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  • Mary L. Hanna

Meta Peace Team Reads: Border & Rule

Updated: Sep 28, 2021

This memo will offer a spotlight to Canadian author Harsha Walia’s incredible new book Border & Rule. In addition, I’ll also be exploring the recent history of Walia’s own activism efforts, and what makes for an effective praxis in response to a security state more unified than ever before.


Border & Rule’s primary objective is to detail the idea of “border imperialism”: that the maintenance of borders as geopolitical entities is largely defined by imperialism, militarism, and vulture-capitalist trade policy. Walia’s analysis is astonishingly detailed, but her core argument relies on two phenomena: the construction of immigrants as a global class displaced by capitalism, and the policies through which borders themselves are defined geopolitically.

The key dynamic that this book delves into is the idea of “refugees” and “migrants” not just as legal classifications, but as identities constructed by a intricate web of global processes: climate, change, imperialist warmongering, and economic exploitation lead to groups from the global south migrating to comparative safety. As this is going on, western nations have started cracking down on immigration in increasingly dehumanizing ways. Reactionary leaders like Hungary’s Viktor Orban and former President Trump have seized upon this with glee, but liberals are also guilty of using the same tactics with only nominally different rhetoric (see: the Obama and Biden administrations’ policies, Thomas Friedman’s comments about a “high wall with a big gate”). This creates a process where the state becomes obsessed with categorizing and persecuting immigrant communities.

Meanwhile, as the legal construction of immigration leads to its own imperial conflicts, the process through which borders are established and maintained relies entirely on a system of power and control. The most crucial element with how countries are defined is not necessarily even territorial, but largely economic; imperial nations define global economic relations via trade and financial policies. These neoliberal policies offer great power to multinational capitalists, but place nations in the global south in an economic and diplomatic position that is utterly subservient. In rare cases, like France’s debt settlement regime in Haiti, the entire financial systems of certain nations are rigged towards Western plunder. This lack of development leaves many populations vulnerable to crime, poverty, and other situations that can leave them displaced. While Western states throw the entire security state against immigrants, they also create the social conditions that allow for the “immigration crises” that they fearmonger over.

Further Discussion

This border complex is not just something that stands on its own but is also deeply connected to every other arm of the powers that be. The institutional marginalization of immigrants in western nations helps keep labor movements down for the multinationals that employ them. Security

forces at the US-Mexico border are often trained by the same entities responsible for the apartheid infrastructure of Palestine. These connections are not just coincidences, but dynamics that Walia demands we examine to create an understanding of how oppression works: of myriad powers working in lockstep to preserve their own interests.

Harsha Walia’s personal life is also proof that just because the truth is on your side does not mean you will be rewarded for it. Up until earlier this week, Walia was the head of the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association. However, in response to the revelation of the mass indigenous graves in Canadian Catholic Residential Schools, Walia posted “burn it all down” on social media. This led to a deluge of harassment over a figurative (and even if literal, perhaps justifiable) statement that eventually led to her stepping down. There’s something to be said about the right is fully willing to weaponize the “cancellation” of a major figure in the same way they often accuse the left of doing. In the meantime, Walia is proof that opting into a real liberatory platform immediately marks you as a target for society writ large.

Her life, however, is also a good example of how crucial it is to not submit to these kinds of threats. Outside of the BCCLA, Walia is also the co-founder of the political action group No One Is Illegal (NOII) in Canada, and a major figure in the Downtown Eastside Woman’s Center in Vancouver. Walia’s worldview and assessment of a unified security state are met with a local praxis that is unbreaking. Likewise, Walia also has gone on record that defining social struggle purely in charity mostly serves to legitimatize dominant institutions in our society. These ares lesson that anyone concerned with political action should internalize, and lessons that show the applicability of peace teams in real struggles for liberation.

Final Thoughts

At the risk of sounding scatterbrained, let me condense my thoughts into a coherent stream: Border & Rule is a terrifically insightful book, and Harsha Walia is one of our new most gifted social justice writers. I have already left a copy of the book for staff to pass around, but I would highly recommend seeking out a copy through Haymarket if you can. Besides this, I believe that Walia’s work is about to become even more relevant as conditions like climate change and fascistic immigration policy become even more emergent.

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