January 09, 2007

Kristeva asks ‘By What Right Are You A Foreigner?’

Riots in Paris

Kristeva hopes in this section to ‘bring out the overall legal status of foreigners throughout history and to sketch a comparison with the present situation’ (95).

Jus Soli, Jus Sanguinis
Kristeva wonders how to define a foreigner. Could it be ‘one who does not belong to the group’, an entity defined in an exclusive or ‘negative’ fashion, ‘the other of the family, the clan, the tribe’ or the heathen and heretic (95)? The foreigner may be ‘born on another land, foreign to the kingdom or the empire’ (95).

Kristeva notes that two legal systems were created to deal with the foreigner:
jus soli (Latin for ‘right of the territory’): a right by which nationality or citizenship can be recognised to any individual born in the territory of the related state;
• and jus sanguinus (Latin for ‘right of blood’): the rule by which birth in a state is sufficient to confer nationality, irrespective of the nationality of one’s parents.
The systems are either territorial or nativist and these new roles of the nation state indicate that the foreigner has now become, ‘the one who does not belong to the state in which we are, the one who does not have the same nationality’ (96).

Kristeva wonders why foreignness instigates such fascination and horror and she points out that although other factors of difference such as gender, sexuality, religion etc. may converge with foreignness to some extent, the foreigner has a particular quality of otherness. The possibility of threat or benefit from the foreigner dictates what rights are offered to him.

If political regulations or legislation generally speaking define the manner in which we posit, modify, and eventually improve the status of foreigners, they also make up a vicious circle, for it is precisely with respect to laws that foreigners exist. Indeed without a social group structured about a power base and provided with legislation, that externality represented by the foreigner and most often experienced as unfavorable [sic] or at least problematical would simply not exist. (96)

Kristeva notes that although many groups based on philosophy (Stoics) and religion (Christians) have offered equal rights to foreigners, these are only enjoyed in a ‘spiritual city’ (97). As one set of foreigners ins included by such movements, another set of foreigners is created to be excluded. This is where political jurisdiction should play a part, yet when pressured by social or political powers, it gives way. The final check is ‘moral and religious cosmopolitanism’ (97).

Man or Citizen
Do we have rights as men and women or as citizens? Kristeva refers to Hannah Arendt’s account of the rise of totalitarianism which is seen as being inextricably bound up with the problem of the foreigner in modern society. Kristeva thinks that the problem is precisely in the separation of the rights of man from those belonging to the citizen. This creates a paradix where ‘one can be more or less a man to the extent that one is more or less a citizen’ and ‘he who is not a citizen is not fully a man’ (98). (See Judith Butler). Kristeva highlights that the difficulty surrounding foreigners ‘follows from a classical logic, that of a political group and its peak, the nation-state’ and this logic is ‘based on exclusions’ (98). Kristeva sees two solutions to this problem:
• ‘global united states of all former nation-states’ where the rights of men are integrated;
• or ‘small political sets’ formed by ‘humanistic cosmopolitanism’ with a statute introduced to protect the rights of foreigners (98).

Without Political Rights
Kristeva tries in this section to outline the rights that are denied to foreigners:
• mainly the foreigner is excluded from public service;
• foreigners are often denied the right to own real estate
• the right of inheritance is complex for foreigners;
• and foreigners are sometimes arrested without good reason.
Kristeva notes that all countries are different however and she notes that France has been more sympathetic to foreigners with its social protection, yet this only extends ro civil rights, not political ones.

*A Second-Rate Right?
Kristeva notes that although foreigners are affected by political changes, they are often denied the right to vote. The foreigner is rendered passive. Administrative power over foreigners turns their rights into second-rate rights and foreigners rebel by maintaining their cultural allegiances with the mother country.

Thinking the Commonplace

Facing the problem of the foreigner, the discourses, difficulties or even the deadlocks of our predecessors do not only make up a history; they constitute a cultural distance that is to be preserved and developed, a distance on the basis which one might temper and modify the simplistic attitudes of rejection or indifference, as well as the arbitrary or utilitarian decisions that today regulate relationships between foreigners. The more so as we are all in the process of becoming foreigners in a universe that is being widened more than ever, that is more heterogeneous beneath its apparent scientific and media-inspired unity. (104)


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