Europe at War

Arab restaurant, Porta Palazzo. Torino, July 2011

It ought to be a positive. To have their situation constantly referred to as “the worst crisis since World War II,” today’s refugees ideally ought to be shown the courtesy accorded to persons engulfed in a similar disaster. Why not invoke that era? Aside from the scale of the crisis, it should be an immediate guarantee of empathy, because Europeans all know what the last global conflict was like.

Unfortunately, that’s not the case. The Second World War reference, as it turns out, is more of a rallying call, particularly for those on the far right. Refugee arrivals from the Syrian conflict, from the war in Iraq, are in fact invaders in disguise, not victims, who have come to Europe to impose their religion and politics upon us. The situation is analogous to WWII, because there has been no time since then that the continent has been ‘invaded’. At least like this.

If only we could ascribe such intent to those displaced by the War on Terror. It would be the ultimate denial, projecting onto persons turned victims by wars Europe is in fact co-responsible for. Instead, they settle for the rhetoric, and pay lip service to its untruth, because Europeans have no other way of reconciling themselves to the fact that they are victims of the crisis, too. The conflict grinds on, and the refugees are their punishment for not stopping it.

The following flyer emphasizes the cruelty of the the crisis. One of many left-wing accounts floating around Europe today, its analysis is neither uncommon, nor unreasonable.  Photographed in Brussels, in early March, near a refugee center, it is typical of the anti-prison state flyers frequently found in the city’s downtown are, and the neighboring Commune of Saint-Gilles, home to many refugees from the Middle East and North Africa.


Throwing a spanner in the works of the deportation machine

Europe is at war. This is nothing new, it is not even hidden, it is just a war that everyone stands by and accepts. The reason is that the conflict affects neither the good citizens nor the continent’s commercial epicentres. Europe has declared war in the undesirables: all those that the powers cannot profit from, all those they see as a threat to the order they try to instill, all those that could become parasites on the serene progress of capitalism, all those that are not put in their place by work and obedience. And migrants, of course, find themselves among these undesirables.

We see the war on migrants very clearly at the borders: walls, camps, warships, helicopters, drones… But the war is also being waged in our towns, including in Brussels. Roundups on public transport or in the streets, the open centres where the state crowds in all those it doesn’t want, the police checks are all daily examples. Closed centres are also clearly a part of the state’s arsenal in this war.

In recent weeks, Belgium’s closed centres have had trouble with one of their inmates. Incarcerated in Bruges in July, H. at first tried various means of escape. Following his last attempt, he was transferred, after a good beating by the wardens, to 127bis [a repatriation centre].


Black and blue but far from resigned, he revolted against his jailers several times, never recognising the authority they were supposed to represent. Many times he tried to raise rebellions in the centre, like during a hunger strike of 60 prisoners, where he finished by climbing on the roof on 20 September last year. He spent the afternoon and the whole night there, shouting his hatred of imprisonment, of borders, of states, of the police and all those who put up bars around his life, around our lives, to whoever could hear him. Then he was transferred again, to Merksplas, thrown in a cell for a whole week so his rage could not spread a second time, and deported as a matter of urgency.

During his whole incarceration, he never sat down and accepted his fate. His revolt was often a burden he carried alone, for himself but also against the prison and the world it represents. With no demands, his struggle was an expression of indomitable rage, a cry of freedom that gave strength to his companions, both inside and outside the centre, and to all those who, like him, refuse to give up.

The order and the control exercised by the state (its borders, its prisons, its guardians) exist because we allow them to exist, either because we are resigned to our fate or because we are so desperate that we accept the few crumbs they hand us from time to time.

Let’s end the state, its roundups, its borders and its prisons.

Freedom for all.

Translated from the French by Samuel White. Photographs courtesy of Joel Schalit.