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Archive for May, 2018

On Windrush, Citizenship and its Others

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Nisha Kapoor

First published on Verso blog on 1st May 2018.

When Empire Windrush docked on the shores of Tilbury in June 1948 it brought workers, British colonial subjects, from the Caribbean who would fill labour shortages in the aftermath of the second world war, a war for which many of the arrivals and their kin had offered their service to. The political establishment sought, in turn, to limit their stay, considered the possibility of sending Jamaicans to East Africa so that their labour might be put to use in other workschemes across the empire, and then later put policy measures in place to make settlement less hospitable in the hope of discouraging others from migrating to the metropole.

For all the nostalgia that has subsequently come to be attached to this moment, and the revisionist history that has worked to romanticise the Windrush generation as a national treasure, we ought not to overlook the significance of attempts to construct this episode as the initiation of race in Britain. To the contrary of the Windrush reimagining which has operated effectively to divorce black presence in Britain from the broader project of colonialism and empire, the salient point to note is that Windrush was simply empire come home.

Around this time the 1948 Nationality Act, which officially granted citizenship to citizens and subjects of empire, including the Windrush generation, was passed with the intention of both warding off growing calls for colonial independence and maintaining an imperial connection with dominions such as Canada who had formulated their own national citizenships. The piece of legislation which formalised the citizenship rights of the Windrush generation offered a way of conceptualising citizenship at the break of empire when the political class were anxious to keep the British empire intact.

I flag this connection, not merely to reiterate the historical connections, and the rights and entitlements of the Windrush generation and their descendants to British citizenship, but to emphasise that the making, unmaking and framing of citizenship is deeply entrenched within an imperialist project. The parameters of British citizenship, which relies on race and class markers to determine the borders of inclusion/exclusion, have always been conceptualised in reference to a global political project that seeks to manage the consequences of imperialist agendas, whether that be in terms of exploiting colonial labour forces, refusing immigrants and asylum seekers displaced as a result of Western military assaults, or criminalising racially othered populations in the name of counterterrorism to both help justify and augment popular support for imperialist interventions and to quash political dissent against such interventions.

The significance of the Windrush moment, however, is that it comes to symbolise the initiation of an artificial separation between the politics of race and nation, on the one hand, and the broader politics of empire, on the other, marking the instigation of a project concerned with reimagining the British national identity. Thanks to the efforts of the political class, not least the decisive contribution of Enoch Powell, Britishness came to be defined in terms of an innate sense of unchanging Englishness, and citizenship more strongly defined according to ideas of blood and soil.

The state response to the resistance against the racism of nationalism helped to cement this artificial distinction further. On the one hand, the violence of immigration restrictions advanced through the 1960s, culminating in the Immigration Act 1971 which introduced the racially coded concept of patriality and meant that only those who could prove their grandparents had been born in Britain would qualify for automatic right of abode, effectively reclassifying ‘New Commonwealth’ citizens into ‘immigrants’. At the same time, race equality legislation was passed to pacify the resistance of postcolonial subjects settled in Britain, symbolizing some commitment at the institutional level, even if an uncommitted one, to a more inclusive citizenship. The problem with this divide is that it has also come to inform how we think and do anti-racism.

So with the ongoing attempts and achieved deportations of the Windrush generation we are indeed witnessing the realisation of the repatriation scheme that has remained a bubbling undercurrent of the British nationalist project in the postcolonial era. Stories of British black Caribbean women and men who have lived in Britain for 50 years plus now sent back in retirement bring anger at the hypocrisy of the refusal to recognise individuals who arrived in Britain as subjects of empire, and deep despair in their exposure of the full reach of the broken, visceral, racist politics that have become so normalised and entrenched. A depressing expression of the Britain we currently inhabit.

