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e-flux conversations

Or are we human beings?

Perhaps you have been struck by the frequency and regularity with which people find it necessary to state what one might think was the most obvious thing in the world: that they are human beings, or that they would like to live like them.

Here's an example from the front lines of the so-called “refugee crisis” in Europe last March: "'May God take his revenge on them—everyone who did this to us—from whatever country they come from,' said Raife al-Baltajy, a Syrian from near Aleppo, as she waited for a bus with her family. 'May god take his vengeance out on them. Isn't it sinful? Are we animals? Or are we human beings?' She said she had been living in Syria for four years under the shelling, but traveled to Turkey, then to the Greek island of Lesbos, where she took a ferry to the mainland and on to Idomeni."

Or this claim from another Syrian refugee who spoke out from his new home in the United States: "'I was born as a human and raised as a human. I have been in some situations that made me feel not like a human,' [Refaai Hamo, a civil engineer] said. 'I would like to grab any opportunity I can to prove I am a human being and if I don’t have that opportunity, I refuse to live anywhere I don’t feel like a human.'”

How do we understand this repeated need of people in situations of displacement, conflict, and injustice, to ask others whether they, the speakers, are in fact human, which is to say, their need "to prove I am a human being"? What is going on when people say this? It seems obvious, but in fact it's one of the most complicated, enigmatic, unstable things that can possibly be said. We should not take its possibility for granted.

Read the full article here.