Nationality and Statelessness: The Kuwaiti Bidoon
In his Nations by Consent, Murray Rothbard reminds us that the concept of a nation “cannot be precisely defined; it is a complex and varying constellation of different forms of communities, languages, ethnic groups, or religions.”
And yet, in most states of the world, this concept of nationality has been transformed from a group with a shared heritage, language, and history into a set of documents that needs to be processed in central facilities. Gone are the days of dynamic, instinctual social belonging; to belong to a nation now requires a documentation process put in place by bureaucrats and politicians.
To belong to the nation of Kuwait (now understood as the state of Kuwait), for example, means that you have the right to employment, government-mandated social security, medical care, and education if you successfully go through the process of obtaining a national ID. And though these “free” privileges may seem to be a social good—even in the decrepit state by which the government offers them—they come with huge social costs. Ignoring for the moment that they hinder competition, and naturally bring with them a bureaucratic structure that slows (and almost always combats) social and cultural evolution which Mises painstakingly explains in his short work, Bureaucracy, there is one social ill that they tend to create. And that is the problem of statelessness: People who would naturally be assimilated into the community, who would also be integrated into the labor, consumer, producer, and infrastructure economies are denied access because of a failure to successfully go through the bureaucratic process. A process that was initially skewed and hostile toward any newcomer. And the process may be offered due to some justifications, such as the difficulty of assimilating new citizens, most of these justifications are invalid. Some justifications, ad hoc as they are, only feign concern for costs and assimilation, but were consciously designed so that the processing bureaus retain their powers.
Many Kuwaitis are not able to own the land they homestead nor get any job they want—even if employer and employee are more than eager to work together—because they are not able to obtain a national identity. A national identity that often requires stateless individuals to associate with other states and live here as immigrants. They’re colloquially called the Bidoon (the withouts), for they are without nationalities, or more precisely, national identification.
Here, dignity comes from having such identifications, and not from their own hard work and achievements. No matter how much some of them prove themselves, their work will be less considered. Their lives remain hard and they remain poor in a nation of abundant wealth. A professor of mine who has chosen to stay in Kuwait decided to obtain the American nationality to get some of the freedoms he is denied here (his children are American and Canadian citizens). Those God-given freedoms which Bastiat details in The Law exist in a tattered form for Kuwaitis and for those Bidoon who have successfully acquired citizenship, but not for many of those who were denied citizenship for having an Iraqi, Iranian, or Syrian uncle, or whose great-grandparents served in the Kuwaiti army before Kuwait’s independence and statehood but did not register for an ID. The reasons are often arbitrary, and it is natural for those excluded to start harboring extreme resentment toward others and themselves. (And really, who wouldn’t be angry if the least of his freedoms were denied?)
And yet, the problem must be stated very clearly: Why would anyone want to have an official national identity instead of belonging to the traditional group they consider to be their national identity? The reasons seem to me to be threefold. One, many freedoms are only granted to those who have official identities. Two, those with the identity are given privileges and rights beyond what they would get if they had to work for them (i.e., in a free market). And three, only the (exclusionary) state is allowed to offer (to officially registered citizens) many of the public utilities needed for modern life in such a harsh climate as that of Kuwait.
All humans have individual desires which can only be granted in a state of liberty, so the first point need not be expanded on. But the second point is very important: the state, in its inefficiency, cannot produce enough to harbor a growing populace. And once the capital structure is dissipated by the state, these privileges and free goods will no longer be available to Kuwaitis in abundance. That may explain why many Kuwaitis adopt the false cultural-preservation narrative in excluding others—no culture can be preserved indefinitely without people voluntarily taking on the roles dictated by it, anyway. The third point, which is really the crux of the matter, is often a question of inception and survival for the family. Families, in their healthy states, rely on an infrastructure that provides running water, electricity, shelter, and a constant influx of nutrition—which are becoming progressively harder for many of those stateless families to access, since it is virtually impossible for any service provider to supply them to these people due to Kuwait’s regulatory and self-preserving political structure.
The libertarian solution, as I see it, is to render this official national identification meaningless and to let the traditional structure of social bonds take its place, resuming its course. Many social woes can be solved by a free-exchange economy, without any central authority dictating which parties are allowed to be involved in satisfying the community’s needs. People can accommodate others, even in poverty, if the chances permit, if the rules are consistent and stable over time—and many will rise to the occasion in these circumstances, if only they are allowed to.