'A Fascinating, Eminently Readable Exploration of Contemporary Citizenship and Concepts of Statehood'

Columbia Global Reports
September 14, 2015

"The role of citizenship and statehood in the average person’s life is often taken for granted," Publishers Weekly notes in its rave review of Atossa Araxia Abrahamian's forthcoming book The Cosmopolites. "Abrahamian draws from economic and political theory for a fascinating, eminently readable exploration of contemporary citizenship and concepts of statehood."

The subject of The Cosmopolites is how the increasingly commodified concept of "citizenship" has benefited the world's rich and exploited the stateless bidoon people of the Middle East. "Our citizenship still determines who can go where, when, how, and for how long," Abrahamian writes in The Cosmopolites. When those words were put to paper a number of months ago, the scale of the current refugee tragedy in Europe was just becoming apparent. "Even in times when citizenship can be bought, sold, renounced, and revoked; even at a moment when there are more refugees displaced from their homes than there have been since World War II; even when cross-border trade and technology have diluted the ties between citizens, strengthened bonds between geographical strangers, and revealed a fresh layer of arbitrariness to our national allegiances."

The broader story is now being played out on the shores of the Mediterranean and the train stations of Hungary, where thousands fleeing war and devastation in Syria and North Africa run up against obdurate, unsympathetic regimes known to champion the free flow of information, capital, and even people in a "borderless" Europe—unless you're a refugee most in need of just such a safe passage. The oil-rich Gulf states, like Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Kuwait, have done little to save the lives of the region's refugees.

Kirkus Reviews points to this hypocrisy and injustice in its review:

Abrahamian’s fluently told, fast-paced story takes her around the world, into dark corners such as the passport industry (“You can never be too rich, too thin, or have too many passports”) and refugee processing centers, and it ends on a dark note suggesting that anyone seeking a new country who doesn’t arrive with a thick wallet is likely to be turned away—or worse.

There have been books on cosmopolitans and global citizens before, but Kirkus recognizes Abrahamian's efforts to connect the dots between willing, affluent "citizens of the world" and the unwitting members of the same designation:

National identity gives a person legal standing in the world: to be a cosmopolite is not quite the same as being cosmopolitan, and to be free of the encumbrances of nationalism can sometimes mean being without a nation. Pico Iyer covered the freedom part of the equation in his similarly wide-ranging book The Global Soul (2000). Where Abrahamian diverges is in her unblinking look at the phenomenon of statelessness.

Publishers Weekly predicts that "readers will be deeply intrigued by the connections she draws and the implications of the modern movement away from statehood and nationalism, and eager to learn more when this quick read is over." You can read the review in the latest Publishers Weekly, and the Kirkus review of this "slim but powerful book of great interest to students of international law and current events" in its new print issue. Pre-order The Cosmopolites now, out in bookstores on Nov. 10.

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This week on UNDERREPORTED, Nicholas Lemann welcomes Atossa Araxia Abrahamian to the studio to talk about her book THE COSMOPOLITES: THE COMING OF THE GLOBAL CITIZEN, published by Columbia Global Reports in 2015. Nick and Atossa discuss the global business of buying and selling citizenships and what it means to be a "cosmopolite."  Is globalization… more