Sunday, October 16, 2011

National borders; the lines in the sand and the minds

Watching the news recently I've seen that once again Indonesia and Malaysia have been having a little spat over their national border. As expected, it's quite funny and makes you die a little inside of embarrassment.

This time, some Indonesian MPs (read; people with low support looking to capitalize on fax nationalism for the upcoming elections) have accused Malaysia of moving the border markers from their designated positions and thus 'stealing' thousands of hectares of Indonesian land. Upon hearing this I had visions of Malaysian commandos sneaking out at the dead of night with tape measures instead of rifles and launching daring raids to claim another six inches of jungle.

Of course, it turned out to all be in the heads of these MPs and the Indonesian army went and confirmed that none of the border makers had moved. But not before these MPs had claimed their airtime and there had been the obligatory protest outside the Malaysian embassy. And it will happen again.

And again.

And again.

But why? Why do we as a people, I mean the world here, put so much emphasis on these lines we draw in the dirt? They don't exist in reality, I've accidentally crossed the UAE - Oman border enough times when I lived there to verify that, yet so much stress is put on them. And a lot of blood is spilled fighting over their positions.

I'm going to talk a little about the Malaysia - Indonesia issue for a while as I think it shows how farcical borders can be. Now, Malaysia and Indonesia are peas in the same pod. They both share basically the same language, largely the same faith, the same shared culture, traditions and so on. Heck, they often even dress the same and to the untrained eye there is little to tell them apart. This is because they are both of Austronesian ancestry, the so called 'Malay race', as are most people in the Philippines.

In fact, if we take a look at the ancestry of many in Asia then we find they are of the same orrigion. Going east from Madagascar, taking in the Malay Peninsular, most of what we call Indonesia and the Philippines, then going down around Australia to New Zealand and right the way across taking in all the islands of the Pacific up to the coast of the Americas. Here is a map from Wikipedia illustrating the distribution:

This grouping is in fact some of the first humans out of Africa and a lot of people can trace their ancestry to them. The so called 'Beachcomber Express' was the rapid migration of people from Africa along the coastlines of Asia (which were far more linked) before spreading north to populate much of Asia. In fact, it is theorized that even many Africans have ancestry from here as it is believed that the 'original' Africans were different to most humans, for example the 'pygmies'.

Interesting of course, but we are going off topic here. The point is that people of Indonesia and Malaysia have a lot in common, from race to language. But they fight! And often over very stupid things. For example there was another spat recently where Indonesia accused Malaysia of 'stealing' certain 'cultural icons' such as the Rasa Sayang song, the Barongan dance and various musical instruments in it's TV adverts promoting tourism in Malaysia.

It's not the first time a TV advert has done this either, in 2009 a Discovery Channel program on Malaysia incorrectly identified a certain dance as being of Malaysian origin when in fact they are from Bali. This lead to Malaysian flags being burned and Malaysian students at universities being egged, despite Malaysia issuing an apology.

Indeed, certain radical elements got very violent and set up roadblocks to 'search' for Malaysians, as well as a pretty amusing proposal to send 1500 Indonesians armed with sharpened bamboo staffs to 'invade' Malaysia. Seriously! Over a TV add! Mind you, at least they haven't had a full out war for a while. And to be honest on the whole most Indonesians and Malaysians don't engage in the sort of junk that the radicals do.

But why all this? Well of course a lot of this is just political point scoring, the more radical groups especially, but there is a deeper cause. It's becuase in 1824 the Dutch and the British drew a line on a map, creating two countries that had never exited before.

And that is the problem with borders, they are lines on the map, draw with little consideration for anything other than territorial gains, power and suchlike. Indeed most of our borders come from a time, the colonial era, where territory meant power and as such we have badly drawn ones! India and Pakistan is another example that springs to mind of a badly draw border causing strife.

Borders make people hate their fellow man, despite their common traits. Borders also cause us to think of people as defined by the bit of dirt they were born on, not the person they are. These are both very dangerous things and have caused a lot of fighting in the past. Why for instance from 1939-45 did young men with a lot in common shoot each other in massive numbers? Of course, borders weren't the only reason but they were a big one. One side in that conflict felt that it's borders had been drawn unfairly and were to small, the other side begged to differ. That's putting it mildly to say the least.

Could we live in a world without borders? Quite possibly, we never really had borders anyway until a few hundred years ago. Could it happen again, that in this imperfect world we live in that mankind could stop fighting over lines in the sand? Could see that really, there is only one nation, the nation that is Earth? And one race, Mankind? Who knows, I think the change comes from within as they say. Once humans realize their stupidity, then maybe we can move on.

One person at a time huh?


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