Almost thirty years have gone by since the fall of the Berlin Wall. This infamous wonder of the world has become a planetary metaphor for divisiveness and lack of freedom.
Unfortunately, many new walls have risen, since the collapse of the Berlin Wall. They have been erected to combat immigration, military conflicts, drug-trafficking, terrorists, or simply to conceal misery. Walls, gates, and fences, capped with barbed wire, have been multiplying around the world, since the beginning of the 21st century. The Cold War was replaced by a War on Terror, with borders becoming the frequent response to a world filled with conflicts. There are notorious ones, such as Israel’s Separation Border with the West Bank, as well as others, nearly invisible to the international community, such as the Moroccan Wall in the Western Sahara, made of rock, sand, barbed wire, and millions of landmines. France recently completed “Le Mur de Calais.” Its objective is to prevent migrants from entering the United Kingdom, via France. This was done despite NGOs’ and local elected officials’ belief that it would do nothing to solve the existing problems. All of these dividing walls span 40,000km, symbolically the equivalent of Earth’s circumference.
Within the context of globalization, which involves the removal of more and more intangible boundaries, physical walls seem to have become a solution for restoring a sense of national security. Although walls are imposing and stand as barriers, the majority of their effectiveness comes from politicians’ convincing the public of the need for them, through fear-based rhetoric. The truth is that walls are not built to prevent intrusion, but to create a false sense of security. Concrete walls have simply become a reflection of the walls inside our insecure minds, separating what we know from what is perceived as different, and therefore hostile. The Germans refer to this phenomenon as Mauer im Kopf, “the wall in the head,” which denotes the barriers of our mind.
Regardless of the reason for their being built, walls legitimize differences and restrain the free flow of people and ideas. It is clear that as we take down our physical walls, we must also focus on tearing down the walls of ignorance and discrimination. These invisible walls are stronger and more difficult to dismantle than those made from concrete. However, hopefully, the Berlin Wall’s few remaining fragments will continue to remind us that walls can only contain people for so long.