It’s us and us. It’s all us.’

No pasaran.

 

 

2016-10-07

https://www.globalcitizen.org/en/content/citizenship-theresa-may-brexit-british-values/

http://www.standard.co.uk/comment/comment/liberal-britain-must-stand-up-against-a-hard-destructive-brexit-a3362436.html

Cosmopolitanism

http://www.cablestreet.uk/

https://www.theguardian.com/science/2016/oct/04/david-thouless-duncan-haldane-and-michael-kosterlitz-win-nobel-prize-in-physics

https://www.theguardian.com/science/2016/oct/06/brexit-not-good-news-for-british-science-warn-new-nobel-laureates

https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2016/oct/07/expats-given-vote-for-life-uk-elections-government-says

 

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Cities of Sanctuary

It’s Refugee Week.  Every year a time to consider what drives people to leave everything behind and throw themselves on the mercy of a world that is often indifferent, suspicious and hostile.  Every year a time to consider what our culture has gained from those who’ve sought sanctuary here, and what it’s lost in those who never made it.

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Two very different refugee stories that I came across in the last few days:

Occursus told the story of Pauline, whose family came to Sheffield from Ukraine, and were part of the Jewish community in the slums around Scotland Street.  There’s a multiple loss here – of the original home in Novograd-Volynsk, of the area where the 19th century Jewish emigrants settled, and the family home on Allen Street, but also of the connections to that past, and those lost places.  Pauline was discouraged from exploring her family history, and now pieces together what she can from fragments and guesses, and sensory memories – smells and sounds.   And the Guardian featured Carmen Bugan‘s memories of her father, a dissident in Ceausescu’s Romania, and the family’s escape from oppression.   Carmen’s memories have been enhanced in an unexpected way – by the secret police files which she’s now been able to access and which shed a weird light on the years of surveillance and suspicion, imprisonment and torture, but also gave her back a story she’d written as a child and the endorsement of her father’s love for his children in the words of an anonymous watcher.

These stories chimed for me with reflections on Storying Sheffield’s 2012 exhibition, from Matthew Cheeseman’s Einekleine blog, talking about the sensibility of loss, the fragmentary past, memory appearing as traces.  He says that the work in the exhibition ‘makes one marvel at all that is not there, at all that is truly gone, erased forever.’ It offers ‘a field of stories so deep, so potentially endless, it induces vertigo, a sense of terror at what has gone before and what will be left behind. …  Within this vertigo is a response to the finality of Derrida’s traces: more will come, more will happen. Traces will be replaced by traces, all dying, all corroding, but giving into others, in a protean, quantum-field of experience which is not only filled with loss but also, seemingly at least, a generative, life-affirming push. Speech and stories may be fragile and delicate, but they are replaced and revived by their own action. ‘

There are many, many lines of flight from here.   Reading history in the gaps, the absences, the lacunae.   Ghosts and revenants, walking the streets of our cities.   Themes for future blogs – but in this specific context, a reminder of the field of stories from those who, like Pauline’s parents, and Carmen’s, left behind lives that are unrecoverable now, and made new lives in unfamiliar places.   Every refugee has these two narratives – the life before and the life since.   And the former interweaves itself with the latter, consciously or unconsciously – Carmen lives on the border between France and Switzerland, where her husband works at CERN:   ‘I think I belong on the border.  I feel safer psychologically if I have two countries, two places to go’.   Another line of flight – borders, frontiers, liminal space…

The refugee story is our story too.  Not just in the sense that it could be any of us, though of course it could be – but because how we, our community, our city, our homeland, respond to the strangers who turn to us for sanctuary is a compelling story too, on every level from the most personal to the global political.   The refugee story told by some of our newspapers is a travesty of the truth, a mean-spirited, mendacious, xenophobic narrative of a Britain already full up, being taken for a ride by workshy foreigners with sob stories about persecution and spurious appeals to human rights.  I would be fairly startled if anyone reading this blog subscribed to that set of views.  But because it’s so pervasive, the counter-narrative needs to be robust,  and to establish both facts (the laws around asylum, the benefits and entitlements of those seeking it, the numbers involved) and principles.

