Swiss-Canadian-Iranian journalist Abrahamian looks closely at modern internationality and the legal liminality that can accompany it.
Well at home in the airports and diplomatic offices of the world, the author, an opinion editor at Al Jazeera America and editor at New Inquiry and Dissent, admits a “discomfort with the national ‘we.’ ” Yet, she continues, national identity gives a person legal standing in the world: to be a cosmopolite is not quite the same as being cosmopolitan, and to be free of the encumbrances of nationalism can sometimes mean being without a nation. Pico Iyer covered the freedom part of the equation in his similarly wide-ranging book The Global Soul (2000). Where Abrahamian diverges is in her unblinking look at the phenomenon of statelessness. Depriving them of citizenship allowed the Nazi regime to persecute German Jews in the first place, denying them what Hannah Arendt considered the overarching advantage of citizenship: “the right to have rights.” Arendt pressed for the right of stateless people to have legal standing internationally, a question that is of immediate concern given the growing number of refugees in the world. “Fixing statelessness isn’t technically very difficult,” writes Abrahamian. “It can be solved with some basic organization and paperwork.” Yet doing so requires political will that most nations seem to lack, unless it comes in the form of citizenship for sale, a specialty of certain islands around the world; or the creation of multitiered citizenship schemes that allow natives of, say, the Gulf emirates to withhold certain privileges from new arrivals. Abrahamian’s fluently told, fast-paced story takes her around the world, into dark corners such as the passport industry (“You can never be too rich, too thin, or have too many passports”) and refugee processing centers, and it ends on a dark note suggesting that anyone seeking a new country who doesn’t arrive with a thick wallet is likely to be turned away—or worse.
A slim but powerful book of great interest to students of international law and current events.