Book Review: De La Domination Coloniale Au Rejet Des Migrants: De l’Indigène à l’Immigré, Essais Politiques [From Colonial Domination to the Rejection of Migrants. From the Native to the Immigrant. Political Essays]

Michel Jouard, De La Domination Coloniale Au Rejet Des Migrants: De l’Indigène à l’Immigré, Essais Politiques [From Colonial Domination to the Rejection of Migrants. From the Native to the Immigrant. Political Essays] (Paris: L’Harmattan, 2017. 210 pp. notes. €22.50 digital)
Review by Baligh Ben Taleb, Department of History, University of Nebraska-Lincoln

​​​On September 2, 2015, the world was racked by the picture of the 3-year-old Syrian boy Aylan Kurdi who was found lying face down on a beach near the Turkish resort of Bodrum. Aylan was among thousands of migrants and war refugees, including 300 toddlers, who drowned in the Mediterranean attempting to reach Europe that year. To many, his tragic story came to symbolise the gruesome war left behind in Syria and the failure of the international community to end the bloodshed; to others, it is tied to the absence or lack of better European regulations to treat these migrants through asylum or visa programs. To Michel Jouard, however, the rejection of migrants is largely tied to a lingering colonial legacy and the more substantive historical dimension of European amnesia. In De la Domination Coloniale au Rejet des Migrants: De l’Indigène à l’Immigré (From Colonial Rule to Rejection of Migrants: from the Indigenous to the Migrant), Jouard looks beyond tabloid stories and media coverage of the ongoing “crisis” of immigration to remind his readers of the connection between the long-standing legacy of colonialism and the devastating, unequal, and often impoverishing conditions that former colonies still wrestle with. (8)

Drawn largely from newspaper articles, including op-eds, and a rich secondary literature on colonialism and immigration studies, Jouard uncovers the wide-ranging effects of colonization and explains how the failure of European powers to reckon with historical injustices committed against former colonies continues to frame their treatment and perception of migrants and refugees. Although concerted efforts of international human rights organizations help to alleviate these traumatic journeys, to Jouard, the problem lies in the institutional sclerosis and much deeper structural legacy of the past. In the absence of accountability and historical reconciliation, former imperial powers fail to reclaim their universal values of liberty, equality, and respect for human dignity. (17) “Why can’t migrants find a better, and certainly safer and less expensive, way to enter Europe?” The answer is both trivial and painful, explains Jouard, “it is nearly impossible, even for an asylum seeker or for, as a matter of fact, any immigrant to obtain a visa from European countries.” (178) Instead, visas are often replaced by razor-wire border fences, camps, drones, and powerful coast guards’ agencies such as Frontex, as he articulates the argument of Catherine Wihtol de Wenden, a leading expert on immigration and Sciences Po Senior Research Fellow. (178)

Channeling well-worn stereotypes about immigrants, far-right political parties and nativism movements in Europe have rallied support for their anti-immigration sentiment and pushed governments to tighten their immigration policies. Animosity and hatred triggered European leaders across the political spectrum to think along popular lines of resentment and rejection of refugees. (195) This is not a recent phenomenon though, as Jouard traces back European immigration policies to the 1970s, and describes them as “defensive” and “repressive” against a largely phantasmagoric threat. (154) Drawing his arguments from some of the most influential contemporary experts on postcolonial studies, Jouard argues that the susceptible other is central to the constitutive components of a colonialist discourse. Elaborating further, Jouard goes on to survey the colonial descriptions of colonized people in South America, Africa, and Asia and how these representations validated for the most part the subjugation and often elimination of indigenous peoples in settler states.

De la Domination Coloniale au Rejet des Migrants is divided into two major parts. Part one surveys the politics, effects, and outcomes of colonialism in three different continents—from the military, political, cultural, and economic conquests to slavery, racism, and settler colonialism in South America, Africa, and Asia. In essence, Jouard wants to unpack the long-term effects and neo-colonial practices, and further tie them to the broader questions of refugees and migrants. Part two (the shameful management of the immigration “crisis”) provides a thorough understanding of the major migratory movements that have swept along five different routes and centers since 2000—Gibraltar, Lampedusa, Lesbos, Calais and Cologne—and how the development of new geopolitical contexts in the Mediterranean region exacerbated immigration policies. In both sections, Jouard uses a broadly chronological organization in explaining the developments of both colonialism and the immigration “crisis.”

Readers will find both sections rich, mostly well-argued, yet with little connection to each other. A number of historians and social scientists, including a few Jouard quotes in his essays, have brought forth solid arguments about the intricate link between the standing legacy of colonialism and the ongoing immigration situation around the world. Although he provides a general understanding of each concept, his broad explanations, however, offer little evidence of how colonial legacies influenced or informed immigration policies. Perhaps instead of broad assumptions and sweeping generalizations, a microanalytical case(s) where he explains a consistent pattern in a few countries would have made his arguments more compelling, and provided a better portrayal of the direct relationship between the historical wrongs of colonialism and the ongoing restrictive immigration policies. Notwithstanding, Jouard’s political essays offer a call to critically reexamine current immigration policies in internalizing a colonial legacy of the past, recognize their devastating impacts, and imagine a future that ensures a better treatment of migrants.

Baligh Ben Taleb,
Department of History, University of Nebraska-Lincoln

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