Border Violence

Dave: Three Rivers

The album cover shows a small boat at sea, a symbol of migration which is the central theme of the album with very personal insights into Dave’s family history as migrants. (notably his own mother’s testimony of migration at the end of the song Heart Attack). In this melancholic song, the young rapper from south London tells three different stories of migration and the struggle migrants face when trying to settle in the UK.

The first verse tells the story of the windrush generation, a generation of Caribbean people that were “drafted to England” (Dave, 2021) with the promise of citizenship and better life conditions. However, these people suffered from the latter change in immigration laws and many suffered and died from being unlawfully deported as they could not prove their status. (Williams, 2020) The Jamaican community, especially in London, is a main actor and influence in British culture, (Dabydeen, 2010). Dave highlights said influence by referencing the Notting Hill Carnival, one of the world’s biggest street carnivals. Dave also names a list of English footballers from the national team, who are children of migrants of the Caribbean, to put emphasis on the way the United Kingdom profited in many ways from migration.

The interlude then follows with a sample from a news report about the false promise of the British government to those migrants and a moving testimony from someone who lived in the UK since they were 10 years old, paid taxes for 37 years but are still deemed to be illegally here.

The second verse is about a migrant family from Eastern Europe in the 1990’s with description of violence that can point towards the Balkans War. Contrary to the first verse which depicted the origin country of migrants as paradisiac, the image painted here is much more gruesome with ‘dictators and leaders persecuting your people’ and ‘Bodies of the innocent pilling’.  This is a reminder that people who are risking their lives on dinghies and under cargo trucks are not doing so out of spite or as a scheme of undermining a country’s identity but because they are “escaping from war, conflicts, violence and injustices” (Cesare, p50, 2020). The end of the verse explains how through difficult times this migrant drinks to cope which causes him to be violent towards his family and become a reflection of what he was seeking to escape. This is an interesting point about various forms of violence that occurs with migration and how the hardship and violence inflicted upon migrants can cause wounds that will be the root of more violence: a form of transgenerational trauma (Phipps & al.2014) .

The final verse is about migration from the Middle East. It sheds light firstly on the duality of western governments when it comes to migration. “Your oppressor is your liberator” (Dave, 2021) is an antithesis referencing the multiple interventions for freedom and peace causing constant war and violence in the region. The same governments that profit from the demise of ‘third world’ nations, through weapon sales, natural resources exploitation and “an economy of dispossession” (Walia,p.29, 2021), are also the governments building walls to protect themselves from the migration of people leaving the chaos.

There is also further exploitation of the migrants that compose an important part of the workforce of many western countries while still often being less considered than other nationals. This is beautifully expressed by Dave: “We rely on migration more than ever before, they’re key workers but they could not even get in the door”. Key workers are the workers in the UK that had to keep working during the Covid pandemics, many of which came from migration. (Fernandez-Reino, 2020)

Finally in the outro, Daniel Kaluuya talks about identity and racism, as a famous Academy-Award winning actor, British-born of Ugandan parents. He explains then rather than defining himself against the tide, which “still makes it about them, still makes it against the poison that you’ve internalised”, he “Switched rivers” which is to say he changed his perception of what being black or from a migrant family means, and conceived it as an “asset”.

The overall song with melancholic piano and various samples from news reports and testimony creates a touching and emotional atmosphere which can help the listener connect with the stories on a deeper level, through empathy. The common feature of the three stories is that they depict the human reality of migration and forces us to face it. It deconstructs the various preconceived ideas about migration to draw a complex image of violence in migration.

Julien Djenidi


David Dabydeen, 2010, “Notting Hill Carnival”, Centre for Caribbean Studies, University of Warwick
Di Cesare, Donatella. 2020. “Migrants and the State.” In Resident Foreigners: A Philosophy of Migration, Cambridge: Polity Press.
Phipps, R.M. and Degges-White, S. 2014, A New Look at Transgenerational Trauma Transmission: Second-Generation Latino Immigrant Youth. Journal of Multicultural Counselling and Development, 42: 174-187
Mariña Fernández-Reino, Madeleine Sumption, Carlos Vargas-Silva, From low-skilled to key workers: the implications of emergencies for immigration policy, Oxford Review of Economic Policy, Volume 36, Issue Supplement_1, 2020, Pages S382–S396
Wallia, Harsha. 2021. “Fortress Europe.” In Border & Rule: Global Migration, Capitalism and the Rise of Racist Nationalism, Chicago: Haymarket Books.

