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Tuesday, September 28, 2021

The birth of an Afghan baby in midst of an American evacuation attempt shows up the lies of nationalism

The idea of “nowhere people” is a cynical fabrication. Humans belong — to each other, to expanding circles of family, community, country — unless structures of power and money decide to cast them away.

By: Editorial |
Updated: August 25, 2021 9:01:56 am
Is the little girl a German citizen since she was born on German soil? Is she a citizen of the “land of the free”, since her mother went into labour on an American flight?

The main facts in human life are five: birth, food, sleep, love and death,” said the novelist E M Forster. Isn’t it a wonder, then, that the fictions of humankind so easily make us forget such primal realities? It is a question that follows, not just from bloody imperial wars and the fratricide of nations — but the birth of a child. A baby was born in the cargo bay of an US aircraft carrying out evacuations from Afghanistan, a country bled by a thousand cuts of the American “war on terror”. The mother, an Afghan woman, went into labour mid-flight and delivered a girl after landing at a German air base.

The bureaucracy of nationalism promptly busted a fuse. Is the little girl a German citizen since she was born on German soil? Is she a citizen of the “land of the free”, since her mother went into labour on an American flight? But what if she is born outside US airspace? Does the fact that her mother is a refugee of a torn land catapult her into the community of the stateless? The ideology of nationalism is about two centuries old, but its apparatus of borders and belongings continues to produce the exhausting tangles that led Manto’s character in Toba Tek Singh to lie down between India and Pakistan “on a piece of land with no name”. Worse, it continues to push humans into peril, whether it is the potential “non-citizens” cast out of Assam’s NRC or the three-year-old Aylan Kurdi, fleeing from Syria, who drowned while crossing from Turkey to Greece.

The idea of “nowhere people” is a cynical fabrication. Humans belong — to each other, to expanding circles of family, community, country — unless structures of power and money decide to cast them away. The little baby girl, cast out of her homeland by such a great game of geopolitical cynicism, has scraped past death. May she find food, sleep and a land — and, above all, a love to which she belongs.

This editorial first appeared in the print edition on August 25, 2021 under the title ‘This land is her land’.

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