a Critique of humanitarian reason

Benhabib_cohrs_468wSeyla Benhabib at Eurozine:

Refugees, asylees, IDPs (internally displaced persons), PRSs, stateless persons: these are new categories of human beings created by an international state-system in turmoil, human beings who are subject to a special kind of precarious existence. Although they share with other “suffering strangers” the status of victimhood and become the objects of our compassion – or as the UNHCR report puts it, become “persons of concern” – their plight reveals the most fateful disjunction between so-called “human rights” – or “the rights of man”, in the older locution – and “the rights of the citizen”; between the universal claims to human dignity and the specificities of indignity suffered by those who possess only human rights. From Hannah Arendt's famous discussion of the “right to have rights” in The Origins of Totalitarianism to Giorgio Agamben's homo sacer to Judith Butler's “precarious lives” and Jacques Rancière's call to “the enactment of rights”, the asylum seeker, the stateless and the refugee have become metaphors as well as symptoms of a much deeper malaise in the politics of modernity.

Yet as political fatigue about internationalism has gripped the United States in the wake of the interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq, and president Obama's politics of caution in Syria has created further moral quagmires, we have moved from “the right to have rights” to the “critique of humanitarian reason.” Didier Fassin, who for many years worked with Médecins Sans Frontières in a high capacity, and to whom we owe this term, defines it as follows: “Humanitarian reason governs precarious lives: the lives of the unemployed and the asylum seeker, the lives of sick immigrants and people with AIDS, the lives of disaster victims and victims of conflict – threatened and forgotten lives that humanitarian government brings into existence by protecting and revealing them.”

more here.