I have just been reading a great article on walls in the New York Times by John Washington (11th May). He highlights the work of installation artist Richard Misrach calling into question the haunting absurdity of Donald Trump’s masterplan to build a 2,000 mile wall so those darn Mexicans can’t come in. It would rip through the desert landscape like a scar, separating communities and damaging a pretty fragile ecosystem. He talks about the collective alienation of people from the landscapes where they live.
Misrach focuses on the geography and the proposed wall’s collision with it, doubling up the alienation of peoples trying to cross it. Does this have resonance with our current debate to stay in or leave the EU?
Looking at the current commentary just this last week – we have had Cameron stressing the positives of staying in to reinforce maintaining the peace within Europe responded to by Boris Johnson saying of course leaving Europe doesn’t mean we run the risk of going to war again with countries within it and that staying together has made us more grouchy with each other than leaving – take the rise of right wing parties in Europe.
The language of extreme positions continues whether you are talking about economics, migrants, preserving our NHS whatever. The man in the middle is left bewildered by the imponderabilities of what staying in or leaving entails. I am no fan of Brexit, perhaps as I don’t like little Englanders who proclaim like Trump ‘let’s make Britain great again’. This in an age of globalisation sounds a tad Victorian.
I find the debate about migrants particularly disturbing, and that’s my connection with walls – that desire to be separated, to be ‘sovereign’ and ‘independent’. With one of the lowest rates of unemployment within the EU we should claim to be proud of our society of many colours and creeds, and that ought to flourish within the current limits, knowing for instance that London is the third largest French city.
So our ability to live anywhere in the EU without restriction, our ability to employ other Europeans, the transferability of everything from medical care to pensions, the richness of Ideas and creativity that the EU brings – all this and a lot more adds to our freedoms – that is a price that is worthwhile paying if it means losing some of our independence to act alone.
I accept that the current awful situation in the Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa is creating enormous challenges to the way we accept those outside our little island who are less fortunate from outside into our society. We must not at the end of the day lose our humanity, and we ought to recognise that walls and the language of alienation hurt our humanity and that is no price worth paying. So Mr Trump how about building some of those darn bridges?
I never really liked the folksy drawl of John Steinbeck’s novels. But I think that it was somewhere in his novel of the same name that Lennie says to George ‘I remember about them rabbits, George’ to which George respond ‘To hell with them rabbits Lennie. That’s all you ever remember – dem damned rabbits!’ Sometimes it’s difficult to deflect someone from whatever they are fixated with, and the conversation has a habit of returning to the well trodden mantra.
Some of you may have listened to Nicky Campbell on the Big Questions on the 1st of May if not you can listen to it on http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b007zpll/episodes/player . The discussion supposedly answered the question is anti-Zionism anti-Semitic? It’s currently very topical with the Labour Party tying each other in complete knots over the issue. Now I had just got back last week from a tour of duty in both Israel and Palestine for a UK charity so I was hooked as it was bound to produce totally impassioned uncompromising positions. It didn’t disappoint in that respect. It wasn’t until bishop John Lowe declaimed quietly that Jesus wept over Jerusalem, with commentators here totally stuck in their narrative. He rightly said that dissolving into a totally positional rant simply devalues anti-Semitism, demonising many who might otherwise have perfectly sensible opinions about finding solutions to an otherwise seemingly intractable problem.
If I can say outright that I am appalled by both the Israeli government’s outright colonisation (howls from the back about the land not being owned by anyone) and the complete failure of Palestinian politicians to deal with either the reality of Israel as an entity and those self same politicians’ profligate inefficiency and corruption (howls from the back as to how I would feel if my village and land had been nicked). The attached picture shows me holding a certified copy of the chap on the right’s grandfather’s title document to a farm underneath the second runway of Tel Aviv airport taken in 1948. That needs acknowledging at least even if that wrong may never be correctable.
After 1948 the facts on the ground were accepted for years by the international community bar some Arab countries. At that stage somehow Zionism seemed to be containable. The facts on the ground after 1967 and now are largely not accepted by anyone bar a couple of basket case island states in the Pacific.
This isn’t the place to enter into a discussion on the application of the fourth Geneva Convention as it applies to the fruits of war. Put it this way I have my views which I would gladly share with you in a separate forum. Certainly here putting parties into the limelight with diametrically opposite views turned this TV programme into a shouting match so the quiet voices of reason and self reflection were drowned out in dogmatic rants between Zionists and anti-Zionists, with anti Semitism rather sidelined as the B side of a very important debate. Whilst I respect the genuine and heartfelt views of some but not all of the shouters, the loudest ones were really the mice, and the ones that brought logic and above all humanity to the table were the real men.
There’s a lesson there for anyone wanting to sup with those they would otherwise seek to demonise.