Michel Foucault states that “the ancient right to take life or let live was replaced by a power to foster life or disallow it to the point of death.” (1990, p.138) Foucault’s analysis of modern forms of power over individuals can be clearly observed in a discussion to which I’ll engage regarding two individuals: Mehmet Aurelio and Festus Okey.
Marco Aurelio Brito dos Prezeres was born in Brazil, 1977. Beginning with 2001, as a footballer he played for Trabzonspor and Fenerbahçe football clubs for seven years. After five years of residing in Turkey, he applied for a Turkish citizenship and it was granted in July 2006. His application was encouraged by Turkish Football Association and Ministry of Sports because he was a gifted player and the coach of the Turkish national team Fatih Terim wished to make use of his abilities for the upcoming international competitions. Although he changed his name from Marco to “Mehmet”, some of the football commentators insisted on calling him Marco. Nevertheless, they appreciated his contributions to the national team because he was the best football player in the whole team.1
At 20th of August 2007, a Nigerian refugee, who migrated to Turkey to become a football player,2 was killed by a police officer under custody in Beyoğlu Police Station. According to the police report, it was an accident.3 It is speculated that the camera in the detention room was not at work during the incident.4 His deceased body was sent to Nigeria after 66 days.5 The police officer Cengiz Yıldız, who shot Okey in the neck, is still on trial. The last trial is postponed to 9th July 2009 because the identification of Okey wasn’t still accomplished according to the Court of Justice.6 Several non-governmental organizations such as Çağdaş Hukukçular Derneği and Helsinki Yurttaşlar Derneği protested the negligence in his death.7 The controversy gained respectable recognition in the Turkish media. However, since two years passed and nothing was resolved, most people lost interest.
In the meantime, Aurelio controversy was over. Everyone accepted his new belonging as a Turkish citizen. In summer 2008, Aurelio left Turkey and signed a new contract for Spanish football team, Real Betis. At that moment, Festus Okey was already dead. Not only that he was earning nothing, but he was not even “identified”. Hence the crime wasn’t even resolved.
When Aurelio scored his first goal in Turkish National Football Team, Emre Aköz commented as follows: “Yes, he’s a Brazilian-born, his name is Aurelio and he’s a Christian. He has no familiarity to the Turkish history. His racial orientation isn’t similar to ours. He even doesn’t speak Turkish well. But he is “our” citizen. We run after “our” ambitions together.”8 Aköz’s comment is striking in the way that he announces a Turkish citizen as “our” citizen, as if we -the “real” Turkish citizens who share the same history and race- were in possession of Aurelio. In order for a citizen to become our citizen, s/he has to perform some actions which would be a proof for his/her loyalty. In this respect, Silverstein argues that “citizenship should less be understood as a set of enacted formal criteria of group membership than as a repetitive, surveilled performance of national belonging.” (2008, p.25) Furthermore, according to Silverstein, in order for a “foreigner” to achieve a citizenship in host country, that foreigner was verbally obliged to engage in a linguistic performance (p. 28). In an interview with Aurelio in Zaman newspaper, Aurelio says that “in my first years in Trabzon, the only sentence I’ve learned was “the holiest of the Turks is Ataturk.”” 9 This statement, which excites many people who identify themselves as the “we-real citizens as depicted in Aköz’s article, is the kind of an utterance that is expected from Aurelio to perform. Not only this statement reveals that Aurelio is performing his citizenship but it is also related to what Ong interprets as “citizenship as subjectification.” (1996, p.737-738) Ong examines Rosaldo’s definition of “cultural citizenship” in two interconnected notions: Subjectification and cultural performance, to which the state and the subjects both participate. (p.750) I suggest that in Aurelio case, Ong’s distinction between desirable and undesirable migrants, (p. 741) is the result of neither the racial nor cultural identity of Aurelio but his material and economic status that determine the ways in which his belonging to Turkish society as a citizen is perceived. In this respect, Calavita claims that “race, .. is not socially constructed; it is more precisely economically and materially constructed.” (2005, p.414) As a prosperous migrant worker in the society, Aurelio isn’t a “stranger”, whose status is defined by “lack of standing as unencumbered consumers in the global marketplace.” (p. 417) Aurelio’s contribution to his club, Fenerbahçe’s success in several competitions enriched the club financially. Eventually, Aurelio was a “desirable” migrant, whose desirability later was complemented and further rewarded with the Turkish citizenship. On the other hand Aurelio continued to perform his citizenship by utterance in the way that he was expected to do; in other words, in the way that he was subjectified: In an interview, he announced that “from now on, I’ll be proud to go on living as a Turkish individual. My name will be Mehmet not only in Turkey but also in Brazil. This wasn’t mandatory. But I wanted it to be this way.”10