Border Violence

Jefre Cantu-Ledesma: Were I End and You Begin; Body Within Body; Where You End and I Begin


Of the many binary correspondences which we may readily consider, one, inside/outside quite visually and literally contains an object which mediates its dualisms. The forward slash, a membrane, is the very border which keeps its terms apart, the side which orients in from out. The slash-border makes it easy to differentiate the terms as two separate entities as opposed to one insideoutside. Is this violence yet? At the scale of nation-states and their sovereignty, both law-positing and law-preserving violences accompany protocols of border control and protection. An electrified fence at the borderline of some property evokes the police’s/policing’s spectral ability to create legal situations where “no clear situation exists.”[1] Yet unlike the more static territorial borders upon which electric fences are built, nation-states alter the territoriality of their boundaries to inflict violence beyond their limits. As Laleh Khalili writes, “the US assumed Guantanamo Bay was exempt from the writ of habeas corpus because of its ambiguous territorial status: at once a perpetual holding of the US under an indefinite lease, and not included within the boundaries of the US between it is non-annexed colonial space.”[2] . Ambiguity between territory and legal sovereignty has permitted the US regime to inflict acts of atrocity against the people detained at Guantanamo Bay. Violence need not be inflicted only through legal loopholes though—in an example of imperialist territory externalization, “the EU is training a new counterterrorism and anti-migration force, called the G5 Sahel Cross-Border Joint Force, with Burkina Faso, Chad Mali, Mauritania, and Niger… UK soldiers are training Tunisian armed forces; Italy has redeployed troops from Iraq and Afghanistan to Niger, Libya, and Tunisia; France has forces in Tunisia and Niger; Germany is training border guards in Libya; and French and German militaries are training agents in Mali.”[3] In these cases of “Europe’s new border guards”, the border as a legal, carceral entity is extended, expedited to punish migrants before they even reach the de facto limits of their destinations.[4] From within the nation-state, recycled myths of the outsider as a pathogenic threat prevail to justify criminalizing immigration.[5] Di Cesare powerfully recalls Hobbes’ Leviathan as a symbol of the savage and lawless wilderness, the perpetual virtual war raging beyond the borders.[6] But perversely, it is not desperate migrants who embody the Leviathan when inhospitable states relegate them to be held in asylum aboard floating cruise ships.[7]


In Migrants and the State, Donna Di Cesare makes a philosophical move towards rejecting the boundary-as-cudgel seen above, starting with the the intersubjective: “[w]hat must be put into question is the metaphysical dichotomy between the internal and the external – the foundation of political separation… A philosophy of the migrant requires a spectator capable of moving from the internal to the external, and vice versa; able not only to recount and redeem the shipwreck, but also to pass judgment on it.”[8]

The motion outlined in her description evokes three consecutive tracks on Jefre Cantu-Ledesma’s album Love Is A Stream: Where I End & You Begin, Body Within Body, and Where You End & I Begin. Together, the pieces precisely call into question the self/other boundary, representing a movement from the internal to external and vice versa. In the first movement, a tangle of ambient reflections intensifies, perhaps joined by the timbre of a human voice before breaking open, erupting in a rumble while a delicately sustained melody soars overhead before the elements dissipate, ending abruptly The boundary is cracked apart, its contents ooze into the second piece, which drifts along to suggest an undifferentiated flow, a pure blending of subjectivity: insideoutside. A nagging harshness at the start of the third piece is soon smoothed away, assuaged by the presence of another. Balanced, the elements have returned to their respective bodies, but they fade out together. The pieces trace an affective outline of spectatorship toward a philosophy of migration, a solidarity beyond boundaries where no one subjectivity takes primacy over another. The sound pieces’ experiential traverse approximates Di Cesare’s alliance between the migrant and the spectator. But at what point in this “journey to the Other and back” does the citizen spectator gain more than just understanding of the other? How might such alliances between migrants and citizens, beginning in the abstract as metaphysical relations, convert into substantive actions?

Pat LeGates


[1]     Walter Benjamin, Peter D. Fenves, and Julia Ng, Toward the Critique of Violence: A Critical Edition (Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 2021), 48.
[2]     Laleh Khalili, “Carceral Seas,” Millennium: Journal of International Studies 49, no. 3 (June 2021): 462–471, accessed October 30, 2022,, 464.
[3]     Harsha Walia, Border and Rule: Global Migration, Capitalism and the Rise of Racist Nationalism (Halifax, NS: Fernwood Publishing, 2021), 12.
[4]     Walia, 12.
[5]     Not a direct quote, but thanks to Khalili’s “Carceral Seas” for this thought.
[6]     Donatella Di Cesare, Resident Foreigners: A Philosophy of Migration, English edition. (Medford, MA: Polity, 2019), 14.
[7]     Daniel Boffey, “Dutch Plans to House Refugees on Cruise Ships Described as ‘Absurd’ and Illegal,” The Guardian, July 22, 2022, sec. World news, accessed October 31, 2022,
[8]     Di Cesare, 22. Italics mine.

