Friday, March 17, 2006

Fences make good (international) neighbors

   The purpose of zoning is, of course, to separate land uses that may clash.  Residences shouldn't be built across the street from an oil refinery, for example.  In the realm of international affairs, the idea of physical separation is growing as a proposed solution (often, a reluctantly proposed solution of last resort) to ethnic conflict.  When the Indian subcontinent gained independence in 1947, conflicts between Hindus and Muslims led to the splitting of the region into separate nations and a massive migration of millions of persons, both voluntary and forced.  Although the migration caused much suffering and many deaths, the separation of conflicting people may have saved the lives of millions over the past 60 years.
   In Israel and Palestine, the benefits of more absolute physical separation of the two peoples is gaining support.  Even former Israeli hard-liners, such as Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and his advisors, have reportedly considered the division of Jerusalem and the granting of autonomy, behind a fence, to Palestinians in East Jerusalem, as a way of avoiding bloodshed. 
   And in the United States, there is a growing call for more concrete steps to stop the illegal immigration of people across our southern border.  Moderate columnist Robert J. Samuelson recently called for the construction of a fence along the entire border with Mexico.  Although physical separation is not the best solution to the problem of conflicting cultures - it fails to engender understanding and encourages mistrust, of course - it may be the second-best solution when the preferred solution does not work.  When the idea of cultural cooperation or a policy of less-intrusive patrol of a border fails, a more concrete (literally, perhaps) form of separation may be, alas, the best choice.      

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