Giorgio Agamben, an Italian philosopher, canceled his plans for teaching (NYU (New York University) and UCLA (the University of California at Los Angeles)) in 2003 due to the way immigrants were being processed at that time (Schaefer). Starting that year, alien visitors to the United States soil were required to be photographed and then required to undergo a fingerprinting procedure, in order to document their introduction to the land (Schaefer). Mr. Agamben, in light of that development, declined to teach at UCLA and NYU (of where he was a visiting professor) (Schaefer).

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Mr. Agamben regarded the policies as a throw-back to the 1940’s when Hitler and his Nazi Party were at full power and were in complete control of Germany (Schaefer). His conclusion of this is also part of his wider view of the philosophy of the modern world. Mr. Agamben has stated that he regards the philosophy of the world now as akin to the ways of a Nazi concentration camp, as opposed to the free city and state that people proclaim the world is (Schaefer). Mr. Agamben regarded fingerprinting foreign visitors as a step down this road (Schaefer). When the issue of fingerprinting and documentation arose, Mr. Agamben stood by his principles.

Key Point Number One. One of the first key points that Mr. Agamben makes is that he feels that the political machine of the modern world is making it seem like all members of the human race are dangerous and uncontrollable (Schaefer). Mr. Agamben argues that when you start to document all peoples as you would a dangerous and unpredictable criminal, you begin to slowly change your mindset to where you truly do think that everyone is dangerous and evil (Schaefer).

While this point does have some validity, it does not have much. Not every process done for both a criminal and a law-abiding citizen make them both a negative product, and some processes are done as a benefit (or a tool). Just as every person breathes (whether they are good or not), so everyone will be fingerprinted. If someone gets killed and their families can’t be located (as the victim is unknown, a John Doe or Jane Doe if you will), then fingerprinting is a huge plus. Maybe, just maybe, the victim can be identified and laid to rest or returned to their relatives. Therefore, fingerprinting is a crucial and brilliant tool (with restrictions).

Key Point Number Two. The second key point that Mr. Agamben makes is that the process of physically documenting a foreign visitor making entry into the United States is akin to the way victims of the holocaust were marked (via a tattoo on their arm) at the Nazi concentration camp Auschwitz (Schaefer), (Tattoos and Numbers: The System of Identifying Prisoners at Auschwitz). This was done so that an undesirable was easily identified and sorted, as these prisoners that received tattoos were sent to be laborers, and were not put in the gas chambers (Schaefer), (Tattoos and Numbers: The System of Identifying Prisoners at Auschwitz). He argues that starting down this road will lead to a bad ending, much like how the Nazi party tricked people into a lull with good intentions.

This is one of his strongest points, and also one of his most valid. He makes clear sense with his argument (even if the past scenario and the current scenario are connected via a thin line), but his reasoning is valid. If you start down this road, where does it end? Do you clip monitors and cameras to all foreign visitors? Where does it stop? In light of all the attempted mass murders attempted to be completed by suicide gunners and bombers, it is not farfetched to think that with paranoia getting worse and worse, there will be a time shortly when politicians will call for this measure to be done, in order to “protect the homeland.”

However, his comparison between the present situation and the past event are not quite fair. For one, as we discussed before, fingerprinting has a plethora of benefits, notwithstanding the ability to properly document a lot of people. It is easy to forge a different name, change your hair and makeup, and attempt to enter a foreign country. In days of old, it was very easy to do so (so much so, a lot of people altered their foreign names upon entry into the United States). However, it is difficult to fake a fingerprint (unless you cut off the tips of your fingers, which can and has been done). If you document and store that data, and if by the minute chance they do something harmful, you can find out exactly who they are, when they entered the country, where they came from, etc. And truth be told, there are a lot of people that want to hurt Americans (and the United States in general). The United States is considered a great seat of power (even though it has its fair share of problems), and a lot of radical extremists want to do damage to that power player. By documenting and biologically recording people, future incidents could be prevented (no one wants another 9/11).

Mr. Agamben makes valid points in his interview regarding his decision not to come to America to teach at two very prestigious universities. His argument regrading documentation akin to what the Nazis did is valid, and he brings up the important question “where does it stop?” However, his arguments are a little farfetched, and he fails to mention the positive side of biologically recording visitors to this country, which hinders his argument.