Border Violence

Alexiane: Blue Hearts

A passionate exclamation in a foreign language immediately grabs the attention, but soon fades away to give way to a sweet-toned feminine voice. Accompanied by soft, mournful music, this voice sings that she has been woken up by a bird telling her stories about ‘children with blue hearts’. Children who are unheard, children who cry. The listener is informed that the time of looking away is over, as voice and music jointly climb the dramatic ladder. During this climb, in which the voice becomes more emphatic and the music swells, the artist asserts to sing for ‘life’, for ‘rights’, and for the ‘children with no voice’. Everything indicates that an issue of great importance is being raised here. No effort is spared to get the audience emotionally involved. But what children exactly is this all about? This is revealed in the chorus, when the top of the dramatic ladder is reached. The line ‘flows of us lost at sea’, quickly followed by ‘protection for the smuggled hearts’, leaves no room for doubt: it’s about the miserable fate of the youthful victims of human trafficking. The ‘blue hearts’ must stand for these innocent unfortunates.

But the blue hearts Alexiane (2022) sings of in her identically titled song stand for something else as well, as becomes apparent from the website of the UNODC (United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime). This organization runs the campaign ‘blue hearts’, of which the song is a part. They state that these blue hearts are supposed to symbolize not only the ‘sadness of those who are trafficked’, but also the ‘cold-heartedness of traffickers’.[1] In this way, victim and culprit are lucidly and seamlessly linked.

The solutions envisaged by the UNODC naturally follow from this simple problem analysis. On the one hand, they try to raise funds for the victims, and, on the other, further cases are sought to be prevented by helping governments to make effective migration policies and supporting their efforts to prosecute traffickers.[2] By doing this, the UNODC claims to contribute to one of the Sustainable Development Goals, namely to: ‘facilitate orderly, safe, and responsible migration and mobility of people’.[3] Thus, the UNODC offers a crystal-clear picture of victim, perpetrator, tactics, and goal regarding human trafficking which is airtight. Right? Well, no. Anything but. While it is clear that migrants are indeed victims, the UNODC’s assertions about the causes, the proper strategies, and the disered goals are not only dubious, but harmful as well.

Starting with the cause. So, who is actually to blame? The focus on human traffickers of the UNODC should be seen as a ‘comfortable alibi for evading or denying any responsibility’, as Di Cesare (2020, 69) claims. ‘A clutch of unscrupulous ‘smugglers’, ‘slavedrivers’ and ‘traffickers’’ is thus designated as completely guilty and the only real cause of migration (Di Cesear 2020, 69).[4] Looking at it more critically, however, it should be seen that the foundational causes are not trafficking practices, but state practices. Firstly, it should be recognised that states by erecting restrictive borders are the more fundamental factor, simply because, as Walia (2021, 149) writes, ‘the economy for extorting traffickers would collapse if there were no border controls’. Secondly, that people despite the deadlyness of the borders make the life-threatening decision to defy them is in large parts a result of the colonialist and capitalist exploitation by the very same states that are now fighting ruthlessly against these self-inflicted migrations (Walia 2021, 155).

Furthermore, this misindication of causes inevitably leads to the proposal of inadequate and harmful strategies as well. Chasing the traffickers, hypocritically helping the migrants, and making “better” policies concerning the borders, respectively ensure that migration goes further underground, that the racist idea of ‘white man’s burden’ is reinforced, and that exclusionary border policies become even more restrictive (Walia 2021, 149,155; Di Cesare 2022, 69).

Finally, the pursued goal. In seeking orderly migration, UNODC shows itself most clearly as an arm of the intergovernmental organisation the United Nations, by defending the interests of states. Instead of striving for a world in which migration is no longer necessary, but nevertheless possible by guaranteeing the human right to move freely, their aim is to further strengten the already predominant sovereignty of states by bolstering their deadly border policies in order to make migration ‘orderly’ (Di Cesare 2022, 14).

In conclusion, ‘Blue Hearts’ by Alexiane is an example of the legitimation of a problematic problem analysis of human trafficking, and thus of the restrictive border project. Not only the lyrics themselves, but also the emotional charge of the song, the use of a singer with roots in the targeted region (Senegal), and the incorporation of an indigenous language in the song (the ‘foreign language’ at the beginning is Wolof, a language from West Africa) all contribute to the message that Europe and Africa, and in fact the whole human race, must turn against the inhuman acts of a group of bad guys. But as shown, the suggested crystal-clear picture of the problem turns out to be a misleading and damaging mirage on closer inspection instead. It is time to counter this hypocritical marketing aimed at further restriction with a truly fundamental critical voice. It is time to replace symptom control with cause control.

Mees Wolffs


Alexiane. 2022. “Blue Hearts.” Gion Records.

Di Cesare, Donatella. 2020. “Migrants and the State.” In Resident Foreigners: A Philosophy of Migration, translated by David Broder, 5-77. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Walia, Harsha. 2021. “Fortress Europe.” In Border & Rule: Global Migration, Capitalism and the Rise of Racist Nationalism, 135-160. Chicago: Haymarket Books.



[3]  As stated on the Blue Heart campaign brochure, accessible via
[4] Ibid.

Border Violence

IDLES: Danny Nedelko

What’s a punk band answer to immigration? What about a philosopher’s answer? Let’s compare a song from IDLES to a book from Donatella Di Cesare.