On the other hand, the case of Festus Okey points at the other side of the coin, which is constituted by the “undesirability” of the migrant. Borrowing Calavita’s terms, I suggest that Okey’s undesirability occurs on the basis of economical and material status. After the incident, Istanbul Head Department of Police issued a response to the press about Festus Okey’s controversial death. According to this statement, a police squad in Taksim noticed that two foreigners, with plastic bags in their hands, were acting “anxiously”. One of them put the plastic bag in his pocket and the police got suspicious. So they were detained and interrogated.11 Festus Okey and his friend were detained for drug dealing and the statement given to the press implies that they threatened the general security of the society. At this point, De Genova in his article quotes from Etienne Balibar, who states that “It is paradoxical to target those who in fact lives the most insecure lives as being primarily responsible for the growth of insecurity.” (2007, p.424) In one of the sessions of the trial, the accused police officer’s lawyer claimed that “Festus Okey might be a terrorist.”12 In this respect, Festus Okey isn’t even an “illegal alien” but an “enemy alien” for the reasons of social security and that constitutes the state’s goal as “not to deport, but to detain.” (p.433). On the other hand, Balibar points out the preventive policies of the state which “include racial profiling in police identity checks, modalities of detention that resemble concentration camps, and expulsion from the territory.” Besides, in the social issues over which the state can no longer gain control –in this case it is drug trade- the syndrome of “the impotence of the omnipotent” arises, which develops an “institutional racism”. (2003, p.36) Balibar’s arguments are useful in analysing Festus Okey controversy in terms of “institutional violence” which is “exercised at the margins of legality by the representatives of “legitimate force.” (p. 46) However, I suggest that one can conduct a Calavitanian analysis in order to explore further complexities. Let us say; if the state would be detaining all individuals who perform the same as Okey and his friend, meaning to carry plastic bags and to put them in their pockets, there would be very few citizens left outside the prisons. Although this “metaphoric” distinction between two plastic bag carriers, Festus Okey and citizens, seems to be on racial basis which is socially constructed, in fact what I argue is that it is constructed on material and economic basis. As a refugee, Festus Okey is not a proper consumer in the society, thus an undesirable foreigner unlike Aurelio, whose case provides us with a counter-example which helps one to recognize the desirability of the outsider on economic status. It is possible to think of one police officer, who wouldn’t detain Aurelio for performing the action which Okey and his friend performed; that is, carrying a plastic bag and looking anxious; since Aurelio’s migrant body, whose economic and material status is sufficient to avoid deportability and detainibility, exists as a prosperous member of the society in terms of consumption. Together with the racial perceptions that are built upon Festus Okey’s impossibility of being a proper consumer, there arises his vulnerability which brings forth his death in the police station. Furthermore, Festus Okey’s vulnerability is also related to what Agamben calls as the “state of exception”. Okey’s juridically unexplained death points at the state of exception which is, according to Agamben, “a space devoid of law, a zone of anomie in which all legal determinations are deactivated.” (2005, p.50) Thus Festus Okey not only doesn’t possess a political existence which, for Agamben, is what distinguishes an individual from “bare life” in the fundamental distinctions of the politics of the West, but also, since he has no language –as he’s deprived of expressing himself in a language other than his- which would oppose himself to his own bare life, there is no possibility whatsoever in order for him to “maintain himself in relation to that bare life in an inclusive exclusion.” (1995, p.8)
In sum, following Foucault’s definition about modern forms of power, one can make sense in portraying the two migrant bodies, through which the state power diffuses in two distinct ways: On one hand, Aurelio represents the one whose life is fostered and Festus Okey’s life is disallowed to the point of death on the other. Aurelio’s life is fostered, firstly due to his desirability as a migrant on economic and material means, which allows subjectification. Secondly his subjectification is accompanied with the ways in which he performs his citizenship. Okey’s life is disallowed because of his economic and material undesirability which constitutes the racialization of his body through institutional violence. From July 2006 to August 2007, 2008 and finally today, there is a linearity in which Aurelio’s professional football career got better and better, while Festus Okey’s trial turned out to be more and more ambiguous. On one hand, as a recently admitted Turkish citizen, Aurelio’s career is progressing, and on the other hand, as a refugee, one cannot mention of Fetus Okey’s career since he is dead. One is glorified, while the latter is silenced.
