Flight Papers

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But please, protect us from the terrorists.


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Fifty-five people died today, trying to immigrate from war-torn Myanmar into Thailand. Any reasonable person would consider anyone trying to get out of Myanmar a refugee, at this point, but that was, I suspect, hardly a relevant consideration for them. They wanted out, and taking what they felt was the best course of action led to them suffocating to death in a supply container.

Fifty-five people*. Think about that.

And just for a second, try to forget the politics of us and them. Try to forget the narrative that says they knew they were taking their lives into their own hands; try to forget the world in which they are criminals. They were doing what they thought was best for them and their families. They were trying to survive.

And then, of course, remember that they were evil people. I mean, they were breaking the law! They knew such immigration was illegal, but they did it anyway. Not out of necessity, surely, nor out of a sense that this was the best thing for them to do. We have to keep out the brown-skins, you understand. They are different from us in a categorical way. In their shoes, would not have made such a silly mistake; in their place, we would still be alive, because we are clearly much smarter than they were.

At work, we’re putting together a big map of all the installations of our exhibit. The director wants a big world map to convey an “international feel,” though the vast majority of the installations are in the U.S. He wants a global map, a political map, with big, thick borders between all the countries.

Because that, obviously, conveys a feeling of “internationalness.”

And I suppose it does. The issue, of course, is the big honking national in “international.” The issue is that when we’re clinically talking about “border control” and “immigration control,” and even “outsourcing” and various kinds of protectionism, we are fundamentally denying that the people over there are not so different from the people in here, and no less deserving of our compassion, whatever we may’ve been led to believe.

“The people said they tried to bang on the walls of the container to tell the driver they were dying, but he told them to shut up as police would hear them when they crossed through checkpoints inside Thailand,” he said.

The 46 people who survived the ordeal without injury have been arrested[.]

* — The SMH article I’m linking says fifty-four; I just heard on the BBC fifty-five. The BBC’s article isn’t up on the web just yet.

One Response to “But please, protect us from the terrorists.”

  1. Asa Says:

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    The thing you’re pointing out here is the thing that bothered me about the Jessica Hoffman article you reference a couple of posts back. In all her talk about being inclusionary and even abolishing national borders, she was implicitly addressing only U.S. white feminists, and discussing only U.S. events, U.S. institutions, and U.S. movements. There are plenty of reasons to focus one’s efforts on the institutions that affect one most directly. However, she mentioned none of them. The article simply spoke of a “we” that was assumed to be a U.S. “we” tackling problems with our (U.S.) society.

    Aside from that, of course, I thought the article was brilliant. I only point it out so that it doesn’t remain invisible. And I’m certainly not claiming to have internalized and put into practice radical principles to any particular extent.

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