Securitizing the Global Norm of Identity: Biometric Technologies in Domestic and Foreign Policy

In a recent dispatch I mentioned a report from journalist Doug Ireland which stated British journalist Robert Fisk was denied entry into the US. Upon further investigation, it appears that he was not turned away due to the content of his reporting; thus I would like to make that correction here.

The following is from an email sent from Jeff Blankfort, who is a radio program producer with KPOO in San Francisco, KZYX in Mendocino and KPFT/Pacifica in Houston:

“Robert Fisk was not barred from entering the US because he is who he
is but because he did not have the latest British biometric passport which evaluates eye-scans and that is now required of all British subjects entering the US.”

“Unfortunately, the incident was mentioned at a speech he gave over TV in Arizona, according to Fisk with whom I spoke yesterday, and was misinterpreted. The story appeared in the New Mexican and thanks to the internet it has achieved a life of its own. Fisk says it is not a story and shouldn’t be made out to be one.”

That cleared up, this leads me to biometics, which is an extremely important topic, not just in the US and UK, but in Iraq. Below is an excerpt from a paper written by two academics concerning the topic. There is a link to the full text at the end of this excerpt, where you can read it in full (which I strongly recommend) and comment in the ‘Forum’ section on my website.


“In the 1930s the Spanish city of Guernica became a symbol of wanton murder and destruction. In the 1990s Grozny was cruelly flattened by the Russians; it still lies in ruins. This decade’s unforgettable moment of brutality and overkill is Falluja…”
Jonathan Steele and Dahr Jamail, ‘This is our Guernica’
The Guardian, 27 April 2005

“They’ll be fingerprinted, given a retina scan and then an ID card, which will allow them to travel around their homes or to nearby aid centers, which are now being built. The Marines will be authorized to use deadly force against those breaking the rules.”
Richard Engel, NBC reporter, 8 December 2004
21st Century Guernica: (Dis)Ordering Places

In November 2004 the world watched – periodically, depending on the focus of the media gaze – as the US Marine Corps engaged so-called ‘insurgents’ in a brutal battle in Fallujah, Iraq. For all their high-tech weaponry, precision munitions, and exceptional training, in their search-and-destroy mission occupation forces all but obliterated Fallujah. During the month-long siege of Fallujah by American forces more than 200,000 residents fled the city. Out of these ruins, occupation forces argued they were erecting a ‘model city’, replete with a high-tech security infrastructure centered on biometric identification strategies to manage returning citizens. Returnees are fingerprinted, retina scanned, and issued a mandatory identity badge displaying the individual’s home address and collected biometric data. In this context, the gratuitous destruction of Fallujah appeared, as Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld often retorts when pushed on current events in Iraq, to be precisely ‘according to plan’.

It is trite to say that we live in interesting times; not so trite, however, are the meditations of many contemporary thinkers and writers surrounding the way modern liberal politics embody what is increasingly known as ‘the state of exception’. In the context of contemporary international norms, and even constitutionalism, one might consider the extent to which ‘exceptionalism’ is itself becoming a norm of/in world politics. In some sense, the gratuitous destruction of ones enemy is a thinly veiled norm of modernity, not to mention the subsequent reordering and repopulation of these ruined spaces/places. Jonathan Steele and Dahr Jamail’s invocation of the wanton destruction of Guernica and Grozny, brings to mind Pablo Picasso’s poignant painting ‘Guernica’. Unlike any other, this painting commissioned for the 1937 World’s Fair in Paris depicts the horrors of area bombing; wrenched buildings, contorted animals, and maimed people, brutally and hopelessly intertwined in a shambles that betrays the order of the cubist form. Out of such bewilderment how does one (re)introduce order?

By: John Measor (Institute of Arab & Islamic Studies, University of Exeter) and Benjamin J. Muller (Department of Political Science, University of Victoria.)

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