Danny Nedelko, by IDLES, is a song about immigration, and what to do about it. Right from its first lines: «My blood brother is an immigrant, a beautiful immigrant». The band’s approach to this matter is simple and very straightforward. Their solution to the “immigration problem” can be summed up in a single word: connection. This idea can be found in almost every component of the song. The most noticeable example is in the lyrics: in every verse the singer states to be related to people of different nationalities, calling them their “blood brother”. At one point he even says «My best friend is an alien», as a demonstration that we can be connected to anyone, even someone that is apparently completely different from us. Another great example of this is in the music video, where Danny Nedelko (who is not a fictional character, but a very much real Ukrainian immigrant, and friend of the group) dances and interacts with people of different nationalities while wearing a t-shirt that has printed on it “No man is an island”. Again, this calls back to the idea of connecting with other human beings and coming together as a group. But maybe, the most ingenious way in which the band tries to bring people together is in the song’s chorus, where the singer Joe Talbot starts singing a sort of gibberish anthem that sound a lot like stadium chants. This musical device, thanks to its catchiness and lack of actual words, invites people from everywhere to sing along, once again, bringing the people together.

Resident foreigners: A Philosophy of Migration, by Donatella Di Cesare, makes a very similar point to IDLES’s song. In a bold move, the philosopher moves a critique to the whole political spectrum of answers to immigration. The problem, according to her, is that both people who are pro and against immigration tackle the problem from the perspective of someone who “stands on the shore and sees the migrants arriving”. Instead, she argues we should try to connect with the migrants and let them remind us that the shore we stand on is not so solid as it seems. That is to say, to recognize that concepts such as Nationality and self-determination are just myths. The migrant has a sort of subversive power, it is an unacceptable anomaly in the eyes of the state. Quoting, «The migrant’s rights, starting with her right to move, crash up against the sovereignty which the state exercises over the nation and over its territorial dominion. Here we see the conflict between universal human rights and the division of the world into nation-states.» What is being critiqued here is the contemporary paradigm concerning human rights. For Di Cesare, in today’s world one is seen as right-deserving only when protected by a national flag. According to Di Cesare, «philosophy has chosen the permanently settled», but connecting with others, especially those who are seen as outsiders, opens up the possibility for a new kind of citizenship, one that is not based upon nationality, but is instead a sort of “cosmopolitical citizenship”.

Edoardo Chen


Di Cesare, Donatella. 2020. “Migrants and the State.” In Resident Foreigners: A Philosophy of Migration, translated by David Broder, 5-77. Cambridge: Polity Press.

IDLES. 2018. “Danny Nedelko” Track 4 on “Joy as an Act of Resistance.”. Partisan Records.

Border Violence

Remi Weekes: His House

For a white European citizen, the border is merely represented by a line on a map, passport control at the airport or at most a visa requirement. However, for refugees, the border is associated with fear, violence, and even death. In this essay, I will discuss the Netflix film His House (2020) as a method of demonstrating the gravity of the European border violence.

At first glance, the film’s narrative of a haunted house might point to a classic horror film. However, it is more than that. This film’s supernatural elements are a mere symbol for the real-life horrors faced by migrants. The film follows a young Sudanese couple, Bol and Rial, who fled their country to seek asylum in England. Quite early on in the film, they are appointed a house in an unknown place in the U.K. to await the assignment of their British citizenship. However, they turn out not to be alone. In the walls of the house, they hear and see the ghost of their daughter, Nyagak, who they lost at sea during their journey towards Europe. The girl communicates through a silent humming; a humming that sounds both innocent and anxious. For me, this humming sound represents how immigrants who survived their journey are still haunted by the fear and violence they have experienced at the border. In fact, it becomes clear throughout the film that immigrants also face new instances of border violence within the UK, such as bullying, and discrimination from their new neighbours.

The drowning of Nyagak is unfortunately not mere fiction; in 2016, 4581 people died on their journey to Europe through the Mediterranean route (Walia, 2021). These deaths are caused by the rigorous and violent European border. As mentioned previously, this border violence is not visible to Europeans themselves since for them the border is a mere line on a map. The film His House nevertheless manages to convey this violence to a European audience by turning the story into a literal horror narrative. Through the use of traditional horror tropes such as ghosts, haunted houses, and jump-scares the public feels the pain, fear, and violence that immigrants experience in real life when facing the border.

