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May 7, 2007

The Baghdad Wall

The Baghdad Wall

We got an irresistible pitch from tbrucia a few weeks ago:

Today’s NYT website features an article: U.S. Erects Baghdad Wall to Keep Sects Apart (registration req.). What about a discussion of “WALLS?” It could bring in the role of the Berlin Wall, fencing the U.S./Mexican border, the Israeli/Palestinian wall, and the division by walls of the neighborhoods in Belfast, Northern Ireland. (For those with a poetic frame of mind, Robert Frost’s famous poem could ‘slip in under the wall.’) Are walls symptoms of interpersonal problems, solutions to conflicts, or a mixture of both?…

tbrucia, in a pitch to Open Source.

So we’re jumping in, starting with the concrete facts of Iraq and getting more metaphoric as we go. And concrete they are: the 82nd Airborne Division’s plan — as outlined in their own article — is to create a three-mile-long, twelve-foot-high wall made up of 14,000 pound concrete barriers. The idea is to separate the predominantly Sunni Adhamiya neighborhood from Shiite areas to the east. They joke about building “the great wall of Adhamiya,” but point out that they’re going for more of an “exclusive gated community.” “The wall,” they wrote, “is one of the centerpieces of a new strategy by coalition and Iraqi forces to break the cycle of sectarian violence.”

Local Iraqis didn’t see it that way. Their reaction to the wall was swift and overwhelmingly negative. Mark Lynch, one of the savvier Arabic-media watchers we know — and a guest in the past — has a good synopsis.

All of this makes tbrucia’s Frost recommendation all the more salient. A few lines in particular stand out:

Before I built a wall I’d ask to know

What I was walling in or walling out,

And to whom I was like to give offence.

Robert Frost, in Mending Wall.

What did the 82nd Airborne ask to know? And what are they learning now? More broadly, when is a wall just what the doctor ordered? And when does it add fuel to the fire?

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  • Potter

    Frost’s poem gives me the chills. Too often only one line is quoted, the line about good fences making good neighbors as an excuse for what seems to me to be failure. Frost’s wall was not 12 feet or 25 feet high. Frost’s wall was a stone wall, like the one I have, made of large stones found clearing the land also probably to keep the cows on one side though now we are all wooded again. Frost’s wall keeps heaving from freezing and thawing- nature does not love it- making gaps that “even two can pass abreast”. Frost meets his neighbor to set the line again- “just another outdoor game”. Frost would not have the wall (“Something there is that doesn’t love a wall. That wants it down) but his neighbor needs it and so he accepts it until such time his neighbor feels it no longer necessary (“I’d rather he said it for himself” “He moves in darkness as it seems to me” …)

    The wall in Israel breaks my heart. It is a monument to the failure of the peace process. The wall in Iraq will be such a monument- a monument to failures. Very sad.

  • plnelson

    The wall in Israel breaks my heart. It is a monument to the failure of the peace process. The wall in Iraq will be such a monument- a monument to failures. Very sad.

    I don’t think the two are comparable. Nations have a right to secure their border. The wall in Israel was built by the Israeli’s for their own security. And it demonstrably works because the number of suicide bombers inside Israel since it was constructed is down significantly. The Palestinians seem to have little grasp of peace or democracy. When Israel withdrew from Gaza and South Lebanon the Palestinians simply used those spots to launch missiles at Israel from. Left to their own devices the Palestinians make war on each other as we saw recently with the open warfare between Hamas and Fatah. The school attack this weekend was yet another example. My only complaint about Israel’s wall is that parts of it cross Palestinian territory; they need to fix that. But if I was living next to the Palestinians that I’d build a wall, too.

    On the other hand the US continues to profer us the fiction that the Sunnis and Shiites are building a nation together. If that’s true then why do we need to build a 12 foot concrete wall between them?

  • plnelson

    The “wall” I’m most concerned about is the one the White House has built around itself on the Iraq war. There was a time a few years ago when you could still get a good debate going on forums like this between opponents like me and supporters who still thought invading Iraq was good or sensible or the first step on the road to a peaceful democratic mideast. It’s almost impossible to find anyone who still believes that today outside of the extreme right-wing blogs where they think global warming is a plot foisted on us by the Freemasons and feminism is the result of too much fluoridation – except at the White House!

    US policy in Iraq is, and has been from the start, completely delusional! Now it’s wrecking our military – overstretching it with extended tours of duty. Today we are being told that the Kansas National Guard disaster response to the tornados this weekend was hampered because their equipment is in Iraq. The Boston Globe had a story today about thousands of Americans returning from Iraq with tropical diseases doctors here don’t know how to treat. When and how is this going to stop?

  • nabobnico

    In early November of 1989 I was in Istanbul, bumming around, taking pictures staring at the sea when my eye caught a headline about what was going on in East Germany, about the refugees taking shelter in the embassy compounds. On a whim, I jumped on a train and after two and half days, arrived in Berlin early on the morning of November 9th. The city was tense and nervous, jittery even. No one knew what would happen. Rumors were flying about soldiers massing on the eastern side, about a slaughter having already begun—remember this was just a short while after China had delt with their protesters.

    By the time I found a place to stay, there were reports that a few people had been let through. By that evening it grew into a vast flood. The East German soldiers opened a hole in the wall and thousands started streaming through—the city stopped and watched them. germans were ecstatically hugging each other and I was caught up in it, despite the fact that I spoke no German. I can’t remember the exact order of events now (there were many bottles of beer being passed around) but at some point I found myself hauled up onto the wall, and we stood and danced there to the lights of flares. It was eerie to stand on the wall and see one side teeming with people and neon and lights and the other side a darkly lit, menacing city, the only light being the floodlit plain between the two walls. We went up to some East german guards and they stared at us with stony faces; I can’t imagine they stayed at there posts for a long time. The night turned into a grey Berlin morning and the alcohol and excitement couldn’t keep me awake any longer. Eventually I made it home to bed, slept a few hours and started all over again the next night.

