The buying and selling of citizenship has become a legitimate, thriving business in just a few years. Entrepreneurs are renouncing America and Europe in favor of tax havens in the Caribbean with the help of a cottage industry of lawyers, bankers, and consultants that specialize in expatriation. But as journalist Atossa Araxia Abrahamian discovered, the story of twenty-first century citizenship is bigger than millionaires buying their second or third passport. When she learned that mysterious middlemen had persuaded the Comoro Islands to turn to selling citizenship as a new source of revenue, she decided to follow the money trail to the Middle East. There, she found that officials in the oil-rich United Arab Emirates had bulk-ordered passports for their bidoon, or stateless population, transforming these men, women, and children without countries into Comorian citizens practically overnight. In her timely and eye-opening first book, Abrahamian travels the globe to meet these willing and unwitting "cosmopolites," or citizens of the world, who show us how transactional and unpredictable national citizenship in the twenty-first century can be.
Swiss-Canadian-Iranian journalist Abrahamian looks closely at modern internationality and the legal liminality that can accompany it. Well at home in the airports and diplomatic offices of the world, the author, an opinion editor at Al Jazeera America and editor at New Inquiry and Dissent, admits a "discomfort with the national 'we.' " Yet, she continues, 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. Depriving them of citizenship allowed the Nazi regime to persecute German Jews in the first place, denying them what Hannah Arendt considered the overarching advantage of citizenship: "the right to have rights." Arendt pressed for the right of stateless people to have legal standing internationally, a question that is of immediate concern given the growing number of refugees in the world. "Fixing statelessness isn't technically very difficult," writes Abrahamian. "It can be solved with some basic organization and paperwork." Yet doing so requires political will that most nations seem to lack, unless it comes in the form of citizenship for sale, a specialty of certain islands around the world; or the creation of multitiered citizenship schemes that allow natives of, say, the Gulf emirates to withhold certain privileges from new arrivals. 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. A slim but powerful book of great interest to students of international law and current events.