The Trumpcard of birthright nationalism

The US birther phenomenon exposes the broader issue of birthright nationalism and the inequality it perpetuates.

Imran Garda - birthright nationalism
 Donald Trump, the business tycoon and potential Republican presidential candidate, has questioned whether Barack Obama is eligible to lead the US [EPA]


Birther – noun
– birthers are opponents of US President Barack Obama, who claim that he is not a ‘natural born citizen’ (not born in the USA) – Macmillan Dictionary

The birthers get a plethora of attention in the US. I am finding it hard to avoid them. From getting airtime on Fox News to the front pages of hellion gossip magazines like the National Enquirer, there is a substantial crowd within the US that genuinely believes it has empirical evidence to prove that Barack Obama’s presidency is unconstitutional – and that he is ineligible to lead them.

It is hard to even want to begin looking at their claims with a straight face, given that a sub-portion of them claim he is a secret Muslim, and an even more cutely eccentric sub-sect, that would put Dan Brown’s genealogical imagination to shame, asserts that the 44th president is the love-child of none other than Malcolm X.

‘He grew up and nobody knew him’

Now the birthers, it would seem, have a high-profile comrade-in-arms. Business tycoon, and The Apprentice star Donald Trump says he has doubts about the president’s birthplace.

“Everybody who gives even a hint of being a ‘birther’ … even a little bit of a hint … they label them as an idiot,” Trump told the ABC network.

“Let me tell you, I’m a really smart guy. I was a really good student at the best school in the country … The reason I have a little doubt – just a little – is because he grew up and nobody knew him.”

Naturally, Obama should have known better. Obama should have chosen better parents (like his predecessor Bush did). Or Obama could have been a scion of a millionaire real estate magnate like Trump was, and had the privilege of going to the “best school in the country”. And maybe if Obama chose the right colour for not just one but both of his parents, Trump and his Republican strategists looking to attract the far-right of the far-right might not have bothered to be bothered.

Donald Trump, confirmed birther, hopes to be president one day.

“If I got the nomination, if I ever decide to run, you may go back and interview people from my kindergarten. They’ll remember me, nobody comes forward to say they knew Obama as a little boy, nobody knows who he is until later in his life. It’s very strange.”

For the rest of us, the strange phenomenon of being relatively unknown until you actually start achieving things is otherwise known by the phrase “growing up”.

Testimony from the Hawaiian governor, childhood friends, and Obama’s kindergarten teacher at the time, add weight to the fact that he was undoubtedly born in the US.

But here is a proposition – so what if he was not born in the US? Has the time not come to reconsider our menacingly sacrosanct understanding of “birthrights” and the abundance of often moronic nationalism that comes attached to it?

Birthright – noun
– a particular right of possession or privilege a person has from birth, especially as an eldest son
– a natural or moral right, possessed by everyone – Oxford Dictionary

So severe is the pressure to be authentic, for leaders to embody the national psyche and demographic essence, that I have often wondered if more than a little over-compensation took place with some of history’s most bloodthirsty leaders, facing inner demons baiting them for not truly belonging. Adolf Hitler was born in the Austrian village of Braunau am Inn and Joseph Vissarionovich Djugashvili, better known as Stalin, was born in Gori, Georgia.

Among the same constituency calling Obama illegitimate because of doubts over his birthplace are those vociferously opposed to abortion. The standard argument is simple, a living being with a soul is created at conception, abortion murders that living being, that zygote is not a zygote but a person, that fetus is not a fetus but a human-being, a citizen perhaps?

So …

Why not base a person’s nationality on their place of conception?

Naming people by place of conception has already been done. Sacha Baron Cohen’s most exquisite of alter-egos, Ali G, famously asked David and Victoria Beckham if they named their son Brooklyn because that is where they “did it”, before quipping, that if it indeed was the case, then he and his Julie would have to name their child “the bogs at KFC in Langley Village”.

The magic ticket to a galaxy of options

Ali G aside; Birthrights nationalism perpetuates inequality. It permeates every sphere of life from global economics to migration. The lottery of where your mother just so happened to give birth to you can rigidly define your life, providing you with shackles that bind you forever, or a magic ticket to a galaxy of options.

As he champions globalisation and all its gifts to humanity, Thomas L. Friedman is right – yes the world is flat … if you travel with Thomas Friedman’s US passport.

Anyone who holds a non-US, non-British, non-EU passport, and perhaps with the additions of a few others like Australia and Canada can find the terrain anything but flat. The ride is so often, for so many, unfair, bumpy and hostile.

The Schengen (European Union) visa application process is so strict and derisory towards those who need to apply for it, involving so many hurdles, that theoretically, you could be an uneducated American who lives in a trailer park, with a criminal record who nonetheless has unfettered, visa-free access to Europe – but a doctoral candidate on the verge of inventing a new science from the Democratic Republic of Congo or Afghanistan – and you might not make the cut.

The world is not flat for usually dignified people, who resort to undignified baby tourism. Women who meticulously plan to give birth in the West, so their child can grow up with better education, healthcare, job and travel opportunities. So their child can have a greater gravitas holding a US or British passport, rather than their practically worthless Angolan passport or Palestinian “travel document”.

The flat, globalised world also makes room for another breed of birthright nationalism.

In Israel, you can be a citizen no matter where you were born. If you can prove your “Jewishness” from the maternal line of your ancestry, you are in.

The world is flat for my cousin Zahra, from north London who, by culture and nationality is nothing other than English, and by religion is Muslim.

Zahra can move to Ma’ale Adumim or any other illegal settlement in East Jerusalem or the West Bank in an instant. However, a Palestinian with title deeds to the land going back 300 years cannot. Zahra’s magic ticket? Her mother is Jewish.

The world is not flat in the Gulf Arab countries like Qatar, for the numerous colleagues and acquaintances I have made, many in their 20s and 30s (not the children of short-term migrant labourers) who were born in the country, spent every breathing second of their existences there, but still have documents classifying them as Iraqi or Sudanese or Indian or Pakistani, as their parents are defined – despite never having been to their “home” countries, with no prospect of ever becoming one of the quarter of a million Qatari citizens. Bottomless barrels of oil and endless supplies of gas can make a select, privileged few ultra-ultra-ultra-comfortable. But it is hard to get into the club. 

Source: Al Jazeera