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wasn't 9/11 supposed to kill irony?


TRIBE Member
Judging by ken saro-wiwa's column in today's globe the Minority Report is coming true, much to dismay of both sides of the debate in the US

Extreme bureaucracy in the defence of liberty

Saturday, February 7, 2004 - Page A23

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Someone must have told on Joseph K., for without having done anything wrong he was arrested one fine


If you've ever read Franz Kafka's novel The Trial you will be familiar with the nightmare that the protagonist Joseph K. suddenly finds himself in. Although he has been arrested, Joseph K. is free to go but is never told the charges.

Last week I sat in an interview room at U.S. immigration, poised on the threshold of a Kafkaesque minor nightmare. My "crime" I still don't know -- but something about my face, or the answers I gave to an official's questions (or perhaps the responses I had written on my immigration form) must have dissatisfied a U.S. immigration officer at Pearson Airport at 6:30 a.m. last Tuesday. Because on my way to give a lecture at Sweet Briar College in Virginia, I was taken aside for further questioning.

"What is your first name?" asked a genial and respectful officer who I imagined to be Hispanic, despite the Anglo-Saxon name inscribed on the brass plate on his chest. It occurred to me that I might have written two different versions of my first name on the immigration form I had hurriedly filled out. I defensively began to explain myself . . . over the years my name has migrated from the sublime (Kenule Bornale Tsaroti Nwiwa) through Ken Saro-Wiwa, to the more mundane Saro Kenule Bornale Wiwa and finally Ken Wiwa. My ever-changing identity has charted a course navigated by a mixture of filial rebellion, bureaucratic intransigence and a desire to assimilate.

Where I am from, I weakly explained to the immigration officer, there is no such thing as first name, second name or last name.

Like many people with experiences that fall outside the neat categories of Anglo-Saxon bureaucracy, I have chafed over the years at the constraints that immigration forms impose on my identity. The boxes, questions and space allotted for my answers usually deny me my full expression. I'm resigned to conforming to the proportions and categories that usually edit the poetry out of my name.

The immigration officer was clearly unimpressed with my defence. "In the U.S.," he sniffed, "you do as we do." Or words to that effect -- I am trying to be faithful to my recollection of the exchange here because the interview was recorded.

In the old days, I might have suggested that I would happily comply and do as the Romans do in Rome, if only the Romans reciprocated the gesture. But a U.S. visa interview in 2004 is not the place to engage in political posturing.

So I bit my tongue, because I am all too aware that under the provisions of the Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act (a.k.a. the Patriot Act), you can be arrested and detained for wisecracking.

At any rate, my passport, the contract with the college where I was due to lecture and the brochure I had proffered as proof of my business in the United States were duly photocopied and entered into the system, and I was released. But not before I missed my flight.

As much as I tried to consign the experience to the "one of those things" file, I couldn't help feeling that, like Joseph K., I had just been arrested but was free to go.

I am aware that many Americans are happy to trade their civil liberties for security, and as a visitor after 9/11, I'd rather an immigration officer erred on the side of precaution. But you do wonder where and when all this will end and what effect it will have on the ideals that once made America.

If the dissection of John Ashcroft's Department of Justice in this month's Vanity Fair is anything to go by, it seems that America will soon be at war with itself -- because the application of the law is being invested with a moral zeal whose goal is, in the words of the U.S. Attorney-General, "not simply to investigate crimes but to prevent them before they occur."

This idea of pre-emptive justice does not sit so easily with the mythologies of the American dream. Vanity Fair reports that the backlash is "one with surprisingly bipartisan power" as Americans wake up to the nightmare that security is a double-edged sword -- and that the provisions of the Patriot Act are being used to "pre-empt" the threat of crimes beyond national boundaries of national security. As ever, in troubled times ironies flourish.

I caught one as I was being interviewed by the immigration officer last week. He suddenly offered me his views of the situation in India. Everyone, I was informed, was killing everyone over there.

I shrugged and asked him where he was from.

And then this gatekeeper of America's security confided that despite his anglo-sounding name, he was originally from India.

And that's how yesterday's American dream becomes today's nightmare
Alex D. from TRIBE on Utility Room


TRIBE Member
First, that article in Vanity Fair is stunning. I'll bring it with me tonight.

Second, and excuse my ignorance, this Ken Wiwa must be the original Ken Saro-Wiwa's son, right?

The answer to the question is that not only did 9/11 NOT kill irony, it has been enhanced through the Patriot Act. I saw this thing on Dennis Miller's new show last week that American society, at least in terms of freedoms and security, has become a paradox of making themselves more free, at least ideologically, (and spreading these values around the world) by restricting their freedoms. It makes no sense to anyone who spends 2 seconds thinking about it and thus makes quite a statement about what kind of administration we're dealing with in Washington.