(January 3, 2018 / KDJ) There is a growing argument on the fringes of the Political Left worldwide in favor of open borders. Nation-states, the argument goes, are inherently exclusionary and racist. They privilege certain ethnic and religious groups and can enhance privilege. All of these attitudes lead to anti-immigrant sentiment, which eventually moves into ultra-nationalism and fascism.
There is indeed a concerning rise of bigotry, ultra-nationalism, and neo-fascism within the growing far-right movement worldwide. Yet the abolition of countries, and specifically nation-states, is not the way to address this problem. Nor is it realistic. Often times, those who promote this silly idea are privileged, middle-to-upper class western Europeans.
Nation-States as “Safe Spaces”
Despite hyping up the necessity of “safe spaces” for people who suffer from oppression, the far-left seems to be against the ultimate safe space: the nation-state. Numerous stateless peoples have suffered from systems of discrimination or extreme violence (even genocide).
Native Americans had land stolen, and haven’t been compensated with anything more than meager reservations. Without independence, Native Americans (as well as Canada’s First Nations and Australia’s Aborigines) suffer an epidemic of missing/murdered/raped/trafficked women, rampant poverty, systemic racism, poor public services, and cultural erasure. African-Americans suffered from slavery and the segregation of the Jim Crow South following the theft of our ancestors from our native lands. To this day, there is still discrimination and inequality.
Kurds, spread from Iran and Turkey to Syria and Iraq, suffer from systemic racism, genocide, ethnic cleansing, poverty, and cultural erasure. The Amazigh (Berbers) of North Africa have lived under similar conditions in Arab-majority countries. Until Israel was re-established in 1948, the Jewish people suffered from all of these things in nearly every place they resided. South Sudan was established in part due to the persecution and genocide that indigenous Black Africans suffered under Arab colonial rule and oppression.
The nation-state has proven to be a “safe space” for oppressed peoples. This is not to say that such places are immune from problems inherent in every other country or society. Yet only independence and statehood has provided protection (armies and borders), autonomy (independence and self-governance), and wealth (economic growth) that allows for minorities to live peacefully and in freedom.
Many far-left Westerners have good intentions. However, they suffer from privilege of not having to worry about being a minority living under an oppressive majority rule. Erasing borders does not mean an end to conflict, racism, or other forms of oppression. Just take a look at Middle Eastern and African countries. Numerous ethnic and religious groups that have long histories of fighting have been forced to share one country, as traditional boundaries were eliminated. This is due to colonial powers dividing up land as they saw fit, in the image of European societies. Now, once again, a mainly-White group is seeking to “save” minorities in a way they see fit, based on their experiences. This is not to say that there aren’t minorities who agree with the anti-nationalist mindset, but there is a lack of minority voices in far-left leadership.
Many on the far-left spectrum of western European society (or those descended from western Europeans) tend to idealize countries such as Norway, Germany, or Canada that have a progressive immigration policy. At the same time, some of these countries (particularly Scandinavian ones) are largely homogenous. When migrants arrive from foreign countries, bigotry becomes more common and open, and hate crimes proliferate. Liberal immigration policies, or open borders, are no guarantee that there will be a reduction or cessation of discrimination. In fact, at times it aggravates racial tensions.
The anti-nationalist crowd on the far-left needs to do a few things if they really want to fight for justice. One is to acknowledge their privilege, as they so often remind others to do. By calling for minority societies and oppressed peoples to cede our autonomy, they are essentially saying that our lives do not matter, and that we should put up with discrimination. Secondly, they must challenge their perceptions of “enlightened” Europe and racism. The idea that otherwise-progressive countries like Sweden or Denmark aren’t racist is due to the fact that those who hold such assumptions are often White, and that the countries are mostly homogenous. Finally, they need to differentiate between nationalism & ultra-nationalism. Nationalism can be patriotism. There is nothing inherently wrong with it. Like all ideologies, taking nationalism to its most extreme–ultra-nationalism–is where problems start to develop. This should be avoided at all costs, and reversed where necessary.
Calling for open borders and an end to countries (or nation-states) is unrealistic, unhelpful, and condescending. The creation of bodies such as the United Nations, African Union, Arab League, or European Union have increased multinational cooperation, but haven’t ended the idea of countries or sovereignty altogether. One can argue that in some ways, these bodies have actually helped to reinforce nationalism or bolster far-right anti-immigrant sentiment. The notions of countries, nations, and borders have all existed in some form throughout history, and in all likelihood will continue to exist. Rather than putting forth dream scenarios, people should be thinking of and advocating for real solutions to anti-immigrant sentiment or ultra-nationalism.
Building upon a Eurocentric notion of anti-nationalism or post-nationalism is actually fueling far-right conspiracy theories about “globalism” and “Soros plots.” This enhances anti-Semitism and anti-immigrant sentiment. It also ignores the history of Eurocentric border-drawing and interference in the Third World, which can bring back generational trauma for different marginalized populations. It denies minorities a chance to raise our voice for justice or create a progressive, immigrant-friendly vision and future based on our experiences. It ignores the racism that isn’t always obvious in certain societies that are otherwise seen as progressive. And it seeks to remove sovereignty from marginalized people (often societies of color). It’s bad enough that minorities often feel the need to have safe spaces on college campuses or in the workplace. Progressives shouldn’t be trying to deny us of our ultimate safe spaces (countries) if they really want to help.