Militarized US/México Border (photo courtesy of Repairers of the Breach)

Walls/Borders: Visible Signs of Militarized Colonial Desires Past and Present

Justice

Borders signify the advancing presence of imperial desires and colonial fantasies of gradual yet total dispossession and disappearance of peoples of other nations that continue the founding settler colonial violence in the US.

Crisscrossing lines on the global map are drawn mainly by colonial and imperial powers around the world to separate, enclose, partition and control mobility of peoples. Despite popular pseudo-political rhetoric that borders are built for the sake of security, it is in fact a carceral structure aimed directly against freedom of mobility against populations on the other side of the border. The latter not only feeds the already prevalent taxonomies of racial anxiety to white America but more significantly functions as a weapon of political management of populations and a continuation of nothing less than what comes across as a universalized racial capitalism’s global force. Since the inception of global colonial projects by Europe and the emergence of nation-states, borders have come to mark and measure the power of sovereign nations.

While one may argue there are many overt and covert rationales that justify creation of borders, most often economic projects (neoliberalism) with liberal political rationales (American exceptionalism) and economies of militarism fuel imperial desires for extraterritorial dominion and calculated slow, incremental extraction of life energies (material and spiritual), as well as eventual disposal and disappearance of peoples (depopulation). These multiple vectors support US borders/wall building and militarized border securitization whether it demarcates indigenous land, red-lined urban neighborhoods or along the US/Mexico border. Militarism’s exercise of power along borders lies in policing such borders, controlling the mobility of peoples, forming rationales for making extraterritorial incursions and flexing its powers not simply at the border but beyond the border to subordinate other sovereign powers similar to the recent instance of sending Border Patrol agents to Guatemala in early June 2019 to supposedly end the tide of migrants from Central America.

Most significant theological issues related to all the above for this discussion are the dangerous, insidious, persistent, and perverse logics of dominant Christian theological rationales on universal sovereignty of its God 9and by default valorization of only certain human beings as created in its image), its potent theological desire of civilizing and Christianizing mission to the rest of the world supplemented by the misplaced conceit of theo-political Christian supremacy. While the role and legacy of Christianizing and civilizing mission of colonial projects continue to be one of the most significant reasons why people become migrants, this colonial legacy is hardly ever critically examined by those who demand ever more spectacularized walls and borders. While I do not offer analysis on the details of affective infrastructure of grinding economy of terror on the ground upon vulnerable bodies, here, I briefly underscore the savagery of militarized spectacle of borders and wall building projects as colonial projects, both material and affective, particularly the US/Mexico border that have become even more intensified over the years.  

Borders signify the advancing presence of imperial desires and colonial fantasies of gradual yet total dispossession and disappearance of peoples of other nations that continue the founding settler colonial violence in the US. Perhaps it is not that people cross borders but rather that the border ‘crossed’ them (Seyla Benhabib and Judith Resnik, Migrations and Mobilities). Our unending and ever proliferating military interventions around the world point to a blatant manifest destiny gone global. The unceasing military interventions by the US around the world indicate not all sovereignties are created equal as is shown in the spectacle and spectral presence of peoples along the US/Mexico border. Rather than interrogating a history of militarized interventions and incursions, the US public is besieged by racialized notions of ‘foreigners’ over and against notions of ‘citizenship’ (Benhabib and Resnik, introduction to Migrations and Mobilities).

The presence of militarism along the US/ Mexico border was coerced and ‘settled’ by military force in the Texas Revolution of 1836 and the Mexican War of 1846-1848. The Treaty of Guadalupe of 1848 was the result of U.S. conquest of Mexico that forced surrender of its national territory and a coercive annexation.  Since then the notion of “border control” has become an ever more salient topic in the U.S. and in our popular fantasies and anxieties of the other. These anxieties surface with Orientalist forms of racist xenophobia saturated with sensationalist tropes of undocumented immigrants, drug trafficking and porous border through which terrorists flow. All these spur on anxiety often finding solutions in further militarization along the borders in the name of national security. The U.S/Mexico border has become what Timothy Dunn refers to as “low intensity conflict” zone for “war for all seasons” (The Militarization of the U.S.-Mexico Border, p. 19) or what Jason de Leon refers to as a zone of “structural violence” in which warfare technology combined with specific utilization of natural environment along the border are used to enforce biopolitical forms of border control with violence and impunity (The Land of Open Graves). It is no coincidence that after September 11, 2001 and the so-called War on Terror the U.S/Mexico border, as evidenced in the creation of the office of Homeland Security, became one of the first regions of intensified militarism.

