Walls, Insularity and Imprisonment

“… a nation ringed by walls would only imprison itself” [Barack Obama]

Brexit is not funny. But I must confess that I cannot help but think of the movie Johnny English every time I hear some of half-baked arguments and rhetoric on Brexit, especially all the nonsense about British Sovereignty. Pascal Sauvage, the Frenchman in Johnny English comes to mind – especially his brilliant proposal of making Britain one enclosed and secure prison! The Tories have answered his dream!

Borders, gated enclaves (within a nation), and walls seem to be story of our lives. This is the number one solution to almost every conceivable problem before us. Political scientists Ron Hassner and Jason Wittenberg noted that of the 51 fortified boundaries built between countries since the end of World War II, more than 50 % were built between 2000 and 2014. They found that these tend to be constructed by the rich nations in order to keep out the poor neighbouring trespassers. It is the same dynamic within a nation. Just check out the ‘gated communities’!

In spite of the evidence contrary, the pundits of ‘walls’ would insist that we need to look again at how and where we build, consider even higher ones, and even suggest the need to let the one being kept out pay for the building of the wall or fence! The arrogance is mind-boggling! Security and well-being of the native people is paramount. Walls will guarantee just that, however costly. At least, that’s the illusion. History is replete with examples – from Hadrian’s Wall to the Great Wall of China to the Berlin Wall to Israel-West Bank Barrier to Saudi Arabia –Yemen Border Fence to USA-Mexico fence – to the high electrified fence at Calais – of how walls are intended to make us feel safe, restrict contamination, and secure people from all those bloody invasion foreigners and outsiders.

Wishful thinking:  walls and fences never work. The Great Wall of China did little to halt Genghis Khan and his Mongolian horde from conquering 13th century China. Constantinople’s strategic fortifications could not stop the Ottomans. Persian soldiers breached the fortified walls of Babylon in 539 B.C. And, what about the fences of Calais? The illusion may last, for some time. It’s a quick fix political gimmick that gives the allure of making us safe. In our world of interconnectedness, walls are not only useless; they reflect our inability to accept that we need each other. What walls and fences do is to keep out what we do not wish to understand, engage with, and accept as reality on a changing landscape.

Walls/fences, though, do take all forms of shape and may reflect or point to deeper insights about us. For starters, they point to insular mind-sets. At the same time they suggest quick fix response to on avoiding contamination of the ‘other’; and they are perceived as insulating us from the complexities of life and living. And if we wish to consider metaphorical implications: there are the walls that we create as a result of imagined scarcity, and real and perceived fears. These and many more walls, continue to mess our heads and minds up. But is not our common humanity more important than the differences that we perceive as threatening and wish to lock out?

This should be a time of pulling down walls and fences – not erecting them. And to do this, the first place needing our urgent attention is our ‘head/mind-set’. We need to free ourselves from the fears, insecurities, arrogance and suspicions that hold our minds captive and play all sorts of tricks upon us. In other words, we need to help each other find life again and live it to the fullest – meaning that it will be a life of trust and seeing the best in each other. This will offer us a different set of optics to face the challenges and the evil intent of those bent on harming others. Anything else would be as the prim and proper Pegasus remarked in Johnny English: “It’s an unmitigated disaster, English.” To which the last remaining agent of the Empire responded: “I couldn’t agree more, sir.

jagessar© April 2017

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