|By Farzaneh Milani (originally published by Daily
Farzaneh Milani (file
This is not the country I migrated
to four decades ago. It is not the space of my dreams and the protector of my
most cherished values. This is not the United States of America I knew. I want
my country back.
Consider for a moment the issue of
I vividly recall what first attracted
my attention when I arrived in the United States from Iran: It was the absence
of walls. The first entry in my diary was a short sentence.
"There are no walls around the houses
here," I recorded with utter surprise and certain dismay.
Coming from a walled society, I felt
unprotected and exposed. I felt as disoriented as a cat without whiskers.
How could Americans protect their
privacy and safety while enjoying open spaces at the same time? Used to
enclosures, I equated openness with vulnerability and danger.
What baffled me even more was that
American dogs had the freedom to roam at will in yards not surrounded by walls.
The idea of invisible fences was totally alien to me.
It took me several years to understand
how safety, privacy and civil liberties could be protected without concrete
Only gradually did I begin to enjoy
the openness of American architecture and American society. Slowly, I came to
appreciate the fact that walls merely create the illusion of safety, not safety
itself. In reality, they provide security neither for those who built them, nor
for those who count on their protection.
I became convinced that the more
confident a nation felt in its strength and in its people, in its ethics and in
its values, the more often it would offer open spaces to its citizens, even to
History bears witness to the futility
of walls. Take China's Great Wall, Russia's Green Wall, the Iron Curtain, the
Berlin Wall. Built at great cost, they proved to be no more effective than the
ill-fated Walls of Troy or the Maginot Line in France.
Once awed by this confident respect
for openness, I am now shocked by the changed face of the American landscape and
society. I see walls going up everywhere, often in the most unlikely places.
Truth, the first casualty of this new
industry, is now surrounded by walls. As a consequence, it has become a charade,
a virtual reality, a burden, a caricature of itself. It is qualified,
negotiated, manipulated, improvised. It is veiled.
Gated communities raise walls of
separation and display the widening gap between the rich and the poor, the haves
and the have-nots.
Walls of corruption around big
businesses have grown so tall, so impenetrable that corporate whistleblowers are
busy at work.
Walls of secrecy and opacity obstruct
civil liberties both at home and abroad.
Not only are foreigners held for years
without being charged with crimes, but American
citizens also are held in secret detention, imprisoned behind walls of cement
American diplomats, the army and,
increasingly, average citizens living overseas seek safety in isolated
compounds, behind barbed wire, iron gates, electric fences and "green zones."
Legal and political walls of mistrust
are reorganizing the cultural geography of America. They are endangering the
identity of a free people. No wonder then that "stonewalling" has become part of
our everyday speech.
And now the country whose president
stood before the Berlin Wall not long ago and demanded that it be brought down
is building a three-mile-long and 12-foot-tall concrete wall in Baghdad,
separating a Sunni enclave from its surrounding Shi'ite areas
This country of walls and veils is not
the America that opened its doors to me. I want my country back.
About the author: Farzaneh
Milani is professor of Persian literature and women studies at the University of
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