Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Borders in the New Nomadic Age | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
Select Page

One of the common myths of our times is the prevalent belief that the world has become a united village where borders and districts no longer exist as a result of globalization. The national state is no longer capable of controlling the movement of people, commodities, and ideas.

But what if the scene has been reversed? What if new types of borders have emerged that are more effective and far-reaching?

What may be said of the thick wall that the US has built on its borders with Mexico? And the wall that Israel built to separate between it and the occupied Palestinian territories? And what of the fortified wall erected by the occupying American power in Baghdad to secure its headquarters and the Iraqi governmental offices?

We may also add to these walls and barriers the isolated districts in major Western cities that are designated to political refugees, illegal; immigrants and the socially marginalized.

In his book “Murs et frontières: De la chute du mur de Berlin aux murs du XXIe siècle” (Walls and Borders: The Collapse of the Berlin Wall and the Walls of 21st

Century), French researcher Michel Fournier argues that the collapse of the Berlin Wall did not result in the widely believed notion of the obliteration of borders that split Europe up. In fact; Fournier states that it marked the start of a new phenomenon, which is the proliferation of borders and the diversity of the forms of barriers and walls.

Over the past 15 years, tens of thousands of kilometers of new political borders have been drawn in Europe and Asia, of which 2,800km were established in the Old Continent mainly as a result of the Balkan Wars.

However, these traditional borders are no longer the only type of restriction between nations and states, and perhaps they were even more capable of linking between people than the new post-modern types of frontiers. The old barriers played a double role in that they both set demarcation lines but were also simultaneously a point of convergence and meeting. As for the new borders that are based on the ruins of the traditional concept of ‘place’, they end up secluding through the very same channels of communication.

The renowned French philosopher Etienne Balibar has revealed through his new book ‘Très loin et tout près’ (Very Close and Very Far) that the disintegration of the European nation as a result of the global integration movement has succeeded in demolishing the customary mechanisms of separation between national entities that had been formed in modern times through an ‘organic cohesion’ that was a product of various understandings of people, nation and state. This resulted in the emergence of a profusion of new patterns of barriers that could no longer be contained within the existing central structure.

Thus, the continent united politically and economically but divided culturally, linguistically and on a religious level behind the national demarcation lines. The linguistic maps that had been formed in the 19th Century from oral-historical perspectives are no longer valid; they too surpassed the linguistic borders to become disputes about elimination  even in countries with a long history of national centralism. France, for example, has over 10 languages aside from its official first language.

There is no doubt that the extreme case in Europe today is Belgium, where indicators of the disintegration caused by the conflict between the Walloon and Flemish languages have become explicitly clear.

In addition to these conspicuous borders are also cultural boundaries that have become a wide cause for concern worldwide; with a pivotal strategic wager entailed. By extending this logic of borders, Turkey, for example, is eliminated from the European expansion project even if it has adhered to almost all of the conditions and demands for accession, including the choice of political secularism.

Also among these indicators are the surveillance borders that have largely replaced the role of regional physical barriers. The latest surveillance technology is more effective and efficient at eradicating the traditional barriers and it fulfils the same role in a smoother manner.

In his work, Michel Foucault had warned of surveillance systems and forms of punishment [Panoptican] and believed that the contemporary state had traded physical oppression for regulation and control techniques that take charge of people’s lives and guides their desires and knowledge  which is something that has reached its utmost degree of fulfillment nowadays.

Another new barrier is the borders that are a consequence of the collapse of the traditional family structure, which is no longer based on gender segregation but rather on a variety of interrelated patterns between familial structures that separate between a single gender in various distinct formations.

Therefore, it would not be accurate to say that globalization has erased all borders and united the world so that it “has become flat”, as Thomas Friedman famously said. In fact; what happened was a regression in the history of mankind so that it has reverted back to it nomadic state with its wide open spaces, restrictions and new limits.