In the second half of the film, we are faced with an extra level of violence. During a flashback of Rial, we learn that Nyagak was not the couple’s real daughter, but a girl they stole back in Sudan to gain a place on an already fully packed bus of refugees. They are thus not merely chased by the trauma of their refugee route, but also by the guilt they feel for failing to protect a girl that they selfishly used for their own safety. One might say that Rial and Bol themselves are also the actors of violence and therefore responsible for the death of Nyagak. However, I will demonstrate how actually Europe can be held accountable for both the abduction and death of Nyagak. Harsha Walia (2021) explains that Europe externalizes its borders to Africa to outsource its responsibility. For example, the EU has provided Sudan (the home country of Bol and Rial) with millions of euros for their border security and readmission to ensure a decrease in the refugee flux towards Europe (Walia 2021) However, the Sudanese organisation in charge has been engaged in war crimes and ethnic cleansing (Walia 2021) which worsens the living conditions of Sudanese people and so presses the urge to leave the country. Since Europe invests in the Sudanese border control, I believe that they can also be held accountable for the violence committed by them. As seen in the film, the increasing urge for fleeing Sudan is at times accompanied by unconscious violent actions by the refugees themselves. However, the Sudanese refugees find themselves in such desperate circumstances that they are driven to violence out of a need for survival. Therefore, I argue that they cannot be held accountable for these violent actions. Notice that the European border politics are consciously contributing to these desperate circumstances by investing money in unethical organisations. Therefore, I argue that Europe must also be held accountable for violent acts committed by the refugees.

In conclusion, the multiple layers of violence portrayed in His House show the gravity and reach of the European border violence. Through the cinematic horror tropes used, the film ensures that the audience truly feels the violence, fear, and pain caused by the European border. I believe that the film in this way motivates a critical reflection on border violence and the role Europe plays in this.

Vera de Wit

Reference List

Weekes, Remi. Dir. 2020. His House. London: Netflix.  

Walia, Harsha. 2021 “Fortress Europe”. In Border & Rule: Global Migration, Capitalism, and the Rise of Racist Nationalism. Chicago: Haymarket Books, 105-130.

Border Violence

Hadestown Original Broadway Company: Why Do We Build a Wall

Why do we Build a Wall is structured as a dialogue between a figure, to whom we will refer as the Father, and his children. We will unpack the meaning of this song by reading notions from the work of Di Cesare into it.

The dialogue starts with a simple question from the Father: Why do we build a wall, my children, my children? The children answer in unison: why do we build a wall?  We build the wall to keep us free—that’s why we build a wall, we build the wall to keep us free!. Here, already, one finds an interesting opposition that is also identified by di Cesare, namely the opposition of state sovereignty — the power to rule over whatever is within the state’s borders — and human rights (Cesare 2020, p.10). The wall — and therefore also the nation-state inscribed into the wall — is needed in order to guarantee the human rights of its citizens. This perspective, however, establishes those within the walls of the border as subjects a priori worthy of freedom, and as such, establishes those beyond the borders as not worthy of human rights. (Cesare 2020, p.11).

In what follows, the workings of the wall as a guarantee of freedom are slowly unpacked through repeated questioning by the Father. This dialogue reveals that the wall keeps the children free by keeping out the enemy. The enemy, in its turn, is poverty. But then, the dynamics of the dialogue change. The Father no longer poses a question, but rather, takes the stage, and forcefully states:

Because we have, and they have not, my children, my children, Because they want what we have got!

Again in unison, the children respond by reiterating and hence affirming Father’s words. Interestingly enough, the enemy, first identified as the abstract notion of poverty, is reified in the form of a concrete “they” by Father, a threatening they, “a dangerous foreigner” (Cesare 2020, p.12). The conflation of the migrant with poverty essentialises the migrant as the source of poverty. The question of migration, thus, is completely “articulated in the grammar of the possessive”(Cesare 2020, p.13), and as such, the discourse around migration is contraposed from a question of humanity, of equality, of (the legitimacy of) statehood, to a merely economic one.

Father then poses a final question: “what do we have that they should want, my children, my children?” The answer is given starkly:

We have a wall to work upon! We have work, and they have none.

To which the Father adds: “and our work is never done!” The inverted logic of the children becomes blatantly clear: they justify the construction of the wall by posing it as a necessary response to the threat of poverty (embodied by the migrant), while the migrant, and migration as such, is the effect of statehood, of territorialisation (Cesare 2020, p.11), rather than its cause.

As Di Cesare rightfully remarks, the poverty of the migrant is never questioned, nor is their suffering ever fully considered. Yet, the nation-state as we know it today has not arisen merely out of abstract theorising, but rather, has a particular, historical construction heavily dependent on the logic of capitalism and colonialism (Cesare 2020, p.64). Historicising the position of the migrant, thus, flips the roles of victim and perpetrator: it is not the members of the state who are the victims to the threat of the migrant, but rather, it is the migrants who have fallen victim to the exploitation of the state. The Father, speaking in a sinister, authoritative manner, reveals himself not as an equal interlocutor of a dialogue, but rather, as a force of indoctrination. By identifying the enemy as residing outside the borders of the state, the idea that there could be an enemy within of the borders is pre-emptively deflected.

Stephan Loor

Border Violence

Björk: Earth Intruders

‘We are the earth intruders’  – Björk (2007)

 Music has the power to inspire and emancipate marginalized groups by criticizing the status quo. An example of such music is the song Earth Intruders (2017) by the Icelandic singer Björk, where she uses the pejorative term of ‘intruder’ and turns into a tool for agency and emancipation.

