Walls

Walls

Turkey will now face a wall. Its neighbor, Greece, has announced it will build a wall along their common northern river border to keep out illegal migrants.

As soon as the people heard the sound of the trumpets, they raised a great shout, and the wall fell down flat; so the people charged straight ahead into the city and captured it. (Joshua 6:20)

Something there is that doesn’t love a wall, that wants it down. (Robert Frost)

But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. (Eph 2:13-14)

Turkey will now face a wall. Its neighbor, Greece, has announced it will build a wall along their common northern river border to keep out illegal migrants. In the past few months more than 100 people per day have been crossing the river from Turkey to Greece, to enter the European Union. Greece has recently started using soldiers from other European countries to catch and imprison the migrants, most of who are deported or sent back to Turkey. Now Greece proposes building a fence to keep them out. The first stage will be eight miles long, on the part of the river easiest to cross.

Greece has tried to sell the fence idea to Turkey, along the lines of the adage in Frost’s poem: “Good fences make good neighbors.” Some in Turkey don’t like the idea. “It will show with a physical wall that the Christians in the European Union don’t want us Muslims.” Others in Turkey, like the farmers along the border, say they’ll be okay with it: “All those migrants trample down our crops every night. We’re losing our livelihood.” The prime ministers of Turkey and Greece also seem to agree with each other on the need for a barrier of some sort.

Greece is taking as a model the 650 mile US fence has built along its border with Mexico. The US says the purpose of its wall is to keep out illegal migrants and to stop drug smuggling. In 2004 India built a fence along its disputed border with Pakistan. India says it wants to keep out terrorists. Israel is completing a high concrete wall and barrier separating itself from the West Bank and Gaza, again with the claim of keeping out terrorists. All around the world walls are going up.

We use walls to protect ourselves. There are natural forces that would harm us if we didn’t have walls. There are predators, human and otherwise, who would attack us if we didn’t keep them out. Walls represent safety. There are solid reasons why we need walls. Without them we will be conquered, we will be destroyed, as were the people of Jericho when their walls came tumbling down.

But walls also represent separation and exclusion. They divide our world into “us” and “them.” They lead us to unfounded speculations about those who live on the other side of the wall, rather than to learn the humanity in others that comes only from living together. When we are cut off from each other by our walls, we soon lose ourselves in fantasies about other people. We grow far from the truth. Soon the absurdities of the separating wall move us to call out, as Ronald Reagan did in 1989, “Tear down this wall.” He was referring to the wall that divided Berlin, that symbolized the outmoded divisions and tensions of the Cold War. Two years later the wall fell down.

Although we need walls, we don’t need false ones. A false wall is one that we think we need to bolster our security, or to enhance our illusions. A false wall is a sinful wall that undercuts our common humanity. The so-called “clash of civilizations” supposes a wall, a barrier, between people. In this scenario we retreat behind our civilization, they retreat behind theirs, and we are both condemned only to advance our walls against each other in a struggle to the death. But in reality, there is only one civilization, one realm of universal decency and humanity, one planet Earth, encompassing the rich diversity of peoples. The Christian teaching on this reality has been put well by the Apostle Paul, who understood the power of Christ in breaking down walls of hostility. Every tradition has its own way of teaching the same reality of the oneness of humankind. Without walls, we are free to share those great teachings and to learn from them.

So will the wall between Turkey and Greece support security and peace between the two countries, or will it encourage ignorance and prejudice between Europe and the world? Probably some of each.

Ken & Betty Frank serve with the American Board in Istanbul, Turkey.  They share the job of General Secretary of the American Board.  They also serve on the board of the Istanbul Interparish Migrant Program (IIMP).