- Assistant professor of Anthropology at Columbia University
- Called for an “anticolonial struggle” by Iraqis that would lead to a “million Mogadishus” – a reference to a 1993 military debacle in Somalia that cost 18 American lives
Born in Chicago in 1968, Nicholas De Genova describes himself as an “anthropologist, geographer, social theorist, [and] social critic” whose principal research interests include matters related to “migration, borders, citizenship, race, and labor.” He earned a Ph.D. in anthropology from the University of Chicago in 1999.
From 1997-99, De Genova taught courses in Anthropology, American Studies, Migration Studies, Latino Studies, and Comparative Ethnic Studies at Stanford University. From 2000-09, he taught these same disciplines as an assistant professor at Columbia University. De Genova also served as a Marie Curie International Research Fellow at the University of Warwick (2007-08); a visiting professor at the University of Bern in Sweden (2009); a visiting research professor at the University of Amsterdam’s Institute of Migration and Ethnic Studies (2010); a visiting scholar at the University of Chicago’s Center for the Study of Race, Politics, and Culture (2010-11); a Reader in Anthropology at the University of London (2011-13); and an expert witness on a Stockholm tribunal about the “systematic abuses in the context of migration and asylum-seeking in Europe” (2012). De Genova’s scholarship today focuses heavily on: (a) “the politics of immigration, race, and citizenship in the United States in the aftermath of the so-called War on Terror”; and (b) “the intersections of migration, racialization, border struggles, and the production of urban space in the European context.”
De Genova has long viewed Israel as a nation that oppresses its Arab neighbors in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. At a 2002 teach-in at Columbia University, for instance, he said: “The heritage of the victims of the Holocaust belongs to the Palestinian people. The State of Israel has no claim to the heritage of the Holocaust. The heritage of the oppressed belongs to the oppressed, not the oppressor.”
In the spring of 2003, De Genova became the subject of national headlines for comments he made at an anti-Iraq War teach-in at Columbia University on March 26. Sparking the controversy was De Genova’s assertion that he “personally would like to see a million Mogadishus” — a reference to a 1993 military debacle that had cost the lives of eighteen American soldiers, including one dead serviceman whose body was dragged through the streets of Mogadishu, Somalia. Moreover, De Genova told the students in attendance: “U.S. patriotism is inseparable from imperial warfare and white supremacy. U.S. flags are the emblem of the invading war machine in Iraq today. They are the emblem of the occupying power. The only true heroes are those who find ways that help defeat the U.S. military.” “If we really believe that this war is criminal,” he added, “… then we have to believe in the victory of the Iraqi people and the defeat of the U.S. war machine.” DeGenova also expressed his hope that American troops would engage in fragging — a slang term for soldiers intentionally killing or wounding their own officers.
Amid the firestorm sparked by his comments at Columbia, De Genova in April 2003 sought to clarify what he had meant to say: “I was referring to what Mogadishu symbolizes politically. The U.S. invasion of Somalia was humiliated in an excruciating way by the Somali people. And Mogadishu was the premier symbol of that…. What I was intent to emphasize was … that it was a defeat for the U.S. war machine and a victory for the cause of human self-determination.” “Had I known that there was a devious yellow journalist from a tabloid newspaper among the audience,” De Genova added, “I certainly would have selected my words somewhat more carefully. But I would not have changed the message.”
Reflecting upon his “million Mogadishus” controversy, De Genova wrote in 2014: “The greater part of my comments … had been devoted to providing a historical outline of colonial conquest, genocide, slavery, and imperial warfare as forming the bedrock of U.S. nation-state formation. That same long history, punctuated by U.S. invasions and military occupations, I argued, had likewise been deeply constitutive of a social and political order predicated upon racist violence and oppression. U.S. nationalism and white supremacy have been inextricably linked, historically. I contended that it is necessary, therefore, to repudiate all forms of U.S. patriotism to liberate our political imaginations in order that we might usher in a radically different world, one in which we will not remain the prisoners of U.S. global domination.”
By De Genova’s calculus, the immigration laws of all nations are largely arbitrary, illegitimate constructs. Speaking in 2013 at the World Congress of the International Union of Anthropological and Ethnological Sciences (in Manchester, England), he argued that migration — or as he described it, “the freedom of movement of people around the world” — is humanity’s “birthright” as well as “an elementary expression of our creative capacity and productive power as a species.” Expanding on this theme in May 2015, De Genova wrote: “Migrants only become ‘illegal’ when legislative or enforcement-based measures render particular migrations or types of migration ‘illegal’— or in other words, illegalise them. From this standpoint, there are not really ‘illegal’ migrants so much as illegalised migrants. The real origins of such illegalisations are to be found in the deliberations, debates, and decisions of lawmakers.”
Further Reading: “About” (NicholasDegenova.com); “Dumbing Down the Debate Over the Arab-Israeli Conflict” (by Alan Dershowitz, 5-25-2011); “How to Make Michael Moore Look Subtle” (Foreign Policy, 3-31-2003); “Nicholas De Genova Speaks!!” (Foreign Policy, 4-14-2003); “Within and Against the Imperial University: Reflections on Crossing the Line” (by Nicholas De Genova, 2014); “The Border Spectacle of Migrant ‘Victimisation’” (by Nicholas De Genova, 5-20-2015).