Björk stated in an interview that this is the most chaotic song she has ever written; she tried to adjust her written lyrics in a logical way, but she said ‘it’s just like chaos.’ (Barton 2007). Combined with alien-like synthesizers and a foreign beat, the song gives the impression of strangers coming into an unknown land. The chorus of the song illustrates this ‘army-like’ appearance of the ‘earth intruders’:

Here come the earth intruders
We are the paratroopers
Stampede of sharp shooters
Come straight from voodoo

Björk seems to evoke the fear of the ‘earth intruders’ invading a country. As Harsha Walia writes in her book Border and Rule (2021), quoting Christina Sharpe, ‘that movements of Africans are imagined ‘’as insects, swarms, vectors of diseases’’’. But Björk also uses ‘intruders’ in an empowering way:

Here come the earth intruders
There’ll be no resistance
We are the cannoneers
Necessary voodoo.

By proudly calling themselves ‘earth intruders’, Björk gives a positive connotation to migrants, as many minority groups have done with negative terms. The song evokes the idea that human beings have a natural tendency for wanderlust. In a sense we can say that we are all earth intruders: we all belong to the earth; we all have the right to follow our natural desire to explore the world.

According to the philosopher Immanuel Kant this need – combined with a spherical and finite globe – is the reason why we have a natural right to enter every territory (Di Cesare 2020, 75 -76). For Kant, every human being has the right to hospitality. When foreigners enter another territory, they have the right not to be treated in a hostile way. Moreover, the foreigner opens a new political path to perpetual peace, by challenging the hospitality of democratic states (2020, 76). The acceptance of migrants, means the acknowledgment of a state’s sociability. Combined with Björk’s idea that we are all earth intruders, this opens up a new way to look at borders and territories. If the earth belongs to everyone, and everyone can freely travel between countries, we can imagine new border-free communities. Paradoxically enough then, there exists no earth to be ‘intruded’ at all.

Communities without borders may sound Utopian, but I think we need a different view on territoriality to deal with the contemporary refugee crisis. We should not love nor hate the ‘intruder’, but like Björk, simply acknowledge the natural right and human tendency to wanderlust.

Brenno Mulder


Barton, Laura. 2007. ‘I had a little bit of cabin fever.’ The Guardian, 27 April 2007.

Di Cesare, Donatella. 2020. ‘Migrants and the State.’ In Resident Foreigners: A Philosophy of  Migration, translated by David Broder, 5–77. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Walia, Harsha. 2021. ‘Fortress Europe.’ In Border & Rule: Global Migration, Capitalism, and the Rise of Racist Nationalism. Chicago: Haymarket Books.

Border Violence

Radiohead: Burn the Witch

In Resident Foreigners: A Philosophy of Migration, Donatella Di Cesare (2020) offers an insightful exploration on the history of, and the gaps within political philosophy on the matter of migration. Crucially, she poses that migration elucidates the inherent irreconcilability that exists between human rights and state sovereignty (Di Cesare 2020, 10). In particular, she argues that Western countries – i.e., liberal democracies – see immigration as a threat to the stability of the (welfare) state. As such, the immigrant becomes a scapegoat, a criminal, a danger to be cautious of (Ibid., 61-63, 69). Similarly, Harsha Wallia argues that “familiar narratives of danger and disaster” stigmatise immigrants, thereby justifying the use of excessive violence to keep them from entering the confines of the state (2021, 137). Elsewhere, I have argued this scapegoating to be part of a biopolitical governmentality, employed by the state to safeguard its own homogeneity and cohesion (Prins 2022, 21-22). It is precisely this governmentality that is the target of Radiohead’s Burn the Witch (2016).

Burn the Witch (Radiohead, 2016) tells the story of what can be presumed to be a political leader instilling a climate of fear, thereby prompting its people to rally and punish the dissident who, supposedly, is the cause of the induced moral panic. The speaker urges its people to stay ignorant and “abandon all reason” (Ibid.). Instead, people must “stay in the shadows” – a clear nod to Plato’s allegorical cave – and “sing the song on the jukebox that goes: Burn the witch” (Ibid.). The witch in the song refers to the figure of the immigrant, who becomes the victim of omnipresent stigmatisation, racism, and islamophobia. The point made by the band is similar to that of Di Cesare and Wallia: the criminalisation of immigrants – either officially or by constructnig a climate of fear – justifies the use of excessive violence against asylum seekers beyond the confines of the borders. It allows us to subject the immigrant to inhumane living conditions – as exemplified by Wallia’s (2021, 144-145) inquiry into the Moria refugee camp. More importantly, however, it allows us to reinforce the idea that the immigrant is at fault for its own suffering.

