A typical characteristic of contemporary immigration both in national and international contexts is its close relationship with security and politics of security. This has been true especially after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Since then, there have been numerous terrorist attacks in Europe, implemented by first and second generation immigrants, even asylum seekers, most in the name of Jihadism and Islamist extremism.
After the attacks in Paris and Brussels (2015, 2016), there have been many restrictions on immigration, national border checks and states of emergencies – and of course constant fears of further attacks. Actually, there is a general trend of restrictions particularly after severe terrorist attacks.
Furthermore, the connection between immigration and other types of security, for instance societal security, problems in integration and crime, has arisen to the fore in many states, where the number of immigrants is high or rapidly increasing. Meanwhile, the asylum system has become invariably interlinked with the phenomenon of “irregular” migration, terrorism, smuggling and trafficking. This connection is also one that has drawn a wide range of studies, theories and arguments within different academic fields.
Many of these arguments revolve around the concept of (de-)securitisation, which has also started to find resonance within elites outside the ivory towers of the academia.
Securitisation is about making some particular issue to reflect security concerns. If a particular issue is about security or not depends on constructing it in that way. Desecuritisation, then, refers to acts that aim at removing security aspects of a particular issue, thus leading to a situation where there is no threat or no general discourse of threat.
Securitisation is not only about making some matter a security issue, but making it a security issue in a way that is seen as illegitimate, extreme, immoral or otherwise wrong.(* In a way, securitisation is a rather incessant and inherent feature of the state rule, in its symbolic and practical struggle against “the other” and all things seen as threatening.
Unsurprisingly, in the case of immigration, securitisation is seen as an “indiscreet” and illegitimate practice of domination or exclusion by decision-makers and other elites towards immigrants. According to this view, it is ethically wrong as well as empirically unfounded to frame migration in security terms, either because, it is argued, there simply are no independent security threats concerning immigration (in other words, the matter is merely represented by political actors as such by selecting certain empirical evidence or political propaganda) or because securitisation as a policy practice is said to increase and exacerbate threats experienced by migrants themselves.
What needs to be done, according to liberal theorists, then, is to de-securitise, both analytically and as a political practice: to remove the security aspects of immigration and to shift the focus from the state and its antagonistic objectives concerning “itself” and its citizens to the rights of immigrants and other “others”.
Desecuritising implies that the threat issue is taken back to the realm of ”normal” politics – which sees immigration more neutrally, without any big controversies, merely in terms of integration and ”our” responses. Almost unnoticeably, the focus is shifted from our security to their rights and our obligations to safeguard those rights.
In some parts of the liberal, critical and/or left-leaning scholarship, the obsession with (de-)securitisation has been that substantial that there has been no discussion or understanding of actual security – that taking place in the real world – but exclusively of the (wrong kind of) rhetorics, speech-acts and policy restrictions generated by populist decision-makers, evil police, border officials, selfish security professionals and other wrong-headed elites. Assuming that humanitarian immigration could really be a security threat is then seen as a myth and “deeply ironic”.
In other words, it is taken as a self-evident premise that there is no real independent security element in immigration, but that all is constructed, more or less for self-interested and xenophobic reasons, thus intervening in otherwise neutral and unproblematic human mobility.
Given the actualised events and negative phenomena connected to immigration throughout the Western world – and how people feel about it – this kind of ideological obscuration is, I suggest, shameful. In addition, it greatly decreases the overall plausibility of the securitisation thesis, no matter how essential its general concern is.
In any case, this is what the liberal academia is – even in 2016 – busy of accomplishing, more and more hiding behind overly abstract and linguistically complex understandings of ”mobility”, ”rights”and ”morality”, detached from any concrete aspects of human life and its realistic aspirations.
Although securitisation is mostly seen as a practice of state apparatuses, it is often seemed to derive from the conception and attitudes of the public. For more realistic audiences, it appears understandable that perceived threats to the security of native population are increasing, as there have been (and continues to be) fundamental changes in the societies and cultures of Western states produced by immigration, besides those events of extreme violence – many of which still ignored and disdained by political elites. To the annoyance of tolerant liberals, the process of transforming nation-states into multicultural diverse communities is far from painless, if possible at all.
More importantly, according to more realistic studies, perceived failings of state institutions and elites to protect citizens from attacks and security threats are likely to be undermining general confidence in state institutions and decision-makers. Again, many liberals disdain these public feelings and anxieties and merely present the emotions of fear and anger as somehow distorted and “populist” – either as expressions of self-interest or irrationality, and as unintentionally supporting the endeavour of “bad guys”, that is terrorists. It may be even forbidden to describe fear and anxiety. Instead, we just need to go on and be brave. Go on and be brave.
On the other hand, given that states have now so fundamentally failed to deliver policy objectives on safeguarding the populations from terrorist attacks by people of immigrant-origin, it might be reasonable to ask, if there ever was actual securitisation at all, outside the plain discourses of various actors. Actually, it seems, states were not securitising enough.
I hear no apologies from those insisting that securitisation was extreme, pointless and harmful.
Similarly, liberal approaches tend to think that citizens of Western states only oppose mass immigration, if they themselves feel somehow unsatisfied or threatened, in their irrational fear of the different, the alien. For them, opposing mass immigration merely signals deficits in those opposing, not something in the phenomenon itself – and hence, opposition is actually a fallacy of misunderstanding individuals. This view has many pathways, but one important stems from the common anti-state or anti-community bias of contemporary social sciences:
As long as it is assumed that there are no explicit values attached to a particular state, its culture, population, history and identity besides its instrumental and “humanist” values, there is no way to understand that someone might want to defend it, even in case there is no additional existential threat associated with its transformation.
The fact that the state’s most basic function is to protect and defend its citizens – instead of safeguarding rights of everybody else – should not make it captive in the analyses of immigration. Moreover, it should not be the case that all negative observations of immigration are deemed to become acts of securitisation or some other vicious “-isation”.
All in all, isn’t the present situation with recurring attacks and other immigration related problems in Europe too severe to let idealism alone control it?
If not, what has to happen in order it to be severe enough? How many attacks? How many victims?
How much fear, until it is justified to tell that immigration threatens the security of Europe? Or, more bluntly, that it has actually already destroyed a great symbolic part of it.
*) The threat of extreme right, neo-nazis or Soldiers of Odin is never illegitimate in this sense. It might perhaps be extreme or exaggerated, but never an object in need of desecuritisation.