22 July 2012


'"Everyone with Eyes Can See the Problem": Moral Citizens and the Space of Irish Nationhood' by Anwen Tormey in 45(3) International Migration (2007) 69-98 ...
examines Ireland’s 2004 Constitutional Amendment which removes birthright citizenship from any future Irish-born children of immigrant parents. I argue that for particular historical reasons, the ability of the state to convince its citizens of the necessity for this Amendment was remarkable and I suggest that it was able to do so by constructing citizenship as a moral regime and foreign-nationals and their foetuses as ‘suspect patriots.’ I describe how the notion of immorality is laminated upon black bodies – specifically black pregnant women – and how the presence of black migrant workers, refugees and asylees consequently comes to be experienced in Irish national space as transgressive, their political subjecthood constrained by the supposedly legible abjectivity of their bodies. The issue of race remains unenunciated, and yet, as the Minister for Justice stated during the referendum debate, "anyone with eyes can see the problem". The Irish government’s privileging of moral rather than cultural incommensurability is strikingly similar to culturalist rhetorics of exclusion that are often invoked when race is at issue in European public debate on immigration. Configured upon, and therefore experienced as a type of body, immorality becomes an alibi for race and is naturalized as a form of exclusion and as a potential site of state intervention in the form of xenophobic legislation and policymaking. Reading this decision as merely racist however, fails to give voice to the experiences of Irish Citizens who voted for this Amendment. Their struggle to build a “New Ireland” and to accept a multiculturalist framework in the face of neo-liberal restructuring policies and a European-wide retreat from the welfare state must be considered as being in dialectical tension with the ideological smearing of immigrants if we are to fully grasp the complex interaction between relations of power and the privileging of difference.
Tormey concludes that -
If the government had promoted this Amendment based on racial or cultural incommensurability, it would have run afoul of its self-proclaimed multiculturalist ethos. Instead, by juxtaposing Irish morality with that of foreign-national parents, failures in immigration policy could be displaced upon the victim, and their (supposedly) amoral being construed as unacceptable to a rational state. Reading morality as incommensurable difference brings to a head the kind of impasse anthropologists have already recognized between the themes of progressive liberal multiculturalism (rationality and morality) invoked in the Irish case. Povinelli, for example, describes a similar scenario for Australian Aborigines: a core obligation of liberalism is to decide public matters on the basis of autonomous, reasonable and rational subjects bracketing the social differences that exist among themselves and presenting to their fellow citizens the most robust, true, sincere and legitimate argument they can muster. Moral obligation – moral sensibility – is exactly where critical rationality is not (Povinelli, 2002). 
In other words, there are social differences which liberal subjects experience as intractable – at the limit of their tolerance – and therefore unable to “bracket” even in the broader (rational) interests of multicultural harmony. Matters are complicated by the fact that there are two moralities at play here – the supposed moral degradation of foreign-national parents, and the moral obligation and sensibilities of a liberal society. It is the latter, and the outrage produced in the attempt to bracket the former, which produces what Povinelli refers to as “moments [which] may then be experienced as the failure of the guarantees of liberal regimes and may produce a complex range of subject experiences such as minor emotions, doubt, irritation, outrage and so on” (ibid:16). As Aretxaga has astutely noted, governments cannot, generally, sustain these moments of failure and so they direct themselves to producing “state power and national unity,” in the forms so beautifully manifested by this citizenship amendment debate (Aretxaga, 2003). 
During the 2004 politically mediated “crisis of immigration” Irish anxieties were laminated upon black bodies with such effect that a significant alteration to the Irish Constitution could be passed. These anxieties were generated in tension with fears concerning neoliberal economic reforms but also from doubts concerning Ireland’s ability to protect its national interests within an international rights regime and what is widely perceived as an overweening and unaccountable EU structure. The propensity to blame socioeconomic ills resulting from recession and capitalist readjustments on immigrants is nothing new, but it is important for anthropologists to encourage policymakers and legislators to explore their complicated genesis as (politicized) relationships of inequity rather than accepting the simple reductionisms of racism and culturalism. 
