Thinking about Walls in Montreal

I am in Montreal conducting research for what will likely be the last chapter of the ‘Walls’ book. I will investigate the fence, built in the 1960s, that stands between the neighbourhoods of the Town of Montreal and Parc Extension. I’ve only just begun my inquiries here and look forward to learning more. I am not certain what meaning this fence has for the residents of either community.

I am certain, though, that I will enjoy my time in Parc Ex. The community is a concentration of cultures from around the world. Someone recently counted 72 languages being spoken in the tiny neighborhood. I love this sort of thing, and not just because of the Bangladeshi curries and West African groceries available.

I will write more about Parc Ex and the fence later on. In the meantime, though, I would like to report briefly on a conference I attended earlier this week called Fences, Walls and Borders: State of Insecurity. The two-day event gathered scholars from around the world to present on a myriad of issues ranging from migration, terrorism, border art, security as culture, border architecture, journalism and much more. I love conferences like this. I am no scholar, and I revel in listening to big thinkers speak philosophically and intellectually about places I’ve experienced, as writer Ryszard Kapuściński might say, on the surface of my skin.

I spent the two days mining what I heard for ideas to explore in my own project. Here are a few of them:

  • The heightened security along the Indo-Bangladesh border has given rise to so much illegal trade that if the fences suddenly fell, so would the local economies.
  • There is a tendency to look at the walls and barriers as symbolic or social constructions – I do this myself sometimes. But for the border crossers, the walls are physical and dangerous realities.
  • In southern Arizona, the community has become so polarized and toxic on issues of illegal migration and the border that people must now call themselves “not-the-Other.” Anything Spanish or Mexican, no matter how banal, is suddenly controversial.
  • Poverty is structural violence.
  • Migration issues are discussed using ‘invasion rhetoric.’ When you call the illegal movement of migrants across the border as ‘waves’ or a ‘human tsunami’ you imply the necessity for levees and dams. But this invasion is a myth.
  • Borders everywhere have been transformed from mere lines into regions.
  • Walls blind us, but they do not make us deaf. We can hear what happens on the other side.
  • Borders vacillate, and so the walls built to define them are flaccid.
  • In Israel, the Gaza border can be defined by the range of the rockets that fly over its wall rather than its political boundary. In other words, the rockets extend the border. The real line becomes the point where violence cannot reach.
  • Humans possess an intuitive resistance to barriers.

Interesting ideas all. I thank the Thinkers for them.