In my utopia, there will be no borders, no passports, and no visas. All the labourers of the world will be able to go wherever capital goes. All the students will be able to go for their favourite universities without having to wait for visas. You've got a job offer, go. Got an admission offer, go. Got the good, old wanderlust, go. It can be that simple. And it was that simple for thousands of years before the birth of the nightmare called the modern nation state.
Imagine the consequences. Dictators will have to be benign because, in their countries, there will be no one left except sycophants and sadomasochists and life will be boring when all the taxpayers have gone. Some general has lost it in the labyrinth of his solitude and has declared an emergency but the country next door has an open border, so you can get up and leave. Taxpaying, hard working people will throng and work harder in those countries which have better systems of social security, health care and unemployment benefits. Eventually oppressive regimes will also learn how to attract their citizenry back.
In my utopia, there will be no "illegal immigrants," no "boat people," no "queue jumpers," and no "asylum seekers." The whole idea of declaring a human being illegal because of his or her location is a travesty of logic. For centuries, there was no such thing. Even now, within the Schengen zone, you can drive through 24 countries without going through a single border check. Why cannot this entire planet become what it already is - a mass of interlocked, interdependent, mutually-sustaining tectonic plates? We are all humans and this is our planet and we should be able to go anywhere we please.
A world without borders will also be a very peaceful world because there will be no barbed wires, guns, imaging satellites, and soldiers guarding the borders. Most of the wars between countries are over territory. If everyone has open and mutual access to all territories, there will be no war -- just like the existing mutual-citizenship rights granted to the citizens of Australia and New Zealand and the EU.
A world without borders will also see an end to human trafficking and detention centres, and needless deaths on the dangerous routes. Once, in Barcelona, I met a Pakistani who had travelled with a human trafficking agent via the land route from Lahore to Athens, dodging all the border controls on foot, packed with poultry and sheep in delivery vans, wading through the lakes, snow, and muddy ditches. He showed me his blackened feet on which nine toenails were still trying to re-grow. I asked where he had lost them. He said somewhere after leaving Enez in Turkey and before arriving in Greece while crossing the salt-water marshes around the Gulf of Saroz. I took him to a nearby internet cafe, opened the Google Maps site, and clicked on the satellite image of Enez and the surrounding area. He pointed to the top of a blue line going upland, like an estuary, from the Greek coast of the Aegean Sea where, after wading through salty, frozen water, he had lost his toenails. Later, we switched to some travel websites to read about Enez. A website informed us the entire Edirne Province, of which Enez was a part, was famous for its fish and feta cheese festivals. I asked him if he had seen any festivals on the way. He said he was too busy running to notice anything nice and, those who showed weakness or jeopardized the entire group by getting sick, were separated from the group and shot either by the agents or by the border security forces. It was a maddening tale of needless and totally avoidable suffering.
In my utopia, people like the Pakistani with dead, leathery skin on his feet who only roamed the backstreets of Barcelona to avoid the police would be considered adventurers, marathon runners, trekking gurus, mountaineers, tour guides, sherpas, and hobbyist globe-trotters. They will be considered equal to the status accorded to Ibn e Batuta and Marco Polo and they will not be considered "illegal immigrants" or "border jumpers" or "boat people" and put in detention centres if and when caught by those who happen to be on the other side of an imaginary line.
My utopia is not something unattainable. It is already a reality for people from several richest countries in the world There is no visa required if Canadians are visiting the United States. There are no borders for Romanians travelling in the Schengen zone. There are no borders for New Zelanders and Australians travelling in the Pacific islands. But there is a lethally border for Mexicans trying to enter the USA without a visa.
It was also a reality for many people for centuries. Only three or four decades ago, people from Pakistan used to drive to England. In Oslo, I met a Pakistani who left his home in the early 1970s to attend a festival in Kabul but kept on travelling all the way to Norway. It is only in the last decades of the 20th century and the security hysteria of the post-9/11 world that human beings are seeing this level of paranoia over borders. It is a reversible disease and should be reversed. Nature does not recognize borders. Why do human beings not respect nature? Why are human beings trying to impose their inversion of the natural order on the landscape provided to them by nature? My utopia will have no distrust of those who are on the other side of any fence. They are just like us.
If all modern human beings started spreading from Africa to the entire planet, as the out-of-Africa theory of human evolution posits, we humans should allow ourselves to trace all of our DNA routes without fear as many times as we like.
Published in The News on Sunday
dated June 15, 2008