Temporalising difference, spatialising time, in/securing the Mediterranean

This was previously published at: the King’s College Research Centre on International Relations forum  30/10/2013

Recent immigrants deaths on the coasts of Italy have, once again, brought Mediterranean as a source of in/security to European Union’s agenda. As member states discuss what needs to be done to better ‘secure’ European borders against immigrants, the more complex questions about ‘how’ and ‘why’ immigrants travel from southern to northern shores of the Mediterranean are seldom asked. Needless to say, it is not only the European Union gives such securitised responses to arriving immigrants; we observe similar responses in other parts of the world including Australia and the United States, albeit in different ways. The ‘how’ and ‘why’ of immigrants’ journeys from the southern to northern shores of the Mediterranean reveal complex relationships that cannot be reduced to everyday simplifications: ‘they’ are lagging behind ‘us’ and therefore want to come here to make use of the benefits ‘we’ extend to ‘our’ citizens.

While such statements fail to capture the complexity of dynamics involved they are nevertheless helpful in revealing the following: In the past decade or so, various European actors (including but not limited to EU bodies) have increasingly adopted security practices vis-à-vis the Mediterranean that portrayed insecurities of the South as a passing phase in search for security and justified violent practices (as with rendition, violation of the non-refoulement principle, and intercepting boats in the Mediterranean in a way that puts individuals’ lives at risk) and turning a blind-eye to human rights violations by Southern Mediterranean regimes of their own citizens. What warrants such portrayals and justifications is temporalising difference and spatialising time.

Through temporalising difference, one’s own contemporaries are relegated to a past where security dynamics are presumed to work differently. Through spatialising time, one’s contemporaries living in some other parts of the world are relegated to a past world. These twin processes have implications for in/securing peoples in different parts of the world. Temporalizing difference and spatialising time allows portraying insecurities of some people in some other parts of the world as a passing phase in search for security, and overlooks the need for investigating alternative presents and futures. Insecurities experienced in the South are rendered explicable as trials and travails of shaking off ideas and institutions of that past world. Interventions of various kinds are, in turn, warranted as the only available remedy in addressing such challenges (see Jabri 2013).

Needless to say, it is not only European actors whose practices deserve scrutiny. Over the last decade or so, with unfolding security cooperations between the North and South, some Southern Mediterranean regimes have increasingly become enforcers of European security policies vis-à-vis their own citizens and other immigrants in-transit to the EU. Some South Mediterranean leaders (some of whom not survived the Arab Spring) have also made use of the context of the “global war on terror” to pursue their own security agendas at the expense of their citizens’ security.

Aforementioned practices constitute a break with European Union’s own outlook toward security in the Mediterranean -not in terms of temporalising difference, it has to be said, but in terms of reflecting on violence incurred.

Although the European Community (EC) began to formulate policies towards the South Mediterranean countries in particular and the Middle East in general as early as the 1970s, it was in the 1990s, with the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership (EMP) that the European Union first adopted a concerted effort toward the Mediterranean. At the time, concerns regarding increasing immigration from the South of the Mediterranean, aggravated social unrest and instability in the EU’s southern neighbours, and the possible radicalisation of South Mediterranean diaspora in the EU ranked high among EU priorities. About a decade later in 2004, the European Union launched the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) in a political context characterised by the failures of the EMP in meeting its objectives, a heightened sense of insecurity in the EU in relation to irregular immigration within the context of the “global war on terror”, and global ambitions of the Union itself.

From EMP to ENP, one can identify two principal ways in which European security practices have rested on assumptions of temporalising difference and spatialising time. The EMP had emphasised political and social reforms as security policy, thereby relegating the South of the Mediterranean to Europe’s past, while at the same time allowing for the Mediterranean to “grow up” and become more like ‘us’ by following the EU example. The ENP, however, allowed South Mediterranean states to address their own insecurities at their own pace, while engaging in security cooperation with Southern regimes with worrisome human rights records. This shift in policy signalled how European actors viewed the South as belong to the past and deserving of security policies that are deemed “appropriate” for that past world.

While both approaches betrayed little reflection on the production of insecurities as such, the ENP was influential in warranting a set of violent practices that would not be considered appropriate for EU citizens but deemed appropriate when adopted toward the citizens of Southern Mediterranean countries, immigrants in-transit and asylum seekers. In terms of specific security practices, as part of the transition to ENP, more violent instruments of security have increasingly begun to be used by the EU or member states when cooperating with the Southern neighbours. Such de-differentiation involved the training of military and police forces of Southern Mediterranean countries, the training of immigration officers, and the transfer of surveillance and control technology. Over the years, through a variety of policies, including the ENP, the EU and member states have sought to address challenges externally through highly technologised and sometimes violent means and/or subcontracted Southern Mediterranean regimes, before those “external” challenges became “internal” security concerns for Europe. Implications of European security practices for citizens of Southern Mediterranean countries and immigrants in-transit included abuse of fundamental rights allowed by the secrecy surrounding the endemic in/security practices of some Southern Mediterranean regimes, irregular migrants being directed to more dangerous routes and violent treatment of immigrants by human smugglers, persistently high levels of human deaths in transit, and the fading of asylum-seeking as a strategy to escape repression.

