Published by Verso on January 1st 1970
The extradition of terror suspects reveals the worst features of the security stateIn 2012 five Muslim men—Babar Ahmad, Talha Ahsan, Khalid al-Fawwaz, Adel Abdul Bary, and Abu Hamza—were extradited from Britain to the US to face terrorism-related charges. Fahad Hashmi was deported a few years before. Abid Naseer and Haroon Aswat would follow shortly. They were subject to pre-trial incarceration for up to seventeen years, police brutality, secret trials, secret evidence, long-term detention in solitary confinement, citizenship deprivation and more. Deport, Deprive, Extradite draws on their stories as starting points to explore what they illuminate about the disciplinary features of state power and its securitising conditions.
In looking at these stories of Muslim men accused of terrorism-related offences, Nisha Kapoor exposes how these racialised subjects are dehumanised, made non-human, both in terms of how they are represented and via the disciplinary techniques used to expel them. She explores how these cases illuminate and enable intensifying authoritarianism and the diminishment of democratic systems.
Deport, Deprive, Extradite blew me away with how much Nisha Kapoor managed to say in such little space. I found myself constantly stopping to copy out her succinct quotes which articulated connections I have previously attempted to make, but had difficulty mapping out. A writer who can make such links so lucidly is one I appreciate. While the material was dense, the book was surprisingly readable and Kapoor’s use of individual stories of extradition and deportation as ways to paint a wider picture exposing the excesses of state power was, in my opinion, perfectly executed.
Not only did the individual stories expose state authoritarianism on a broad scale, her telling of these men’s stories – who rarely get such attention and precision – met Kapoor’s aim of retelling “stories that tend not to be told and are only known to those who already know”. This made the book more than simply a theoretical exposition to me; it was also a work of activism deeply embedded in its own preoccupation with humanising the racialised/colonised. Too often we talk about violence as either theoretical and institutional, or interpersonal – Kapoor’s book reminded me of the necessity of both and the limit of one without the other.
In naming and telling the stories of nine men who have faced the extremities of state violence, Deport, Deprive, Extradite manages to make a number of arguments while also helping a reader understand them beyond the jargon. Reading accounts of unimaginable torture, humiliation and injustice upon injustice (detention followed by physical violence, followed by release without charge, followed by raid, followed by detention, followed by appeal, followed by overturn, followed by secret evidence, followed by deportation, followed by interrogation and on and on) I felt an emptiness that my only reference-points for such degradation and abuse were from the safe distance of films and documentaries. This jarred me and made her telling all the more important. If privilege makes us blind to experiences that are not our own, engaging with such experiences is perhaps the best way to begin to move forward and create more expansive visions of liberation – this is ultimately what Kapoor’s book does and I appreciate her guiding us through the past, present, personal and ideological to do so.
In fact, Kapoor’s unwillingness to accept half-answers or futures that only benefit the majority and do not consider the nuance of the world we live in is what I admired most. The argument of hers which most struck me in this was her critique that human rights discourses and liberal democracy are not only complicit in dehumanisation of racialised bodies, but premised upon that. She convincingly explored the way “universal human rights” were always conditional since they were born out of a historic moment where all that was really being made unacceptable was genocide within Europe, whilst genocide in colonies was ongoing. After all, for human rights to apply to you, you have to be considered “human” to start with.
Her statement that liberalism has always been “characterised by points of exceptions and limits in which democratic processes and rights can be suspended or withheld” is one of the best, most succinct explanations of “liberal racism” I have seen and it provided me with language to better articulate my frustration with “anti-racism” which does not take its own limited logics to their full conclusion. For example, inclusion is not enough if we remain dehumanised and representation is not enough if we remain sub-human. Kapoor’s exposition gives me a framework to more directly pinpoint what institutional racism is. That, for example, having more judges who are not white cannot fundamentally undo or undermine an accepted logic of rights based in a racialised epistemology of humanness which sees “secret justice” as justice, or evidence obtained under torture as evidence… I will be forever thankful to this book for leaving me with such clarity in mind about vague anger I have harboured towards some anti-racist sentiments in the past.
Kapoor’s exposition on rights has also greatly aided the way I have been listening to the debates around the recent “Windrush scandal”. After reading this book I find myself surprised that we are questioning what has been happening at all. Deportation and the deprivation of citizenship is something Kapoor shows us is not new at all, but more importantly, not at odds with “liberal democracy”. Citizenship can be deprived within the framework of “liberal democracy” due to the conditional way “humanity” is and has always been applied. Kapoor takes us through case after case of deprived citizenship which is presented to us as a “public good” to remove “bad people” and I thus find myself despairing at the language surrounding the current debate – that even vocal critics of the government like MP David Lammy have been condemning deportation of the “Windrush generation” by making them a “good immigrant” foil to the “bad” “illegal” bodies (read as, sub-human) that do deserve deportation. Such critiques do not ultimately do enough to query the application of “rights” themselves or undermine the notion that citizenship was always conditional for racialised, sub-human lives.