    At some point, I called my mother and she cried into the phone—she said “I feel like the war is finally over!” It hadn’t occured to me until just then how it must have seemed to her, someone who remembered WWII. I thought of it simply as the Berlin Wall, a cold war structure but to my mother it went back to the beginning of Worl War Two, something she’d lived with almost her entire life.

    I think of that wall now when I look at pictures of the Israeli wall, or hear about the one in Bagdad. When you build a wall, you don’t take it down; someone else does—another generation, another government. Like the Frost poem says:

    Before I built a wall I’d ask to know

    What I was walling in or walling out,

    And to whom I was like to give offence.

    Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,

    That wants it down.’

    “And to whom I was like to give offence…” We have offended so many in this long war, created so much mistrust and anger. The children raised in the shadow of that wall (raised under the gaze of a menacing soldier) will never know why it was built. They will only know that on the other side is the enemy, the other, the “someone-not-them.” Think of the children, now old men, raised inside the walls of Sabra & Shattila. They no nothing but the grey vertical horizon that surrounds them. No good comes from building a wall, no decent lasting, humane emotion. Call it a fence built to “make good neighbors” but it is still a wall—remember what the Berlin Wall was called on the other side; it was an Anti-Fascist Protection Barrier.

    I only hope I’m around to dance on the crumbling remains of the Bush Doctrine Wall, but I fear I won’t be. More likely it will be a crumbling dike in New Orleans, or one of the many deserted public works projects in Iraq. (That in fact is perhaps the bright side of this wall; built with American money (Read KBR), it probably won’t last more than a year or so(read nine months!)

  • orlox

    “On December 1, 1948, President José Figueres Ferrer of Costa Rica abolished the country’s army after victory in the civil war in that year. In a ceremony in the Cuartel Bellavista, Figueres broke a wall with a mallet symbolizing the end of Costa Rica’s military spirit.”

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Military_of_Costa_Rica

  • Potter

    plnelson: Nations have a right to secure their border.

    That is so but Israel’s wall is no respected border even if it follows the green line (which is not a border but the 1949 ceasefire line). The wall does not exactly follow the green line either. It might be a border between two states if there was agreement. At the moment it’s a land grab as it is unilaterally made. The wall is a somewhat of a security wall or a defensive wall AND an obvious monument to the failure of the peace process.

    How does it help the peace process?

    Oddly- on the other side of this wall there are Israeli settlers and more settling of land that would be a Palestinian state.

    The Palestinians seem to have little grasp of peace or democracy

    Leaving Gaza unilaterally, Israel washed it’s hands of responsiblity for the people living there and refused to deal with their democratically elected government. Palestinians, if they had their own state, would not be starting from zero to achieve an admirable democracy; they are well on their way.

    Israel proceeded to squeeze Palestinians economically refusing to talk before it’s pre-conditions are met. These pre-conditions are Palestinian bargaining chips and these issues should be discussed at the peace table. That Israel imposes this pre-condition is another kind of wall.

    Palestinians should use and should have used civil disobedience more but they are mad as hell. Their lives are miserable and the militants are not going to behave for long. At the moment there is a ceasfire of sorts while all sorts of regrouping and assessing on both sides is going on before the next round.

    Neither side has a grasp of peace. I can’t say that Israel does any more than the Palestinians. As long as Israel can prevent or limit terrorists acts, suiciders and rocket fire and continue living normally, the status quo with the ugly wall would be fine.

    ********

    The Berlin Wall and the Iron Curtain are monuments to the poverty of the communist system (totalitarianism). Reagan gets credit boldness and perfect timing when he said “Mr. Gorbachov tear down that wall”. The great cellist M. Rostropovich, who died recently, went to the falling Berlin wall and played (1989)…

    Picture of Mstislav Rostropovich at the Berlin Wall -1989

    the NYtimes obituary says:

    With President Mikhail S. Gorbachev’s program of increased openness, Mr. Rostropovich began to renew his contacts with his homeland. He met with Mr. Gorbachev and President Ronald Reagan at the White House in 1987. In November 1989, immediately after the fall of the Berlin Wall, he gave an impromptu concert there.

  • Potter

    nabobnico Wow! what an unforgettable experience! Amazing! ( I posted mine above before I saw yours). My son went to Berlin a few years after that and came home with a little chunk of the wall. I suspect you have some too?

    While I was reading what you wrote I thought of the walls around the Jewish ghettos- the Warsaw Ghetto in particular- and the walls around the concentration camps with their guard towers.

  • plnelson

    Leaving Gaza unilaterally, Israel washed it’s hands of responsiblity for the people living there

    The Palestinians had been asking them to leave for decades. Why do they need to negotiate a withdrawal from a place they conquered and the whole world was telling them they should leave?

    In Iraq we should do exactly what they did, only quicker. Just leave. We’ve overthrown their dictator, given them a chance to create their own constitution, poured billions of dollars of reconstruction aid into the place and encouraged them to work things out peacefully. They clearly don’t want to and we need to separate ourselves from them.

    and refused to deal with their democratically elected government.

    Their recent democratically elected government doesn’t recognize Israel or its right to exist, which makes it a little hard to deal with. And it’s not just Israel – the EU also imposed sanctions on the Palestinians as a result of that.

    ALL that has to happen to advance the peace process is for the Palestinians to renounce violence and recognize Israel’s right to exist. That seems like a pretty basic, minimal set of requirements. Every time sanctions or other strictures have been imposed on the Palestinians it’s been in response to some act of violence they’ve committed.

    All that Israel wants is to live in peace. Israel is the most democratic nation in the whole region with a peaceful, multiparty democracy, free press, and which fully recognizes the rights of women. The Palestinians and other nations in the region should be EMULATING them, not attacking them.

  • herbert browne

    I have always appreciated the walling efforts of mighty kingdoms, when they extended their logistical lines to extremes… and then hoped that walls would give them respite (I’m thinking of China’s “great wall”, and Hadrian’s wall). When well built, they seem to provide wonderful tourist attractions… especially when the nearby real estate isn’t in particular demand.