Such maltreatment of immigrants on the road to the European Union, in turn, is not unrelated to endemic insecurities in the South of the Mediterranean, namely, the limits of respect for fundamental rights and freedoms. Indeed, it is not only immigrants and asylum-seekers but also citizens of some Southern Mediterranean countries who were in/secured through North-South security cooperation. In the run up to the “Arab Spring” and in spite of the European Commission’s concerns, some anti-democratic practices of the Egyptian government were overlooked by the EU, including the state of emergency, which was renewed in 2006 and again in 2010. In other South Mediterranean contexts such as Tunisia, torture and ill-treatment of human rights defenders, and the imprisonment and torture of Sahrawi activists in Tunisia were reported to have been overlooked (Amnesty International 2010).

What we observe in the EU in recent years, then, is what Bigo (2001) has referred to as “a growing interpenetration between internal and external security”—“internal” security in the EU is increasingly sought outside its boundaries in collaboration with non-EU actors; “external” security, in turn, is pursued at home through recourse to surveillance techniques and data mining. That said, while “internal” and “external” has been increasingly difficult to distinguish from one another, EU policies have increasingly distinguished between “insiders” (EU citizens) and “outsiders” (immigrants and asylum-seekers) in designing policies toward the Mediterranean. In doing so, policies were embedded in assumptions of temporalising difference (by way of relegating to the past those who are considered different) and spatialising time (by relegating to the past who reside to the south of the Mediterranean).

Pinar Bilgin is Associate Professor of International Relations at Bilkent University, Ankara and Visiting Senior Research Fellow at War Studies, King’s College London. She is the author of Regional Security in the Middle East: A Critical Perspective (Routledge, 2005).

This short piece is based on research conducted as part of FP7 project IN:EX (http://www.inexproject.eu). Fuller report on the findings of the project on the Mediterranean are available here. A fuller treatment of the argument here is forthcoming in Anna M. Agathangelou and Kyle D. Killian, eds., Time, Temporality and Violence in International Relations: (De) Fatalizing the Present, Forging Radical Alternatives (Routledge).

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Border Thinking: In Memory of Yaşar Kemal

Yaşar Kemal, one of the greatest novelists writing in Turkish, passed away today. In memory of Yaşar Kemal, I offer a  review of Andrew Davison’s new book: Border Thinking on the Edges of the West: Crossing Over the Hellespont.  İnce Memed, Kemal’s monumental novel set in the  mountain villages of the Taurus mountains, is utilised by Davison to challenge (what he characterises as) ‘Western’ ways of thinking about ‘others’ beyond the borders. In doing so, Davison critiques both prevalent ways of thinking about borders, and portrayals of lives beyond those borders–one instance of which he finds in the Hellespont (the Dardanelles strait connecting/separating ‘Europe’ and ‘Asia’).

Structured in two parts, Davison’s study juxtaposes two different ways of approaching ‘others’ who live to the east of the Hellespont. The first part looks at ancient Greek texts, and points to a particular tradition of thinking about and a particularly violent pattern of interacting with others. Davison identifies this tradition as the precursor to present-day ‘Western’ ways of thinking about and interacting with others in IR and world politics. The second part could be read as an emphatic discussion of Kemal’s İnce Memed, offering a glimpse of lives to the east of the Hellespont–a picture that does not get reflected in the texts analysed in the first part.

By juxtaposing ancient ‘Greek’ texts with ‘Turkish’ literature, Davison offers a path beyond the prevalent ways of thinking about borders, and violent practices that are warranted by such thinking. In doing so, however, he becomes vulnerable to the criticism that the ‘others’ are portrayed as having no  political thought, but only  their ‘culture’.  The assumption being, in order to recover ‘others’  alternative ways of thinking about borders one should bypass IR and political science and go directly to their ‘cultural texts’.

Such criticism, if directed to Davison’s study, would not be fair. For, the first part of Davison’s book also looks at ‘culture’ to the west of the Hellespont, by focusing on texts such as those by Heredotus. However, such texts are so widely and deeply analysed in prevalent traditions of political thinking that any study that focuses on them comes across as ‘political thought’ whereas the latter is received as ‘cultural studies’.

