The innocence of all

While intended to mobilize action, the function of innocence in our view of the migrant, as Ticktin argues, only further contributes to limited and harmful effects. The images and rhetoric of innocence are based on representations of those who deserve help. The more innocent a victim appears, the more likely attention will be drawn to him/her.

Yet as Ticktin explores, determining a migrant’s innocence is often defined more by our position and perspective than the life of the migrant. Views of innocence are racialized and filtered through perceptions of class and power. We empathize with those who “look like us,” and are blind to those that appear foreign, threatening, strange.

As explored in Balibar, the conditioning of “us” vs. “them” is central to the development of the nation-state. Says Balibar, “Drawing ‘political’ borders in the European sphere [was] originally and principally a way to divide up the earth; thus, it was a way at once to organize the world’s exploitation and to export the ‘border form’ to the periphery, in an attempt to transform the whole universe into an extension of Europe…” This European model of the nation-state drew often arbitrary borders in post-colonial countries, creating borders that separate and exclude, thereby forming internal systems based (largely) on ethnic or political representation.

Yet as Balibar argues, while a nation-state is often centered on a shared identity of belonging (nationalism), this identity is often exclusionary—the “us” is often defined by the “not-them.” As a result, we are more likely to connect and empathize with the “us”—those that appear to have similar shared experience; our neighbor.

This is perhaps the central cause of homeless migrants, journeying in the liminal spaces between nations and often not accepted as one of “us.” As Ticktin argues, representations of innocence, those that are seen as “us,” create distinctions between worthy and unworthy victims. Yet this can and must be challenged. Recognizing and deconstructing the false representations that separate us is important, as is challenging the systems of identity often defined by “shared experience.” Indeed, by expanding our worldview beyond our immediate nation and viewing the plight of all global citizens as the struggles of our brothers and sisters, our neighbors, we will develop helpful perspective to view all who suffer as innocent and worthy of asylum.