Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The Chagos Islanders [What the eff??]

These days, I have my nose, eyes, brains all deeply sunk into analyzes of spaces or should I say non-spaces that pertain to the nation, or to a state or to a nation-state (Judith Butler asks: What does that hyphen between the two words entail?)

So I have been looking at forced displaced populations, at slavery movements, at prisoners in Guantanamo Bay, at asylum seekers, war resistors, movements from rural to urban America etc. and in the process trying to develop a possible idea of queer spaces in relation to race, but as symptomatic of gender. Whatever it is, it all fascinates me, particularly trying to understand forced displacements and incarceration.

Now, Matthew (who is a most loving guy who is in the Canadian/Indigenous Studies Program here at Trent) sends me the link to this article this morning. I won't lie, before even reading it, I look at those pictures that suddenly take me to a "home" I have left for more than five years now. Then, I read the article.

I have been exposed and more-or-less sensitive to the Chagos issue since I was a teenager. It struck me as surprising while reading this article that I never thought of looking at the Chagos natives as "migrants" or as a "displaced population." Is it because it is too small a population? Is it because I think of Mauritius as a haven where life would be better for them in any case? Is it because I really wonder why would they want to be in a small fishing island lost in the middle of nowhere, while they could be in Mauritius? Or is it simply because I have been aware of their battle since I was kid, and I am now insensitive to their discourse?

When I come to think about it, though am sure I still need more thinking, I have a feeling that all Chagos Islanders who actually yearn for their "home" are the people who were born there, i.e. the first-hand generation, and they are the ones who want to go back; but then, they will all be dead in a couple of decades in any case, so why create such a belly-ache over the issue? Their children are all Mauritians and see themselves as such, and would not want to go to the Chagos, a place where they have never lived to start with.

Besides, the first generation and the second generation were all granted British citizenship some years back as a "compensation" for their displacement. As I looked at my TV screen and saw all of them going up to take their new British passports, I remember it infuriating me. I saw the entire political fight as a simple bet and cover for begging for British citizenship.

But now, years later, I realize that I have been too harsh on the Chagos Islanders. I thought all the while that they wanted easy-money simply to be compensated. However, I realise that none of them took advantage of their British citizenship for example. They all stayed back in Mauritius and kept fighting to be able to go back to Diego Garcia. So may be they actually did see the fact of receiving the British passport as the first step of a longer battle (and I was thoroughly unfair thinking this was the ends of their means.)

May be I should be more sensitive to the fate of the Chagos Islanders after all? Those people are yearning for a home and fighting to go back there with such fiery energy. This seems to be all they live for and to this extent, what would differentiate them from any other individual who was displaced by force, be it the Palestinian woman or the war prisoner?

BUT, I did not say WHAT PISSES ME OFF:

"The US state department had argued that the islands might be useful to terrorists."

That's what the article mentions, AND THAT FUCKING PISSES ME OFF!! What do you mean terrorists in four islands where only 5 houses can fit?!! What is it that won't be excused under the rubric of "terrorism" for hell's sake?!!

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