The Syrian Refugee Crisis and the Hegelian Right of Recognition (or the anti-pseudo Hobbes-Locke-Rousseauian Right for Survival).

by Sujoy Sur

The international community was appalled when the photograph of a young Syrian boy, a refugee, whose boat had capsized in the process of migration from Syria across the Aegean sea, flooded the internet showing his dead body upside down on a beach of a Turkish Resort. The whole episode epitomizes the tragedy of the international system. War torn middle east battling violent demons resurrected by the ashes of the bridges and the houses burnt by the west is an online story which attracts quite an interest by dilettante netizens who empathise with the refugee crisis which they were not aware of till yesterday, or even if they were they did not notice it because the crisis did not have a face in the form of a young boy’s dead body.

Credits: IBTimes

The first wave of reaction were by the news-feeders, people who get to know about the world by scrolling down their news feed, perfunctorily giving the news tragedies their due respect, and moving on to something new. This reaction was of shock and empathy. The world community was criticized for allowing this to happen and a deep sense of false guilt was felt by many. The second wave of reaction was by the intellectuals, people who could at least point out Syria on the world map and deliberate upon the causes of the immediate refugee crisis prevailing in the Mediterranean region. But they were also the ones who justified Europe’s stand of not accommodating refugees due to the huge economic pressure and other ancillary liabilities they bring with themselves. Viktor Orban, Hungary’s PM, was joined in by David Cameron, the elitist PM of England, in defending their country’s anti-refugee policy. ‘One must not give in to reactionary human emotions, but rationalize the situation’ was the gist of the argument. This rationalization which has led to democratization, which forms the basis of so many of the worlds constitutions, also is the source of countless humans misery. This rationalization of a positivist adherence to laws, viewing the world from the eyes of a Leviathan-ic sovereign, internalizing the pains of a fiction called a nation state and the problems of its boundaries has created a world devoid of many a phenomenon which is “human, all too human” but not realized by most. One such phenomenon is the “Right of Recognition”, something which was turned around on its head by Marx to write something which gave impetus to the greatest political revolution of Communism. But, this is not about communistic tendencies of forbearance and brotherhood. It is about recognition.

The world is increasingly being viewed from the eye of a Social Contract as theorized by Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau. As much as you will not realize, where ever western democracy has travelled their ideas have been implemented in one way or the other. Examples being – right to food, life, and shelter; right to equality; social justice based on majoritarianism (general will). This also has indirectly led to 2 things in particular:-

  1. Right to life has been made to believe to be akin to survival or, in philosophical terms, overcoming the state of nature of survival for bare necessities.
  2. Having strong territorial-cultural tendencies which leads to xenophobic behavior.

The duty of the state and the society at large, as believed by us, is to provide us with a set of conditions which takes care of our need to food, shelter, procreation and the means to sustain the three over a long period of time. The means can be understood as secondary rights such as the right to a healthy environment, the right to education and employment. Thus, whenever there is any major concern it is always viewed from these parameters. Rarely does this right translate into a right to dignified living and even when it does it is a secondary means of enforcement than a primary rule of recognition (as Hart would put it). Hegel, one of the lesser known European philosopher in the eastern and southern part of the world, had also characterized the Right of Recognition as one of the basic human rights and tendencies for which a person gets protective about, and for which one is even ready to become “irrational” too. This right of recognition is the recognition and understanding a human being seeks by virtue of him being the product of his past, his culture, and his environment. Another form of recognition a person seeks is by virtue of being a human – someone with a family, with an ability of foresight, and having the greatest ability of them all – the ability to create.

Credits: Mirror

What the refugees mostly seek is this recognition. They are being overpowered by weapons at their home, not being recognized as legitimate inhabitants in their own home. Either they can lose their recognition and become slaves, or they choose to fight it by choosing an alternate means of survival where they do not have to lose this recognition. History has many such proofs in the form of battles, small wars, revolutions where men have fought for their recognition. Most revolutions or anti-government establishments primarily seek recognition. The naxalite movement in India, the mass migration of Hindus from Bangladesh to India, the migration of the Jews all around Europe, the migration of every community from around the globe to America to make it one of the most diverse nations to have ever existed, etc. If Europe and the world at large fail to recognize these immigrants as people who want to survive on their own right and not as people who shall in future take away their resources then it is a grave they are digging which shall be of their own doing. How? Because of 1) The hostility it creates 2) The loss of recognition leading to submission to wrong authorities – such as the ISIS, insurgents, etc. 3) Long run destabilization of trade and economy in the region, which would be a huge set back. This brings me as to how the UN and the world community is failing to take notice of the obvious.

A map charting the course of Syrian Refugees. Credits: NYTimes.

The UNSC has passed 2 important resolutions to counter the violence of ISIL, Al-Nusra Front and other regional insurgent groups. One is Resolution 2170 (2014), which condemns the human rights violation and aims on putting sanctions by way of asset freezes and travel restrictions. The other resolution being Resolution 2199 (2015) which again condemns any trade with Al-Qaida and associated groups (to be read with resolutions 1267 (1999) and 1989 (2011)). These are basically targeted trade sanction under Chapter VII, Article 41 of the UN Charter. The question is, whether illegalities of such terrorist outfits can be countered with such docile economic sanctions which reek of international diplomacy and legality. By making the implementation of trade sanctions as a matter of procedure under Chapter VII, an Article 41 measure should have by now been followed up an Article 42 strike offensive by way “land, sea, or air”. Where is the seriousness, and the need to address the grave an imminent peril? Why has there not been a deliberation among major powers as per Article 43 to take some immediate measures in pursuance of peace and stability. On what right does the west condemn the recognition of Syrian refugees when its bureaucratic methods of dispute settlement are failing, or worse not being implemented with ‘the’ intent when it could have. Not saying the Manama declaration to stultify finance to such terrorist outfits will be a failure, but the question is – will it be enough? And when it is clear that it won’t be, then why are stricter measures being taken by the global community bypassing the bureaucratic norms of international law. Why is no strong voice recognizing these refugees and their problems as one which is global, and no immediate measures being taken to provide them proper refuge and settlement. Resources can be rationalized at some cost, but if the myopic viewpoint of the west does not change then there certainly is some blinding failure waiting to happen in eastern Europe and the middle east. Whereas many relief funds have been set up for refugees by international actors and countries, but when it has come to taking responsibility of the refugees there can be seen to be sharp U-turn by most. An example of this is the Canadian emergency relief fund set up by International Development minister Christian Paradis for Syrians, but Canada itself has been slow and near defiant in accepting refugees. This has been pointed out by its former Prime Minister Jean Chrétien as well. Such soft overt acts of benevolence can easily be dismissed as empty rhetoric if one realizes that this is one of the biggest migration crisis the world is witnessing in recent history.

The west needs to get over its Lockean ideals of rationalism, protectionism, and not view survival as the only right, which it considers is possible under tumultuous circumstances, but also recognize such human problems as their very own, something which it is more capable of addressing because it itself knows it can very well afford to. It is not only about death, but it has become a battle of extinction and when it comes to that things get gruesomely messy, something of which the ISIL itself can be said to be a product of.


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