Kapoor’s analysis of the racialised application of liberal human rights discourses has also given me a contemporary and practical way in which bell hooks’ work, From Margin to Center – which I read many years ago but often try to think about – could be applied. hooks’ famously argued that the politics of liberation must start by considering the conditions of the most marginalised rather than the most normative, it is only in this way that a model of liberation which will truly and complexly facilitate liberation for all may be possible. In looking at the extremes of state violence and those constantly made sub-human so that humanity can be given to others, Kapoor provides a really brilliant, practical modern example of how liberation politics must and can start from the margins. I also personally greatly appreciate Kapoor’s analysis of Muslim women’s position as a crucial one to work from for a truly liberatory future. From our stand-point it is possible to understand that gender violence, state violence, imperialism, racism and dehumanisation are all operating hand-in-hand. Our margin is one so often overlooked and yet one with such potential to make connections for a future where we do not queue for liberation – some of us perpetually at the back.
The other key argument that Kapoor made and which I find myself coming back to again and again is the simply, yet significant, point that discourses around “terrorism” continue the legacy of colonialism by dehumanising racialised Muslims and thus enabling and justifying inhumane treatment of them through the counterinsurgency policing she explores. This neat tying together of her many arguments is fortified with a multitude of examples and research. However, what struck me most was the new clarity it left me with about the fact that terrorism is a discourse. In fact, it is just a discourse. Before completing Deport, Deprive, Extradite I don’t think I would have had the confidence to make that claim, even if I felt it to be true and often said it in longer and more complicated ways (e.g. that the figure of the terrorist and displacement of all violence onto them enables and justifies state violence as “good” whilst condemning individual violence as always illegitimate); however, Kapoor’s arguments and clear direction lead me to more powerfully understand that the terrorism discourse is solely a discourse used to justify imperialist violence and disavow dissent. That this is its purpose proves that the issue with terrorism has never been an issue with violence per se, but solely an issue with “who it is committed by and who it is legitimate to commit it upon” in Kapoor’s words. Indeed, I leave Kapoor’s book with the echoing clarification that terrorism is actually a discourse about humanness, not violence. To call someone a terrorist is to make them sub-human, to delegitimise their motives as “fanatical” or “cultural” rather than political, and to displace the structural causes of violence by focusing on the individual and their (often, his) pathology. In fact, the label “terrorism” thus becomes a “way of disavowing and disenfranchising those who cannot be made docile” – I think about activists, politicians and people I look up to now and in the past who have been undermined by labels such as “terrorist” or “extremist” and see the seriousness of Kapoor’s nuanced argument.
Ultimately, Deport, Deprive, Extradite was an easier book to read than I anticipated, but also, harder. Easier because Kapoor guides you through the cases and arguments not trying to wow you with jargon and policy but trying to provide clarity; but harder, because Kapoor grounds the arguments in real men’s lives and experiences which leave you reeling from the fact “dehumanisation” and “essentialism” are not just words and ideas that harm us, but ideologies and ways of thinking which have brutal and unimaginable consequences on real people’s lives.
For me, the most lasting impression of Deport, Deprive, Extradite is the understanding that we must constantly challenge ourselves to take the language and policies used regarding violence to their extreme conclusions in order to best understand their purpose and consequences. When we do so, in this case by looking at cases of individuals who are stripped of citizenship and tortured due to tenuous “terrorism charges”, we can consider the logics we develop around race, justice, violence, innocence and belonging more critically. In the weeks since finishing Kapoor’s book I find myself uneasy and sometimes in circles challenging my own thinking. I find myself laughing at news that the government are “banning” no-platforming at UK Universities, as if the logics of free-speech make any sense at all, as if there is a neutrality of speech and “freedom” outside of colonial histories and racialised understandings of freedom… I find myself laughing at the fact we can deport the Windrush generation at the same time as celebrating the Commonwealth games… that we can create a national day of remembrance for Stephen Lawrence without actually fundamentally changing the logics which saw him killed and the investigation into his death undermined… Kapoor ultimately shows us how extreme cases such as extradition have created the space for the norm to move further towards authoritarianism without us questioning it, and in fact that state violence is central to the liberal democracy of today. We don’t need to fear “terrorists” “stealing” “our democracy” when the state who tells us to be afraid of them has already deprived us of our liberty.
Kapoor left me with better language and deeper feeling that we should be afraid of the current state of affairs, and yet, that fear and hope are not mutually exclusive. It is possible and essential that all of us expose injustices wherever we see them, and it is through such exposure – which Kapoor uses her specialist knowledge to do in this case, for example – that we better equip ourselves to change our reality and our world. I will be thinking about this book for a long time – its micro stories and their pain and honesty, and its macro arguments and their ferocity.2