Mobile Threats and Biometrics | A Sketchy Analysis

“On one hand, the slave is the foundation of the national order, and, on the other, the slave occupies the position of the unthought.”

— Saidiya Hartman, The Position of the Unthought

“There is no liberalism without a culture of danger.”

— Michel Foucault

To be honest, I haven’t been closely following the stories about ‘Jihadist travel movements’. Instead, I have been following the—you could say—more mundane stories about ‘mobile banditism’, that is, in the words of Rosa Koenraadt and Katinka van de Ven, “itinerant criminal groups [from Eastern Europe] who by means of hit-and-run tactics commit one or multiple crimes against property.” The police has been tracking ‘itinerant Eastern European gangs’ since the late 20th century, and determined in a recent study that the Netherlands is increasingly affected by this form of transnational organized crime.

Even though, ‘Jihadist travel movements’ and ‘mobile banditism’, as public narratives, differ in quite distinct ways—most notably on an affective level—they are both nevertheless grounded on a precautionary logic that strongly favours order and safeguarding what ‘we’ have (be that democracy, property, freedom, etc.). Both narratives securitize mobility, and are, as such, concerned with monitoring, detection, traceability, and prevention. And both have led to calls for better exchange of information so that the police can get a clearer view of the most commonly used routes by ‘mobile threats’.

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A Topography of Misreadings: Mistaking the Map for the Territory


“If the strength of popular government in peacetime is virtue, the strength of popular government in revolution is both virtue and terror; terror without virtue is disastrous, virtue without terror is powerless. Terror is nothing but prompt, severe, and inflexible justice; it is thus an emanation of virtue; it is less a particular principle than a consequence of the general principle of democracy applied to the most urgent needs of the fatherland.” — Maximilien Robespierre, Republic of Virtue

We have a tendency to think of “human” as a bounded, discrete complex organism that has the “attributes of Man,” as opposed to those of animals. However, the “human” is neither a fixed, homogeneous, stable or bounded entity, nor “distinct from or superior to animal or machine.” What we think of as “human” is, contrary to received opinion, a set of interrelated and cumulative processes that unfold across as well as in space and time. What’s more, both “animals” and machines act on and—to a greater or lesser extent—participate in the complex processes that give rise to the “human.” And although, animals and machines participate in the complex processes that help determine the “human,” neither is perceived as a “member of humankind.”

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Social Responsibility and Participatory Labour

Despite our provisory inclusion in the conceptualization of “We,” ethnic minority citizens are, nevertheless, earnestly entreated to participate fully in fostering interconnectedness with our fellow Autochtoon citizens—with the aim to reinforce the optimism and strength of the Netherlands. Optimism is the operative word for a coalition navigating uncertain times, trying to keep its head above water and solve problems, all the while “building bridges.” It’s unsurprising, then, that the VVD-PvdA coalition has made the expansion of public participation (“participatiebevordering”) its number one priority. In times of crises, so it goes, “we” all have to pull our weight.

The main purport of public participation is that communities have to become more resilient and self-supporting. And a decentralization of power will make that easier. Civil society, in short, should replace government as a driving force in the management of public affairs. Back in 2009 David Cameron so carefully lamented, without a drop of irony, that “today the state is ever-present: either doing it for you, or telling you how to do it, or making sure you’re doing it their way.” Cameron mused that the “alternative to big government is the big society. We need to use the state to remake society.” Government, in this case, refers, to quote Thomas Osborne and Nikolas Rose, to “that plane of thinking and acting concerned with the authoritative regulation of conduct towards particular objectives.”

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Racialization of Citizenship

We’re all in this together! But, who are “We”?

What lies at the bottom of that question is the principle of infrangibility (a concept developed by Orlando Patterson), meaning “a commitment to a unity that cannot be broken or separated into parts, a commitment to the elements of a moral order and social fabric that is inviolable and cannot be infringed.”

The Dutch commitment to an unbreakable unity is tenuous at best. On the one hand, citizens of the Dutch nation-state are imagined as an abstract colourless (and thus race-less) body politic, with each body constituting the body politic having a shared set of rights and responsibilities. On the other hand, certain bodies are implicitly (or explicitly) ethnicized, and marked as raced, and, as a result, are treated differently. Whiteness hides within these elisions. Whiteness is, as Zeus Leonardo attests, “a racial discourse,” that is separate from the category “White people,” which “represents a socially constructed identity, usually based on skin color.”

The Dutch subject, as distinct from the Dutch citizen, continues to refer above all to the White, Autochtoon, middle class, heterosexual, able-bodied, cisgender subject, and this ideal subject is articulated in conjunction with a possessive investment in White Autochtoon Dutch belonging in the Netherlands. This conception is continuously being re-affirmed in popular culture. All across the board we are being presented with a normative construction of who and what is “Dutch,” that does not accommodate the “non-Western Allochtoon.”

