Barbed wire A history of cruelty

Tabea Linhard

Sometimes very simple things can lead to the most complicated and violent histories: barbed wire is one of such things. This device has not only made (and continues to make) it possible to control very large spaces and the subjects who cross them; its history also is literally entangled with colonialism, warfare, migration, and human rights.

As numerous cultural histories of barbed wire show, its depiction across cultures and art forms are myriad.1 This chapter, however, begins with a look at one specific image: a linocut belonging to La comedia humana, a series by German-born artist Clément Moreau (Joseph Carl Meffert, 1903-1988) ("An der Grenze,” Figure 6.1).2 The series appeared in several Argentine newspapers between 1940 and 1941.

A man’s face fills almost the entire frame; he looks emaciated, if not haunted. A barbed wire fence that signals a border is shown behind him. The face (and not the barbed wire) dominates the image, while the fence looks uneven and tangled. Clearly, more than one has already tried to cross it, regardless of the pain that the barbs tearing through skin and flesh may have caused. While a small rendering of a swastika situates this work in the context of World War II, the image also conjures up the many parts of the world and moments in history where and when barbed wire - and its more virulent cousin, razor wire - is used to prevent subjects from crossing borders.

The title of the above-described image is “At the Border,” and its author has called the next image in the series "The Other Side.” Here, a soldier carrying a weapon stands behind the barbed wire fence, evidently guarding the border. Different from the earher image, now the lines of barbed wire are straight, while in the following image in the series the fence again loses its structure, looking labyrinthine instead. This image is followed by a fourth one, “The Man with the Passport,” showing a character in possession of the prized travel documents that enable him to cross borders. The barbed wire remains visible in the background, except that now it looks more like a wall than a fence. A fifth image, actually entitled "The Barbed Wire,” shows the man from the first image. But now he is holding on to a tangled fence, while a soldier's hand on the other side appears to be ordering him to move away.

This leads up to a sixth image, a rendering that shows how the fugitive’s emotions have changed since he was first pictured at the border (“Ohne Titel,”

Clement Moreau, “An der Grenze”. Reproduced with permission from the Clement Moreau Stiftung (

Figure 6.1 Clement Moreau, “An der Grenze”. Reproduced with permission from the Clement Moreau Stiftung (

Figure 6.2)? Differently from the other images, the fence is now reduced to four parallel lines, and the barbs are much larger than they were on the earlier images. A disembodied hand on the fence’s opposite side takes up roughly one-fourth of the image, as it points to the man's altered face: he is screaming, his features are grotesque, if not monstrous. Yet in the next image, “The Decision,” the man's features have returned to the somber look from the first linocut. The barbed wire is still there, but in five, hardly visible straight lines behind the man’s face. The next image reveals what the man’s decision was: to climb the fence, as depicted in the following linocut with, once again, a different use of scale. The barbs, roughly as long as the man’s pinky finger, are now digging through his skin. Finally, as seen in the subsequent image, he manages to climb over the fence, to an idyllic-looing other side, with trees and farmhouses. Yet the fugitive’s life on the other side of the border will be anything but bucolic: he has no money, no passport. He is, to cite the title of the last image, “No Longer Human, Stateless.” This image that closes the series shows the same distorted grotesque features that already appeared when the man is pictured grabbing the barbed wire fence (Figure 6.2). The only difference now is that unconcerned and cruel-looking bureaucrats have taken place of barbed wire.

