Jamil Toubbeh: On Walls, Castles and Embassies

By Jamil I. Toubbeh, PhD
Special to PalestineChronicle.com

Walls, Castles and Imperious-Embassies
Walls, castles and embassies: none is home for one’s soul.
Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it
And spills the upper boulders in the sun,
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.
[…]
Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
What I was walling in or out,
And to whom I was like to give offense.
Something there is that doesn’t love a wall….  — Robert Frost

Something there is that doesn’t love any wall nor its cleansing euphemisms—separation wall, great wall, electronic fence, green zone, green line, a castle or an embassy. Their architectures and configurations are a measure of the gap between those who erect them and those who live in their shadows.

Of China’s numerous walls, none is comparable to its ‘Great Wall’. It is the world’s longest human-made structure, stretching over 4,000 miles, 1000 miles beyond the east to west distance of the U.S. More than 240 soldiers guarded each mile of its length. Although an estimate of the wall’s construction is difficult to ascertain, its cost in human lives has been estimated to have been between 2 and 3 million.

Long before its completion, the ‘Great Wall’ had lost its military significance.

A millennium ago, thousands of armed European crusaders battled Arabs in the Middle East to “regain control of Terra Sancta (Holy Land)—and lands beyond. To finance their wars against whatever religious, political and economic enemy they had identified, these warriors battled and also looted their co-religionists east, west and north of Rome, (e.g., Byzantium/Constantinople/Istanbul). Perhaps the popes who blessed their expeditions also condemned Arabic numerals as machinations of Satan.

The Crusaders were not known for building walls in the Middle East; they built castles that formed defense perimeters and spheres of influence. These castles dotted the eastern shores of the Mediterranean from the northern borders of Egypt to the southern borders of Anatolia (modern Turkey). Their sites, particularly in Palestine and Syria (including modern Lebanon), define their geo-political and economic significance. While the majority of these castle builders and settlers vanished from the scene, a few remained to live peacefully with the societies they had once occupied.

The Crusades in the ‘Holy Land’ represented, to borrow an analogy, “a speck on the windshield of [Middle East] time”. Christianity, which had survived a millennium in the Middle East prior to the Crusades, outlived the Crusaders’ short history in Palestine and elsewhere in the Middle East and North Africa.

The Ottoman Turks, who ruled much of the Middle East for several centuries, built castles of sorts, walled cities to be more accurate. The Old City of Jerusalem is one example. One can still see evidence of the Ottoman Turks across the Middle East, North Africa, and the Balkans. Their tenure was longer than that of the Crusaders and their impact far greater on the Arab Muslim and Christian society. Although Turkish was the lingua franca of the time, the Ottoman society adopted Islam and much of the Muslim and Byzantine cultures. In retrospect, these wall-and-castle builders and occupiers of Arab land may have been far more tolerant of ethnic and religious differences than their latter-day Western crusaders.

The Ottoman Empire ended with WWI when Britain and France conspired to reshape the geo-political map of the Middle East and North Africa. Democratization was not on their agenda.

British and French walls and castles in the Middle East were horses of a different color: fractionalization of the Arab society, almost too tribal levels. The new crusaders created political, ethnic and religious boundaries; stretched barbed-wire fences across miles of Arab land; controlled movement of population by means of identity cards, permanent and on-the-fly checkpoints, and by brute military force, i.e., house searches and house demolitions, curfews, summary executions, banishment, fines and taxes, etc. The walls and castles of these latter-day crusaders were pervasive and, as history would later reveal, more insidious and sinister than those of the Crusaders.

What the Crusaders failed to accomplish due to poor technological skills, lack of organizational infrastructures and communication, the British and French succeeded, on a much larger scale, of course. They revamped educational systems, thus controlled input and output. They established secular and religious schools that became islands of Western indoctrination and acculturation. They built their own hospitals, schools for the sight and hearing impaired, even extending a helping hand to animals through the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. They introduced their own systems of jurisprudence, all the while nurturing the privileged classes of Arab society….

British and French walls and castles were one-way filters allowing Western culture to seep through while ‘walling out’ Arab culture. The aim of this strategy was to accelerate the acculturation process of the occupied. By intent or default, the new crusaders’ strategy widened the cultural gap and created the conditions for discord between the Arab Muslim and Christian and Western societies.

