The keyword I chose for the present essay is enemy alien, which was mentioned several times in Hannah Arendt’s essay We Refugees. According to the website Dictionary.com, an enemy alien is a person living in a country at war with the country of which this person is a citizen. The term was first used right after the World War II ended, as there was a need for such a term. Some examples of enemy aliens during WWII are Japanese citizens living in the United States. These people were imprisoned in internment camps along with Germans, as the US was in a war with both Japan and Germany.
The author of “We Refugees” uses the term enemy alien twice throughout the essay. She uses this word for describing the role of German Jews like herself residing in the US (West coast) during and shortly after WWII. People from one of the Axis Power countries (Italy, Japan, Germany) were considered to be enemy aliens, especially after curfew hours. During the day it was not as apparent that they were enemy aliens, which meant they could pass as “prospective citizens”. The curfew, however, made it difficult to forget that they were not wanted in the country. The author mentions that the term enemy aliens was in work only in the US and that if the same person would be immigrating to France they would have to respect the curfew because they were Jews and not because their home country was an enemy.
The reason why I chose to write about the word enemy alien is that I was not familiar with the term. When I first read Arendt’s essay the phrase struck me, because I automatically think of extraterrestrial beings when I hear the word alien. This is probably due to English being my second language and living in a country where there is no need to use this term. I was surprised to find out that enemy alien is supposedly an actively used term within international law. When I first encountered the word I wondered if that is the politically correct term, as it seemed a bit offensive to me. It would be interesting to see how and why the term established itself in the international law and I wonder if anyone else thinks it is a strange term that could be offensive.
Arendt, Hannah. “We Refugees.” Altogether Elsewhere: Writers on Exile, Faber and Faber.
“Definitions.” Dictionary.com, www.dictionary.com/browse/enemy-alien.
The term, which seems so strange to you, points to how one can feel “exiled” through discourse. Of course “alien” is something or someone outside of a body — in this case a social body. But as Arendt explains, it is a body that is physically placed WITHIN a nation, so how do you make rules or regulations that points out to others how someone is not acceptable or accepted, but even more so, how do you make that person feel unacceptable when you cannot exile them? In fact, we understand we are accepted through processes of socialization – so disappearing a group of people because of a legal designation removes them from the public social sphere — much like the refugee camps do. That is why the Melissa Network insisted on bringing the newcomers into the heart of the city so that they are no longer alien to the social sphere, but can claim that territory as their own as well. The terms enemy and alien do double the work — making a person or group a threat and dehumanizing them at the same time. These discursive terms then gain more power because of the laws that permit those processes to happen.