Given the paucity of studies on political thinking originating from the east of the Hellespont, the assumption prevails: ‘others’ thinking need excavating from their ‘culture’. That political thinking as found in the ancient Greek texts were adopted, protected, translated, cherished, elaborated upon and further developed by those who peoples who have lived on the east of the Hellespont is often overlooked. Given such oversight that is characteristic of many fields, including IR, we fall back on the ‘East/West’ binary when thinking about borders. Even majestic attempts to challenge prevalent ways of thinking about borders and lives beyond those borders are structured around this binary.

Davison’s book is likely to appeal to students of political science, especially those interested in border thinking, who appreciate the insights of studying crossover literature and/or adopting crossover methods in the study of (world) politics. The study also offers a wonderful appreciation of Yaşar Kemal’s writing. Finally, for those who are familiar with Davison’s earlier studies on Secularism and Revivalism  in Turkey and Corporatist Ideology in Kemalist Turkey (with Taha Parla), this book offers a different way of engaging with politics in Turkey, by offering insight into lives that are moulded by (through accepting  or resisting) the politics analysed in the first two books.

ISA 2015 program: themes addressed, voices heard

Here is a selection from 100+ panels and RTs invited and/or sponsored by the conference theme (President + program chairs). While it is very important to discuss what one aspect of the program (i.e. the sapphire series of panels) does not offer, it may also be useful to consider what the rest of the program offers–in terms of both themes addressed and voices heard.

Presidential Theme Panel: Advancing Global IR (I): Challenges And Prospects
WA10: Wednesday 8:15 AM – 10:00 AM

Advancing Global IR (II): Challenges And Prospects
SA03: Saturday 8:15 AM – 10:00 AM

Presidential Theme Panel – 34 Ways To Say “International Relations”: The Teaching, Research And International Policy Project’s 2014 Worldwide Faculty Survey
SB57: Saturday 10:30 AM – 12:15 PM

Presidential Theme Panel – W.E.B. Du Bois: The Global Color Line
FD56: Friday 4:00 PM – 5:45 PM

Regional Institution Building In Comparative Perspective
SA07: Saturday 8:15 AM – 10:00 AM

Presidential Theme Panel – The Future Of The American-Led Liberal International Order
WD09: Wednesday 4:00 PM – 5:45 PM

New Thinking on Religions and Civilizations in World Politics
WD08: Wednesday 4:00 PM – 5:45 PM

Presidential Theme Panel – Feminist International Relations Today: A Discipline Transformed?
TB30: Thursday 10:30 AM – 12:15 PM

Roundtable: Race and International Relations: A Debate Around John Hobson’s ‘The Eurocentric Conception of World Politics’
TA22: Thursday 8:15 AM – 10:00 AM

Presidential Theme Panel: Postcolonialism, Race and IR: War, Capitalism, Segregation, Tribes, Literature
FC57: Friday 1:45 PM – 3:30 PM

Race and Racism in International Relations
TC02: Thursday 1:45 PM – 3:30 PM

Presidential Theme Panel: Three Decades of Worlding IR: A roundtable Retrospective
FC39: Friday 1:45 PM – 3:30 PM

Presidential Theme Panel: Bandung+60: Legacies and Contradictions
WB30: Wednesday 10:30 AM – 12:15 PM

Presidential Theme Panel: Rethinking World History For a Global IR
SD29: Saturday 4:00 PM – 5:45 PM

Presidential Theme Panel: Decolonizing the Western Academy: Postcolonial Challenges to Global IR
FB10: Friday 10:30 AM – 12:15 PM

IR’s Eurocentric Limitations
TD09: Thursday 4:00 PM – 5:45 PM

Decolonial Methodologies: Critiques and Experiences from the Fieldwork
TC56: Thursday 1:45 PM – 3:30 PM

Presidential Theme Panel: Decolonizing the Discipline? Indigenous Contributions to the Study of Global Politics
SC57: Saturday 1:45 PM – 3:30 PM

Presidential Theme Panel: Indigenous Peoples, Values and Sovereignty, In the Study of Global Politics
WA56: Wednesday 8:15 AM – 10:00 AM

p.s. 1. for an excellent discussion on the Sapphire Series, please see Cindy Weber’s blogpost: http://duckofminerva.com/2015/02/isas-sapphire-series-is-blue-the-new-white.html

p.s. 2. for an update issued by the ISA, see: http://www.isanet.org/News/ID/4690/Sapphire-Series-Update

p.s. 3. here is another list offered by the Ruby Series group: http://occupyirtheory.info/?p=404