The Trumpcard of birthright nationalism

The US birther phenomenon exposes the broader issue of birthright nationalism and the inequality it perpetuates

Published on AlJazeera, by Imran Garda, April 5, 2011.

… So … Why not base a person’s nationality on their place of conception?

Naming people by place of conception has already been done. Sacha Baron Cohen’s most exquisite of alter-egos, Ali G, famously asked David and Victoria Beckham if they named their son Brooklyn because that is where they “did it”, before quipping, that if it indeed was the case, then he and his Julie would have to name their child “the bogs at KFC in Langley Village”.

The magic ticket to a galaxy of options: 

Ali G aside; Birthrights nationalism perpetuates inequality. It permeates every sphere of life from global economics to migration. The lottery of where your mother just so happened to give birth to you can rigidly define your life, providing you with shackles that bind you forever, or a magic ticket to a galaxy of options.

As he champions globalisation and all its gifts to humanity, Thomas L. Friedman is right – yes the world is flat … if you travel with Thomas Friedman’s US passport.

Anyone who holds a non-US, non-British, non-EU passport, and perhaps with the additions of a few others like Australia and Canada can find the terrain anything but flat. The ride is so often, for so many, unfair, bumpy and hostile.

The Schengen (European Union) visa application process is so strict and derisory towards those who need to apply for it, involving so many hurdles, that theoretically, you could be an uneducated American who lives in a trailer park, with a criminal record who nonetheless has unfettered, visa-free access to Europe – but a doctoral candidate on the verge of inventing a new science from the Democratic Republic of Congo or Afghanistan – and you might not make the cut.

The world is not flat for usually dignified people, who resort to undignified baby tourism. Women who meticulously plan to give birth in the West, so their child can grow up with better education, healthcare, job and travel opportunities. So their child can have a greater gravitas holding a US or British passport, rather than their practically worthless Angolan passport or Palestinian “travel document”.

The flat, globalised world also makes room for another breed of birthright nationalism.

In Israel, you can be a citizen no matter where you were born. If you can prove your “Jewishness” from the maternal line of your ancestry, you are in.

The world is flat for my cousin Zahra, from north London who, by culture and nationality is nothing other than English, and by religion is Muslim.

Zahra can move to Ma’ale Adumim or any other illegal settlement in East Jerusalem or the West Bank in an instant. However, a Palestinian with title deeds to the land going back 300 years cannot. Zahra’s magic ticket? Her mother is Jewish.

The world is not flat in the Gulf Arab countries like Qatar, for the numerous colleagues and acquaintances I have made, many in their 20s and 30s (not the children of short-term migrant labourers) who were born in the country, spent every breathing second of their existences there, but still have documents classifying them as Iraqi or Sudanese or Indian or Pakistani, as their parents are defined – despite never having been to their “home” countries, with no prospect of ever becoming one of the quarter of a million Qatari citizens. Bottomless barrels of oil and endless supplies of gas can make a select, privileged few ultra-ultra-ultra-comfortable. But it is hard to get into the club. (full text).

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