    Re..”ALL that has to happen to advance the peace process is for the Palestinians to renounce violence and recognize Israel’s right to exist…”-

    Where? Israel existed- in the distant past- in roughly the same neighborhood which the Europeans found for them in the remains of the old Byzantine Empire. Was that grounds enough to resettle them there? Europeans have been rather cavalier about where settlement can take place, at the expense of existing cultural infrastructures (eg the Western Hemisphere)… so I don’t suppose anyone should be surprised. Of course, ever since the Israelis (& their defending angel) have renounced violence, it should follow that those who are inimical to being replaced upon the land should follow suit. Hey- it works for me!

    Re ..”All that Israel wants is to live in peace..”-

    That’s all ANY of us want… and when we find ourselves in power, we dictate what the terms of that “peace” look like. The Romans wanted peace… and so did the Turks. And so does the U.S.- just ask anyone at the State Department. The Chinese wanted peace (& maybe full employment) when they built the “great wall”, too, I believe…

    Now, I have to say that one indication that these rather grand wall installations aren’t really in the public’s best interest is the lack of corporate sponsorship, &/or attempts to locate advertising on these structures- but I could be wrong about this. Does anyone have information about commercial signage going up on any of these major barriers, anywhere?.. or hints at a public/private consortium? (Perhaps the 82nd Airborne should hire Christo as a consultant…) ^..^

  • http://www.rockisland.com/~pmcrae/index.html peggysue

    All this wall building reminds me of a story I heard of a Persian King. A seer had predicted his day of death. As the time approached he became more and more fearful. He built sturdy walls around his city. He fortified his palace. Still he feared an assassin might get in. Finally, on the day he was suppose to die he was so terrified he completly sealed the heavy walls he’d built around himself… and suffocated to death.

  • Potter

    PLN: The Palestinians had been asking them to leave for decades. Why do they need to negotiate a withdrawal from a place they conquered and the whole world was telling them they should leave?

    Palestinians (and the rest of the world) wanted the settlers and the military to leave for obvious reasons.

    No, what the Palestinians have been fighting for is a state of their own, COMPLETE withdrawal from the entire occupied territories. When Israel left Gaza unilaterally the Palestinian suspicion ( and the slogan) was “Gaza first, Gaza last” and the conclusion was, regardless of what we may think they should have done, that they had to keep up the pressure, the fight. Sharon did not work with Abbas; he ignored and weakened him. When Hamas came in, partly as a result, Israel had a good excuse to freeze things as they are. Thus the truth of the slogan. Thus Israel elevated or helped to elevate it’s fiercest foe. This btw brings Al Qaeda and Hezbollah into the fight. The longer this goes on the worse it looks for “fortress Israel” ( as Jordan’s King Abdullah said recently on the PBS Newshour).

    Their recent democratically elected government doesn’t recognize Israel or its right to exist, which makes it a little hard to deal with. And it’s not just Israel – the EU also imposed sanctions on the Palestinians as a result of that.

    ALL that has to happen to advance the peace process is for the Palestinians to renounce violence and recognize Israel’s right to exist. That seems like a pretty basic, minimal set of requirements.

    The Euros and the US thought that they could put the squeeze on Hamas by punishing everybody but have backed off and found ways to get around that. The Euros object to terrorism but are not in agreement about the Israeli pre-conditions. Rice is now trying to get around that too.

    It’s Hamas that does not recognize Israel. The PLO does. The unity government was elected to negotiate for both which is a positive step. As well there would be a referendum of any agreement that Hamas said would respect. I would bet the people would vote for an end to their suffering.

    What Israel needs to negotiate for is PEACE, not to pre-condition it. Both need to agree to borders that will meets the needs of both sides through compromise, that will include giving the Palestinians a decent, workable state, something they would not want to lose by fomenting further war or violence.

    Coming to the table means a recognition of the legitimacy of other side’s bargaining position (controlling violence, withholding recognition). Israel has the military power (which also provokes the violence) and control of the land and resources. All the Palestinians have is world opinion, the power to disrupt normal life in Israel through terrorism/rocket fire and withholding recognition.

    But some Israeli’s do not want to give up the land; they would rather live this way with a wall and make excuses about the other side’s behavior even in this lull. Olmert may be interested in more war to prove himself in fact. The policy has been, since Sharon at least, to break the spirit of the Palestinians with force and it has worked against Israel.

  • Potter

    Thelast lines from Roger Cohen’s 5/4/07 piece in the NYTimes ” Roots of Israel’s Malaise Deeper Than Recent War”

    “On the surface, the Tel Aviv rally [against Olmert] was not about peace talks or the Palestinian conflict, but in reality I think it was. It was about the wall-slash-fence rising to disappear the Palestinians from view, the soul-devouring business of lording it over, the dashed hopes, the looking away to the materialist West, and the cost, moral and otherwise, of all that on a weary Israel.

    “It is not the country we dreamed of,” said Aaron Liraz, one of the protesters. “But it is our country.”

  • plnelson

    No, what the Palestinians have been fighting for is a state of their own, COMPLETE withdrawal from the entire occupied territories. When Israel left Gaza unilaterally the Palestinian suspicion ( and the slogan) was “Gaza first, Gaza last”

    Regardless of their suspicion the bottom line is that when Israel left Gaza and South Lebanon the Palestinians immediately used those locations to launch missiles at them! If their goal was to convince the Israelis (or anyone else) of the wisdom of withdrawing from the occupied territories then that was a completely irrational thing to do.

    Almost every time there’s an outbreak of violence in the region it’s initiated by the Palestinians. The Palestinians’ clear preference for violence, both against Israel and against each other suggests that it would be suicidal for Israel to withdraw from any more territory if they value their security.

    All the Palestinians have is world opinion, the power to disrupt normal life in Israel through terrorism/rocket fire and withholding recognition.

    That’s not all the Palestinians have. They have the power to convince people that they can be a reliable partner in negotiations for peace by BEHAVING peacefully. They have the power to renounce violence and return to the negotiating table. If you believe that they are rational (I’m not convinced) then in purely rational terms they lose NOTHING by behaving peacefully since their current strategy is simply not working to their benefit.

