Monday, April 05, 2010

European Anarchist Has to Cancel Trip to the U.S.

By Matthew Rothschild, February 19, 2010

The anarchist author Gabriel Kuhn was planning on visiting the United
States in early March and staying until May. He had speaking
engagements set up at several colleges, bookstores, and coffeehouses.
But he’s no longer coming.

Kuhn, who was born in Austria and lives in Sweden, wrote a
prize-winning book on contemporary anarchism in the United States. And
he’s the author of two new books published by PM Press out of Oakland.
One is called “Life Under the Jolly Roger: Reflections on Golden Age
Piracy,” and the other is “Sober Living for the Revolution: Hardcore
Punk, Straight Edge, and Radical Politics.”

He applied through Homeland Security’s Electronic System for Travel
Authorization, which has been in place for a little more than a year.
This system is for people who are traveling to the United States from
countries where the U.S. used to say you didn’t need a visa to come to

Now you need to have either a visa or approval from the Electronic
System for Travel Authorization.

So Kuhn, who has come to the United States several times before,
logged onto the Homeland Security website and tried to get the travel

“I considered the process a mere formality,” he wrote in his own
account of what happened.

“When the words ‘Travel Not Authorized’ appeared on my computer
screen, I instantly thought [it was] a mistake. Certainly I must have
missed a letter or digit in my application form. I checked the
records. I hadn’t missed anything. Nonetheless, I applied again. It
took only a few hours to receive another rejection.”

Joanne Ferreira, a press officer at U.S. Customs and Border
Protection, said she couldn’t comment on Kuhn’s specific case, but she
said people are rejected for a variety of reasons.

“It could be criminal activity, or an immigration violation, or
anything in his past,” she said. She added that people denied travel
authorization could then apply for a visa.

Kuhn, who believes he’s landed on the No Fly List, understood he had
that option but concluded it was unlikely he would be granted a visa,
and if he did get it, he was worried he’d be turned away once he got

“Under these circumstances, it became impossible for me to continue
planning my tour (which was to start in a month), and I had to

Kuhn, who got a PhD in philosophy from the University of Innsbruck,
tells me there is a lot of “official hype” about freedom of speech in
America, but it’s not a reality here. Nor is the freedom to listen.

“This is what authorities try to undermine by keeping folks with
‘suspicious’ views from visiting the country,” he tells me. “This is
nothing new. If we use anarchist history as an example, xenophobia and
political oppression have always gone hand in hand. The first strong
wave of anarchism in the U.S. between 1870 and 1920 was largely
ascribed to immigrant groups (mainly Germans, Italians, and Russians).
The ‘anarchist exclusion ban’ was passed by Congress in 1903, and the
mass deportation of anarchists without citizenship in 1919 pretty much
marked a final blow to the movement.”

Ramsey Kanaan, co-founder and publisher of PM Press, says the
rejection of Kuhn’s travel authorization application “seems to
represent a turn towards targeting radicals who have hitherto not fit
the ‘war on terror’ profile.” He points out that even the Bush
Administration, though not without questioning, allowed Kuhn in. “Why
is it, under an Obama regime struggling to contain massive economic
crisis, that this is no longer the case?”

Several people who set up U.S. venues for Kuhn are furious that he had
to cancel.

Lynn Owens is an assistant professor of sociology at Middlebury.

“I was very angry to hear of Gabriel's exclusion from the U.S. and the
subsequent canceling of his tour,” Owens tells me. “I had worked with
him to arrange for him to give a talk at my school, excited to be able
to squeeze a small amount of funds to bring in a speaker to campus who
was outside the normal range of who normally comes, to expose the
students (as well as, hopefully, members of the broader community) to
new and less common political ideas and experiences. I am mad not only
because we lost a great speaker; I am mad because we are losing the
ability to move and act freely in this world, all under the guise of
making us ‘safer.’ As someone who studies the role of travel,
movement, and border crossings in the construction of social movements
and political activism, I can tell you that programs like the
unaccountable ‘No Fly List’ will have a serious effect on the
possibilities for political action, both across and within borders.
This is simply one more step in trying to not only delegitimate
opposition, but also to make it increasingly difficult to build and
maintain connections between activists.”

Immanuel Ness is a professor of political science at Brooklyn College, CUNY.

“Gabriel Kuhn is a highly recognized international scholar on
anarchism who has a large following among students and faculty,
perhaps the reason why the government is preventing his book tour,”
Ness says. “The U.S. no-fly ban comes at a time when anarchist and
socialist ideas are more compelling among college students than ever.
We live in Orwellian times.”

Jesse Cohn, an associate professor of English at Purdue North Central,
was setting up Kuhn’s Indiana itinerary. He’s worked with Kuhn on
translating some of the writings of anarchist Gustav Landauer.

“The way I first got to know Gabriel,” says Cohn, “was through our
collaboration on a translation of Landauer's eloquent denunciation, in
the wake of McKinley's assassination, of ‘the notion that one can
reach the ideal of non-violence by violent means’: ‘All violence is
either despotism or authority.’ Raise your hand if you think this is
an idea Americans need to be protected from! My response, apart from
continuing to voice my opposition to such idiotic restrictions of the
freedom to travel, will be to do what I can to make sure that
Gabriel's books are read and shared and discussed, that the ideas
travel freely where he cannot.”

Evan Scott, a member of the worker-owned Firestorm Café and Books in
Asheville, North Carolina, echoes those sentiments.

“Our staff and community were disappointed and outraged to learn that
Kuhn would not be able to travel in the United States, where his work
is freely read and appreciated,” Scott says. “A year into the Obama
presidency, this was a stark reminder that the federal government
continues to exploit the fear of terrorism to restrict domestic
political dissent.”

For his part, Kuhn says a lot of European dissidents don’t want to
even try to visit the United States because it’s such a hassle.

“Especially since the mandatory fingerprinting and iris scan was
introduced a few years back, many refuse to travel on principle,” he
says. “There already exists a pretty strong ‘vulgar anti-Americanism’
among many left-leaning or radical folks, intellectuals included. I
call it ‘vulgar’ because it’s based on stereotypes about the U.S.
being nothing but a mixture of Hollywood, McDonalds, and Christian
fundamentalism. Folks like me, who have spent a lot of time in the
country and know that this is not true, have been trying long to
correct these stereotypes.”

But given his latest experience, and that of others, he says, “It gets
harder and harder to change people’s opinions.”

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