Moreau’s depictions of barbed wire alternate between straight and tangled renditions; in some of the linocuts the barbed wire is a fence, in others, a wall or even labyrinth. Yet in all cases this “thing” is more than a “thing”: it is a menace and

Clement Moreau “Ohne Titel”. Reproduced with permission from the Clement Moreau Stiftung (

Figure 6.2 Clement Moreau “Ohne Titel”. Reproduced with permission from the Clement Moreau Stiftung (

a weapon that leaves visible and invisible wounds on all those daring to trespass. The process of dehumanization that becomes evident in Moreau’s series shows that barbed wire and statelessness, which is equivalent to his rightlessness, are invariably connected.4

Moreau created the series of 107 linocuts La comedia humana, originally entitled “Night over Germany,” between 1937 and 1938, in the early years of his exile in Argentina. In 1940, the images began appearing in different local publications, including the exile presses Argentinisches Tageblatt and Argentina Libre. Moreau, who called himself a “professional emigrant,” had been a disciple of artist Käthe Kollwitz in Berlin. He was forced to leave Germany in 1933, and so crossed the Swiss border clandestinely, perhaps in ways that did not differ much from what is shown in La comedia humana. In 1935, a Nansen passport allowed him to leave Europe and settle in Argentina.

La comedia humana narrates the Nazi terror that Moreau and many of his friends and allies experienced in Germany. In addition to the above-discussed process of dehumanization, the series also includes a narrative based on the biography of Erich Mühsam (1878-1934), a satirist and pacifist Moreau had befriended. Mühsam was arrested and eventually murdered at the Oranienburg concentration camp in 1934. Shortly after his death, Moreau published his rendition of Mühsam’s murder, “Erich Mühsam in memoriam,” in Switzerland.5 The image shows a man hanging in a prison cell - a man who could not have been responsible for his own death because his hands are cuffed behind his back. A similar image (without the features that make the man recognizable as Miihsam) appears in La coniedia humana, even though Miihsam’s features are now absent. Yet, the fact that the image is entitled “Suicide,” his hands tied behind his back, suggests that Moreau is depicting a murder just like Miihsam’s, a murder that took place in Nazi Germany.

However, the geographical ambiguity of the linocut could locate this image in Argentina, or just about anywhere. The series also includes a few images of the murdered man’s widow. She is shown picking up her husband’s ashes from the police (enduring the additional humiliation of having to pay for them). Then a burial takes place in the streets that could be those of Berlin or those of Buenos Aires. When images belonging to the series appeared in Argentinisches Tageblatt in 1941, they included the prescient subtitle, “True account of what life would be for us if tomorrow we had to endure a dictatorship.” As Jessica Zeller observes, the title indicated that “what was happening in Europe could repeat itself under a dictatorship anywhere in the world, even in Argentina” (Zeller 151).6

While Argentina would indeed endure a dictatorship, neither Moreau nor the publishers of Argentinisches Tageblatt had the capacity to predict the future. Yet the series still is both a document of fascist terror and a global warning. Moreover, the linocuts tell a story that reveals that barbed wire is always more than a thing, or that a fence is more than a fence.

A similar notion comes across in Le Thi Diem Thuy’s The Gangster We Are All Looking For, a novel that chronicles the lives of Vietnamese refugees in California. The novel’s narrator at one point recalls the first memory of her father’s face, “framed by the coiling barbed wire of a military camp in South Vietnam.” Later in the text, when a barbed wire fence has reappeared near the main character’s California home, she wonders: “I want to know, why - why there's always a fence. Why there’s always someone on the outside wanting someone ... something on the inside and between them ... this ... sharp fence” (97).

Le’s imagery serves as a framework for the remainder of this chapter, as her words put forth that barbed wire, the sharp fence that separates outside from the inside, us from them, and territories from bodies, has shaped the history of displacement and border crossing since the late nineteenth century. Moreover, barbed wire also frames and encloses memories. Thus, in order to understand borders and forms of border crossing, it is important to recognize how the use of barbed wire around the world has influenced and continues to influence the lives (and sometimes the deaths) of forcibly displaced individuals and how it has entered the memories of those whose lives it has marked in visible or invisible forms. The examples listed in this chapter are not part of an exhaustive list; instead they are meant to illustrate how the history of barbed wire, cultural and otherwise, is tightly interwoven with the above-mentioned histories of colonialism, warfare, migration, and human rights.

