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Archive for February, 2017

Bureaucrat-ease

Should we be concerned? Is now the time to speak out, speak up and show up, to protest the bureaucratic structures that impose an “otherness” on those with Arabic looks and Arabic names. Is now the time to resist words and processes that seek to convince us of the danger perceived by those who are not like us? 

Henry Rousso, a Jew exiled to France from Egypt following the imposition of anti-Semitic measures by Nasser in 1956, was on his way from Paris to speak at Texas A&M in College Station. But all did not go according to plan. He was, instead, detained by Customs and Border Patrol (CBP), in spite of the fact that Nasser is a French citizen. Rousso was about to be deported when someone got word to the University. (Washington Post, Feb 26, 2017, 2:12 p.m.)

Muhammad Ali, Jr. and his mother, Khalilah Camacho-Ali (the son and second wife of the great boxer Muhammad Ali) were detained at a Florida airport by Immigration officials. Camacho-Ali was released after showing a photo of her with her husband, but Ali, Jr. was detained for two hours and asked repeatedly, “Where did you get your name from?” And “Are you Muslim?” (USA Today, Feb 24, 2017 8:00 p.m.)

“They were just doing their job,” you might say of the work of CBP. Their job is “to keep us safe.” Therefore, what they did is okay. But moral choices are made each and every day by those who are “just doing their job.”

Zygmunt Bauman explores the place of the ordinariness of bureaucrats just doing their job in the machinery of German extermination of millions of Jews and non-Aryans. He notes that “Stalin’s and Hitler’s victims were not killed in a dull, mechanical fashion with no emotions—hatred included—to enliven it. They were killed because they did not fit … the scheme of a perfect society…They were eliminated, so that an objectively better world could be established … a harmonious world, conflict-free … People … with ineradicable blight of their past or origin could not be fitted into such unblemished, healthy and shining world…They had to be eliminated…The more rational is the organization, of action, the easier it is to cause suffering—and remain at peace with oneself (Bauman, Modernity and the Holocaust, 91-92, 155).”

We have rationalized the actions coming out of Washington and the concomitant work of ICE and CBP as “necessary” to keep us safe. Bauman continues, “It was not public rejoicing, but public indifference which ‘became a reinforcing strand in the noose inexorably tightening around hundreds of thousands of necks.’ Racism is a policy first, ideology second. Like all politics, it needs organization, managers and experts. Like all policies, it requires for its implementation a division of labour and an effective isolation of the task from the disorganizing effect of improvisation and spontaneity. It demands that the specialists are left undisturbed and free to proceed with their task. … The design gives it the legitimization; state bureaucracy gives it the vehicle; and the paralysis of society gives it the ‘road clear’ sign (Bauman, 74; 114).”

Moral outrage is made more difficult when we are able to separate ourselves from “others,” from those not like us, when we are able to separate ourselves from the process that depersonalizes and dehumanizes those who are different. No one need claim responsibility when distance and “otherness” builds a wall of separation between us and them. It was this separation, notes Bauman, which made it possible for thousands to kill, and for millions of others to watch the murders without protesting. “It was the technological and bureaucratic achievement of modern rational society which made such a separation possible.”

When should we resist? When should we speak out? Yesterday is not too soon!

Eric Godal penned this after his mother was deported back to Nazi Germany. She was murdered at the hands of Nazis.

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