At the very beginning of the century, the September 11 attacks in the United States fostered an immense “fear of the outsider” and a rise in anti-immigration policy across the globe. The past two decades have seen an upsurge in the construction of border walls and other inter-state barriers in response; this physical division between communities is what the brick represents.

a clash of civilisations in the aftermath of 9/11

Writing in 1993, Samuel P. Huntington seminally predicted that the future of conflict would be based in divides between culturally or religiously disparate civilisations, rather than simply between nation states (Huntington, 1993). Huntington demarcated nine geographical areas across the world, the inhabitants of which were deemed to be aligned in their cultural and religious identities, and proposed that global conflict would occur across these categories rather than within them.

At the beginning of the 21st century, that indeed seemed to become the case. Following 9/11, the ‘war on terror’ entered everyday lexicon, as the US, backed by nations within the global West, vowed that their effort to dismantle terrorist organisations ‘begins with al Qaeda, but it does not end there. It will not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped and defeated.’ (Bush, 2001). A clear dichotomy was drawn between the West and a number of organisations based primarily within Huntington’s categorised Islamic nations, ‘a bright line of demarcation between the civil and the savage’ in the eyes of many policymakers and civilians in the US (Jackson 2005, 62).

After 2001, the number of border walls in the world has sextupled. Vallet, É. (2020). The World Is Witnessing a Rapid Proliferation of Border Walls [Image]. Migration Information Source.

Border studies scholars have extensively researched the global response to 9/11 and, in the aftermath, the notable spike in the construction of border walls for the purposes of religiously- and culturally-based segregation worldwide. Élisabeth Vallet claims that ‘the speed with which borders were sealed after 9/11 reflects longstanding security anxieties that predate the attacks’; for Vallet, the seeds of distrust towards Islamic nations had existed within the West for many years, and the attacks presented a perfect opportunity to justify and therefore act upon this distrust (2016, 150).

Why Civilizations Really Clash [Image], Stratfor and Boundary Walls and Fences Worldwide [Image], Economist.

the myth of the global village

Of course, physical barriers separating nations and communities have existed for thousands of years. The Great Wall of China began construction in the 7th century BCE, and Maastricht itself was a walled city, with fortifications constructed mostly around the 13th century. However, at the end of the Cold War in 1991, fewer than a dozen active border walls existed around the world, and there existed a salient sense of hope for the cultivation of a ‘global village’, a term coined by media theorist Marshall McLuhan as early as 1962. The global village is a form of future imaginary, envisioning a world where national borders become obsolete due to ‘the elimination of space and time as barriers to communication’ (Logan 2010, xix). For many in the West, the end of the Cold War signified the beginning of a utopian era of global democracy, the ‘death of distance’ in international relations (Cairncross 2001), and, thereby, the potential for the global village to become reality.

Varrgo. (2020). “Global village” Marshall McLuhan [Video]. YouTube.

However, Vallet sees the global village as ‘a delusion that lasted only a decade’ (2022). As a direct consequence of 9/11,

The reterritorialization of the world and its delineations made a comeback, and in the years since, borders have become gradually more demarcated as well as harder, reinforced, more fortified, and better armoured. They have morphed into symbols of states’ entrenchment behind ramparts designed to address asymmetric, unconventional, and global threats, including unwanted flows. Once supposedly antiquated, walls have become gradually normalized solutions to geopolitical tensions and remedies to the instability generated by an unbalanced international system.

Vallet, É. (2020, Mar 2). The World Is Witnessing a Rapid Proliferation of Border Walls. Migration Information Source.

Today, the number of inter-state border walls has increased dramatically to over 70, with at least 15 more currently under construction (Vallet, 2022). While the global village has indeed been made possible in many ways through the proliferation of digital communication technologies, the 21st century so far has proven it to be a futile hope in the context of international relations and the dismantlement of borders and border walls.

love thy neighbour: invisible borders

In a multitude of ways, Huntington’s theory of the future of warfare as based on cultural and religious divides has been shown as overly simplistic when compared to the manifestations of conflict in the world today. Scholars argue that the civilisational categorisations that he devised have shifted dramatically since his thesis was written, and a vast number of ongoing conflicts in the 21st century have in fact been fought internally, within nation states who share cultural and religious identities, contrary to his predictions. As a whole, it is generally considered reductive to define conflicts on this broadest level of cultural allegiances, and Huntington’s assertions can be considered to lead to nothing more than the establishment of a discriminatory ‘us’ vs ‘them’ mentality (Ahluwalia & Mayer, 1994).