But the assault now on this generation cannot simply be conceived of as the endpoint of a process that has been 70 years in planning and preparation; or in a way that positions this cohort as being at the vanguard of the assault. To think in such terms is to further reify and accept as normative the proposition that British citizenship, and its provisos, is derived simply from an insular imagining of the nation-state. The racism that denies recognition and renders black and brown British citizens in a perpetual state of precarity operates in dialogue with the racism that comes to be more legitimately sanctioned against those named as ‘illegal immigrants’, ‘foreign criminals’ and ‘terrorism suspects’. In this sense, the denial, refusal and withdrawal of citizenship exposed in the treatment of the Windrush generation reflects the materialisation of a reconfigured politics around citizenship spearheaded by contemporary imperialist politics. Namely the War against Terror and the intensified deportation regime, which have seen to the cultivation of the most drastic legislative measures for citizenship deprivation in British history alongside the development of a sophisticated infrastructure for mass deportation.

The state violence that is currently being exposed is thus one that has been in germination for some time, mobilised against Muslims criminalised as terrorism suspects and immigrants frequently fleeing war, violence and poverty often with established post/colonial ties to Britain. If the backlash against the deportation of the Windrush generation is to point out that they are in fact citizens, the broader sentiment and state powers that permits citizenship deprivation is already well established. Again, the centrality of imperialist politics for defining the terms of exclusion is illuminated. The expanded powers for permitting citizenship deprivation, which were granted to the Home Secretary under the Nationality Immigration and Asylum Act 2002, allowed for removal of citizenship to include any person (including birthright citizens) who ‘has done anything seriously prejudicial to the vital interests of the United Kingdom or a British overseas territory’. This power, informally known as the Hamza amendment because it was in Abu Hamza’s name that the law was passed, was enhanced again in 2006 so that deprivation could be ordered simply if it was ‘deemed conducive to the public good’. Incidentally it was also in the context of fighting terrorism that the rights to appeal against deprivation orders before they came into effect were retracted. The ‘deport now, appeal later’ policy of the hostile environment had already been ably rehearsed in this other ‘counter-terrorism’ context.

The same law that helped to legislate for the hostile environment, the Immigration Act 2014, also incorporated the most drastic power for depriving citizenship thus far, permitting statelessness again in the name of fighting terrorism. Its stated purpose was to allow for deprivation in ‘the most serious cases – such as those involving national security, terrorism, espionage or taking up arms against British or Allied forces … without regard to whether or not it will render them stateless’. Though the intent around the use of this power is specific, deprivation of citizenship has been used more widely against individuals who have fallen on the wrong side of the law, and the power has worked to lower the threshold of a broader politics of precarious citizenship that now brazenly declares citizenship to be a ‘privilege not a right’. In the name of fighting terrorism significant numbers of Muslims, who have not been charged or prosecuted through the criminal justice system, have been deprived of their citizenship or had their British passports cancelled, in a number of cases for travelling on aid convoys to Syria or for refusing to act as informants for the security services.

At the same time over the course of the 2000s the practice of mass deportation, through the use of charter flights, has become a mainstay of border policing. Private security companies are tasked with removing mass loads of asylum seekers, immigrants and long-term British residents to countries from which they have fled or have no attachment to, where Britain is often involved militarily, and to where the foreign office typically advices (white) British citizens against travel. Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Kosovo/Albania, Nigeria, Ghana, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Sri Lanka have been principal destinations since 2001. Jamaica features regularly too. Partnership between the British Government and the destination states help to realize the possibility. It is no coincidence for example that ‘the first in the new wave of charters to Pakistan took place in November 2011, not long after a visit by David Cameron to negotiate a new “Enhanced Strategic Dialogue”, which included an objective of increasing bilateral trade to £2.5 billion per year as well as a £650 million “education aid” programme’. When charter flights are booked there is a need to fill them and evidence indicates that Immigration Control and Enforcement teams are instructed to round up people of the destination nationality in the weeks leading up to the flight date. Long term residents/citizens from Africa, the Caribbean and South Asia with little proof of nationality are being incorporated into this system.

