Is a visa to Europe becoming a modern-day indulgence?

By making it increasingly difficult for some nationalities to obtain visas, Europe is building ‘mind walls’ that not only keep people out but imprison society

Is a visa to Europe becoming a modern-day indulgence?

European countries are making it increasingly difficult for citizens from countries south of the Mediterranean Sea to obtain visas. With this ‘visa scarcity’ reaching unprecedented levels, society has been forced into some difficult and uncomfortable conversations surrounding the underlying sentiments and intentions behind such moves.

Many view this ‘visa scarcity’— imposed on citizens of North African countries in particular — as punishment for their states’ objection to political and economic conditions set by decision-makers in Europe.

Sebastian Thibault
By making it increasingly difficult for some nationalities to obtain visas, Europe is building ‘mind walls’ that not only keep people out but imprison society.

Many of these ‘citizens of the South’ view the increasingly rare issuances of visas, and sometimes selective bans on visas altogether, as an act of punishment or deprivation.

The visa is no longer viewed as a mere tool to monitor the transit of people but as a sort of ‘indulgence’ that the priests and monks of the Catholic Church used to sell to people to obtain forgiveness in exchange for a sum of money with the promise of salvation and entrance into the gates of heaven.

Indeed, this view reflects how many European consulates conduct themselves when deciding to grant such citizens a visa to enter the European ‘paradise’.

Physical walls

In the past, European countries were more direct and blunt in their approach to stopping the transit of unwanted people. Instead of restricting visas, they erected walls.

However, the construction of border walls revealed major paradoxes. As much as it sought to demonstrate the greatness, strength, and solidity of the state through those walls, it exposed the state’s failure to control its borders and impose its sovereignty.

The United States — considered to be the largest superpower in the world — also experienced this paradox when it tried to build a wall along its southern border to keep out unwanted immigration from Mexico and other Central and South American countries.

An immigrant passes Texas National Guard soldiers at the U.S.Mexico border on January 09, 2023 in El Paso, Texas.

When the Berlin Wall fell, everyone believed that the era of walls had ended, and that humanity was entering an era of openness and communication.

However, the last 20 years has witnessed the construction of more than 20 walls in various countries of different sizes, lengths and purposes, but none of these walls were able to achieve the goals for which they were erected.

‘Mind’ walls

This prompted some countries to implement ‘smarter’ ways to ban people. They chose to erect more effective walls out of a different type of ‘clay’ — one that is less solid, less physical and less clear.

These walls are not like those made of iron and cement, which tower high towards the sky but are hidden behind legislative laws and administrative institutions or ministries bearing conciliatory, and sometimes outright deceptive, names such as the Ministry of Immigration, the Ministry of ‘National Identity’, or even the Ministry of Integration and Solidarity.

The mission of these ministries, of course, is not to watch over the borders, but rather to build invisible walls and plant them in the consciences and minds of citizens and expatriates alike.

Perhaps the most dangerous walls are not those made of cement and iron, but those constructed in the minds of people. In this way, borders become a mere formality and the real barriers are those built in minds which separate people according to the colour of their skin, their values and their cultures.

The success and effectiveness of these ‘mind walls’ is evident in the growing intolerance of foreigners in many Western countries, who ironically call for plurality and claim to support diversity. However, these calls and claims are increasingly proving to be empty in nature.

Here, I am not referring only to these Western capitals’ physical embodiment of all forms of separation that we sense whenever we request a transit visa, nor do I mean the walls that these capitals are constantly planting — not only in the hearts of foreigners coming over to these countries, but also in the hearts of their very citizens.

Rather, I am talking about the adoption of those capitals of the poorest, most rigid, and least open forms of ‘identity definition’.

Those are the existential ‘ontological’ walls that bring us back to a ‘pre-dialectical’ concept of identity that takes us back to the worst forms of conformity, strips us of every movement, denies our ability to ‘cross over’, prevents us from generating natural differences and forces the ‘other’ to become identical to the ‘self’.

A form of self-imprisonment

It may be said that it is natural for countries to protect their borders and monitor the movement of those who cross them. This is indisputable, but only on the condition that we distinguish ‘borders’ from ‘walls’ — especially the walls constructed in people’s minds.

Simply speaking, borders are the result of an agreement or, at least, a negotiation. We know that it is a concept that was birthed alongside the modern state, as it arose in Europe between the 13th and 14th centuries. It has been, since its inception, a mutual recognition, while walls are built against the ‘other’ and on sufferance.

In doing this, walls are actually built against the ‘self’. This is what characterised the Berlin Wall, which did not fall until 1989 and was not built to prevent foreigners from entering, but rather to prevent certain citizens from leaving, meaning that it was not intended to protect the ‘self’, but rather to imprison it.

This file picture taken on August 26, 1961 shows men on the western side of the Berlin Wall talk to their girlfriends behind a fence at the train station Stettiner Bahnhof in Berlin, Germany.

Therefore, borders are based on mutual recognition, while walls are built against the ‘other’ and against his/her will. Philosopher Immanuel Kant distinguished borders from walls. He believed that borders call for openness, while walls and dams signify closure.

Borders are what defines and limits the ‘self’, separating it from the ‘other’ and then linking both of them again at the same time. They are a form of ‘externalisation’ in every sense. They do not separate or differentiate, but rather differentiate the parties in order to eventually link them together.

Borders vs. walls

The erection of cultural walls indicates the inability of society to recognise the ‘other’ and coexist with them and, perhaps, even to deny the other the very meaning of existence. On the contrary, borders are what allow encounters with the ‘other’.

Therefore, borders are always bustling with movement despite their static nature. That is, they always open and close in a dynamic way, while walls are static, silent and deaf by all definitions.

Borders are always bustling with movement despite their static nature. That is, they always open and close in a dynamic way, while walls are static, silent and deaf by all definitions.

A wall, therefore, 'stands' against any type of communication. It closes doors and windows and all other openings in the face of the 'other', while borders are just borders, precisely because they still recognise the 'other'. A border is not established to encircle the 'self', but rather to define the 'self' and identify the 'other'.

To host the 'other', I must have a well-defined shelter — a home. When borders separate the 'self' from the 'other', the 'other' knows that I can host him/her and open the doors of my 'home' to them. 

But I know that I do not have the right to declare that I am at 'home' when I cross the border to enter the 'home' of the 'other'. This would make me a coloniser.

This is because colonialism was nothing but a confusion of borders or, rather, a scrapping of them without any valid right to do so. It is the coloniser's self-proclaimed declaration that he is at his 'home', wherever he chooses to be. 

It is the omission of the 'other' in terms of both 'self' and 'place'.

In this way, and despite the complexities that characterise the nature of borders and the negative connotations they carry, 'borders' are still the only way to inoculate us against the poison of 'walls'— especially the walls erected in the minds of people. 

That is because a world without borders is only a desert whose grains of sand are similar — a place where everything loses its uniqueness, difference is absent and flat equalisation, delusional congruence, and generalised stereotypes prevail. 

Only by using the correct definition of borders, can visas regain their correct function as a tool to monitor the transit of people, rather than an 'indulgence' that grants entry into the 'European paradise'.

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