All of a sudden we hear of a raft of walls going up… it is as if wars are still being fought on horseback and these massive fortifications will insulate nations from attack, writes Shannon Ebrahim.
Building walls to counter threats is as old as human civilisation itself. The most famous examples were Hadrian’s Wall – to keep the Scots away from the Romans, the Great Wall of China – to keep out the Mongols, and the Berlin Wall – to keep out capitalism.
In the end, the Berlin Wall fell after many East Germans had already escaped; the Great Wall of China never prevented the fall of the Ming dynasty; and Hadrian’s Wall never protected the Romans from invasions in the 4th century.
In the 21st century we are still imagining that building walls will protect us from our enemies, but isn’t this just buying into a grand illusion?
All of a sudden we hear of a raft of walls going up – between Tunisia and Libya, Kenya and Somalia, Israel and Palestine, Saudi Arabia and Iraq.
It is as if wars are still being fought on horseback, and these massive fortifications will insulate nations from attack. But today’s wars are being driven by ideology, and concrete will not keep out ideas in an era of cyber indoctrination and mobilisation.
It seems like politicians just need to show they are doing something to counter the terrorist attacks on their citizens – which are getting worse.
Tunisia saw 19 killed in the Bardo museum attack in March, and then another 38 killed on the beach in Sousse. What to do? Build a wall the Tunisians say – seeing as the three gunmen in both attacks were trained in a militant camp near the town of Sabratha in neighbouring Libya.
A 160km wall should surely keep out the ISIS-trained Jihadists, and it must be completed by the end of this year.
The greatest flaw in this argument is that leaders are focusing on the external threat as opposed to the threat within. The border with Libya is porous, and large swathes of Libya are controlled by extremist militias, but then Tunisia itself is the greatest source of Jihadi recruits to ISIS. Tunisia’s leaders only have to look inwards to confront their greatest threat.
The same can be said of Kenya, which has now decided to erect a 200km wall along its border with Somalia.
Again, there is the same urgency to have the wall completed by the end of the year.
The solution to countering terrorism is for Kenya to look inwards as most radicalised youths are non-Somali Kenyans who live in the country. One of the gunmen from the Garissa school attack was identified as the son of a Kenyan official, not as a Somali or a refugee from Dadaab camp.
As the president of Somalia, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, said, “we are fighting against an ideology, and a separation wall cannot stop an ideology”.
Long-time Kenyan human rights lawyer and politician Gitobu Imanyara has pointed to Kenya’s homegrown network of radicalised youth, who have fled to Somalia and joined Al Shabaab, or fled to the mangrove forests of Lamu following a military crackdown.
“The US had supported and financed a strategy that Kenya should create a buffer state within Somalia in order to contain the Somali threat.
“This required a paramilitary force of thousands of Somali youths to support the Kenya allied warlord who was to become the president of the buffer state Jubaland,” Imanyara told Independent Media.
According to Imanyara, instead of recruiting Somalis, Kenya recruited Kenyans of Somali origin who were incapable of operating in Jubaland’s unfamiliar terrain, and then returned to Kenya well-trained and unemployed.
It was then easy for al-Shabaab to radicalise these youths.
The struggle then is for Kenya to change a mindset, not to erect a wall.
This lesson is lost on Saudi Arabia, which is busy constructing a wall six times the length of those being built in Tunisia and Kenya along its border with Iraq. Saudi Arabia is all too well aware that one of ISIS’s long term goals is to capture Mecca and Medina, and it fears its rapid spread through Iraq.
The more imminent threat to the House of Saud, however, lies within Saudi Arabia’s borders.
Perhaps the most infamous apartheid wall is the 650km barrier erected by Israel, snaking into the Palestinian territories in a mesmerising land grab, all in the name of security.
In the end, the Israelis will have built a barrier four times as long, and twice as high as the Berlin Wall.
The Israelis would have us believe that their wall has brought about a reduction in terrorist attacks, but the reality is that Palestinians have long seen that terrorism is not a winning strategy if they want to mobilise international solidarity behind their cause.
At the end of the day, it is not walls that will make people safer, but the strength of their ideas.
*Shannon Ebrahim is Independent Media’s Foreign Editor