So now British citizens, not recognised as such, are also being sent to join immigrants and asylum seekers in Yarlswood and the multiple other detention centres around the country where the outcast and most marginalised are criminalised for merely existing. The ‘hostile environment’ policy that has facilitated and augmented this process is part of an arsenal of measures aimed at curtailing immigration, facilitating deportation, and maintaining hierarchies of status for those who are resident. The reason most frequently deployed by the Home Office for denying British citizenship currently is that applicants are ‘not of good character’, a sufficiently amorphous notion that has seen to refusal of citizenship for activities as mundane as speeding fines and incorrectly completing immigration paperwork.

Analysis of these data indicate individuals from Iraq, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Turkey, Jamaica, Kosovo, Somalia, Vietnam, Democratic Republic of Congo appear to be disproportionately impacted by this trend.

It is this failure to recognise the connections between the racism at home and imperialism overseas that mean MPs such as David Lammy can express visceral anger at the treatment of the Windrush generation whilst also being supportive of the invasion of Iraq, and that Jacob Rees-Mogg, of all suspects, can hold forth indignantly against the deportation of Windrush generation citizens. But this false and short-sighted separation will also be the ultimate obstacle to the consolidation of a more progressive anti-racist politics that moves beyond frameworks of the ‘innocent’ and ‘legal’ citizen, and mobilises instead against the violence of the state – period.

When they take babies from mothers and mothers from babies

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Nisha Kapoor

First Published on Verso Blog 7th March 2018 for the International Women’s Strike.

The Women’s Strike rejects the decades of economic inequality, criminalisation and policing, racial and sexual violence, and endless global war and terrorism. To this end, one central component of this strike must be to address the intensifying violence against and criminalization of rising numbers of Muslim women and children in the name of a fight against terror. The anti-racist and anti-imperialist feminism that we mobilise must recognize the significance of islamophobia for hardening and extending the disciplinary practices of the state.

In October 2016, Mark Rowley, the former head of counterterrorism policing, reported that up to 50 Muslim families were facing care proceedings – proceedings in family court – in relation to suspected radicalisation within the home. In June 2017, it was reported that senior family court judges were overseeing a number of such cases, and evidence from the family high court indicate multiple such cases continue. This increasing use of family courts for counterterrorism policing coincides with rising numbers of arrests of Muslim women for terrorism-related offences, and it is no coincidence. The majority of these women, though not all, are in their late teens or in their twenties. The basis of these arrests range but charges more often than not, like the majority of terrorism-related arrests, concern non-violent acts such as dissemination of material classified as being of a ‘terrorist’ nature, sharing ‘terrorist propaganda’, or encouraging others to engage in acts of terrorism, which typically means criminalisation is based on the association of these women with male family members or partners.

And so the latest turn in counterterrorism policing turns to family court for policing mothers. This is the latest in a pattern. Counterterrorism policing has consistently evaded any need to provide credible evidence to support accusations of threat, usually by taking terrorism cases through immigration and other administrative courts. And as in immigration court, in family court suspicion provides sufficient basis for a judge to rule in support of social services’ applications for care orders. The national security element that comes to be associated with ‘radicalisation’ cases has allowed for the use of secret evidence in family proceedings too. The basis of police evidence used by social services does not need to be open to scrutiny. Typically omitted from such proceedings is the ongoing harassment by MI5 who, as in too many of these cases, make clear that with complicity and agreement to work with the intelligence services, the woman’s hardships will be removed and her children returned.

This twist to the invasive criminalisation of Muslim women follows well-documented police calls for them to act as points of surveillance within their own families and communities, to report to the police any suspicious behaviour of their men folk. Perhaps it is the lack of success of this policy that ramped up the stakes, perhaps it is linked to the crisis of what to do with returning disgruntled male fighters. It is no doubt part of the reinvigorated reconstruction of Muslim women as weaponised and foreboding, as the breeders and reproducers of the terrorist threat.

