Friday, December 30, 2005


Santiago Alba Rico - Immigration and the Iron Curtain of Melilla

The beatings and insults to the sub-Saharan nationals in Melilla are something slightly more radical and fearsome than racism; they are the manifestation of a belligerent and potentially homicidal anti-humanism.
INVITATION TO THE BOMB : The Iron Curtain of the Melilla Border

By Santiago Alba Rico

We Spaniards should have reserved a bit of naiveté for this occasion. During the last years we have been exposed to such a digest of horrors that our conscience got jammed. Spain trembled with the destruction of the Twin Towers and its 3,000 dead; it trembled with the bombing of the Atocha Station and its 200 victims torn to pieces; it also trembled with the missiles over Baghdad and with Abu-Ghraib’s tortures and trembled again with the scenes of a New Orleans turned upside down by the water and abandoned by its government. Nevertheless, much more impressive than all that –both as a question and as an image– is the zoological treatment accorded by the Spanish State to the African nationals at the iron curtain of the Melilla border with Morocco.

The gunfire, deportation and caging of thousands of persons who were asking for help–that strategy they call “migratory policy,” just as Hitler used to call “demographic policy” the transfer to Auschwitz of the European Jews–de facto challenges before the eyes of the world the legitimacy, viability and justice of the political and economic order in place.

At the same time, the reaction of our politicians, our mass media and our public opinion challenges our right to the wealth, to democratic institutions and, especially, our present and future right to feel we are good. After all, the pain caused by both the 11-S and 11-M can be attributed to “wicked terrorists” just the same that the pain of Baghdad’s children can be attributed to “wicked imperialists.” But in Melilla there is no doubt: we have photographed the system, we have fixed forever the image of an order that has to shoot the people who ask for help, that cannot stop treating as animals the people who are hungry, which cannot even allow hospitality.

The very fact that the African nationals are asking for help from the same people who rob them demonstrates their desperation; the very fact that those who rob them answer with bullets and clubs their demand for help demonstrates the irrevocable ignominy of capitalism. We can fight distant wars, impose programs of structural adjustment, sign in an office a commercial agreement and destroy ten countries without violating in appearance any commandment. But if a few men and women who are hungry and thirsty knock to our door then we have no option but to breach their heads, shoot them and abandon them in the desert. Whether one believes or not in God, this is a sin, a shameful, dirty, abject, despicable sin, and it is not strange that we make so big an effort to conceal it, to forget it or to justify it.

Prime Minister Zapatero gave orders to the Spanish army to murder a beggar who was extending his hand, just like neonazi gangs used to do to the beggars who slept in cardboards, and Spain either applauded or kept silent. Even the COPE Catholic Church-run radio station celebrated with a joke when comparing the struggle of these desperados to an “Olympic pole vaulting to Spain.” An extreme right wing Spanish website criticized the rogue delirium of an “invasion which is not pushed back by the government with enough severity”; suffice it to read the news and commentaries of the Spanish mainstream media to see how they have changed this unconcealable shame into euphemisms, periphrasis and hyperbatons as complicated and fragile as a light glass: “Melilla is closely living the drama of immigration,” as if the Melillans were the victims and as if it the solution should be to live the drama from afar; “Double perimeter of frontier waterproofing” is an evil sanitary euphemism which conceals under an aseptic technicality a bristly wire fence which dehumanized the people who tried to jump. “Some of them have died in the attempt and others have in their body the sequels of this desperate action,” as if they had hurt themselves alone in a mountain-climbing competition; “Their situation puts into question the morality of the kingdom of Morocco,” because the kingdom of Spain would prefer, indeed, that they were killed on their way here–leaving for the Muslims a dirty work that the Christians cannot do without hurting their sense of morality and without dirtying the words democracy and human rights we Westerners eternally mouth.

These are contradictions that only can be justified by filling them with emptiness, that is to say, with more and more armed nihilism. If a soldier who practices torture with prisoners goes back home in the evenings and wants to be an example for his children, these prisoners have to be nothing at all. A society like ours, which chooses nonstop poverty in Africa, uses force against African nationals when they threaten our guilty well-being while at the same time wants to preserve its values and its moral superiority, has to become convinced that these Africans deserve their destiny as we deserve our supermarkets and cellular phones. Thus, Melilla’s fence is a concept as natural as the Mediterranean Sea and as just as the light of the day.

But this fence, which slashes the world in two without threshold or transition, is also a screen in which are reflected two unconcealable contradictions which are easier to ignore elsewhere. The first one has to deal with the direction and the very possibility of displacements by individuals in an unequal economic space in which the formally homogeneous nation-states unequally impose their sovereignty.

International conventions and local constitutions, in accordance with the UN principles, recognizes and demands respect for the individual right of citizens to go out of their countries. But the same conventions and constitutions, in accordance with the UN principles leave the right of entry in the hands of the states. Going out is an individual right; entering is a state right. In an economically unequal space in which the sovereignty is also unequally distributed, if the Spaniards seem to have the individual right to enter Morocco or Indonesia it is only because the Spanish State has enough force to debilitate or overcome the Moroccan or Indonesian sovereignties; if conversely the Senegalese, the Nigerians or the Moroccans do not seem to have the right to go out of Africa it is only because the Spanish sovereignty is sovereign enough to prevent them from entering Spain. In fact, the Spaniards can enter Morocco or Indonesia because they are not individuals but impersonal manifestations of a sovereign state; by the same token, the Senegalese cannot go out of Africa because they are only defenseless individuals detached from non sovereign states. Paradoxically and against all appearances, the freedom of movement is only prohibited to individuals.

