March 17, 2011

We Refugees

A displaced people: homo sacer

Hannah Arendt, in her piece entitled “We Refugees”, gives quite an interesting insight into the history of the Jewish people.  Although it does not specifically mention it, Arendt engages with the term homo sacer (Giorgio Agamben); this articles speaks of the human being which has been stripped of all rights, of all identity, and has been set apart from society. This gives a personal perspective of the manner in which the Jewish people have been endlessly shifted from place to place, and have endeavoured to always remain optimistic about the nature of their aterritorial existence.
“In order to forget more efficiently we rather avoid any allusion to concentration camps or internment camps we experienced in nearly all European countries- it might be interpreted as pessimism or a lack of confidence in the new homeland”
The above paragraph truly does speak of the homo sacer, the individual who not only has been set aside from society and has had all of their identifying characteristics removed from them, but also the individual who does not dare to mention their history for fear that it will effect their future; instead they look only to the future.To be what is described as the homo sacer is to be within a hopeless situation, to be without the protection of a nation or homeland, to be without the security that this identity provides. It is to be a refugee within the state of exception.
“Instead of fighting… refugees have got used to wishing death to friends an relatives…we have seen how quickly eloquent optimism could change to speechless pessimism. As time went on we got worse and worse- even more optimistic and even more inclined to suicide”
The Jewish people retain a strong sense of optimism, until it reaches a certain point, after which the only freedom which is still available to them is embraced. Suicide.
It seems that through this article, what Hannah Arendt is saying is that the Jewish population need to embrace their identity, to embrace their history, to understand that to be of a people, and to have a history whether it is positive or negative does not make you an outcast from society; what will continue to make you an outcast is to tirelessly try to assimilate into a society. These people who are endlessly driven from place to place represent the ‘vanguard of their peoples- if they keep their identity’.

Luke Flanagan


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