For women whose families are already under surveillance their children, already routinely criminalised through Prevent, become the bargaining chip, the pressure point for compliance and the route to subjugation. In the Eyes of Aliyah, a film, directed by Ken Fero and made as part of the Deport Deprive Extradite Project, we document the story of a woman arrested at an airport. She was not charged with any criminal offence, but the information obtained by police during questioning was passed onto social services so that the same material not worthy of obtaining a prosecution in open criminal court was used in family court. Her children were taken into care and her visitation rights limited to a couple of hours per week under the watchful gaze of a social worker who would record her interactions with her children. The care order against her applies not only to her current children but to any future children she may bear. When things were looking up and contact time was to be extended, another raid on her home by counterterrorism officers saw to the suspension of contact altogether. Through her efforts to challenge this, contact was eventually resumed and she, like others, is now mobilising to regain full custody of her children.

In other cases, the moment of intervention varies; it is when a woman whose partner is under surveillance is stopped by the police for speeding that a referral is made to social services; or when there are ongoing interactions or contact with an ex-partner as she attempts to flee an abusive relationship. And then care proceedings begin. Perhaps after four months of foster care and repeated cries by the children that separation from mum feels ‘frightening’, and after the court decides the children are sufficiently ‘integrated’ with non-Muslims in their school and community, the order will be dropped. The children can return. Other times, the intervention is more immediate and drastic. For the mother fleeing an abusive partner, and also accused of radicalising her children, there is not only the domestic violence to contend with; there is the police violence against herself and her ex-partner, and the ultimate whammy by social services who offer her baby up for adoption and her toddler to foster carers. The structural nature of violence and oppression in the domestic sphere which critical feminists have long told of, that domestic violence will always be disproportionately experienced by women whose communities and men folk are targets of the most excessive and hard end of police brutality is worth reflecting on. The state interventions that continually work to produce, reinforce and advance such assaults are an equally imperative part of the story.

With this holistic approach to counterterrorism policing – where interventions are made by social services either because children themselves are criminalised or because they are deemed to be at risk of ‘radicalisation’ because of their family – we begin to grasp something of the totalising and pervasive nature of the state’s hand in marginalising, disciplining and ultimately damaging an entire community of people. In the worst-case scenarios mothers are imprisoned and separated from their children, and/or children are taken into care, and the full extent of collaboration between social services and the police comes to light. The way in which counterterrorism policing has infiltrated the interventions of social services – already often brutal when it comes to policing working-class families – has quite particular, sinister effects; simultaneously advancing the reach of counterterrorism for Muslims and further hardening the disciplinary aspects of social services.

Noteworthy is the way the pre-emptive nature of counterterrorism policing has merged with the more widespread practices of social services, who in response to high profile cases of child abuse and neglect take as routine a preventative approach to dealing with children identified to be ‘at risk’. In this sense, the guidance on dealing with children at risk of radicalisation has slotted easily into the regular assessment models for dealing with ‘at risk’ (mostly working class) families. In this ‘at risk’ model, emphasis is placed on preventative interventions that have over the last decade increasingly involved use of its hard-end disciplinary functions, comprising taking children into care, and a move away from supportive measures that might help to ease the pressures placing strains on mums juggling multiple demands and trying to make ends meet. It is worth noting here the range of interventions made against mothers – from those whose children have been removed because they were made homeless, to those whose caring abilities have come under the scrutiny via the Prevent agenda for participating in anti-fracking protests. Just as guidance for policing working-class mothers advises that sometimes difficult questions need to be asked even if it means offending, so in radicalisation cases staff are trained to accept that sometimes islamophobic interrogation is necessary and acceptable in the interests of the child.

But what then for the mothers who are criminalised for radicalising their children? What for the mothers where there is a genuine issue of domestic violence in the home? What happens to the already marginal space to name and address this and what role does preemptive policing play in the mobilisation towards militarisation in the first place?

The result is systemic. Its shut down requires a critical feminist response to securitisation; calling for an end to the criminalisation of Muslim, refugee, migrant and black women, their children and communities; calling for an end to the violent disciplinary systems which only serve to reproduce more violence; calling for an end to Prevent. And so we strike.