    On the subject of rationality, one of the mistakes Americans keep making WRT that region is to expect people to behave rationally. The phenomenon of suicide bombing, religious extremism, and internecine violence cuts a wide swath across south Asia, the mideast and North Africa, from Pakistan to Afghanistan to Iran to Kurdisatn to Iraq to Turkey to Syria to Saudi Arabia to Somalia to the Sudan to Lebanon to Palestine to Egypt to Libya to Algeria to Morocco. Is it tribalism? Religion? Subjugation of women? (N.B. that males tend to be violent, females much less so – so if you create a society where women have a reduced role, then their moderating influence on the culture is less).

    Whatever the ingredients to this weird, toxic violent cultural stew, a wall seems like a good idea if you’re trying to carve out a little island of civilization, peace and democracy.

  • tbrucia

    It strikes me that walls assume that the people on one side are ‘We’ and the people on the other are ‘They’. The more one thinks about that assumption the leakier it gets. OBJECTIVELY, there’s often a much larger gap between people living on the SAME side of a wall (e.g. me and Donald Trump) than between me and someone living on the other side of a wall (e.g. me and a salesman in Guadalajara). BUT, as pointed out by the late Kurt Vonnegut in Cat’s Cradle, humans are addicted to granfalloons http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Granfalloon . Curiously, as soon as some people build walls, other people take up the occupation of building tunnels… Perhaps if there is a ‘we’ and ‘they’ in the Wall Community, it’s a contest between The Wall Builders and The Tunnelers. The two groups seem to have very distinct worldviews, and they reflect both sides of the human mind: the curious and adventurous v. the fearful and timid. Walls are the refuge of people who think external structures can provide something that (I suspect) they can never deliver…. I’ll leave it to others to name ‘the user benefits’ of walls…. Should prove interesting!

  • Potter

    … the Palestinians immediately used those locations to launch missiles at them!

    Of course- there was no peace agreement. Israel left Lebanon because it could no longer stay there; occupation was a drain on the IDF, solders were dying, many Israeli’s no longer supported it. This was NOT part of any peace deal remember. Where did that leave Palestinian refugees? You don’t get it that Palestinians are legitimately fighting for a land of their own, at least for what is rightfully theirs. But you are not alone on this one, unfortunately. I am not talking about extremists that want to destroy Israel or say they want to.

    …The Palestinians’ clear preference for violence,…. it would be suicidal for Israel to withdraw from any more territory if they value their security.

    That needs to be tested AFTER they get a state, after agreement, after referendums on both sides. This does mean some risk. But Israel can well afford it and can deal with it. For goodness sake Israel is armed to the teeth with all sorts of sophisticated weaponry!! This way, hanging on, building walls, things are getting worse not better. Resentments are building, militant tactics and weapons are stockpiling and getting more sophisticated. The status quo is untenable. Palestinians are fighting (via their militants) to end the occupation. As long as there is occupation, their preference is for disrupting Israeli normalcy and they feel more cause with no peace process. If Israel is comfortable nothing happens. Israel’s preference it seems is violence and to force submission. How can anyone arguing fairly discount Israel’s violence?

    They have the power to convince people that they can be a reliable partner in negotiations for peace by BEHAVING peacefully…..

    They want reciprocity and I don’t blame them. You argue as if Israel can call the shots. You argue pre-conditions. As well you have to separate out internal conflicts. At the moment there is relative quiet. So what is happening? And speaking of reliable partner- read the history- Israel has violated agreements as well, withdrawn and reentered, allowing continuous settlement and confiscation of Palestinian property. There is lack of trust on both sides. If you go to Israel and look around you understand right away Israel’s power over Palestinians and the injustice and why they fight. They will behave themselves when they have something they don’t want to lose. It’s not like Iraq at all – Iraq is a country.

    On the subject of rationality, one of the mistakes Americans keep making WRT that region is to expect people to behave rationally.

    You are talking about a good deal of the world if not all the world. because extremism exists everywhere including in America. One of the problems Americans who think like that have is hubris; they think that they alone know rationality. This is how GWB and his neo-cons got us into so much trouble.

    Whatever the ingredients to this weird, toxic violent cultural stew, a wall seems like a good idea if you’re trying to carve out a little island of civilization, peace and democracy.

    Perhaps or perhaps we should build a wall around our superior selves and learn to live without their oil. That’s what the extremists would prefer I believe.

  • Potter

    Thank you tbrucia for the larger perspective. I don;t want to take up the thread with endless arguing about Israel and the Palestinians.

  • Nick

    This show & thread got me thinking about the differences between fences and boundary walls. The former seems more (but not exclusively) livestock or animal focused. From Wikipedia:

    Fence:“A fence is a freestanding structure designed to restrict or prevent movement across a boundary. It is generally distinguished from a wall by the lightness of its construction: a wall is usually restricted to such barriers made from solid brick or concrete, blocking vision as well as passage (though the definitions overlap somewhat).”

    That Wikipedia entry includes these interesting quotes:

    (quote)

    “Good fences make good neighbors.” — Robert Frost (ironically, in the poem “Mending Wall”).

    “A good neighbour is a fellow who smiles at you over the back fence, but doesn’t climb over it.” — Arthur Baer

    “There is something about jumping a horse over a fence, something that makes you feel good. Perhaps it’s the risk, the gamble. In any event it’s a thing I need.” — William Faulkner

    “Fear is the highest fence.” — Dudley Nichols

    “What have they done to the earth?/ What have they done to our fair sister?/ Ravaged and plundered/ and ripped her/ and bit her/ stuck her with knives/ in the side of the dawn/ and tied her with fences/ and dragged her down.” — Jim Morrison, of The Doors

    (unquote)

    Fences would seem largely adequate for restricting the movements of livestock. But, as the first three quotes illuminate, fences are easily circumvented—a fence requires people to respect it as a boundary. It’s also interesting to ponder the perceived need for fences intended to restrict human movements: does this perceived need betray an equation (or prejudice) that ‘others’ (i.e., not my in-group) = ‘less than human’ (wandering animals)?

