From Bare Lives to Political Agents: Palestinian Refugees as Avant-Garde

Salih, Ruba
June 2013
Refugee Survey Quarterly;Jun2013, Vol. 32 Issue 2, p66
Academic Journal
Refugees and displaced have been, by and large, absent from recent analyses of the Arab uprisings, unless as accidental victims and consequences of violence. Analyses and debates on the reconfiguration of rights, democracy, social justice and dignity in the region suffer from a chronic methodological nationalism, which perpetuates the idea that people seek and fight for rights and self-determination solely in their national territory, seen as the natural context for achieving a full social personhood. The implication is that those who are at the margins of nation-states or who are displaced from their own original nations/territories, like Palestinian refugees, come to be twice marginalised and their predicament is made even more invisible. The idea of return as their only life project does not give justice to the complexity of their aspirations and claims that comprise the right to have rights, alongside the right to return to their lost land and properties, which could be conceived, more broadly, as a return to dignity. The implications are extremely significant and point to the need to rethink nationalism and the classic modern project of the nation-state as the only site for self-determination. Refugees’ narratives and practices call for a critical examination of the classic notion that access to rights should be dependent upon belonging to territorially bound and homogenous national communities, a notion that is flawed to start with in most Middle Eastern nation-states, where structures and opportunities for power, rights, and resources reflect and reinforce complex hierarchies based on ethnic, religious, gender, and class divisions.


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