Friday, April 08, 2005

Bridges and Barriers

From today's NYTimes

"On Thursday afternoon, Kashmiris took their first steps where a bridge was destroyed more than 50 years ago in a battle between their countries. As they did, they were garlanded with marigolds and offered plates of sweets. One man coming from the Pakistani side to the Indian side fell to his knees and kissed the ground.

This crossing had been closed since the partition of the subcontinent in 1947, and the India-Pakistan war that accompanied it. Until Thursday, it had been extremely difficult, if not impossible, for Kashmiri families living on either side to get visas and to make the trip. Relatives have missed weddings and funerals and been unable to visit even though they are separated by a drive of only a couple hours."

This is heartwarming. But it raises a fascinating question: when is the cause of peace and justice aided by building bridges, as here, and when is it aided by building barriers, as on the West Bank or between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland. The easy liberal answer is that bridges are always better, that we must always "take down this wall". Not necessarily. 40+ years ago this was an issue discussed by sociologists re: race relations. One study I remember said that tolerance could be built if you integrated a team and focused them on a common goal, but just bringing people together ran the risk of exacerbating tensions. Walls can mean safety--there was safety in the ghetto walls, until the pogroms came, or until the lynch mob formed. I seem to remember California lost a court case over their policy of segregating new inmates in prisons by race for the first 60 days until they figured out whether the person was a white racist, black racist, or whatever.

Takes one back to Robert Frost and "Mending Wall".

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