    Anyway, fences needn’t be open or light. They can be stone, too:

    “Rock fence”—which I suppose, in cultural (and technological) evolution, gave rise to the development of big honkin’ walls, ala the Berlin Wall, Hadrian’s Wall, Great Wall of China, etc.; which, along with fences, fit within this concept: Separation barrier , – a subset of wall:

    (quote)

    Boundary walls include privacy walls, boundary-marking walls, and city walls. These intergrade into fences; the conventional differentiation is that a fence is of minimal thickness and often is open in nature, while a wall is usually more than a nominal thickness and is completely closed, or opaque. More to the point, if an exterior structure is made of wood or wire, it is generally referred to as a fence, while if it is made of masonry, it is considered a wall. A common term for both is barrier, convenient if it is partly a wall and partly a fence, e.g. the Berlin Wall.

    Before the invention of artillery, many European cities had protective walls. In fact, the English word “wall” is derived from Latin vallum, which was a type of fortification wall. Since they are no longer relevant for defense, the cities have grown beyond their walls, and many of the walls have been torn down. Extreme examples of boundary walls include the Great Wall of China and Hadrian’s Wall. A modern functional example was the Berlin Wall, which divided Germany.

    In areas of rocky soils around the world, farmers have often pulled large quantities of stone out of their fields to make farming easier, and have stacked those stones to make walls that either mark the field boundary, or the property boundary, or both.

    Special laws often govern walls shared by neighbouring properties. Typically, one neighbour cannot alter the common wall if it is likely to affect the building or property on the other side.

    (unquote)

    I think it’s probably tempting to view the builders of separation barriers (intended to restrict human populations, not merely livestock) as having failed as peacemakers, or as neighbors, or as diplomats. This temptation likely isn’t wholly unwarranted, but I don’t think it should be a blanket judgment applicable to all separation-barrier walls. Our species, after all, has had no shortage of aggressors. For millennia, the Atlantic Ocean served as a separation barrier in (unwitting) service of the original human inhabitants of the Americas. But after the unwashed, diseased, women-burning, war-as-a-culture barbarians of medieval Europe began to conceive that the Earth was spherical instead of flat, and as their ocean-going ships became more trustworthy for voyages of weeks instead of days, the Atlantic separation barrier “fell”.

    Because, ultimately, the human mind can discern ways to circumvent any wall, natural or artificial, no matter how daunting it seems at first blush. Hannibal crossed the Alps (with elephants, no less!). China’s Great Wall could be avoided by passing around its westernmost reach. And warfare itself is in many ways the ‘art’ (an admitted misuse of the word) of overcoming separation barriers (everything from hedgerows to road-blocks to castles to Green Zones).

    Separation-barrier walls, in the end, are reflections of a tendency, in many human cultures, to vilify (or simply mistrust) other humans. Walls are monuments to the very concept of otherness. (See tbrucia’s fine 1:48 PM, May 8th) But now, in the Internet Era, our world is becoming intimately interconnected. We can, sitting at our computers, read the thoughts, feelings, and hopes of ordinary people geographically remote from us, who, only fifty years ago, we’d have considered incomprehensibly foreign. We discover instead that they are hardly any different than us. Can the concept of ‘otherness’ survive this revo-evolution?

    If, a century from now, separation barriers like the Baghdad Wall, the West Bank ‘fence’, and the fence along the US border have become historical relics and curiosities, will it signify the erosion of the longstanding power of the concept of otherness? (I can only hope so.)

  • http://www.radioopensource.org/user/sidewalker sidewalker

    Hole in the wall

    Don’t Fence Me In: The Cole Porter and Robert Fletcher song sung by David Byrne.

  • herbert browne

    Re ..”The phenomenon of suicide bombing, religious extremism, and internecine violence cuts a wide swath across south Asia, the mideast and North Africa, from Pakistan to Afghanistan to Iran to Kurdisatn to Iraq to Turkey to Syria to (etc etc)..”-

    I guess Northern Ireland would have fit those parameters, until fairly recently… as well as some Balkan states. Perhaps we should include the Sino-Tibetan dispute- one that has no taint of Islam to color it.

    Re ..”every time sanctions or other strictures have been imposed on the Palestinians it’s been in response to some act of violence they’ve committed..”-

    And what was the nature of the Original “act of violence” that brought Israel into their midst? Today brought a revelation on this subject my way: that Israel has never formally recognized “the Green Line” or ANY OTHER actual “limit” to their eastern border! I suppose that, when questioned sharply, a few Zionists might express an interest in calling it “good” at the Euphrates… & let their Palestinian cousins go the way of the Hittites…

    Most of us rely on four (or more) walls and a roof. Four fences, even with a roof, wouldn’t cut it, for most (well, maybe in Hawai’i). So, let’s extrapolate the meaning of large walls external to a community as a kind of “Big House”, I guess… a House full of houses. (OK, I have to stop… because the word “house” has begun to look totally foreign and a little ridiculous… kinda like when “ohio” looks like an old-fashioned car… only less meaningful) ^..^

  • Potter

    I heard Michael Bechloss, presidential historian the other day on his book tour. He has a new book about some extraordinary ( courageous) acts of our presidents and cites Reagan’s challenge to Gorbachev to tear down the wall. I posted the bit about Rostropovich meeting Reagan in 1987 trying to connect the two but apparently, according to Bechsloss Reagan was also listening to his wife Nancy and then Suzanne Massie, his expert on Russian/Soviet affairs.

  • hurley

    Good suggestion, tbrucia; also your juxtaposition of walls and tunnels. Sequel, anybody?

    Barrier walls generally a sign of ultimate if not imminent decline, the Great Wall of China perhaps the pre-eminent example. The Great Wall also used to be the only man-made object visible from outer space, a tempting bit of symbolism to the little green men.

    I read recently that the struggle in Baghdad is being played out not only around the wall, but on the wall, with the “authorities” encouraging artists to paint scenes of snowy peaks and rilling streams, etc,, and the “insurgents” advocating depictions of battle and violence.