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Racism in the Dutch Labour Market

I am a camera with its shutter open, quite passive, recording, not thinking.

— Christopher Isherwood, “Berlin Diary” (1930) from Goodbye to Berlin (1939)

“The first thing you do is forget that I am Black… Second, you must never forget that I am Black.”


In The Wretched of the Earth Frantz Fanon astutely remarks that, “[F]or the colonized subject, objectivity is always directed against him [sic.].” Contrary to Christopher Isherwood’s captivating sentence, we are neither “passive,” nor do we record experiences mechanically. Feminist epistemologies have taught us that the situatedness of the recording, and thus knowing, subject needs to be accounted for. “Experiences, social practices, social values and the ways in which perception and knowledge production are socially organized,” Marcel Stoetzler and Nira Yuval-Davis write in Standpoint Theory, Situated Knowledge and the Situated Imagination, “have been seen as mediating and facilitating the transition and transformation of situatedness into knowledge.” Fanon knew how imperative it is to consider the perspective from which looking occurs.

Last month a news story circulated widely across Dutch media reported that “Antillean men are the least likely, of the major ethnic groups in the Netherlands, to be offered a job by the agency.” The detached and rehearsed (in November 2011 a similar finding circulated) way in which White Dutch media examined, and discussed, the issue prompted me to record and analyze how the dominant culture “looks at” and “talks about” institutionalized racism on the labour market (which was “big news” for about  a week), and the current (if not unchanging) social context, in which the discrediting, belittling, and exclusion of marginalized groups is the order of the day.

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The “Glorious Dutch”

glo·ri·ous  (glôrs, glr-)


1. Having or deserving glory; famous.
2. Conferring or advancing glory: a glorious achievement.
3. Characterized by great beauty and splendor; magnificent: a glorious sunset.
4. Delightful; wonderful: had a glorious visit with old friends.

Last week Credits Media announced that they were set to publish a new glossy magazine called “Hollands Glorie”, which loosely translates as “Dutch Glory”. The magazine is purportedly about all things Dutch. Anita Witzier, a Dutch presenter, breaks it down, for those of us left wondering what that precisely entails, in the newspaper NRC Handelsblad.  She explains, “[F]or the first issue we’ve chosen Irene Moors, because she is the epitome of Hollands Glorie. Witzier sums up: “tall, blonde, blue eyes, not threatening, successful, not self-conceited, witty, direct”.”

This is how White Autochtoon Dutchness is reproduced and privileged through discursive and visual representations. Institutional racism isn’t predicated on hate; it comes neatly packaged in culture control strategies that aim to identify those who (can) embody “Dutch Glory” and those who can’t/don’t. As Witzier shows, “Dutch Glory” is centred on the valuation of certain types of bodies.

Witzier’s description of a quintessential “Dutch Glory” only serves to reinforce the biologization of politics and the citizenship project in the Netherlands. The focus on the body and performance (aesthetics) reminded me of Nikolas Rose’s concept of the biological citizen. Rose defines biological citizenship as “both individualizing and collectivizing. It is individualized, to the extent that individuals shape their relations with themselves in terms of a knowledge of their somatic individuality. Biological images, explanations, values, and judgments thus get entangled with other languages of self-description and other criteria of self-judgment, within a more general contemporary “regime of the self” as a prudent yet enterprising individual, actively shaping his or her life course through acts of choice.”

These descriptions and representations of White Autochtoon Dutchness not only highlight what makes a “good citizen” but also a “valid citizen.”

How Much Does an Allochtoon Cost?

How much does an Allochtoon cost? This question was weighed, albeit two years ago, in all earnest by Jan H. van de Beek, a mathematician and cultural anthropologist at the University of Amsterdam. In an article concerning Van de Beek’s research into the monetary value of bodies of colour Camilia Bruil of the Teldersstichting writes wistfully that,

“Unfortunately, Van de Beek left the question of how much an immigrant costs and how such a cost-benefit analysis should be made unanswered. Perhaps, continuing research will be able to supply answers to these questions.”

For the record, the B.M. Teldersstichting is affiliated with the Dutch political party VVD, which is, incidentally, the party of current demissionary prime minister Mark “Captain Save-a-Hollander” Rutte.

Aside: Unsurprisingly, the VVD has also been the party of liberally minded folks like Geert Wilders, Rita Verdonk and Ayaan Hirsi Ali.

Let me stress, I’m talking here about the very same Mark Rutte who was granted a platform at Keti Koti this year, where he gave a weak speech in which he matter-of-factly stated that NiNsee shouldn’t hope for a subsidy: that well has run dry. Remember? Nevertheless, Rutte received a warm applause after which he made a quick exist. He had better things to do.

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