Two of the ambiguous advances of our time are the increasing universality of literacy and communication. What makes the ability to read and write and to share thoughts via text or video a mixed blessing is that both enable the acquisition of life-changing, life-enhancing information and dangerous, deceptive, often hate-driven mis- or disinformation. Five minutes on the Internet will illustrate all of these points.
But it’s not just false information that can be disruptive. For millions of the world’s poorest people, the ability to read and write, access to global radio, television and the internet convey a perfectly true, but very consequential message – there are lives better than mine, and there are places better than mine in which to live that better life.
Desperation, and the human instinct for survival, have always been great motivators of migration. But, so have ambition and innovation. Migration frequently means moving from the worst to less worse places to live, but it also means moving to places where a tolerable existence can be traded for a better one. Our new range of media informs billions of all the “betters” available.
This upward quest is something Charles Darwin insisted is part of plant and animal biology, and human nature. I’ve always believed that America’s greatness was the product of Darwinian selection.
“A nation of immigrants,” as we were once so proud to be, is a nation built by people who have the vision, ambition, courage and endurance to relocate themselves and their families to strange lands with strange customs and a different language and culture.
Of course, it’s not just existential or internal drivers that produce migration. Two others especially pertinent today are external: natural disasters like earthquakes, floods, or drought, themselves just symptoms of climate change; and conflict.
To my mind, in addition to the growth of literacy and mass communication, another defining characteristic of our times is the ubiquity of personal, portable weapons of ever-increasing firepower. The global growth of guns for sale or trade has multiplied the incidence and destructiveness of conflict. Much of today’s massive flows of human migrants is driven by the imperative to escape the dangers of zones of conflict.
Conflicts come in all sizes; from outright wars like those in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, to gang wars that dominate the lives of ordinary citizens in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. The former threatens everyone living in their path, the latter concentrate their focus – for recruitment, intimidation and murder – on children, and stimulate migrations of the sort now imperfectly stoppered at our southern border.
Jacqueline Bhabha is FXB Director of Research, Professor of the Practice of Health and Human Rights at the Harvard School of Public Health, the Jeremiah Smith Jr. Lecturer in Law at Harvard Law School, and an Adjunct Lecturer in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School. She received a first class honors degree and an M.Sc. from Oxford University, and a J.D. from the College of Law in London.
Bhabha was born Jacqueline Strimpel in Mumbai in 1951, the daughter of Jewish refugee parents who had moved to India to flee Nazi Germany. The family moved to Milan, Italy in 1961 when she was ten years old.
She matriculated at Bedales, a British boarding school. Bhabha received a first class honours degree in philosophy and psychology from Oxford University in 1973, and an M.Sc. in applied social studies in 1975 at the Department of Social Policy and Intervention, University of Oxford. She received her doctoral degree from the College of Law in London.
Bhabha started her career as a human rights lawyer in London and at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. In 1997, Bhabha entered academia when she joined the University of Chicago as the Director of the Human Rights Program – an appointment she continued till 2001.
She later joined Harvard Law School and become a lecturer in law. She serves as the Director of Research at the Francois Bagnoud Xavier Center for Health and Human Rights at Harvard, and the University Adviser on Human Rights Education to the Provost at Harvard University. She is also a lecturer on public policy at Harvard Kennedy School.
From 1997 to 2001 Bhabha directed the Human Rights Program at the University of Chicago. Prior to 1997, she was a practicing human rights lawyer in London and at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. She has published extensively on issues of transnational child migration, refugee protection, children’s rights and citizenship. She is the editor of Children Without A State(2011), author of Child Migration and Human Rights in a Global Age (2014), and editor of Human Rights and Adolescence ( 2014).