  • hurley

    The Great Wall of Baghdad Rises:

    http://www.counterpunch.org/patrick05072007.html

    How the Surge is Failing:

    http://www.counterpunch.org/patrick05042007.html

    which has the quote I alluded to:

    A bizarre flavour has been given to Saadoun Street because the government has encouraged artists to paint the giant concrete blast barriers with uplifting if unlikely scenes of mountain torrents, meadows in spring and lake side scenes. Many of the pictures, all in garish greens, blues and yellows, look more like Switzerland than Iraq. Muqtada al-Sadr, for his part, is encouraging artists to paint the blast barriers with scenes illustrating the anguish inflicted on the Iraqi people by the US occupation.

  • hurley
  • Potter

    Hurley- what an interesting angle! Another sequel could focus on the graffiti on walls, as messages, as art.

  • hurley

    And then of course there are the walls surrounding Ancient Rome, the subject of an ongoing project by the fine American filmaker Jon Jost (Sure Fire — see it if you haven’t):

    http://www.jon-jost.com/work/muri.html

  • Nick

    Reading hurley’s latest contributions sparked a miniscule epiphany: the Great Wall of China, the walls around ancient city-states, Hadrian’s Wall, the West Bank wall, and the US-Mexico separation barrier are all intended to block human movement across ‘international’ boundaries. This applies even to the Berlin Wall.

    Question: is the Baghdad wall the first separation barrier designed to block human movement—of putatively equal citizens—within one country/nation/state?

    Does anyone know?

    If so, what does that say about Iraq as a nation-state? What does it say about the Bush project to ‘liberate’ Iraq (and its oilfields), and to make it an American-friendly psuedo-democratic (like the USA) republic ?

  • hurley

    Nick: The Mason Dixon line. A wall a vertical extension of a line, after all.

    And then there are those disturbing things, “gated communities.”

    In a rush. More later, he threatened.

  • Nick

    hurley, thanks (again). I ought to be more specific about what I’m wondering. And because I’m still sussing it out, I should start by ruling out certain criteria.

    What I’m wondering about probably doesn’t include the Mason-Dixon Line because I don’t think that was intended to restrict the movements of putatively equal citizens. And the ‘gated community’ paradigm might or might not parallel the Iraq situation, because the scale is so dramatically different, and because I rather doubt that gated communities arise from government policing policy! (Not from an authentically democratic government, at least.)

    Here’s something of import I’ve gathered from your links: separation-barrier walls in Iraq aren’t necessarily unique to the 82nd Airborne’s:

    “The sealing off of whole districts with walls has had a mixed response in Sunni neighbourhoods.” – Cockburn, Counterpunch.

    But I’m still wondering if this intra-nation-state wall-bonanza is unique to Iraq. How many other countries have had to forcibly separate putatively equal citizens from one another?

    Anyway, I’m threatening you with “more later” too! ;-) Because I’m starting to wonder about how physical, geographical walls are manifestations of the interior walls erected between humans via our enculturation. As in: beliefs in our in-group’s ‘specialness’, and the reciprocal ‘otherness’ of all those humans beyond our culturally defined in-groupings. (But I have errands to run first.)

  • hobie75

    In regards to walls, I think of the Far Side cartoon best described by this website:

    http://www.acsu.buffalo.edu/~insrisg/nature/nw95/farside03

    One of my favourites (there are so many) is one in which a suburban

    father is pointing out a singing bird in his backyard to his son. A

    network of white picket fences that separate the yards of his suburban

    neighbours are clearly visible in the picture. He tells his son that the

    bird’s singing serves to mark its territory and that this is a behaviour

    that is “…restricted to lower animals.”.

  • hurley

    Nick: “But I’m still wondering if this intra-nation-state wall-bonanza is unique to Iraq. How many other countries have had to forcibly separate putatively equal citizens from one another?”

    A few years ago the Czech Republic proposed to build a wall around their Roma population. And speaking of Roma, the walls around the Jewish ghetto not far from where I live were in place until not long ago (a rhetorical evasion since I don’t have the precise date in mind).

    How goes the novel you mentioned a while back?

  • hurley

    A reference to the Czech wall:

    http://www.ce-review.org/00/41/petros41.html

    “in October 1999, a wall was erected to separate Romani and non-Romani residents in a district of the city of Ustí nad Labem. This action drew international criticism and a statement from Günter Verheugen, the EU’s enlargement commissioner, who referred to the construction of the wall as a “violation of human rights” (Poolos, 21 October 1999).”

  • hurley

    Any excuse to include Kafka in the conversation (speaking of Czechs and walls):

    http://www.mala.bc.ca/~Johnstoi/kafka/greatwallofchina.htm

  • hurley
  • http://www.rockisland.com/~pmcrae/index.html peggysue

    Back when we were talking about global hip-hop I read about a young chinese girl who tagged the great wall of China.

  • nabobnico

    Nick,

    In response to your question about walling off within one country…the English built a hedge (albight one with sharp thorns) down through the middle of the Indian sub continent in the 1840′s (while I normaly don’t cite Wikipedia, at the moment this is the best I could do…)

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Hedge_of_India

    And I think the Australians did something like that to control the movement of Aboriginals—there was a movie called Rabbit Proof Fence out a few years ago that dealt with this…

    What were our fences like around the reservations? What about around plantations? The Japanese internment camps?

  • nabobnico

    There is also the idea of us and them that was mentioned earlier. The Berlin wall isolated one family from the other, neighbor from neighbor but over time the “wall” of diference between the two grew ever stronger, as new generations were exposed to different things and lost the shared cultural memory that defined them before the building of the wall. As one side fattened themselves on McDonalds and became acustomed to the signs of the west, the other wallowed in a pit of fear and paranoia. Has thaqt wall come down in the twenty years since the fall of the wall? Or is it more durable?

