Inescapable Obsolete States, Research Time, 09/01/2017

So after reading through Kwame Anthony Appiah’s Cosmopolitanism, I started looking around for other books that would examine perspectives like his. Conceptions of global citizenship and multinational civic engagement and identity building.

My own country Canada's policy of welcome to all immigrant groups
is part of a program of multiculturalism that's integrated our major
cities and helped build one of the first post-national countries.
I’ve had some limited success so far. I’ve snagged a couple of things by Pheng Cheah which are on my list to get to pretty soon. And I also found an interesting little book by a philosophically inclined journalist named Atossa Araxia Abrahamian.

The Cosmopolites: The Coming of the Global Citizen is a title dripping in irony. When I read Appiah’s abstract arguments in favour of embracing cosmopolitan, multicultural, multinational aspects of our identities, I found an optimistic, hopeful vision of humanity’s potential for coexistence and friendship.

Appiah’s philosophy and his life are conceptual and living arguments for embracing our multiplicity. We too often today use strictly defined terms – ex. Muslim, English-speaker, Quebecer, Burmese, Russian – to stake borders around our identities. We make a single or very few of these definitions primary to our identities, and see the world as a collision of these strictly-defined identities and allegiances.

But if we embrace the differences within our own identities and societies, we’ll make ourselves more open to building relationships with people whose cultures have very different thematic concepts and traditions.

It sounds like a paradox, but focussing on our own differences makes it easier to build kinship across cultural and national lines. We explore our many different vectors of cultural creation.

Philosophical journalist Atossa Abrahamian
Sounds fantastic. But Abrahamian’s empirical, journalistic perspective brings a dark angle to the embrace of cosmopolitan identities.

Reading The Cosmopolites, Abrahamian identifies a core source of cosmopolitanism’s corruption – economies and cultural connections have become profoundly global, but massive material power still rests with national, territorially-defined states.

For one, it’s largely the very rich who actually embrace global citizenship in practical terms. Small countries with limited economic possibilities have taken up selling their citizenships.

Several Caribbean island states like St Kitts and Antigua are the major players in this market. If you can afford to invest a few hundred thousand dollars in property or other support to these countries, they’ll offer you citizenship.

And it’s not just the Caribbean. Abrahamian informed me that, for example, former Thai PM and semi-evil billionaire Thaksin Shinawatra regularly travels on his Montenegro* passport.

* And Montenegro itself has been wrapped up in some freaky old-school imperialist shenanigans from its recent creation as a state until today.

But the weirdest kind of citizenship shenanigans is a practice I didn’t know much about until now. I had known already that many Arab countries have large populations of long-resident non-citizens. That many who were born in Persian Gulf monarchies and emirates had no path to citizenship because their families were foreign-descended.

Activist and writer Iyad el-Baghdadi
This was the situation of my old friend A from university. He and his family were of Indian descent, coming from Chennai. When he was born, they lived in Kuwait. Because they weren’t descended from old stock Kuwaitis, he was disallowed citizenship in the country where he was born.

But I didn’t know that many of these non-citizens were genuinely stateless. They had no citizenship at all. The reporting of Iyad el-Baghdadi – a human rights activist and reporter from the United Arab Emirates – first alerted me to the problem. From him, I learned that the UAE is on a path to a population of 96% non-citizens.

And Abrahamian has produced a report on the strangest solution to this citizenship problem. Kuwait and the UAE, in separate deals, negotiated with the Comoros Islands to buy hundreds of thousands of Comoro citizenships for its stateless citizens.

We’ve come a long way from the philosophies of the founding period of the nation-state. The modern state as a public ideology – a philosophy become dogma – the state is the expression of the nation. It’s an agent of social unity – the state unifies a diverse people, but is also the institutionalization of the universal national essence. It’s the voice of a people and simultaneously creates that voice.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau was one of the founding
philosophers of the modern concept of nation
as reaching its highest and most proper form as
a state government of free citizens.
Yet today, we see states and governments who treat citizenship as a commodity to be bartered for. Just another thing to be bought and sold.

Should we mourn for the ideal of the nation-state? Its commitment to forging a people in unity together. Or do we admit that it was always kind of a sham?

That a few sophisticated, idealistic, and maybe a little naive thinkers made an inspiration out of an institution that was always about control of populations. That the lofty philosophies of Rousseau, Kant, Fichte, and Hegel only ended up giving institutions of exclusion and racialization multifaceted dimensions and a bunch more propaganda material?

That all the talk about the unity of a state and its nation meant nothing when those very nations were building colonial empires, folding wildly different cultures inside their states.

Reality’s hypocrisy doesn’t mean we can simply write off the philosophies of nationhood and the nation-state. The philosophies provided the foundational concepts for how we as people understand our political institutions – their purposes and ideals.

Building a genuinely post-national world means building an institutional, activist, and conceptual toolbox for a model of politics that globalizes democracy. Building the concepts of the new means understanding the concepts of what you want to overcome.

Cosmopolitanism (the philosophy and the book) is a start. But as Abrahamian’s research shows, it isn’t nearly enough.

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