Having said that, the Irish case is illustrative of new ways in which the old story of race continues to be told. It is new in that race no longer has to be enunciated – indeed, politics dare not name it. In this post-race era there are many forms of difference (cultural, moral, ethnic, etc.), which, in usual and unusual ways, come to act as an alibi for race. Old threads are rewoven in new ways to achieve the same result. The issue of space and the potent imaginaries which surround the relationship of people to national territory is one such thread. Arendt demonstrated at the end of World War II that assumptions of naturalized boundedness hint at the transgressive nature of crossing boundaries and permit xenophobic states to criminalise unwanted immigrants (1951: 160-170.), (see also Malkki, 1995b). She recognized however, that the state is paradoxically necessary to guarantee the inalienable Rights of Man (1951: 292). Yet, legal scholars now question whether the promise of protection offered in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the 1951 Convention on the Status of Refugee and the 1967 New York Protocol, has been eroded through EU-facilitated legislature such as the Asylum Procedures Directive, the above-mentioned Schengen Accord, Dublin Convention, and Dublin Regulation. Costello, for example, argues that “developed countries, led by the EU, continue to develop policies which deflect asylum seekers elsewhere, while paying lipservice to refugee protection (Costello, 2005: 35). In the case at hand for example, the Constitutional protections and rights afforded Irish citizen children are displaced by the state’s interest in immigration control, a Constitutional situation Bhabha characterizes as “citizenship deficit” (Bhabha, 2003; Bhabha, 2004). While not advocating an open-door policy, Bhabha declares that excluding a child from citizenship “should ... be a last resort option, chosen only when overwhelming consideration of state security or public interest require it, but not as a convenient subsidiary instrument of defective immigration control” (Bhabha, 2003). In the contemporary asylum context, where the migrant body heightens the tension of mobility and sovereignty as perhaps never before, citizen- ship has become a central device by which the law distinguishes between those subject to it and served by it from those who are strangers (Galloway, 1999). The concomitant erosion of institutional protections for “the stranger” endangers human life, and calls for our careful attention to state policy and praxis. Among these threads of old and new, Foucault’s well-known analysis of an array of state practices and discourses aimed at producing “docile” bodies to better order and control populations remains pertinent. In Discipline and Punish he maps what he calls “essential techniques” that meticulously inscribe “a political anatomy.” (Foucault, 1979: 139). In the Irish case, statistics, notions about health and contagion, sexuality and reproduction as well as techniques of surveying, mapping, and census, were directed towards rendering legible the bodies of black, non-citizen mothers, and in the process, demonstrating that the government had them and the “crisis of immigration” under its control. 
The electoral success of anti-immigrant platforms across the EU suggests that the approach of the Irish government is not unique among its EU partners. In a similar vein, as Aretxaga has noted for the post-September 11th context, “[s]tate officials deploy this legibility to create their own fictions of reality. These fictions of the state then turn into nightmares animated by utopian visions of efficiency and technological and bureaucratic control” (Aretxaga, 2003). Thus, in a telling moment of political insecurity the Irish state drew on a fiction of abuse it had been nurturing for quite some time. Dramas of the abuse of Irish hospitality, phantasms of excessive/instrumental fertility, and the spectre of a proliferation of immoral and unworthy character were phenomenologically animated by the bodies of black immigrant mothers, thereby naturalizing a new trope of exclusion and providing the government with an alibi for the kind of xenophobic intervention this Amendment exemplifies. 
Yet, it would be a mistake to dismiss the racialized imaginaries and praxes of belonging represented in a “Yes” vote for this Amendment as ideologically right- wing. This Amendment is instructive precisely because it demonstrates how the protean qualities of racialized imaginaries are easily adapted to both populist and elite ends. In this sense, it is salutary to note how state and populist tracings of exclusion intertwine to support each other, thereby circumscribing who is included in the moral community. It shows that there are no simple oppositions between the platforms of right-wing/anti-immigrant politicians like LePen (France) and Fortuyn (The Netherlands) and the kinds of populism I discuss above. LePen, for example, appeals to xenophobes and the disenfranchised alike. Among many important lessons, this Amendment demonstrated that voters are greatly concerned about tracing belonging, about who can and cannot “be Irish”. The manner in which this issue was resolved suggests that perhaps the more seminal question is “what does being Irish in the New Ireland mean”? As scholars, we must be attentive to the ways that modernizing discourses camouflage both new (moralist, culturalist, etc.,) and old (skin-based) racisms. It is for us to unravel the threads of exclusionary politics and its accompanying policy and legislation, especially, perhaps, when such solutions appear neither racist nor exclusionary, but the rational response of a dutiful government.