Barbed wire today

In late August of 2019, the Spanish Secretary of Interior Fernando Grande Marlaska announced that the “concertinas” (razor wire) that had been placed in 2005 in the border fences surrounding the Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla would be removed. Ideally, by November of2020 the sole borders of the European Union on African soil would then be safer, without the razor wire. The decision was made based on reports that the sharp razors simply did not dissuade migrants from attempting to cross the border fences and really did not do much more than causing severe injuries.

Yet even removing the razor wire from the border fences will not necessarily improve conditions for migrants.7 The Migrant Holding Centers (Centros de Estancia Temporal or CETIs) that the Spanish Ministry of Labor, Migration and Social Sendees manages in Ceuta and Melilla continue to be overcrowded.8 Moreover, “express deportations” (meaning that migrants will be sent back to Morocco without due processing Spain) will not cease to be a problem in the near future.9

Even if the razor wires may eventually be a thing of the past in Ceuta and Melilla, we are witnessing the opposite phenomenon elsewhere. While about a dozen fortified border fences stood when the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, more than 70 exist now around the world (Friedman; Taylor). The United States is, of course, no exception: in the fall of 2018, American troops received orders to install concertina wire along the border, expecting a so-called caravan of Central American migrants still miles away. Heated debates about the symbolism of fortifying the border ensued, ranging from praises of the fence’s apparent beauty to the nightmarish evocation of concentration camps. As Rebecca Onion wrote in Slate that fall, “[T]he histories of barbed wire and concertina wire are undeniably connected to the history of the American West, westward expansion, and the full force of its violence and cruelty.” Or, as Onion puts it, “the dream of the West -to own land and a lot of it; to be sure that nothing happens on that land that you cannot control; to inflict violence on those who threaten the dream” - was made possible with the use of barbed wire.

Barbed wire fences, razor wire fences, and other more invisible fences that keep bodies in control and in pain have only become more and not less numerous across the world. An example of a more modern and invisible fence here would be the use of ankle monitors, devices that make it possible for some migrants to avoid detention centers, but that also are part of problematic surveillance practices. To make matters worse, those wearing monitors can become financially responsible for the very expensive devices used to control their movements (Gomez Cervantes, Menjivar and Staples). The fact that, not unlike barbed wire, wearing ankle monitors leads to pain and injury should not be disregarded.

How barbed wire enters history

Barbed wire, “twisted wires armed with barbs or sharp points - called also barbwire” according to Merriam Webster is a “thing” that together with colonial enterprises and bureaucracies across the world has been digging into soil and skin, and ensuring that there always is (always will be) an inside and outside. While the use of razor wire dates back to the trenches of World War I, the history of barbed wire is a bit longer, originating in the late nineteenth century, when several patterns for barbed wire were registered in Europe and the United States. From then on, a history of enclosure, transgression, and pain unravels. Reviel Netz provides a sobering account of this history in Barbed Wire: An Ecology of Modernity. Netz begins his study pointing out that space enters history “through the prevention of motion.” Originally invented to prevent the movement of animals (of cows) and not of people, “barbed wire’s success as a tool of control,” writes Alan Kreil, author of The Devil’s Rope. A Cultural History of Barbed Wire, “was always based on its ability to effect pain” (Kreil 35).

The earliest to endure this pain were cattle in the American plains. Even back then, this thing’s “intimate relationship with the body” was an obvious one: the barbed wire hurt animals and also their owners (if not physically, at least economically), which then quickly led to new business ventures: barbed wire liniments and antiseptics (Kreil 36; 37). The long history of barbed wire in the American West never was solely about owning animals; it also was, as mentioned earlier, about owning land, and, as Onion writes, “a lot of it.” This aspect connects the usage of barbed wire to the fates of native communities residing in land - about to become privately owned, enclosed, and fenced in - and their, to use Hannah Arendt’s expression, “right to have rights.” While Arendt's phrase is commonly invoked in contemporary discussions about forced displacement, it also resonates in relation to this particular history of violence. Indigenous people of the United States were granted citizenship in 1924, so their historical relationship with rights and rightlessness differs from the subjects Arendt discusses, first in her 1949 essay “The Rights of Man: What Are They,” (a piece published shortly after the adoption of the “Universal Declaration of Human Rights” in 1948) and later in The Origins of Totalitarianism (1951). Arendt addresses what happens when members of a specific community, belonging to a particular social group, are deprived of rights they once held.10

