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Identity Politics

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In the current issue of the LRB, Slavoj Žižek argues that Italy is leading the way as the West descends into authoritarian capitalism. One of the ways that Berlusconi maintains his grip on power, as Žižek says, is by fostering fear of immigrants. ‘Our governments righteously reject populist racism as “unreasonable” by our democratic standards, and instead endorse “reasonably” racist protective measures,’ Žižek writes.

In one respect, when it comes to ‘reasonable’ racism, Brown’s Britain has the edge over Berlusconi’s Italy. The threat of compulsory ID cards for freedom-loving Anglo-Saxons and other British citizens seems to be fading (more to do with the need to save money than with an upsurge of libertarian feeling in the cabinet). But to make up for that, the Home Office announced last month that it’s looking into ways to accelerate the introduction of ID cards for foreigners. ‘The UK is now leading the world in the successful delivery of this technology,’ Liam Byrne and Meg Hillier said in the foreword to a policy document published last year. ‘Our first line of defence’ – it’s a war! – ‘against illegal immigration at the offshore border (fingerprint visas) is now in place.’

Hillier is the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Identity. According to my New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, published in 1993, ID stands for ‘identification’. Back then, identification meant ‘the action or an act of identifying, the fact of being identified’ or ‘documentary evidence… serving to identify a person’, while identity was ‘the condition or fact of a person or thing being that specified unique person or thing’. Now, it seems, at least as far as the government is concerned, the two are identical.

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