Izman Suhail

During Dr. Deckard and Dr. Heslin’s lecture I began to realize that my understanding of “rights” was lacking an important element. I used to understand “rights” as specific liberties that people had that could not be infringed upon. Political philosophy classes broadened my understanding of rights after I learned about positive and negative liberties. On the other hand in political science classes I learned about the importance of governing bodies that guaranteed the protection of those rights and compensation if those rights had been infringed upon. Although all of this works in theory, in reality there are several complications that make the subject of rights more complex and this was where Dr. Deckard and Dr. Heslin’s lecture provided most insight on. If states guarantee the rights of their citizens only, then who guarantees the rights of people of one state travelling to or living in another state?

The migration of Jewish people to Vienna in the thirteenth century provides a historical example of people being given rights regardless of state affiliation. In 1238 and 1244 Emperor Frederick II and Duke Frederick II respectively invited many Jewish people to settle down in Vienna. The invitation granted Jewish people the right to freely exercise their religion, autonomous jurisdiction, and just treatment, privileges which were not easy to come by in the thirteenth century. The reason for this invitation was state-building; economic development requires the availability of credits for investment and the Jewish people were willing and able to provide credits that would secure the prosperity of the city.

Personally I thought this non-zero-sum game seemed like the ideal scenario since both parties benefited from the exchange – I was wrong. Dr. Deckard and Dr. Heslin also introduced the problem of “market citizenship”. When rights are granted to people on their ability to perform in the market, their rights are temporary and therefore fragile. Migrants constantly have to prove themselves by benefitting the economy and even if a few begin to fall short of their expectations all migrants become perceived by natives as leeching off of their state; consequently the in-group wants the out-group to get out.

I did have some trouble understanding why the Jewish population in Vienna suffered so terribly – since they were not leeching off the state, they were providing the investment necessary to develop it – following state-issued decrees such as the Edict of Tolerance until I learned about the connection between stigmatized jobs and stigmatized groups of people. The tension between the native-born in-group and migrating out-group arises as a result of collectively constructed conceptions of the out-group. Although the Jewish population in Vienna was relatively wealthy and did provide credits to people that furthered development in Vienna, the native-born Viennese constructed an image of the Jewish population that led to their unfair treatment in society.

Visits to the Jewish Museum in Judenplatz and the Austrian Film Museum helped me understand how the Jewish population was perceived in Vienna during the time of the pogroms and violent anti-Semitism. A quote I came across in the Jewish Museum by the Empress of the Habsburg Empire, Maria Theresa, showed her perception of the Jewish people that lived in her dominion when she described them as a “plague… driving my subjects into beggary.”

Although initially the Jewish people were invited into Vienna because of their ability to lend credits, their citizenship – and therefore the rights that the state guaranteed to protect – came into question when their position in the market was destabilized. The in-group constructed a negative image of Jewish people regardless of the fact that they were improving the economy and since their citizenship was tied to their position in the economy they lost the state’s protection. This topic was especially important considering the fact that so much of the discussion regarding citizenship today is still related to how migrants benefit local economies. In light of the refugee crisis even I have argued that countries with ageing populations have much to gain from inviting refugees to settle down and contribute to the economy; many West European countries face economic risks as a result of their ageing populations and low birth-rates. Yet it is important now more than ever, considering the amount of internally displaced people today, to discuss citizenship beyond the realm of market productivity.

Although in the short-term it is impossible to completely ignore how migrants will affect the economy, it is absolutely necessary to lay down the foundations of a more comprehensive rights system globally so as to ensure that in the long-run the atrocities that were committed against migrants in the past will not be repeated again.