    Edward Said’s point in his book Orientalism is that the west, through her academies, her institutions, created an “unnatural” wall of seperation between Us and Them, between the Occident and the Orient. It seems to me that this idea could be quite widely expanded to include the actions of an occupying power to divide or seperate a population from itself. What are the dynamics of power involved in this, and how readily does the divided population accede to this? Arguably, the residents of Sabra/Shattila have a very different cultural background after three generations behind a wall than do an equivelent palestinian family living in say, Bekka? Has the manifest wall served to create a larger, cultural wall?

    I guess my point is that we create an “other,” an “orient” as soon as we build a wall seperating someone from someone else. Nick’s question is very interesting—it makes us even more of a colonial power when we arrive, as a third party, to seperate one from the other, shii’a from sunn’a. Once again we are bringing our constructions of a safe and pleasurable world and importing them into and onto another society…

  • nabobnico

    Peggy Sue,

    Another person who tagged the Great Wall was Barry McGee. He is an artist in San Francisco who I was in school with at SFAI. He is a tagger whose work is very sad and eloquent. A lot of his stuff has been in galleries too. I remember he showed me a picture of his piece on the wall but I couldn’t find it on the web. This is a link to a PBS number on him…

    http://www.pbs.org/art21/artists/mcgee/index.html

    And also, there is Banksy, the secretive artist, who we should have a show on simply becaus he is amazing, but here is link to a piece he did on the Israeli Wall…

    This is the Google list…

    http://images.google.com/images?hl=en&q=banksy+israel&btnG=Search+Images&gbv=2

    And this is my favorite…

    http://www.perfect.co.uk/2005/08/postcards-from-palestine

  • http://www.radioopensource.org/user/sidewalker sidewalker

    Tell me, does anyone else see the irony in the fact the country at the forefront of expanding global capital markets and the unfettered flow of investments dollars is the one eagerly building border fences, prisons, gated communities and, now, the Baghdad Wall.

  • tbrucia

    When you open your eyes, it’s amazing…. An excellent Israeli movie: ‘The Syrian Bride’ shows the effects of the fence mentality, and the solution is both obvious and inevitable.

  • nabobnico

    Here is Riverbend’s (The iraqi blogger’s) comments on the wall. Sadly, she has fled Iraq…

    http://riverbendblog.blogspot.com/

  • http://www.radioopensource.org/user/sidewalker sidewalker

    Another barrier that deserves mention is US missile shield. General Yuri Balyevsky, the Chief of General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces, has recently called the shield being constructed in Eastern Europe the next Berlin Wall.

  • nabobnico

    This is slighlty off topic, but has anyone seen this site where the iraqi is sleeping in a Chicago gallery and anyone can fire a paintball gun at him remotely via the web. He is letting his wall down…

    http://www.crudeoils.us/

  • Potter

    The Viet Nam Memorial Wall

    Here is another picture, this of a soldier at The Wall in 2002

    see also http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vietnam_Veterans_Memorial

    (Another name was added May 5th 2007 to make 58,256 names total.)

  • Potter
  • Potter

    Wooooops sorry again.

  • Potter

    Is this better?

    The “Wailing Wall” in Jerusalem is the “Western Wall” of the Jewish Second Temple. It connects in a way with the Viet Nam Wall memorial b/c it is here that people go to pray, release feelings, remember, pay respects. It also ( along with Al Aksa mosque above, also the Temple Mount) marks a general physical ground zero in the conflict between not only Israel and the Palestinians, but also between Islam and the West and has been the site of re-ignited passion and violence over recent years.

  • rc21

    More Palestinian violence today. Israel would be smart to speed up the building of their wall.

  • tbrucia

    Here’s an interesting snippet by Leif Pettersenfrom on http://www.bootsnall.com/travelstories/europe/jul04bel.shtml …. “The menacing three mile long “Peace Wall” runs down the center of the dubious area, separating the neighborhoods like the former East and West Berlin. — I wandered up Shankill Road first. I’m not sure what I was expecting to see, but it was pretty much like walking up any street in the U.K., other than the hundreds of Union Jack flags (the Protestant’s sign of allegiance to England) decorating the entire length of the street. Businesses were open and busy, young kids were running around and little old ladies were inching their tiny carts home from the market. No one looked remotely sinister and everyone seemed indifferent to me walking slowly, taking pictures and scribbling lengthy notes. Undoubtedly, I was about the millionth tourist whose curiosity had led them up the street. — Eventually I arrived at Northumberland Street, the lone remaining perpendicular street that intersects and connects Shankill Road and Falls Road as well as being the only break in the Peace Wall. I headed in the direction of Falls Road and was a little stunned at how the surroundings changed as soon as I left Shankill Road. The street is totally bare with 15 foot high walls enclosing it on both sides, lined on the top with steel spikes and barbed wire. The break in the Wall acts as a security check point during times of heightened tension between the neighborhoods. There are two huge, solid steel gates that are used as a pass-through lock. To get through, you pass through one gate and after it closes behind you the other gate opens. The gates are unmanned and propped open these days, but everything is in fresh working order and ready to be clamped shut if things should ever flare up again. — Apart from the intimidating gates, the Peace Wall is huge and bare, except where political murals have been painted alongside advertisements…”

  • tbrucia

    ////More Palestinian violence today. Israel would be smart to speed up the building of their wall.//// Am I the only one who feels it strange to read about Jews being confined in walled ghettos during the Middle Ages — and now to see Jews building walls to define the outer walls of their new ghetto? If the Egyptians and Lebanese were to build a floating wall just outside the territorial waters of Israel (perhaps topped with a highway to allow easier traffic flow between Cairo and Beirut) would Israelis feel more secure? Given the history of the Berlin Wall (and the human proclivity to tunnel), how DEEP do the newest Israeli walls go? If missiles become ever more ubiquitous, can a dome be built over Israel? (Perhaps a virtual wall, made of high-energy laser beams, or perhaps a screen of anti-missile missiles, or perhaps some futuristic carbon-fibre dome with vast batteries of energy efficient fluorescent lights hanging down inside to light up Israel…) It will be interesting to see 22nd century Israel and find out what wall worked. Or if none did… And it will be interesting to see if the neighbors simply ‘get over’ having a Jewish nation in their midst, and simply think of it as ‘the Jewish Quarter’, a place one drives around in order to get from one place to another…. I wish Douglas Adams (author of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’) were still around. He would have something interesting to say….

