An important new book, Divided Cities, by Jon Calame and Esther Ruth Charlesworth, has just been published.
Below: The Israeli ‘security fence’ in East Jerusalem; sectarian division line in Belfast, Northern Ireland; and the Green Line in Nicosia, Cyprus.
Foreward to Divided Cities:
The five cities under study in this book [Jerusalem, Nicosia, Beirut, Mostar, and Belfast] are vitally important to an understanding of the contemporary world. Each is different, in that each emerges from a unique historical background, belonging to a quite particular and localized set of cultural conditions. Yet, each shares with the others a common set of existential factors, belonging to what we might call an emerging global condition. Prominent among these is sectarianism—a confrontation of differing, though not necessarily opposed, religious beliefs, leading to widespread violence—and a stopgap solution focused on the physical separation of conflicting parties and communities. The other feature shared by the cities under study is that the stopgap solution of separation, intended as an emergency measure to prevent bloodshed and disorder, turns into more or less persistent, if not permanent, division. No one intends to create divided cities as a long-term solution to sectarian violence; rather, such cities emerge from the seeming intractability of the conflicts and their causes.
The story of the present is increasingly being written in terms of religious conflicts. The secularism of the West is exposed through globalization to the sectarian quarrels that bedevil many regions of the world. Western institutions of government and commerce, which operate according to democratic processes or market-savvy principles, are no match in single-minded determination for those elsewhere driven by religious fervor. On the defensive, they have hardened their own positions accordingly. At the same time, Western politicians are not above exploiting religious differences to disguise neo-colonial ambitions.
Going against two centuries of growing liberalism in the West, there are many new walls—physical, legal, psychological—being hastily thrown up in the interests of ‘security’ to separate ‘us’ from ‘them.’ This goes beyond realities of gated communities for the rich, and restrictive, ethnically biased immigration laws, extending to attempts to seal entire national borders. If the perceived threat of religious warfare increases dramatically, it is conceivable that, not only in the West, ghettoes and internment camps may be deemed necessary. Looking to the future, this is the worst-case scenario. Can things possibly get that bad, in this information-enlightened age?
To insure they will not, it is necessary to understand not only the tragic mistakes of the past, but also the dynamics of the present in terms of the polarization of peoples and their communities. Critical aspects of these dynamics are revealed in this book, for in the physical divisions of Beirut, Nicosia, Belfast, Mostar, and Jerusalem the means by which fear and misunderstanding are given physical form are revealed in all their dimensions. Once in place, the barriers separating disputing groups become the mechanisms for sustaining the urban pathology of communities at war with themselves. The right thing, as this book inspires us to imagine, is to remove the barriers and replace them with new openings for dialogue and exchange. The best thing, however, is never to build the barriers at all. It is to that distant, but attainable, goal that I believe this book is dedicated.
Where to find the book:
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You’re currently reading “DIVIDED CITIES,” an entry on LEBBEUS WOODS
- March 16, 2009 / 5:47 pm
- Lebbeus Woods