de Menezes: Victim of the Politics of Global Insecurity

Yesterday's news: according to the CNN, murdered civilian Jean Charles de Menezes was living in Britain on an expired visa. Now, it is de Menezes who has expired. The triumphant tone of this report suggests that, well, as an illegal resident, and a racialized person to boot, de Menezes was pretty much asking for it. His innocence - given this new information - has come under suspicion: while de Menezes was not a terrorist, he was guilty of the next best thing; he was an illegal resident.

The elision between terrorists and non-status or "illegal" residents is a keystone of the war on terror. Because alongside and subtending the war on terror, there is another war going on in the global north: a war on migrants, immigrants, refugees, and non-status people. The politics of fear have made possible the overt criminalization of some of the world's most vulnerable people. Border security measures and new refugee and immigration rules adopted since the bombings of 9/11 have arguably done less to stop terrorism, and more to block legitimate refugee claims; to prevent the immigration of racialized "undesirables"; and to make possible formerly illegal detentions and deportations of non-status people.

Take, for example, the so-called Safe Third-Country Agreement between Canada and the U.S., which dictates that a refugee entering Canada from the U.S. cannot seek refugee status here (and vice-versa). This agreement is part of a broader program of harmonizing Canadian and U.S. refugee and immigration policies, which has as its eventual end the complete merger of refugee, immigration, and border policies of Canada, U.S., and Mexico. In March of this year, a report was written jointly by Canadian, American, and Mexican officials, recommending the establishment of a joint security perimeter as part of the formation of the so-called "North American Economic and Security Community." The report, endorsed by the Canadian, U.S., and Mexican administrations in late March 2005, proposes measures to "build a North American economic and security community by 2010. To enhance security, prosperity, and opportunity for all North Americans, the chairs propose a community defined by a common external tariff and an outer security perimeter." Concerning "security," among the most unsettling concrete recommendations of the report were the following:

"1. Develop a border pass for North Americans. The chairs propose a border pass, with biometric indicators, which would allow expedited passage through customs, immigration, and airport security throughout North America. "The governments of Canada, Mexico, and the United States should commit themselves to the long-term goal of dramatically reducing the need for physical scrutiny of traffic, travel, and trade within North America."

2. Adopt a unified Border Action Plan. The three governments should "strive toward a situation in which a terrorist trying to penetrate our borders will have an equally hard time doing so no matter which country he elects to enter first." First steps should include: harmonized visa and asylum regulations; joint inspection of container traffic entering North American ports; and synchronized screening and tracking of people, goods, and vessels, including integrated "watch" lists. Security cooperation should extend to counterterrorism and law enforcement, and could include the establishment of a trinational threat intelligence center and joint training for law enforcement officials. On the defense front, the most important step is to expand the binational North American Aerospace Defense Command to make it a multi-service Canada-U.S. command with a mandate to protect the maritime as well as air approaches to North America. Canada and the United States should invite Mexico to consider closer military cooperation in the future." (Quoted from Canadian Council of Chief Executives report. In-text quotations in the text are from the trinational report. Emphasis is mine.)

Clearly, if implemented, these recommendations signal the formalization or institutionalization of U.S. hegemony over North America. And they spell trouble for immigrants and refugee claimants. What's interesting is how "community" is being defined here: by the imposition of an economic border, and by the increased militarization of national borders. But really, given the commodification of human beings, these two aspects really amount to the same thing. Whether it's the traffic in goods or the traffic in people, they are subject to much the same criteria of desirability and undesirability. Essentially, "community," on this conception, is about keeping the right, or, rather, the "wrong" people out, especially those from the global south, seeking asylum from political and economic conditions which are overwhelmingly the result of northern imperialism. North American "community" entails a retreat from, a rejection of global community. And while these policies claim to be about the enhancement of "public" security, in fact, they are contributing to global insecurity, for the majority of the world's people, including ordinary civilians in the North American nations, whose bodily integrity is coming under attack with the implementation of biometric identification technologies.

On Tuesday London's Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Ian Blair revealed that 250 incidents involving innocent civilians, seven of which involved "shoot-to-kill scares," had taken place as part of the investigation into who was responsible for the July 7 bombings. This was Blair's statement justifying the "unfortunate" domestic casualties of Britain's war on terror:

"There are suicide bombers there and we have a job to do. This is a tragedy but it must not divert us from the main issue. We must be able to protect the public" (quoted by CNN)

But what construction of "the public" is operative here? Wasn't de Menezes a member of "the public"? Weren't these 250 unnamed civilians - who will, I have no doubt, turn out to be members of Britain's racialized immigrant communities - members of "the public"? The Metropolitan Police must be held accountable for its use of racial profiling in the investigation of terrorism; it must be held accountable for its use of illegal force during the investigation of de Menezes and others.

I use that word, illegal, advisedly. Take a look at this law professor's analysis of police actions in the hunt for terrorists: he argues that British law contradicts the rhetoric in defense of the police's "shoot-to-kill" response to de Menezes' "flight" from police, given that:

"(1) There is no general legal duty to assist the police or to obey police instructions. Rice v Connolly [1966] 2 QB 414
(2) There are special police powers to arrest and search. But there is no special police licence to injure or kill. If they injure or kill, the police need to rely on the same law as the rest of us."

(Thanks to Lenin for alerting me to John Gardner's webpage.)

As the family of de Menezes are burying his body, the Bush-Blair terror machine is desparately trying to bury the little open secret that the war on terrorism is nothing other than a pretext for state-wielded terror against racialized civilian populations, abroad and at home. The point is that de Menezes' murder was not an accident, but a necessary consequence of the racism inherent in the politics of global insecurity. And that's something for which the Anglo-American war of terror is unlikely to apologize: for nothing fails like success.


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