They are deprived, not of the right to freedom, but of the right to action: not of the right to think whatever they please, but of the right to opinion. ... We become aware of the existence of a right to have rights (and that means to live in a framework where one is judged by one’s actions and opinions) and a right to belong to some kind of organized community, only when millions of people emerge who had lost and could not regain these rights because of the new global political situation.


Clearly, the indigenous communities in the United States could not lose the "right to have rights,” once barbed wire entered their lives and the spaces they inhabited, given that they had never had this right in the first place. Yet barbed wire has also shaped this specific history of rightlessness. The cover of “New Frontiers,” a comic published by the United States Steel Corporation in 1958, illustrates this (Kreil 67). The cover depicts a “blond-haired, handsome ‘Marlboro cowboy’ erecting a barbed wire fence with the aid of a smiling boy squatting nearby” (Kreil 44). Yet the image that most forcefully reveals this history of cruelty in the American

West is one of the smaller pictures shown on the same cover, underneath the rendering of the cowboy. The words “Westward expansion” appear written on the middle image, and a stereotypical rendering of a Native American man on a horse and shooting an arrow is accompanied by the words, “See how barbed wire helped tame the West” (Kreil 67). Thus, in addition to locating “barbed wire firmly within a discourse of capitalist democracy,” this publication also reveals the interconnected nature of barbed wire and rightlessness (Kreil 67). In addition to its multiple uses during the westward expansion in the United States, barbed wire also quickly became a tool that facilitated colonization as well as colonial warfare.

As Netz argues, barbed wire “opened the way for a new kind of control overcolonial space” (59). Netz's study poignantly shows that the history of barbed wire indeed is part of a history of violence.

There is no need to put barbed wire in the way of civilians: put a sign saying No Trespassing, and ninety-nine out of a hundred will stop. But then again, sometimes they do not stop, and violence must be administered. The problem is exacerbated when fundamental loyalty is in question - when people do not agree with the No Trespassing signs. Suppose you conquer a foreign people, or suppose some of your subjects are citizens of a nations with which you are at war; how would you make them respect your rules? Violence must be used, then, on a large scale. An instrument for the deployment of violence on a massive scale would be very useful for this purpose, and this is how barbed wire enters political history - as a continuation of the history of war.


In 1899, barbed wire met human skin and human pain during the Anglo-Boer Wars in South Africa, when it was used in conjunctions with “blockhouses” (small, isolated garrisons), which would later become “blocaos” in the Spanish Protectorate in Northern Morocco. El Bloaco also happens to be the title of José Díaz Fernández 1928 novel about the Rif War. This “novel of the Moroccan War,” as the book’s subtitle indicates, displays “bitterness and rage towards his imperialistic, colonizing fatherland.” Díaz Fernández accomplishes this in a subtle manner “by skillfully embedding ideology within the novelistic design” (Schneider 408). While the blockhouses or “blocaos” were mobile structures, barbed wire was what made them an effective weapon in this particular colonial war.

In this context, it is worth mentioning another weapon that originated during the Anglo-Boer Wars: the concentration camp. Concentrating, debilitating, and killing people in an enclosed space, oftentimes with the help of widely available and affordable coils of barbed wire, originated during this nineteenth-century conflict. Mainly women and children were the ones taken to camps, where they would be met with starvation, dehydration, and disease. Thus, the histories of barbed wire and of the concentration camp (a term used for the first time in 1901) and the internment camp, prisoner camp, the extermination camp, and even the refugee camp are tightly interwoven with one another. While it is true, as Lindsey

Stonebridge writes, that “a death camp is not a refugee camp, nor is interning 'undesirable aliens’ a necessary prelude to genocide,” she admits that “that turned out to be exactly the case with Gurs” (Stonebridge 47). Stonebridge here refers to the camp in Southwestern France, where Hannah Arendt had "the opportunity to spend some time,” in 1940 (Arendt, "Refugees” xx). Moreover, these different camps could not have existed without barbed wire, and so the history of this very simple thing is inextricably connected to the cruel histories of deportations, internment, and genocide across the world.

