One can only imagine the euphoria people like Michael Gorbachev and millions of others felt as the Berlin wall began crumbling down. The physical demolition was no big deal, but the non-tangible need to fell ‘protected’ by it had for decades excluded the possibility that the wall might someday exist no more. The need for this protective curtain not only divided people, even families, but created bitter hatred and resentment towards those on the other side of the wall, whatever side of the fence one happened to be situated in. A hatred deeply entangled with ignorance and fear – the most dangerous cocktail possible – dangerous to the extent of igniting a full nuclear war.
Gorbachev, since his youth had realised that it was all a game. Like his friends he was a pawn on the East side, fed by the lies of Stalin and his followers, the biggest lie being that the Soviet Union was heaven when compared to the West. He also assumed, rightly enough, that something similar was taking place on the other side of the wall.
During his trips to the West (the first attempt at tearing the wall down) a quasi-insignificant incident showed him that had been right all way long. Shyly, a public officer asked Gorbachev to remove his hat. He was curious about something, and it wasn’t whether Gorbachev really had a big birth mark or not. The officer wanted to know if the Soviet leader had horns. Yes, real horns. It was a rumour many in the West had come to believe – Communists were children of the devil and they actually had horns on their head. A stupidity the result of the demonic blend of ignorance, hatred and fear. Luckily some people on both sides of the wall realised that the only solution was tearing the wall down.
Yet, though this is only modern history, we seem to have not learnt the lesson. We started erecting walls (physical, metaphorical or both) all over again. The most obvious, and devastating find themselves in Northern Ireland, Gaza, in the American-Mexican border, Iraq and last but not least the infamous Fortress Europe. While these walls, intended to keep away terrorists or drug dealers cause the same harm as the Berlin wall did, they are far from impenetrable. Their significance is only virtual. Like the false feeling of security an umbrella can give you if bombs are falling over your head, they achieve nothing positive. No wall will stop cocaine from going to the U.S as much as no wall will stop Hamas sending rockets to Israel. Yet these walls are making the Americans more sceptic towards the Mexicans, the Palestinians more bitter towards the Israeli.
What about Fortress Europe? True there is no real physical wall. However, refugees from the East and the South are still penetrating a wall of hostility and ignorance, coupled with next to useless border controls. Since the fall of the Berlin wall, we viewed the East with curiosity and passion. Africa with pity and awe as one of the richest, yet extremely troubled region ironically associated with poverty. Now, we view them both with fear and hatred.
To add insult to injury, another factor has cropped up – the fear (rational or not) of Islam. Fear that once again is blended with hatred and ignorance. Things get even more complicated is that Muslims, are not confined in Asia and Africa, as much as Christians are not confined in Europe and America. This wall could never become tangible. Where would one draw the line? Thus we are building non-tangible walls inside Europe. Muslims are seen with suspicion even if they are European citizens. The fear non-Muslims an impact on these Muslims in Europe, they are becoming more of a closed group (another alarming sign).
Yet, the repercussions are even more severe. Muslim dictators and terrorists in Iran, Afghanistan, Iraq and most of all Pakistan are not at all happy, see the West with hostility. We are giving them valid reason to influence their people that we are bad, sadist, infidels. Remember the Communists having horns?
As if there are not enough walls, and the problems they create, the present Italian government is erecting another wall, this time between Christian Italians themselves. They want to divide the rich North from the poor South. They want people in the South, where prices are (have to be) cheaper be paid less for the same job. Policy is made so that as much as possible the Southerners remain in the South and Northerners in the North. More dividing lines. More fear hate and ignorance.
Before accusing me of moaning and groaning. I must admit I don’t have a solution for these tensions. I really wish I had. However I do have an indication, many leaders are unfortunately avoiding. Stop following Hitler’s and Stalin’s footsteps and start following Gorbachev’s. Replace walls with constructive dialogue. Learn from the success stories, not the failures.
Like the Cold war, this ‘war’ we are in could only be won by not being fought. Any other way is the equivalent of tragedy.