This contradiction, in any case, allows Western states–as long as they are not forced to shoot against the fences–to be morally scandalized by the restrictions that both the Soviet Union and the RDA used to impose on whoever wanted to go out, and at the same time allows the same Western states to de facto suspend such a right, without violating any commandment nor shaking their values when they prevent the entry by all means –either legal or violent– of nationals who go individually out of their controlled and ragged nations (turned into real “containers” by means of bilateral agreements with governments more than doubtfully democratic). But this contradiction also determines and is the sine qua non of a double spatial displacement, in opposite directions, ascending and descending, which is coincident with these actively political figures we call tourist and immigrant.

As abstract depositories of a top power, millions of Western tourists freely enter every year Egypt, Bali, Morocco or Tunis, while millions of Latin-American and African immigrants are pushed back, as pure helpless individuals, at the borders of the USA and Europe. In fact, and in structural terms, these immigrants are now and always immigrants from birth in their own country, even if they do not go out of their borders, as it is demonstrated by the fact that tourists, from their part, travel abroad provided with their Melillan fences and impose them wherever they go: hotels armored with strong security measures, private beaches, closed circuits protected from the natives, who can only penetrate them clandestinely and are always considered to be inopportune, troublesome or suspicious.

And so, in the context accepted by all of an inequality of sovereignties which vetoes displacements by individuals –and only by them– and which brings face to face tourists and immigrants independently of where they are, the bombs of Bali, Egypt or Kenya were only equivalent, but at a less harmful scale, to the “migratory” Western policies that in the Strait of Gibraltar and the US-Mexican border alone have killed 35,000 persons in the last ten years. The logic behind either the Spanish politicians or mainstream media forces us to consider that terrorist attacks on Western tourists are legitimate mechanisms of restrictive sovereignty, at the same level of the iron curtains, the bullets and the deportations we impose on the sub-Saharan individuals in Melilla. As such, Melilla’s fence is an open invitation to the bomb and a legitimization of its effects.

The second contradiction of the fence is in fact a prolongation of the first one and has to deal with the well known paradox of human rights. Against the universal principles of the French Revolution, the reactionary Joseph de Maistre stated that in the world that there was no one whom we could call men except for Spaniards, Frenchmen, Englishmen and even Persian (if Montesquieu’s testimony was to be accepted, as he had written about them). A Century and a half later, this accurate joke undresses the absurd and tragic consequences of trying to defend human rights in an economically unequal space formally governed by the nation-state.

Hannah Arendt called attention to the fact that once devoid of motherland, family, money, and reduced to their pure human condition, the stateless and refugees of the Second World War were at the margins of any right. As pure individuals, the men who jump Melilla’s fence and destroy their passport in order not to be deported back to their infrasovereign nations are therefore deprived of any guardianship, lack resources and nationality and become men, only men with just their naked human condition to resist. And precisely from this moment –and because of it– they stop being subjects of right and their destiny is the desert. The reactionary Joseph de Maistre was right and it is precisely capitalist neo-liberalism which gives him reason while at the same time continues proclaiming the sacred and universal character of human rights. As only men, men do not have any right here and now. Whoever is not more than a man, more than an individual –be it Spaniard, millionaire or racketeer or any combination of the three– can only aspire to be imprisoned or killed. The Spaniards who proudly stroll at Marrakesh’s square are nothing by themselves. Their disregard of others and their assumed invulnerability is not the result of anything they have done or deserved but exclusively of the possession of a passport whose fortuitous value can suddenly disappear.

The beatings and insults to the sub-Saharan nationals in Melilla are something slightly more radical and fearsome than racism; they are the manifestation of a belligerent and potentially homicidal anti-humanism. The worst thing one can possibly say of a man is that he is only a man; the worst thing one can possibly do with a man is to treat him as if he was a man. There is nothing more dangerous in this world that to be simply a man. Although perhaps it is even worse to be a Senegalese man.

I propose that the right wing Spanish media propose to the organizers of the Paris-Dakar rally that they offer a bonus of several seconds to the pilots who in their dizzy race through the desert knock down an African child, because this way he will not be able to travel to Spain. And I propose Al Zawahiri to propose to Al Qaida it offers a few additional seconds of paradise to the natives who break the leg of a tourist in a Bali or Cairo souvenir shop so that he/she cannot return to these vacation countries. The difference between these two proposals is an integral part of the sinister logic of things, even if the victims are also unequally innocent, well to the contrary of what we use to think. The only difference between Western and Islamic fundamentalism stands is that the former is already in power and it is followed, voted for and applauded by the majority of a population who travels all over the world without anybody to prevent them, and do it happily in shorts.

Translated from Spanish into English by Manuel Talens and revised by Nancy Almendras, both members of Tlaxcala, the network of translators for linguistic diversity ( This translation is on Copyleft.

This article appeared originally at
Rebelión (

The Spanish philosopher Santiago Alba Rico has written numerous essays and books on Anthropology, Philosophy and Politics. He has been living in the Arab world for the last seventeen years and has translated into Spanish the Egyptian poet Naguib Surur and the Iraqi writer Mohamed Judayr.


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