The recent visit by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Bangladesh to attend celebrations marking 50 years since the birth of the country following the Liberation War in 1971 has drawn attention to the difficult task of building a nation on the back of a brutal and bloody civil war. At least four people were killed by police in the Bangladeshi city of Chittagong during a demonstration against Modi’s visit. Protesters from Hefazat-e-Islam Bangladesh, and counter protestors aligned with Bangladesh’s governing Awami League party, represent the central divide in Bangladeshi politics, between those who tie national identity to Islam and those who tie national identity to ethnicity and the Bengali language. This is a divide sometimes understood as one between those who ‘collaborated’ with the Pakistani military and those who participated in the independence struggle. On the Golden Jubilee of Bangladesh’s birth, this divide continues to shape Bangladesh’s political landscape today.
Using the case of the ‘Urdu-speaking minority’ in Bangladesh, my Identities article, ‘Displacement, integration and identity in the postcolonial world’, considered what the experience of minorities displaced during the Liberation War tells us about the Bangladeshi national imagination today. Their own voices, and the narratives of identity and integration in which they are situated, are revealing of the nature and boundaries of the nation state fifty years on from the country’s birth. Although the country remains divided around the role or significance of religion versus culture, and between those who ‘collaborated’ with the Pakistani military and those who participated in the independence struggle, there are older divides at work here too. Some of those who ended up on the wrong side of the Liberation War are accepted into the nation today. Here colonial narratives of ‘population’ versus ‘people-nation’, ‘community’ versus ‘citizen’ structure exclusion not only through narratives of the country’s foundation myth (as commonly assumed) but also through poverty and social space.
In the 1950s, the world famous American-born entertainer Josephine Baker, who lived in France, toured the US. She was refused in 36 hotels in New York because she was black.
Back in France, Baker adopted twelve children from 10 different countries in order to prove to the world that people of all ‘races’ and religions could live together. She organised tours through the castle where she lived with her ‘rainbow tribe’ and made the children sing and dance. In the 1920s and 1930s the popular novelist Pearl S. Buck adopted seven children, four of whom were labelled ‘mixed-race’. By doing so she flaunted American restrictions on mixed-race adoptions. In the 1950s, Buck said she did so because she wanted to show that families formed by love – devoid of prejudices based on race, religion, nation, and blood – were expressions of democracy that could counteract communist charges that America’s global defence of freedom was deeply hypocritical.
The adoptions by Baker and Buck were political statements that illustrate that intercountry adoptions were frequently about much more than saving a child, as many people who defended adoptions claim. My Identities article, ‘Parenting, citizenship and belonging in Dutch adoption debates 1900-1995’, explains why debates on this issue continued, without ever reaching a conclusion. Celebrities (including Madonna, Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt) followed in the footsteps of Baker and Buck. Non-celebrities copied behaviour and arguments. Adopters tried to show that children and adults not connected by blood ties could form a family, and that single parent adoptions or adoption by same sex couples could work. Critics pointed to child kidnappings, trafficking, ‘baby farms’ and a profit-driven industry based on global inequality. Adoption was not a solution to poverty, nor in the best interest of the child, in their view.
In France and Belgium, residence permits issued to migrants from the global south married to French or Belgian citizens have consistently risen since the mid-1990s. These unions – depicted as a legal loophole that give migrants cover to secure residency, sometimes by taking advantage of unsuspecting citizens, and as fuel for ‘ethnic separatism’ when migrants marry citizens of migration background – have been targeted by law reforms in the 2000s designed to discourage them and hurdle consequent applications for temporary and permanent residence, and citizenship acquisitions.
My Identities article, ‘Family rights-claiming as act of citizenship: an intersectional perspective on the performance of intimate citizenship’, examines the enforcement of such provisions and its climate from the standpoint of French and Belgian citizens who want to marry or are already married to non-European migrants. Precisely, it draws on the experiences of national partners who, seeking legal help from non-governmental organisations (NGOs), participate in their advocacy actions. Some partners wish to overcome minute, intrusive and discretionary migration controls and administrative blockages for marrying or applying for residence, while others seek the annulment of their marriage claiming to have been cheated by their migrant partners. Although diametrically opposed, the intimate and administrative experiences of these partners erode the boundaries between their intimacy and citizenship.
Interviewer: ‘What do you think it means to be British?’
Miriam: ‘It is a passport. To be British now, I’m sorry to say this, but it is a passport. That is it. That is what being British means to me… I have lost faith in the country which I used to call home. I have lost faith, I have lost trust. Every single bit of pride that I had to be calling myself a British citizen has almost gone out of the window. They have basically sucked every single bit of love for the UK out of me.’
Miriam’s husband had been in the UK from his teens but was recently forcibly removed from the country, after a traumatic period incarcerated in immigration detention. The authorities have advised Miriam that she should choose between staying in the UK alone or leave to be with him. She’s choosing the latter:
‘I just said stuff it, if England don’t want me to live here, I will live in any country in the world with him, and that is it.’
In recent years border walls have been built in different parts of the world in order to stop irregular migration. However, barriers for migrants are not only constructed physically but also discursively in political discourses. It is known that restrictive policies in Europe are accompanied by exclusionary discourses on national citizenship for immigrants, depicting them as either ‘deserving’ or ‘undeserving’.
Empirical studies have demonstrated that the representation of immigrants and their citizenship in policies plays an important role in how these policies are received and acted upon, both by the host community and the immigrants themselves (da Lomba 2010; Stewart and Mulvey 2014). As such, studying political discourses might contribute to the understanding of the socioeconomic and political incorporation of immigrants into the host community.
In the study presented in my Identities article, 'The labyrinth towards citizenship: contradictions in the framing and categorization of immigrants in immigration and integration policies', my co-author and I aimed to fully grasp how immigrants were framed in immigration policies in Belgium. Although previous studies have treated immigration and integration policies as distinct fields, we argue that a combined analysis of these two policy domains is needed in order to comprehend the full complexity of immigration policy. By mapping the different representations of immigrants in the wider policy field, we found that this is much more complex than the generally adopted contrast between deserving and undeserving suggest.