James Carroll writes in the Boston Globe about a British Muslim scholar traveling to the United States last week to give a speech at the Chatauqua Institution on Islam's compatibility with Western culture. He was denied entry.
The incident is a telling one. If a Muslim of Zaki Badawi's stature can be treated so contemptuously, imagine what the legion of anonymous Muslims face at the burgeoning network of checkpoints, security barriers, and borders that now define daily life. Not so long ago, when American astronauts beamed back to Earth images of a borderless blue planet hanging in the dark void of space, it seemed that a new, transnational ideal of life on this planet was within reach. Borders had been so bloody, with countless wars fought to move them, or protect them. The horrors of the 20th century cried out for an end to all that, and here it was.
Suddenly, the nation-state itself seemed ready to undergo a kind of relativizing, human beings having learned the hard way that more unites our species than divides it. Power, therefore, need not define our encounters. The borderless blue planet was a moral vision, but it had economic and political aspects, as information technologies increasingly reduced the old frontiers of tribe and state and closed economy to irrelevance. In Europe, especially, this dream began to be realized, as borders were first mitigated, then removed. The Iron Curtain itself melted away. Power, at last, to the people.
No more. Borders are back, and so is the demeaning exercise of power. From airports to office buildings, entry-point intimidation is everywhere.