In 1918, German physician Adolf Lukas Vischer coined the term “Stacheldrahtkrankheit” (“Barbed Wire Disease”) in order to name the mental health issues that prisoners of war had to endure in a concentration camp in the UK during World War I. Vischer used the term to describe “a set of neurotic symptoms which he observed among long-term prisoners of war and which, in effect, undermined their sense of masculine self-worth and future potential as fathers, citizens and soldiers” (Stibbe 58). Vischer’s gendered understanding of "Barbed Wire Disease” surely is a product of his time and should not distract from his reference to citizenship here. The use of barbed wire to stop subjects from moving across borders, or to confine them in a camp where all their potentials will be undermined, scrapes the very core citizenship, the very core of the "right to have rights.”

Now, while barbed wire has become such a common item across the globe, Netz’s book shows how violent the history of this tool, this “sharp fence,” actually is. Clearly, no all uses of barbed wire are the same. Appearances of barbed wire in the early twentieth century, during World War II, and in today’s fortified borders in Ceuta and Melilla, the US-Mexico Borderlands, and in other places where the flows of migration have reached, should be understood within their respective contexts. I am also not proposing a counterfactual version of history along the lines of: without barbed wire, there would be colonialism, no warfare, no pain and loss, no Barbed Wire Disease, no difference between human and citizen. Or, to go back to Moreau’s images, it is not the sheer object that has rendered the fugitive in La comedia humana stateless and therefore "no longer human,” it is the ways in which this object has been put to use - and the Nazi Genocide may be the most evident example of this.

In all likelihood, in addition to contemporary border fences across the world, the death camps and ghetto walls in Eastern Europe may come to mind when one considers how barbed wire has been used at a massive scale to prevent people from moving or, to use Lê’s terms again, to create an outside and an inside. Yet these camps were not the first ones where barbed wire was used; indeed, the history of barbed wire also connects these camps' histories of pain, violence, and cruelty in continental Europe to related histories elsewhere in the world.

Arendt has famously argued that the violence of World War II is intrinsically related to the violence of colonialism. A year before Arendt published The Origins of Totalitarianism, Aimé Césaire had already made these connections clear, arguing that Hitler “applied to Europe colonialist procedures which until then had been reserved for the Arabs of Algeria, the ‘coolies’ of India, and the blacks of

Africa” (3). In recent years, more nuanced implications of these historical connections, also called the “boomerang effect” or “boomerang thesis,” have received renewed critical attention - and so a much more complex history of World War II (and of the uses of barbed wire during this conflict) unravels.11

The establishment of enclosed camps for detained individuals was by no means limited to Eastern Europe during World War II: one can think of the camps on French beaches where Spanish refugees were confined after the defeat of the Republic in 1939 - the above-mentioned camp in Gurs was one of these locations. These camps were later repurposed for all those who, just like Hannah Arendt and many others, became “undesirable” in occupied France. For many Spanish Republicans who fled North (to France) and South (to Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco), the first years of exile also meant confinement in a prison camp. Silvia Mistral, author of Exodus: Diary ofa Spanish Refugee, recalls her experience in the French camps: “Like beasts, behind barbed wire, the Spanish, without blankets, without food, without sun: injured, dying, are banished to the desert” (53). While Mistral may not have been as concerned about masculinity as Dr. Vischer was, she also suffered a version of “Barbed Wire Disease.” Differently from the camps built for German prisoners of war in the United Kingdom that Vischer observed before he coined the term “Stacheldratkrankheit,” the concentration camps built in the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War and repurposed World War II were constructed for both men and women, and on European and also African soil. This is perhaps best exemplified in what may be the most famous movie (about refugees) of all times: Michael Curtiz classic Casablanca (1942). References to concentration camps are numerous in the film, yet when Major Strasser (Comad Veidt) threatens Victor Lazio (Paul Hendreid) with incarceration in a concentration camp, he is not referring to one located in Europe but one, “right here,” in Casablanca. And such camps were numerous in the Maghreb.12

