Another day and another sneak attack on our consciences trying to make us think of the terrible plight of refugees, to open our hearts and open the borders.
Historian Dina Gusejnova tells the story of tarpaulin from 17th century mariners to today’s refugee camps and those living on the periphery of society. In the process, Dina shines a light on statelessness, protest, heroism and transgression.
The tarpaulin is a fabric of conflict. Reinvented over its five hundred years of history, the material now has an important role in providing shelter to the millions of people who fall between the cracks of international geopolitics following periods of violence or natural disaster.
Good old Dina was a bit concerned, naturally, about Britain’s ‘closed door policy’ for refugees but she thought that there is only one image that has now come to dominate our understanding of the word tarpaulin…the tented cities that shelter refugees. Yes, I have always been conflicted, morally and intellectually challenged everytime I picked up a tarpaulin…just what is this thing? What is its meaning? Why do I feel so guilty as I so carelessly and casually use it without a deeper understanding of its significant place in modern day life? Now I know. That association with refugees. I’ll never look at a tarpaulin in the same thoughtless way again.
Incredible how hard the BBC works to find any excuse to keep refugees in the headlines…yesterday we heard that 5Live had miraculously, after a long search, found two malnourished children in an Iraqi refugee camp….well go figure…the real story is that they had to look so hard to find these children….kind of suggests the system is pretty much working despite the massive pressures. And now the tarpaulin. Clever idea but all too obvious and groan-worthy when you get hit by the conclusion which comes at you with all the subversive subtlety of a steam train at full speed.
Why did the BBC pick Dina Gusejnova to present this programme on tarpaulins? Because she’s not really interested in tarpaulin merely in using it to explore the idea of statelessness, nationality and the idea that we must think ‘beyond the nation’….experience often shows the State turns against its citizens she tells us…so we learn that international communities and organisations are the utopian answer to protect us…..what saves us is transnational connections, social networks through which the refugees can tell their stories and persuade people to open their borders to the stateless refugee.
The tragedy is apparently that democratic states suspect some refugees of not being all they seem and think they are a possible danger to the State…and we all know that is nonsense.