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1 Mehmet Demirkol is a football commentator to still call him Marco and praise him for his work ethic and performances. For him, “he didn’t change his religion; he only became a Turkish citizen.” Radikal, “Taze vatandaş Mehmet işe yarar mı?”, 18/08/2006, http://www.radikal.com.tr/haber.php?haberno=196172
2 According to wewantfreedom.org, Okey played football in Istanbul at amateur level. http://www.wewantfreedom.org/?page=141
3 Nijerya Uyruklu Festus Okey ile ilgili açıklama. http://www.iem.gov.tr/iem/index.php?menu_id=20&kat_id=1&detay_id=60&sayfa_no=1
4 Ertuğrul Mavioğlu’s report in Radikal, 26 Nov. 2007, about the controversial death of Festus Okey. In the article, according to the lawyers of Çağdaş Hukukçular Derneği, who are the legal representatives of the deceased Festus Okey, it is possible that the visuals capturing the moment of Okey’s death might be destroyed after the incident. For more information: http://bianet.org/bianet/insan-haklari/103137-festus-okey-dosyasindaki-gariplikler
5 Sinan Kal, in Akşam newspaper announced that Okey’s fellow Nigerians took his body from the hospital and sent it to Nigeria. 10/26/2007. http://www.tumgazeteler.com/?a=2319696
6 Emine Özcan reports that Okey was not yet identified, so the trial was postponed. 10 Apr. 2009 – http://bianet.org/bianet/toplum/113754-festus-okeyi-vurdugu-silah-nihayet-polis-memurundan-alindi
7 Helsinki Yurttaşlar Derneği was one of the NGO’s that had an active role in the media to voice concerns over Okey’s controversial death. 30 Aug. 2007 – http://bianet.org/bianet/insan-haklari/101483-siginmaci-okeyi-olduren-polis-yargilanmali
8 Emre Aköz’s article, “Mehmet Aurelio’nun Anayasa Golü” in Sabah was published at 09/14/2007. http://arsiv.sabah.com.tr/2007/09/14/haber,AFBACF1AC13B4F8CA85103D520A9EE6E.html
9 “Aurelio tatilde Türkçe çalışıyor” – in Zaman, 12/25/2006 – http://www.tumgazeteler.com/?a=1865314
10 “Aurelio: İsmim her yerde Mehmet” – Interview with AA, 09/04/2006 – http://www.tumgazeteler.com/?a=1678349
11 “Nijerya Uyruklu Festus Okey ile ilgili açıklama” – http://www.iem.gov.tr/iem/index.php?menu_id=20&kat_id=1&detay_id=60&sayfa_no=1
12 After the lawyer’s question on Okey’s illegal status, the lawsuit was postponed to May 16, 2008 for further investigation of Okey’s identity. 14 Feb. 2008 – http://bianet.org/bianet/siyaset/104888-sanik-polisin-avukati-festus-okey-belki-terorist-dedi-dava-ertelendi
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DeGenova, N. 2007. “The Production of Culprits: From Deportability to Detainability in the Aftermath of “Homeland Security”. In: Citizenship Studies, Vol. 11, No. 5: 421-448.
Balibar, Etienne, 2003 “Droit de Cite or Apartheid” & “Citizenship without Community,” in We: the People of Europe: Reflections on Transnational Citizenship, pp. 31-77.
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