Double standards on border security

Friday 08/01/2016

Should Arab nations be ashamed of maintain­ing strong border defences and security checkpoints? They shouldn’t be. The United States and the countries of the European Union certainly aren’t.
For decades, Western democracies regarded walls as tool of oppression as was the Berlin Wall. US President Ronald Reagan delivered one of his most memorable speeches when he addressed the leader of the Soviet Union asking him to remove the wall separating East from West Berlin.
“General-Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalisation, come here to this gate. Mr Gorbachev, open this gate. Mr Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” Reagan said on June 12, 1987, in a speech in front of the Brandenburg Gate.
Great thoughts, inspiring words but they haven’t lasted very well. Today, less than 30 years later, it’s the United States and European countries that are busy throwing up new barbed-wire obstacles, fences and concrete walls as fast as they can construct them.
When Saudi Arabia over the past decade built fences and boosted security on its borders to control the flow of immigrants from Yemen and to prevent the chaos Bush administration policies had inflicted on Iraq from spilling over into the desert kingdom, US policymakers and pundits at best looked the other way but they certainly didn’t approve.
The future as laid out by the inspired visionaries and prophets of the Heritage Foundation, the American Enterprise Institute, the Cato Institute and those other temples of the faith of secular free markets and “Instant Democracy for All” was clear: Walls were evil, fences were pessimistic. Whoever built them to protect their own populations was guilty of lack of faith in the future. All such governments deserved to be toppled. Off with all their heads!
Except, a funny thing happened on the way to the millennium: The world steadily got more chaotic and dangerous.
The more governments were toppled by the Americans and the Europeans, the more chaos spread as a result — not democracy, not free markets, not joyous freedom for all.
It turned out that the cautious Saudis, lectured for so long by Thomas Friedman and the devotees of his influential book The World Is Flat, were right after all.
The world wasn’t flat. People weren’t all the same. New and ancient dangers alike lurked in the teeming urban wastelands of war-smashed societies and anarchy-cursed failed states.
Finally, with a sublime indifference to their previous decades of preaching a Flat World and Open Borders for All, the Americans and the Western Europeans are frantically throwing up their own border defences against the spreading chaos their own policies and preaching did so much create.
At least this is in line with historical experience:
Throughout history man has felt safer behind walls from Hadrian’s Wall in Roman Britain 1,900 years ago to the Great Wall of China. The Israelis, who preached open borders to the Soviet Union for so long, over the past decade have run up a Great Wall of their own. They call it a fence, however the Palestinians refer to it as the apartheid wall because in some places it is a wall and in other parts it is a ditch defence in a wall.
Now the Europeans are building walls to keep immigrants out: Walls have become the latest security fashion in Europe, even while Europeans and Americans continue to lecture Arabs for erecting them in their own defence.
A report in the British Daily Express newspaper on December 6th listed at least 13 countries in Europe building walls, barbed-wire fences or other border barriers to keep “The Unwanted” out. The list included Russia, Ukraine, Austria, Slovenia, Bulgaria, Spain, Macedonia, Greece, Turkey, Serbia, Estonia, Croatia and Hungary.
I am no stranger to walls. I come from Belfast, Northern Ireland, a city that for decades was divided by ugly walls built to keep its competing Christian communities from slaughtering one another.
Walls can be built by tyrants for the worst of reasons or by free, civilised peoples desperate to defend their way of life for the best of reasons.
If Americans and Europeans continue to turn up their noses at walls built by Arab countries to protect themselves, they might consider abandoning the policies that wreaked havoc on so much of the region that caused the need for those walls to be built in the first place.