ideology borders
Photo: ThePhotoFab, Shutterstock

The ideology of borders

There are more and more fractures between North and South. This is also giving rise to an ideology of borders.

ISLAMIC TIMES – At the beginning of the 1990s, there was great euphoria in Europe. The conflict between the communist and capitalist systems seemed to have been clearly resolved, the Berlin Wall fell in Germany and the Soviet Union broke apart.

There was talk of the victory of democracy, the triumph of liberalism and the revenge of human rights. Shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Jean Christophe Rufin (1991) wrote a remarkable book about the political situation: The Empire and the New Barbarians. His theses disturbed the image of harmony and cast doubt on the theories surrounding the end of history.

Ideology of borders or what to do without enemies?

The writer first ventured a bold comparison: in 146 BC the Romans razed the walls of Carthage and in 1989 the empire of existing socialism fell apart.

“What will Rome be without its enemies?“ mocked Cato after the destruction of Cathargo. The Romans quickly found a new ideology: we are us! It is no coincidence that the problem of identity politics has reappeared today.

More than 30 years have passed since the end of the East-West conflict. Nothing remains of the euphoria of earlier days. After Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, even a third world war has returned to the realm of possibility.

At the World Economic Summit in Davos, further problems are listed in the Global Risk Report 2024. With a view to the US elections, the report sees misinformation and disinformation as the greatest short-term risk.

Extreme weather events and critical changes to the Earth’s systems are a major long-term concern. In addition, two thirds of global experts expect the emergence of a multipolar or fragmented world order.

Photo: Staff Sgt. D. Myles Cullen (USAF), via Wikimedia | Licence: Public Domain

Tensions between North and South

Page 26 of the report describes the phenomenon of North-South tension, which Rufin had already recognised in his book as the confrontation of the future: “Historical complaints about colonialism, combined with more recent complaints about the cost of food and fuel, geopolitical alliances, the rejection of the Bretton Woods system, doubts about the United Nations, could intensify anti-Western sentiment in the next two years.“

In his analysis, Rufin already foresaw this development. In his view, the South, Latin America, Asia and Africa were merging into one mass and their populations were increasingly described as alien and barbaric.

A new border was created: the Limes. Beyond the dividing lines, the ideologies of rupture that reject the materialism and rationalism of the North continue to this day.

Aftermath of colonial policy

In essence, we are still experiencing the aftermath of colonial policy. “When a colonised person hears a discourse about Western culture, he pulls out a machete,“ Frantz Fanon once wrote under the impression of the Algerian liberation struggle against the French.

For a long time, it was socialism that determined the future thinking of many theorists about the era after colonialism. The philosopher Claude Lévi-Strauss described the problem behind this: “The universal opposition of Marxism and liberalism is a way of imposing Western thinking on the whole world.”

After the fall of the Soviet Union, communist ideals have been all but forgotten in the South. Global players such as China or Russia have long since stopped offering their old ideologies; they are rather seen as role models for states that rely on authoritarian capitalism that does not dream of universal values.

Today, emancipation from colonial masters is based on forms of nationalism, an insistence on cultural distinctiveness or a return to religious roots.

The century-long problem of the difficult North-South relationship has long been signalled by the reversal of immigration movements. It is no longer the Europeans who are conquering the South, as in colonial times.

Instead, because of crisis and economic hardship, millions of refugees, asylum seekers and labourers are heading north. In response to this, Rufin describes a policy that is once again playing a decisive role in Europe today: “The limes ideology“.

It offers people what they desire most: a sense of security. The author sees this as a pact: “On the one hand, security for all eternity for the North and on the other, merely the renunciation of justice.“

Photo: WFP/Mahmoud Fadel

No peace without equalisation?

The statement that global peace remains unattainable without social equalisation is not new. The accusations from the capitals in Latin America, Africa and Asia against the powers from the North are similar. The colonial policy, they complain, is being continued in the economic field.

The West is accused of double standards. Co-operation with dictatorships becomes opportune according to interests. Against the monetary policy of the North (briefly described as the power of the dollar), efforts are being made to conduct trade relations in the southern half of the globe using alternative currencies.

There is also some unrest on the other side of the border, in the north. Right-wing parties have included a radical form of Limes ideology in their party programmes. The promise of security here is based on a limited universalism, nationalism and an enemy image of the “barbarians“ who allegedly infiltrate and threaten the European heritage.

The description of a great tidal wave of refugees ignores the fact that this hysteria is unjustified. The proportion of migrants in the global population has remained stable at around 3% since 1960. The bad word of 2024 is “remigration,” a demand from right-wing extremists who fantasise about resettling people with an immigration background in their countries of origin. Left-wingers and liberals, on the other hand, insist on universal values, emphasise the opportunities of immigration and reject a relapse into nation-statehood.

The “Return Improvement Act” of the governing coalition attempts to address the population’s concerns about the consequences of increasing illegal immigration in a moderate form.

Factual debates are becoming rare

In this world of opposites, factual debates are rare. On the other hand, extreme enemy stereotypes based on negative projections about the future of our society in Europe are once again booming. Some predict the Islamisation of Europe in the long term, while others fear a return of dictatorships and the abolition of democracy by legal means.

It is a third possibility, beyond the dialectic of security and justice, that causes concern in Rufin’s description of prospects. He writes about a final option, claiming that only insecurity, the destabilisation of Western societies, will bring about a solution.

“There are many who are trying to reverse the pact today. First of all, this desire is felt by many representatives of southern populations living in the North, who feel excluded and praise their lost values.”

Foto: A-One Rawan, Shutterstock

The example of Gaza

It is Rufin’s thesis that is currently emerging in the heated debate about the Israeli government’s policy towards the Palestinians. It was South Africa, a regional power of the South, that made a name for itself before the International Court of Justice as the spokesperson against the alleged colonial policy in the region and insisted on the consistent application of universal standards.

Large demonstrations in European capitals supported the South African position and brought the arguments of the South into the public consciousness. The motivation of the demonstrators was to point out what they saw as historical injustice towards the Palestinians and not – thank God – to destabilise society itself.

How the issues of immigration and integration are dealt with will help decide the fate of the political systems in the north. It is a matter of common sense to draw a careful and understandable distinction between conservatives and Nazis, Muslims and “Islamists,” white men and racists. The issue of migration and the popular myths that dominate today’s debates urgently need to be objectified, and a publication by sociologist de Haas is worth reading on this topic, as he attempts to bring clarity to the mix of scaremongering and naïve optimism. He reminds us that European colonialism was the largest illegal migration in the history of mankind.

He explains the large number of immigrants primarily by the enormous demand for labour in Western industrial societies.

In the scientist’s view, there are no simple solutions, as shown by the paradox that in societies in the South that are developing economically, migration figures are increasing rather than decreasing. His message is simple: the North will not succeed in sealing off its borders. Nor can it be expected that the new citizens or immigrants living legally in Europe will completely leave their convictions and experiences behind.

People are not just a labour force that can be assimilated at the push of a button. The various reasons for flight cannot be eliminated overnight. Under these circumstances, the only certainty is that the demand for economic justice will have a decisive impact on the North-South divide. In 1991, Rufin wrote a plea for the unity of the world. Is there an alternative to this vision?

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