Nowhere is this mentality more evident than in the Western (primarily European) response to recent waves of migration. In 2014, asylum seekers fleeing the Syrian civil war became the world’s largest refugee population, with currently more than 5.6 million citizens still displaced and an estimated 14 million still in need of humanitarian aid within the nation, many areas of which remain in a state of unrest (Unicef 2020, Beaman, Onder & Onder 2022). In response to the crisis, many nations considered to be within the global West slammed shut their proverbial doors. Invisible borders sprang up along seabeds where they had not previously existed, as asylum seekers arriving in life boats along the Greek and Italian coastlines were reluctantly ushered into makeshift campsites and politicians lamented the ‘burden’ they posed on European economy and infrastructure (Fargues, 2014). A total of 1.1 million Syrian refugees remain in Europe.

The Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan is the world’s largest permanent settlement of Syrian refugees, many of whom were denied asylum in the West. Unicef (2020). A Timeline of the Syrian Civil War and Refugee Crisis [Image].

At the time of writing, another humanitarian crisis has emerged with the war in Ukraine, where over 2 million citizens so far have fled and found refuge elsewhere in Europe (Zaru, 2022). At the risk of minimising the drastic upheaval and devastation these refugees are undoubtedly facing, their comparatively warm welcome into the arms of western Europe sheds light upon the double standards present. A salient example of this can be seen in the controversial Danish ‘jewellery law’ passed in January 2016, at the peak of Syrian refugees’ arrival in Denmark. The law required Syrian citizens to surrender all of their valuables to the local authorities in order to cover the costs of their accommodation. Now, the government has announced its plan to grant exemption to Ukrainian asylum seekers (News18, 2022).

As such, it is important to consider the invisible borders present across society and reflect upon the ease in which we can remove them if we feel inclined to do so. What, other than geographical proximity, justifies the inequal treatment of asylum seekers from Ukraine and Syria? Who constitutes ‘us’ and ‘them’, and what are the conditions under which we feel motivated to ‘love thy neighbour’?

Chulov, M. (2022). A motorcyclist passes cement blocks painted with flags of Ukraine and the Syrian opposition near the Syrian rebel-held city of al-Bab in Aleppo [Image]. The Guardian.

final thoughts

In an increasingly globalised world, the walls erected around and between us hold a great degree of divisive power, whether physical or invisible. The 21st century has been a defining period in the history of border studies and, as we become ever more aware of the literal and ideological structures that separate us, both the history and the future of inter-state barriers fall under question. In another century’s time, how will these structures be narrativised? Will geopolitics continue to normalise the presence of separatory walls, and will the potentiality of a global village overcome the limitations of cultural and religious differences? Nonetheless, it is an undoubtable truth that border studies are a powerful and divisive lens through which to conceptualise this century so far.



Name: Brick

3D Model

Creator: Ciara Kristensen

Date: 25-01-2022

Place: Maastricht, The Netherlands

Themes: Inclusivity

Captured with Nikon D3200

Processed with Agisoft Metashape Professional Software run on Windows 10 (64-bit)


Physical Object

Size: 24 x 10 x 8 cm

Weight: 2410 g

Material: Plastic

Ahluwalia, P., & Mayer, P. (1994). Clash of Civilizations – or Balderdash of scholars? Asian Studies Review 18(1), pp. 21-30. DOI:

Beaman, L., Onder, H., & Onder, S. (2022). When do refugees return home? Evidence from Syrian displacement in Mashreq. Journal of Development Economics 155. DOI:

Cairncross, F. (2001). The Death of Distance 2.0. Texere Publishing.

Fargues, P. (2014). Europe Must Take on its Share of the Syrian Refugee Burden, But How? German Marshall Fund of the United States.

Huntington, S. P. (1993). A Clash of Civilizations? Foreign Affairs 73(3), pp. 22-49. DOI:

Jackson, R. (2005). Writing the War on Terrorism. Manchester University Press.

Logan, R. K. (2010). Understanding New Media: Extending Marshall McLuhan. Peter Lang Publishing.

News18. (2022, Mar 6). Denmark Won’t Take Away Ukrainians’ Assets Under ‘Jewellery Law’. All About the Rule & the Spcl Relief.

The White House. (2001, Sep 20). Address to a Joint Session of Congress and the American People.

Unicef. (2020, Aug 9). A Timeline of the Syrian Civil War and Refugee Crisis.

Vallet, É. (2016). Borders, Fences and Walls: State of Insecurity? Routledge.

Vallet, É. (2020, Mar 2). The World Is Witnessing a Rapid Proliferation of Border Walls. Migration Information Source.

Zaru, D. (2022). Europe’s unified welcome of Ukrainian refugees exposes ‘double standard’ for nonwhite asylum seekers: Experts. ABCNews.