It is important to note here that the construction of the ‘criminal-immigrant’ and the consequent witch hunt is a purposefully orchestrated strategy. Indeed, as Luca Mavelli and myself have argued, it must be seen as biopolitical governmentality that aims to signal supposed threats to the cohesion of the state in order to eliminate them (Mavelli 2017, 818-819; Prins 2022, 21-22). For instance, the UK – which is Radiohead’s target as well – distinguishes between ‘good’ and ‘worthy’ immigrants that can be beneficial for the British population on the one hand, and ‘unworthy’ or ‘valueless’ immigrants on the other. Thus, the UK seeks to construct an image of the immigrant as an outlaw, a dissident, and, most importantly, an inferior that is dangerous to the population in order to justify certain migration policies deemed beneficial (Prins, 2022, 21-22).

A similar notion can be found in both Di Cesare’s and Wallia’s works, as well as in Radiohead’s Burn the Witch. All three showcase the intentionality of Europe to create an all-encompassing paranoia in order to justify the violent punishment of the criminal-immigrant – a point forcefully brought home in Burn the Witch when Thom Yorke proclaims ‘this is a round-up, this is a low-flying panic attack’ (Radiohead 2016). However, even more so than the literary works mentioned here, Burn the Witch accentuates the reality of this moral panic by affectively recreating a sense of mass hysteria. Throughout the song, Yorke’s vocals heighten considerably in both pitch and volume, the strings grow progressively distorted and off-key, and the bass tones become increasingly impressive, instilling a feeling of discomfort and unrest (Ibid.). Additionally, Burn the Witch is dominated by horror imagery – perfectly illustrated by the videoclip that accompanies the song: a stop-motion parody of the 70’s horror film The Wicker Man. Through this imagery, Radiohead seeks to liken the reality of the criminal-immigrant to that of a horror scenario. The band wants us not only to know about, but to feel both the ubiquitous hysteria of an indoctrinated population, as well as the fear of the immigrant who is under its yoke.

As becomes clear through a closer exploration of the works by Di Cesare, Wallia, and Radiohead, we must move away from narratives that criminalise immigrants. While a lot of work remains to be done in order to resolve the contradiction that Di Cesare points out between human rights and state sovereignty, any attempt at this must begin with putting an end to the portrayal and treatment of immigrants as outcasts, as outlaws, as witches to be burned at the stake.

Giovanni Prins


Di Cesare, Donatella. 2020. “Migrants and the State.” In Resident Foreigners: A Philosophy of Migration, translated by David Broder, 5-77. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Mavelli, Luca. 2017. “Governing Populations through the Humanitarian Government of Refugees: Biopolitical Care and Racism in the European Refugee Crisis.” Review of International Studies, 43, no. 5: 809-832.

Prins, Giovanni. 2022. “Generating Two Modes of Life: a Biopolitical Reading of Asylum Seekers and Refugees.” Erasmus Student Journal of Philosophy 2, no. 1: 17-27.

Walia, Harsha. 2021. “Fortress Europe.” In Border & Rule: Global Migration, Capitalism and the Rise of Racist Nationalism, 135-160. Chicago: Haymarket Books.

Border Violence

Rise Against: Prayer of the Refugee

For the first song in our mixtape, I present to you Prayer of the Refugee by Rise Against. I chose this song as I believe it has interesting messaging about the interaction of refugees with the population of their destination country. I will primarily be utilizing Di Cesare’s section 21 “Migrants against the poor? Welfare chauvinism and global justice”.[1]

The chorus seems to have a double meaning that outlines the conflict between native citizens of the destination country and migrants:

Don’t hold me up now
I can stand my own ground
I don’t need your help now
You will let me down, down, down

Don’t hold me up now (Oh, oh, oh, oh)
I can stand my own ground
I don’t need your help now
You will let me down, down, down, down

I believe that the chorus can be read as being both from the perspective of the migrant and the native citizen.

From the perspective of the refugee the chorus can be interpreted as an assertion of one’s own autonomy over a system that barely acknowledges their humanity. It implies a degree of expectation of systemic discrimination and rejection by the refugee, requiring an assertion of autonomy from the refugee. I imagine it as a backlash to the welfare chauvinism as outlined by Di Cesare in section 21.[2] Anecdotally speaking, being the child of two Cuban refugees who migrated to the United States, amongst Cuban exiles self-reliance and autonomy are seen as virtuous and necessary attributes one requires to survive. Whether it be because of the predominantly wealthy and white makeup of early Cuban refugees or be it a sort of survivorship bias, self-reliance manifests as a core political value that informs many Cuban-American’s deeply economically austere politics. Again, this remains an anecdotal example, but I believe it may help illustrate a potentially interesting read on the dialogue between a state operating within the mindset of welfare chauvinism and the refugee forced to act autonomously.

