[Col. Writ. 1/19/06] Copyright '06 Mumia Abu-Jamal
Throughout the tides and turns of history, some people have erected barriers against the feared foreigners, to protect their lands from those who would threaten their peace.
History has shown the mighty efforts of nations and empires to erect barriers against the everpresent other, yet it has rarely shown success.
In human history, few societies have erected as formidable a barrier as the Great Wall of China, constructed during the Chi'n dynasty (around the 3rd century, B.C.) and both rebuilt and expanded for a thousand years thereafter. The wall was built to defend against the nomadic hordes to the North, but the land was repeatedly invaded by the nomads, as the wall provided little real military use.
In the latter years of the Roman Empire, the Emperor Hadrian ordered the construction of a massive wall in Britain.
The wall marked the northern boundaries of the Roman Empire.
Fragments remain of it today.
After the division of Germany into East and West, the Berlin Wall was erected, to protect the East from Western contamination; and to keep Easterners from fleeing to the wealthier West.
Less than 30 years later, it was reduced to rubble, its bricks and slabs now used as museum pieces to reflect a bygone era.
In the Middle East, we see the erection of concrete and steel walls, to mark the separation of Israel from Palestine. The Israelis call it a protective barrier; the Palestinians call it an apartheid wall.
Now, legislators in Washington are fast-tracking a plan to build a wall across the expanse of the Mexican border -- all 1,933 miles of it!
Walls are funny things. Although the builders see them as evidence of state power, they often come to be seen, not as emblems of power, but as harbingers of weakness.
They are markers of national fear, not symbols of confidence.
The Ch'in dynasty, which sought to unite various peoples into one, began a work that would continue for generations. But the hated foreigners, the fierce nomadic Mongols of the North, would clash against the wall, go over and around it, and for a century under the Khan, sit on the imperial throne in the heart of China.
The Roman empire began as a city that welcomed outsiders, and indeed, used the ideas of those many visitors to build their city-state. Hadrian's Wall, over 73 miles long, marked the end of expansion, and a wish to preserve the accumulated wealth and privilege on the inside from the hungry hordes looking in.
Rome, once the mightiest of empires, went into decline, and, as the sacking of Rome in 410 A.D. by Alaric, the Gothic king shows, walls offered little protection.
The Great Wall of China was 1,500 miles long.
Hadrian's Wall was over 73 miles long.
The Berlin Wall was 29 miles long.
The Israeli barrier/wall will surround the whole country.
The Mexican border, being 1,933 miles long, logic suggests, will require a wall longer than the Great Wall of China, Hadrian's Wall, and the Berlin Wall combined!
Walls, even great ones, are barriers reflecting fear of the outsider.
They are not achievements of confidence, but actions of people deeply anxious about 'the barbarians' beyond the barrier.
They reflect the closing and decline of nations and empires, not their expansion nor strength.
The events of 9/11 unleashed waves of national anxiety and fear in many Americans. National myths, in times of great conflict, often die first. The idea that the US is an open nation, that welcomes the people of the world, is fast eroding.
Foreigners, especially those from Islamic countries, are now seeking other venues to study, to play, and to live.
For they know that the legend emblazoned on the Statue of Liberty's base, the Emma Lazarus poem about welcoming 'your tired, and your poor', doesn't refer to them.
It's just another wall.
Copyright 2006 Mumia Abu-Jamal
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