Opinion | Muftic: Why do I hate walls? It’s personal.
I spent my junior year, 1958-59, in Berlin before the detested Wall was built.
Berlin in that post-World War II period was an island of freedom surrounded by Soviet-controlled East Germany. What I have learned is no wall dividing nations and people from each other will imprison the human spirit. Walls have become symbols, more powerful than their physical being. Such walls can be a representation of the sinister reasons that cause them to be built so they become the symbol of oppression or of hatred.
The Berlin Wall was an atrocity, a knife cutting in two a Berlin that I loved for its free and open spirit where two worlds met and mingled. Between the end of World War II and the Wall, the Berlin I knew was also the exit for refugees from the Soviet sector.
Like the country, the city was divided into sectors controlled by the victorious forces who destroyed the Nazis.
The Wall was built in 1961 by their Soviet sector puppets to stop the brain drain from East Germany as the educated middle class and professionals fled the oppressive regime. My husband to be from Communist Yugoslavia — who I met in Berlin — left Berlin in 1959 and finished his medical education in Switzerland as a refugee to avoid communists when he feared being forced to return to his home country.
The word “refugee” has a special meaning to me.
The Berlin Wall became the symbol of Soviet oppression and it inspired JFK to express his oneness with those left in the western zones with the famous speech there, proclaiming in German “I am a Berliner.” Toward the end of the Soviet era, it was Ronald Reagan demanding: “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.”
After the Wall was erected, those who escaped had many routes, tunnels, a trip through Czechoslovakia and then through more porous neighboring countries. In fact, one of the most famous tunnels was Tunnel 57 built by enterprising students under the Berlin Wall. Over 145 would-be refugees died trying to go over the wall, shot by the East German police and Soviets, but an estimated 5,000 breached it.
The Berlin Wall was built to keep people in.
Another Wall is proposed to keep people out and the symbol it has become is more powerfully divisive than its physical ability to keep desperate refugees from Central American violence from seeking refuge.
Do not accuse me or Democrats for supporting open borders. We do need to be able to control who can enter our country, but we need a way to separate humanely refugees who have an internationally recognized human right to claim asylum from those who do not. A wall is only a small part of that solution and given modern technology, not the most effective one, either. Even last week, seven tunnels were discovered under existing walls.
Loathing of immigrants and “others” was what set Donald Trump apart from the rest of the GOP field of candidates and he struck a chord with a large segment of that party.
For those who do not share their dislike of immigrants, giving in to his demands to build the wall is giving in to his gut felt dislike of immigrants, a sentiment he extols, generalizing them as murderers, rapists, and terrorists, fact-checking proving otherwise not withstanding. The Great Wall of Trump is the symbol of an anti-refugee sentiment to which I object because of my life’s experience.
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