Why the West is Obsessed with Borders

We take these boundaries as a fact of life. But does it have to be this way?

VoPPM42 photo 429 18  historical archive
Jawaharlal Nehru, Louis Mountbatten, and Muhammad Ali Jinnah (Indian historical archives)

Hassaan Bin Sabir


March 5, 2024

They ever ask you, Where you from?’ Like, ‘Where you really from? The question seems simple, but the answer’s kinda long” 

Those are the opening verses to Riz Ahmed’s song “Where You From” from his album The Long Goodbye (2020). Ahmed explores the tension between the geographies we inhabit and the ones we come from. But he also points to a more fundamental futility at the heart of ascribing categories to individuals: we are always more than the boxes in which people place us. 

National borders are one such box. In some ways, borders are very real. We see them as walls and fences and immigration counters. But borders are also imagined. They are lines people have drawn on maps. And we imbue the territories inside these lines with meanings and ideologies, and through these, adjudicate who belongs and who does not, who can enter and who cannot, who we are and who we are not. 

But what if who we think we are is a fiction? South Asia’s borders, for one, seem to be projections of a colonizer. But what are the roots of the West’s obsession with lines and boxes?

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