  • http://sail.navas.us John Navas

    For audio accompaniment, The Wall by Pink Floyd.

  • Ben

    Our memories are how flexible? Twenty years ago…

    “Standing before the Brandenburg Gate, every man is a German, separated from his fellow men. Every man is a Berliner, forced to look upon a scar.” – R. Reagan remarks at Brandenburg, June 12, 1987.

    “Whether the Iraqis take them down when we leave, that’s on them,” 1st Lt. Matthew Holtzendorff (who commands a platoon in the Ghazaliya neighborhood) said. “I don’t foresee us taking it down.” Time Magazine, May 9, 2007

  • nother

    I figured this would be a good chance to throw in a passage from a letter Van Gogh sent to his brother on a Sunday afternoon, Oct. 22 1882: (Van Gogh underlines certain words)

    “For great things do not just happen by impulse but are a succession of small things linked together. What is drawing? How does one come to it? It is working through an invisible iron wall that seems to stand between what one feels and what on can do. How is one to get through that wall – since pounding at it is of no use? In my opinion one has to undermine that wall, filing through it steadily and patiently. And there you are – how can one continue such work assiduously without being distracted or diverted, unless one reflects and orders one’s life by principles? And as it is with art so it is with other things. And great things are not something accidental, they must be distinctly willed.

  • nother

    It didn’t work with the HTML, but the words he underlined were: “feels”, “can do”, and “willed.”

  • nother

    So sorry about this, but I screwed up on an important sentence:

    “It is working through an invisible iron wall that seems to stand between what one feels and what one can do.”

    I’ll go to bed now…

  • valkyrie607

    During a conversation with a friend about crossing borders…

    “I hate borders. They’re stupid.”

    “Why?”

    “They preserve the illusion that we’re not all sharing the same planet. That we can separate our fates from each other.”

  • rc21

    Palestinian terrorists again this week have attacked Israel, and also have been lobbing rockets into civillian areas.

    KEEP BUILDING.

  • tbrucia

    A favorite Far Side cartoon: Three fish stand outside a spherical fishbowl — in the air — standing on their back fins. The little house inside the fishbowl is in full flames, and the flames are streaming out of the water. One fish turns to the other and says, ‘We’re screwed now!’ — This always reminds me of Israel, for some reason.

  • Takumi Ken

    A wall may seem like a good idea, and in history we have seen it lead to protection.

    The Romans kept the Scots (Caledonians) out, Berm has effectively let West Sahara stay annexed, and Israel receives less attacks due to it, but is it really worth it in the long run?

    Walls such as these are put up to divide people, and while that may keep people safer for a period of time, it does nothing except to breed more problems or fear.

    Create a near fortress wall to separate Shiite and Sunni and all you will be doing is yelling out to the world you want to keep them as a whole from talking to each other or meeting up with each other.

    Should the British have built a wall to separate the waring Irish from each other when we had attacks and terrorist bombs? No, for we would not have the peace we have today helped caused by both sides talking to each other and meeting up.

    South and North Korea’s do not have a great chance at peace are not the walls and mine fields for their long running war, but family from both sides meeting up and talking to each other do aid.

    The Long Walls of Thrace made it harder for Constantinople to be defended.

    If this “Baghdad Wall” is built, we may see the same for the forces that use it.

    Not because we shall face the problem of too few troops to cover such an area, but because it will become a symbol or hate and a target for more violence.

    The best part about the Berlin Wall, Hadrian’s Wall, and Antonie Wall is they came down. Many Brits made houses out of the last two and artists sold work for more due to it being on ruins of the first.

    Walls can help, but ones such as these will only drive the wedge in farther and make it harder for any real peace between the same people with different forms of the religion and culture.

  • rc21

    Hamas fighters have been taking members of Fatah out into the streets and massacering them even though the fatah members were saying don’t shoot we are not Jews. Jimmy Carters friends sure don’t seem very cooperative. My advice to Israel is either keep building. or better yet invade and run the terrorists out of the whole region annex the west bank and Gaza.

  • tbrucia

    I suppose someone will next suggest putting a wall around every Hamas militant… uh, oh. They already have those… I think they are called jails. Or the alternative used in the West Bank might work… barbed wire enclosures around Jewish settlers, keeping them in their own little prisons scattered about the ‘occupied territories’. What a world! Perhaps walls reflect something about human nature: fear and the willingness to make other persons fearful. Uh, oh. That’s precisely the definition of cowards and of terrorists, locked in symbiotic embrace: one allowing his/her fears to rule, and the other using fear to rule. What a world! Where is the 21st century’s Albert Camus?

  • herbert browne

    It’s interesting, if a little sickening, how the U.S. sides with the most corrupt group (in this case, Fatah) in these”divide & conquer’ struggles for its proxy, Israel. Hamas was elected by a fair process; and the U.S. & Israel refuse to abide by the law & give them money to which they’re legally entitled. These stories of Hamas members shooting Fatah members “without any cause”, apparently, bear studying. If the source of these stories is some “even-handed” American paper, let the believer beware! The New York Times’ coverage of the first year of the intifada was carefully documented- and showed that 165 Iraely casualties resulted in 197 headlines (or first paragraphs) reporting Israelis killed (sometimes mentioning the same persons twice)- and the549 Palestinian casualties elicited similar coverage on 217 occasions. Of course, Palestinians no doubt have fewer relatives in the area covered by the NYT… so why highlight their deaths to the same level? I guess the jaw-dropper (for me) was that the reporting of the deaths of Israeli children was about identical to the coverage of Palestinian children deaths, even though 5 times as many Palestinian children died in that period. If Israel chooses to “annex the west bank and Gaza” they should do it without any help from U.S. public sector money. The idea that terrorists being “run out of the whole region” are going to simply evaporate somewhere in the desert is pretty funny… might make a good Hollywood movie… like a sequel to “The 10 Commandments” maybe… we could call it “The Unchosen”… ^..^

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