Inversely, interpreted from the perspective of the native citizen the chorus acts as a rejection of the refugee, acting as the embodiment of welfare chauvinism.[3] To them the migrant poses an imminent threat to the social and economic fabric of society, undercutting native labor, and benefiting from unearned welfare. The chorus embodies the citizen declaring that they “don’t need their help” and ultimately that the migrant will “let them down”. The music video alludes to the economic significance of the migrant, showing all the products in the store being made by the cheap labor of the migrant as a massive American flag hangs inside. The message is a clear statement about how much American life is dependent on this cheap foreign labor. The line “don’t hold me up” can be read as the citizen shouting at the refugee, embodying the protectionism that seeks to minimize the reliance on cheap foreign labor that is often contextualized through the lens of “sovereigntism underpinned by racism”.[4]

I would also like to draw your attention to this verse in particular:
We are the angry and the desperate
The hungry and the cold
We are the ones who kept quiet
And always did what we were told (Oh, oh, oh)
But we’ve been sweating while you slept so calm in the safety of your home
We’ve been pulling out the nails that hold up everything you’ve known

To compare it to Di Cesare:

“The migrant, however, unmasks the state. From its external edge, she interrogates its very foundations, pointing an accusing finger against discrimination. She ties the state back to its historical emergence and discredits the myth of its purity. And she thus insists that the state itself be reconsidered. In this sense, migration bears as subversive charge.”[5]

The migrant acts as an ideological undermining force of the liberal nation state. The violence necessary to maintain the border regime of the liberal nation state acts to undermine its ideological underpinnings, and the refugee is the lens by which it is exposed. Rise Against expounds this with their combination imagery that shows migrants engaging in productive work while singing the quoted verse about how they are subverting the essence of the liberal nation state implying the mechanism to do so is their very existence, mirroring Di Cesare.

Daniel Lazcano


[1] Di Cesare, Migrants and the State p.61-68
[2] Ibid, p.62
[3] Ibid, p.62
[4] Ibid, p. 62
[5] Ibid, p. 11

Border Violence

Obongjayar: Message in a Hammer

‘Message in a Hammer’ by Obongjayar starts off with a beat that drives the listener forward, with a kick to it that gives the composition an insisting ‘HEAR ME NOW’. The pace of the beat persists through most of the song. It embodies the title. The beat strikes constantly, hammering a message through. I interpret the sender of this message as the migrant trying to get to Europe. From this starting point, I sketch out two aspects of the migrant’s lived experience that are part of ‘the message’ in a hammer.

After the beat gets going, synths kick in and Obongjayar starts singing with a deep, growling, and torn voice: “Born in troubled water, every stroke is war, they drowned the ones before us, but we’ll make it to the shore” (Obongjayar 2021). These initial words set the stage for the song. At stake is the severity of the violence that is being wrought upon migrants traversing the Mediterranean Sea. The migrants are being drowned. And in the song, this drowning does not happen passively. It is done by ‘them’. Who are ‘they’? In this song, they are the figures of authority, as is repeatedly shouted in the middle section of the song: “President (THIEF), governor (THIEF), senator (THIEF), commissioner (THIEF), ambassador (THIEF), minister (THIEF) (…) All of dem murderers” (Obongjayar 2021). This active perpetration of violence is also attested to by Harsha Walia in ‘Fortress Europe’ (2021). Here, Walia writes about how Fortress Europe’s “doctrine of deterrence requires mass border deaths”, in contrast to the passive, statistical way ‘border deaths’ is usually used (Walia 2021).

The beginning sentence of the song is also about a drive ‘to get there’, about making it to the shore. However, this drive is not one that consists of dreams or hopes, at least not of the naïve kind. It is a drive to get out of the conditions that the authorities have placed the migrant in. The migrant is from the onset ‘born in troubled waters’, thus defining the existential conditions of the migrant. The drive ‘to get there’ is about keeping your head above water while pushing towards the shore – not being born on one shore, feet on the ground, and then from the safety of this, choosing to embark across the sea. The existence of the migrant is not merely circumscribed by a general Heideggerian sense of ‘thrownness’, but more specifically by being thrown into the sea, often with lethal consequences. As SA Smythe points out, this Black Mediterranean is not limited by land (Smythe 2018, 7). Consequently, the lethality of the Sea does not stop there either.  Donatella Di Cesare writes that the “migrant is atopos – without a place, out-of place” (Di Cesare 2020, 16). In this context, atopos means that the migrant is always already ‘born in troubled waters’ and the lack of place is a lack of ground, caused by Fortress Europe.

To me, the song embodies a sense of fury that is instigated through border violence. While the cause of this fury is horrible, the way the song embodies it can also be seen as a move towards a solution. The fury is not only reactive. It is also a song, full of power to change the listener’s perspective and move them along to its rhythm. Since it takes the shape of a song, one might speculate that the song’s ‘hammering of a message’ is a form of violence without any lethality. While it is directed at authoritarian violence, it does not point to any new beginning, any new set of laws or authorities. It points to “a new day, new dawn” (Obongjayar 2021). Thereby, this could provide a sketch for a form of divine violence, a violence that “is law-annihilating” and non-lethal (Benjamin 2021, 57). The space left open by this annihilation might then provide a new beginning for defining where the Sea stops and land starts; for unsettling the space in which ‘they’ are migrants and in which ‘we’ take it for granted to hold the power to define ‘them’ as such.

Lukas Hjulmann Seidler