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Why Do People Desire Walls?
Regine Debatty, 22 Jun 09

The Ceuta-Morocco border fence (image)

Wanted to share with you a couple of links that have deeply interested and distressed me today and yesterday. The first one is a lecture that Wendy Brown, a professor of political science at the University of California, gave at the London School of Economics and Political Science. Her recent research focuses on the concept of political sovereignty as it is connected to globalization and other transnational forces. Archived by Resist, a project i am involved in, the lecture explains how the building of walls around the world today is so starkly at odds with images of a world that is ever more connected & unbordered. Whether they aim to deter poor people, illegal workers, asylum seekers, drugs, weapons and other contraband, enslaved youth, ethnic or religious mixing, walls and fences basically do not work.

An Iraqi boy walks near a blast wall in the Karrada neighborhood. US troops are building a wall around the Adhamiya Sunni neighborhood, which is surrounded by Shia areas, north of Baghdad (photo)

The list of walls she gave is absolutely alarming, especially considered that she focused on the ones that have risen since the much celebrated fall of the Berlin Wall: the U.S. border with Mexico and the Israeli West Bank barrier (these two share high technology, sub-contracting and they also reference each other for legitimation), Post-Apartheid South Africa's internal maze of walls and check point, Saudi Arabia concrete structure along its border with Yemen, India's reinforced border with Pakistan and Bengladesh, Botswana's electric fence along the border with Zimbabwe, the wall between Egypt and Gaza, etc. But also walls within walls: gated communities so popular in the U.S. (in particular in Southern Californian communities living closer to the Mexico border), walls around Israel settlements in West Bank, walls around the Museum of Tolerance in Jerusalem and the walls that partition the city itself, the triple layer of walls around Spanish enclaves in Morocco, the wall of Via Anelli inside the Italian city of Padua that separate white middle class with immigrants living in an "African ghetto" (i'd recommend Italian readers the documentary Stato di Paura, you can find the trailer here), the Baghdad wall built by the U.S. military, etc. The list goes on and on and the analysis Brown makes of the phenomenon is thought-provoking. I can't recommend enough the audio file of Prof. Brown's lecture.

A Palestinian carries a wheelchair bought in Egypt across the border back to Gaza after militants exploded the border wall between Gaza Strip and Egypt, in Rafah, on Jan. 24, 2008 (image)

The second video depicts in a particularly moving way a project which might not be new to most of you but i had never heard about it so far. Israeli NGO B'Tselem has given Palestinian families across the West Bank video cameras to document how they are treated by Israeli soldiers and settlers. Simple, smart and apparently effective.

Here's two interviews with Oren Yakobovich, Director of Video at B'Tselem: a video and an audio.

The blog Subtopia covers this kind of topic in a very documented and intelligent way.

This piece originally appeared in Regine Debatty's blog, We Make Money Not Art.

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Thank for the reference to the talk by Prof. Brown.

You might be interested in a systems interpretation of what is happening and why - - predicts one future which comprises of breakdown or a fortress world.

Posted by: Alan McCrindle on 22 Jun 09

The late journalist Ryszard Kapuscinski knew a thing or two about walls, having finished university in Poland before embarking on a career as a foreign correspondent in the 1950s: "The wall is not merely motivated by exterior considerations," he writes. "Protecting against foreign menaces, it also allows one to control what is happening internally. There are passages in the wall, doors and gates, and guarding them, of course, one could control who entered and exited. One could question, one could check for valid papers, one could take down names, look at faces, observe, commit to memory. And thus such a wall is simultaneously a shield and trap, a veil and cage."

Posted by: Hart Van Denburg on 23 Jun 09

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