The frenzy for border construction is easily stoked by several things.  First, the fabricated anxieties of hordes of unruly brown savages outside the rule of law is bound up with rationale that borders are about security and securitization for our protection (Falguni Sheth, Toward a Political Philosophy of Race). In this, the more shock and awe inspired by military technology coupled with the spectacle of massive walls are designed to induce terror and sense of powerlessness to those on the other-side. Second, border-making and border managing are highly lucrative projects. Creation and maintenance of borders and militarized security are primarily about economics even as these terror tactics produce material and affective ‘damages.’ Border making is a global economic project that benefits the few on both political and economic registers. Military contractors like Lockheed Martin, Raytheon and Northrop Grumman have become key partners in border-making along the U.S./Mexico border as well as other borders in various global sites. Partnerships involve high-tech military surveillance equipment like various drones used for military operations in high intensity conflict regions but also as partners in exchange of information regarding strategies for physical barriers as well as on the ground personals. Third and most importantly for this conversation, militarized border projects are often undisguised displays of particular strands of Christian theological production of ‘mighty’ sovereign power of God who is on ‘our’ side which perversely harks back to theological claims about which human was/is worthy of being redeemed and the infamous Christological mantra of “what is not assumed is not redeemed.” This theological claim is covert while the more overt form may deftly slide into the clash of civilizations rhetoric. Practitioners of Christian faith making liberational claims must attend to spirit of distorted Christian theo-political claims that ground US border-making (Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States for Young People, pgs. 47-51). In the US, Christian identity and citizenship (on Christian citizenship, see Susan Harris, God’s Arbiters) are dangerously synonymous and it is unsurprising that anxieties about national security are tethered to Christian language of God’s might and power. Wendy Brown notes, “…key characteristics of sovereignty are migrating from the nation-state to the unrelieved domination of capital and God-sanctioned political violence” (Walled States, Waning Sovereignty, p. 23). If walls and borders are signs of rule of law, redemption, and of spectacular protective power of God’s sovereignty then what does it mean that the very Christological figure central to Christian faith was executed outside the border/wall, beyond the pale? 

As a Christian theologian I’m not interested in claims that label, categorize or render difference in ways that prepares theology to serve endlessly death producing, life choking machinery of the US empire and its cohorts. To be sure, not all of Christianity is about the business of sustaining the life of empires. I want to ask what might comprise transformative praxis’ capaciousness in Christian theology to insist on credible claims and demands dismantling of not just the spectacular forms of power at work in and at borders but to deconstruct our very notions of divine sovereign power (Jacques Derrida, The Beast and the Sovereign)?  Are Christian interventions into these forms of violence and violation as well as participation in forging counter-imperial internationalist solidarity possible? If so, again, where from do these forms of tearing down walls come from besides in the forms of carceral humanitarianism (Kelly Oliver, Carceral Humanitarianism) that leaves intact problems of sovereignty overladen with ghosts of powerfully universalizing might of Christian God?  What within Christian faith makes possible the delinking of Christian alliance with empire making projects? I suggest a return to early distinct and vibrant cues from what we know as the Jesus movement and its abolition politics, and organizing peoples movement in relation to empire. This form of liberation politics and faith praxis have continued to the present among marginalized motley of Christian communities all over the world who are also in solidarity with communities of other faith and spiritual traditions. It is in the Jesus movement that rather than consolidation there is instead a dissipation of sovereign power. Is there anything within Christian traditions, beyond forms of western European tradition, that may allow us to think beyond rights discourse, beyond borders, beyond camps and sovereign power to confer life through its own racialized, capitalized, Christianized whims? Is there even a possibility for Christian theology to embrace and embody abolition politics?

Kelly Oliver notes, “we have to move beyond notions of national sovereignty and citizenship. Rather than starting with human rights, or citizen’s rights, as the basis of political (or ethical) obligations, we would have to acknowledge our interdependence on this shared planet, our only home. Rather than claim the sovereign right to welcome others into our own homes, we would have to acknowledge that the foundation for that home is the earth itself” (Carceral Humanitarianismp. 82). Multiple liberation movements rooted in ideas of transnational global solidarity are already being lived out mostly by communities who do not believe in the might of God but in the powerlessness of one who dared to dream of a better world. The powerful sovereign God and its problematic yet no less dominant Schmidtian translation to political sovereign power does not present itself in these liberation movement then and now. For these counter imperial movements and communities, power is not a singular sovereignty but rather active, alive and present in the matrix of all our relations, in the relations that bind and moor us to all of this life/creation. Christians who live out their lives in the way of Jesus know too that his life was both of defiance against powers of the Roman Empire but also of hope in all our transforming relations with one another.  Are Christians willing to interrogate the heart of Christian doctrines, like the Doctrine of God, to do the challenging work of theology untethered from empire making? We have no choice, if, as followers of Jesus, we find ourselves beyond the wall in solidarity with crucified peoples everywhere. 

Ramón Luzárraga

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