For Derrida, ‘ethics is hospitality’:

‘Hospitality is culture itself and not simply one ethic amongst others.   Insofar as it has to do with the ethos, that is, the residence, one’s home, the familiar place of dwelling, inasmuch as it is a manner of being there, the manner in which we relate to ourselves and to others, to others as our own or as foreigners, ethics is hospitality’. (Cosmopolitanism & Forgiveness, p. 16-17)

He goes beyond this assertion to recognise the possibility that hospitality can entail appropriation, control and mastery, and to explore therefore the idea of cities of refuge, an idea that goes back centuries, but raises issues of state sovereignty and law which he acknowledges are obscure and difficult.  There’s no simple way of enshrining that simple principle at national and international level, but without that, the fate of the exiled will always be precarious.   Kwame Anthony Appiah‘s study of cosmopolitanism, subtitled ‘Ethics in a world of strangers’, defines it as ‘ universality plus difference”.    Based on this, we should offer hospitality to the stranger because of the former – because what we share is more important than what we don’t.   That difference may be the first thing that strikes us, and Julia Kristeva sets out a shockingly stark polarity of responses: ‘I’m at least as peculiar as this other, and so I love him/her’, says the observer , or ‘I prefer my own peculiarity, and so I kill the other’ – more recognisably, fascination or rejection.    Kristeva’s analysis is complex and problematic on many levels and certainly doesn’t offer – any more than Derrida or Appiah – a programme of change.  But it offers some powerful images of what it is to be a stranger – in  a state of permanent transience, one’s space ‘a moving train, a plane in flight, the very transition that precludes stopping’, torn between here and elsewhere, belonging nowhere.  The stranger loses their language and their place in the community – they count for no one, no one hears them.

W G Sebald’s Jacques Austerlitz came to Britain on the kindertransport.  Sebald explores the “effects political persecution produces in people 50 years down the line, and the complicated workings of remembering and forgetting that go with that”. He is interested in the long-term effects on émigrés who “may appear well adapted but, especially as they move towards old age, are still suffering from having been ostracised, deprived of country, family, language. There are damages to people’s inner lives that can never be rectified.” In The Emigrants too, he explores the ‘great time lag between the infliction of injustice and when it finally overwhelms you’.

Derrida rejects the option of giving examples of individual refugees in his text, ‘for there are too many; and to cite the best known would risk sending the anonymous others back into the darkness (mal) from which they find it hard to escape’ (p. 6).  There’s truth in this –  but the refugee risks losing past, history, identity and language when they uproot themselves to find safety amongst strangers, and every story that can be told is precious, a little bit of light in the darkness.

Refugee Week  is obviously about more than telling the stories.  It’s about campaigning, to end destitution for refused asylum seekers (Still Human, Still Here), to change practice on the treatment of gay and lesbian asylum seekers, for asylum seekers to be allowed to work.  It’s about fundraising to provide resources and support for refugees.  It’s about raising awareness and understanding, refuting and challenging prejudices and misconceptions.   There are many organisations working in this field, at the local and national level, some of which are listed below.  I choose to support Refugee Action, for which my brother has worked for a number of years, and for whom I will be fundraising by participating in the Great Yorkshire Run in September.

http://www.refugeestories.org/living/

http://www.refugee-action.org.uk/

http://www.refugeecouncil.org.uk/

http://stillhumanstillhere.wordpress.com/

http://www.assistsheffield.org.uk/

http://www.academic-refugees.org/

http://www.cityofsanctuary.org/

http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2001/sep/22/artsandhumanities.highereducation

Julia Kristeva, Etrangers a nous-memes (Paris: Gallimard, 1988)

Jacques Derrida, On Cosmopolitanism & Forgiveness (NY, Routledge, 2001)

Kwame Anthony Appiah, Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers (London: Allen Lane, 2006)

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