Are you [Checkpoint] Charlie?


[Thinking/Work in Progress]

The history of Fortress Europe; A checkpoint.

The checkpoint functions not only to control the flow of migrants, illicit goods, and insurgents/terrorists, but also to divide continuous lands and to reproduce politically and legally encoded distinctions between “us” and “them”. Thus performing sovereignty, the checkpoint appears to be symptomatic of fears of catastrophe, whether economic, political, or social, in various national and global context. [Karim Mattar and David Fieni, “The Global Checkpoint: ‘Rights’ of Passage, Performances of Sovereignty”]

Checkpoint Charlie By Nancy Wong (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

On this basis, no wonder Israel considers itself part of Europe; it shares with it the fascination with a mobile checkpoint that at once constitutes its borders and gives the (false) appearance that whatever is inside this border is free to roam, homogeneous:

The discontinuous lines of fences, ditches, concrete walls and high-tech sensors–referred to by the Israeli government as the “seam-line obstacle,” by the general Israeli public as the “separation fence,” and by those Israelis and Palestinians opposing it as the Wall or sometimes as the “Apartheid Wall”–are only the most visible mediatized barriers built in a frenzy of fortification construction that has pockmarked the entire West Bank since the beginning of the Oslo Process in 1993, with the aim of separating Palestinians from Israelis at every opportunity.

When one checkpoint is removed, another checkpoint is being fortified as a strategy of expanding the homogeneous territory of the state. The endless plight of refugees trying to get beyond the checkpoints, most of the times not even reaching it, is a continuation of the statist logic of zoning, bordering, and enforcing embargoes; a logic whose limits are easily strained and shown to be meek and weak by Khaled Jarrar:

In 2007 and 2009, Khaled Jarrar, an artist from Jenin, installed At The Checkpoint, a project consisting of photographs ofeveryday life in Palestine arrayed on the fences of the Huwarra and Qalandia checkpoints in the occupied West Bank. Making explicit references to “Checkpoint Charlie”, Jarrar drew a contrast between checkpoints that have become defunct or repurposed as tourist sites and those, like the ones in occupied terrotires and border-zones, that remains actively militarized, surveillant tunrstiles of human triage.

The rituals of being checked at the border; of not having permission to cross the line; and of risking subjection to interrogation, harassment, and incarceration were taken up in a subsequent work called Live and Work in Palestine… Using the logo of the Palestinian sunbird, Jarrar fashioned a “State of Palestine” passport seal (in English, Arabic and Hebrew). He proceeded to invite people at the Ramallah Central Bus Station to have their passports stamped… The project’s riskiness was enhanced in September 2011 in the weeks leading up to the Palestinian statehood bid at the United Nations when a number of travelers who opted for the stamp (among them ten Israeli citizens) were detained at Israel’s airports. [Emily Apter Against World Literature]

Sovereignty is immanently and momentarily blighted: if the checkpoint had enforced the border of a state, then a stateless checkpoint undermines this authority to write the law and draw the line.

Žižek with a “State of Palestine” stamp.

The Refugee

In 1943, Hannah Ardent writes an essay called “We Refugees” “in order to propose this condition as the paradigm of a new historical consciousness” (Agamben “We Refugees” 114). The refugee arises as the (a)political person that undermines the very treatises and legal-political categories that the world of nations is built upon, the rights of man: “the refugee is the sole category in which it is possible today to perceive the forms and limits of a political community to come… to reconstruct our political philosophy beginning with this unique figure” (Agamben 114). The refugee then “throws into crisis the original fiction of sovereignty” (Agamben “We Refugees” 117). The refugee lurks in a liminal position, between object and subject—the refugee is the abject whose existence is a threat to the foundations of the nation-state. Exactly for this reason, however, the refugee is the only person who can hold the banner of political hope, of a democracy-to-come. As a Syrian refugee by the name of Sami Hallisso says,

We can’t wait till the war is over; we have to start from now to build a society that lives in dignity and independence. There’s an opportunity for something to be that is not the regime and not Daesh,” says Hallisso, using the Arabic shorthand for the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). “We don’t see ourselves as only an emergency response. We will return. (Malek)

The refugee emerges from the liminal space as the figure to which recent Arab tragedy points towards, the political figure for alternative political realities, puncturing and undermining standing understandings of sovereignty. The refugee does not wait, but lives, and in doing so, lives differently.

And for all that, to be “Charlie”, even fleetingly, is to give credence to a paranoid criminal sovereignty…