Wednesday, February 6, 2008

The Wallists - What kind of security do we really want?

"They made a desert and called it peace"

There is an article in Le Monde today titled (trans. by me) "Israel may build a wall on the Egyptian frontier". This new wall is a response to Monday's suicide attack in Israel in which two Palestinians allegedly slipped into Israel from Egypt. You may also remember a few days ago that Palestinians managed to get through a breach in a border wall into Egypt and transported food, fuel and furniture back into the Gaza Strip.

There are a lot of walls being thrown up in democratic countries these days. Israel has got a big one. US politicians on the right love to talk about "securing the border" with a fence and super-modern surveillance gadgetry. What is behind all this "wallism"? And where's it headed?

I don't know, but it seems to me that many people have been seduced by a particular variety of security. They have come to see "security" as the absence of foreign threats. If you build walls and watch people carefully, you can keep foreign threats away.

Unfortunately, it is hard to determine how far "wallism" would let itself go. If one's answer to feelings of insecurity is to restrict movement and keep people farther apart from each other, domestic security will come to depend increasingly upon walls as well. How to keep inner city crime out of the suburbs? Build a wall. How to keep suburban crime out of the downtown business district? Build a wall. And outside of their home districts, only let people travel to their places of business.

Security is more subtle than walls. It is not just a negative "absence of danger", it is a positive feeling of well-being and connectedness to one's surroundings.

Israel's new wall seems to me to be a sign that it is getting too easy to answer the problems of security by building walls. We are right expect "security" from our politicians, but I don't think we should be so eager to accept such a false solution.

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