One of the many imprisoned individuals in the camps in North Africa was writer Max Aub, who was sent to Djelfa (Algeria). Aub may be, at least in the Hispanophone world, the most famous prisoner in North Africa, partially due to his Djelfa Diary, the collection of poems he wrote in Algeria and later published in Mexico. And barbed wire is everywhere in his text, constantly limiting Aub’s vision of the Algerian landscape. The poem “As the Saying Goes” begins with the verses “Against hunger, barbed wire/night and day” (47). The sound of the word “alam-brada” (barbed wire) echoes “hambre” (hunger). As pervasive as hunger, barbed wire is wherever the poet turns his gaze, as shown in another poem “Djelfa”: “The black barbed wire, in soft grays, cuts through the landscape toward the Levant” (50). Just like the Algerian landscape is delimited by actual barbed wire, the Spanish landscape that Aub simultaneously misses and rejects is constrained by an invisible, but perhaps even more virulent and damaging, barbed wire.

How barbed wire remains in history

This landscape, framed and torn apart by barbed wire, is not the same one that migrants in the twenty-first century see as they approach Ceuta and Melilla - in addition to the fact that the earlier two texts are about Algeria and not Morocco. Moreover, differently from the works that depict the lived experience in prison camps in the Maghreb during World War II, more recent texts about border crossings do not focus so much on the ways in which barbed wire frames the landscapes, but rather on the moments when the barbed wire or the razors cut through skin. Invented to stop the movement of animals, barbed wire now obstructs the movement of people, as it inflicts unbearable pain on all those who dare to cross borders clandestinely, just like the fugitive in Moreau’s linocuts. But it will not stop their movement. There may always be a fence, but there will also always be people crossing the fence.

Marie N’Diaye’s novel Three Strong Women comes to mind here. The third strong woman in N’Diaye’s book is Khady Demba, a young widow from an unnamed African nation, possibly Senegal, who embarks on an uncertain journey to Europe. After numerous hardships, she reaches the border fences in Morocco (even though actual geographical locations are never mentioned in the novel). The book ends as Khady climbs up a makeshift ladder in order to cross a border fence.

She tried to go higher, remembering that a boy had told her you must never, never stop climbing until you’ve reached the top, but the barbed wire was tearing the skin of her hands and feet and she could not hear herself screaming and feel blood running along her shoulders and down her arms.

A very similar description appears in Partir para contar, a memoir of migration and border crossing that Mahmoud Traoré coauthored with Bruno Le Dantec. Traoré attempted several times to cross the fence in Melilla. When he finally succeeds in Ceuta, he takes a severe injury to his foot with him: as the sharp fence cuts through skin and muscle, at first he barely feels the pain. Yet the memory of the wound will be part of the invisible luggage that Traoré takes with him to Europe: "I still remember the sound of clothes torn apart in the fences” (203). Needless to say, barbed wire, or razor wire, tend to cut through far more than clothes.

As mentioned earlier, barbed wire and razor wire fences appear in fortified borders, yet they also do in prisons and certain institutions for the mentally ill, the “mental asylum.” Given the origin of the term, the mental asylum was to offer a place without the “right of seizure,” a place where one could be safe from violence. In this case, those in need of protection were the mentally ill, or at least perceived to be mentally ill. And here, another history of injustice, abuse, and pain and of an inside and outside, and of rightlessness becomes evident. Ranjana Khanna briefly refers to this history in her 2006 essay “Asylum.”