The crowning touch of England’s and France’s wall-and-castle construction in the Arab World was the facilitation of the creation of the Jewish State in Palestine and eventually, its empowerment with weapons of mass destruction. Western ignorance of the geography, culture and Arab society in general, allowed Zionists to fulfill their dream of expropriating Palestine from its Palestinian Arab inhabitant-owners—a feat unparalleled in modern history.

Although we hear much about America’s ties with the Arab and Muslim worlds, these ties are at best economic (oil) or military (accessibility), both lacking the cultural component. Holding hands with Saudi royalty triggers extremes of emotions in the public: hysterical laughter or utter disdain–with religious undertones. The history of cultural exchange between the Arab World and the U.S. has ebbed and flowed as a function of geopolitical crises. The more serious the crisis, the greater the two-way flow of cultural exchanges—and good will. But these ephemeral silver linings in the history of U.S.-Arab relations are passe. U.S. Middle East policies are no longer “Made in the USA”; they are made elsewhere, imported, and propagated by powerful single-issue interest groups wielding political truncheons. Cultural elements are not only anathema to these policies, but are incompatible with the aims of these groups.

The cultural rift between the U.S. and the Arab World has widened with each successive administration since the days of Eisenhower years of the early 50s. Britain and France nursed the Apartheid baby-state, Israel, into toddler-hood; and the U.S. picked up the tab, allowing the growing toddler to build a giant castle that would become America’s political, cultural and Evangelical Zion–heaven, bliss, nirvana or paradise.

Nowhere else in the world today does America have more firepower than in the culturally alienated Middle East: armadas in the Mediterranean Sea, the Red Sea, Indian Ocean and the Gulf (of…). America owns the skies over the Middle East and North Africa; its aircraft have access to bases in Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia and in any of the UA Emirates, in particular Kuwait. America’s wall around the Arab World is nearly impenetrable; its castles within this wall are far more numerous than the Crusaders’, and surely far more sinister, especially when one considers that the U.S. is a most religious country and one whose political machine is greased by 80 million Evangelicals, Dispensationalists, etc.

Welcome to America’s Ottoman-style castle…and castles.

The largest U.S. embassy in the world in a country that has been driven back “to the Stone Age”; it is as incongruous a concept in political science as it is in human relations.

It appears that the largest embassies in recent memory have been in Arab and Muslim countries: in Islamabad, then in Amman, then in Cairo, and now in Baghdad! India has a population of a billion, yet the U.S. embassy in New Delhi is a modest structure with more stair-space than office-space. Iraq’s population of 25M is less than three percent of India’s! Do Iraqis need or deserve this marvel of America’s technology?

[Built on 104 acres (+/- 26 U.S. city blocks), the world largest castle-embassy complex will be comprised of 21 multi-story buildings and house 5,500 employees who, presumably, will rarely need to venture out into the Red Zone because the complex will have all the amenities of work/home life. But at about a billion dollars in projected cost, this imperious castle-embassy is still a bargain compared to the projected cost of Israel’s Apartheid Wall of $3.4 billion U.S. taxpayers’ dollars. The cost of building half a dozen or more “enduring castle-bases” is left to the imagination, when 50 million Americans are without health insurance. Nonetheless, there is hope, especially for those of us who believe that something there is that doesn’t love a wall…

The newest crusaders have projected a 50-year stay in Iraq. By that time, corporate America would have pumped dry the oil wells of Iraq, and Kentucky Fried Chicken, now flying high in profits in Iraq, would have earned a place in the White House Most Fortunate Magazine. Then America would have no need for walls, castles and imperious embassies in the Middle East]

-The author is a Fellow ASHA and is an Adjunct Professor and Senior Researcher at Center for Asian Health, Department of Public Health, Temple University, Philadelphia, PA. Dr. Toubbeh has been recognized by the Chair of the Congressional Task Force on the Rights and Empowerment of Americans with Disabilities for his contributions to the Americans with Disabilities Act, and is also a recipient of the Eagle Feather, for his advocacy in behalf of Native Americans with disabilities. He is author of Day of the Long Night: a Palestinian Refugee Remembers the Nakba (McFarland & Co.)

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