That people in asylums have often been unjustly treated and incarcerated seems entirely incontrovertible, and that this has been done in a way that has benefited the state in the name of security of the insane or of the population at large is clear. Whether women in mental asylums, colonial asylums, or asylums such as the one in Canton Insane Asylum for American Indians, South

Dakota that housed native Americans, the questions of security comes into play as much as the state’s sovereignty over its population.


Asylum, as Khanna reminds us in her essay, is as much about time as it is about space, and so she writes: “The space of asylum suggests the rights of institutions over living bodies, rather than the rights of citizens emerging into different spaces” (477). The fact that today the veiy notion of asylum is under siege, as it was during World War II, goes hand in hand with the reappearance of barbed wire and razor wire scaring landscapes and scaring bodies. Stated differently, our recent history of borders and border crossings, of refuge and of asylum, also is the history of barbed wire, of this "terrible device” and its equally terrible cousins, ranging from razor wire to ankle monitors.

The histoiy of barbed wire appears written alongside the history of “the right to have rights” from the late nineteenth century to the present. Yet while there always may be fence, its existence has been challenged, its meaning questioned, its role repurposed: ahnost as quickly as concertina wire was set up at the border between the United States and Mexico, segments vanished and reappeared again for sale Tijuana (Agren). A veiy different approach to challenging and repurposing barbed wire is “Impenetrable,” an installation by Palestinian artist Mona Hatoum (whose work also is featured alongside Khanna’s “Asylum”).13 This “array of precisely suspended lengths of barbed wire” invites viewers to consider how the constant presence of a sharp fence affects our relation with an inside and an outside. Hatoum’s piece conjures up bodies in motion and in pain: barbed wire and its histoiy of cruelty.


  • 1 See Bennett and Abbott (2017), Netz (2010), Liu (2009), and Kreil (2002). Patrick Brantlinger’s Barbed Wire: Capitalism and the Enclosure of the Commons (2017) moves into a slightly different direction. Brantlinger uses barbed wire as a metaphor for capitalist modernization. His book is about “capitalism and the enclosure or privatization of what has been communally owned land and other forms of ‘the commons’” (ix).
  • 2 Clément Moreau, “An der Grenze” (88). The entire series, as well as Moreau’s other works, can be viewed at
  • 3 Clément Moreau, Ohne Titel (93).
  • 4 I am referring here to Hannah Arendt’s understanding of rights and rightlessness, to be discussed in further detail later in this essay. As Lindsey Stonebridge writes, in reference to Arendt’s 1941 essay, “Active Patience,” “to be left to the arbitrary decisions of other nations was to be left, precisely, nowhere: to be stateless was to be rightless” (Stonebridge 184).
  • 5 “Erich Mühsam zum Gedächtnis,” Der C^fen/icAe Dfewrt, August 10, 1934, No. 12.
  • 6 Unless otherwise noted, all translations are my own.
  • 7 The 2017 film Les Sauteurs depicts the lives of migrants living in Mount Gourougou, Melilla. It becomes clear that razor wire fences hardly are the sole weapons causing migrants’ fear - and sometimes their deaths.
  • 8 See the report “Spain: Assessing Health System Capacity to Manage Sudden Large Influxes of Migrants.”
  • 9 Ambassador Tomás Bocek, Special Representative of the Secretary General on migration and refugees, presented a report to the Council of Europe in March 2018. https://
  • 10 I am paraphrasing the contemporary definition of “Refugee” adopted after the 1951 Refugee Convention in Geneva: “A refugee has a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group” (my emphasis), gee/
  • 11 See Stone (2001) and Rothberg (2009). In his reading of Hannah Arendt and Aimé Césaire, Michael Rothberg points out that “colonial violence foreshadows totalitarianism at the same time that totalitarianism casts a shadow backward on the colonial archive” (64).
  • 12 For more information on the Holocaust in North Africa, see Bourn and Stein (2019).
  • 13 Hatoum’s work can be seen at -mona-hatoums-impenetrable

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Part III

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