Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Free To Go

All of the recent commentary and remembrances of the fall of the Berlin Wall remind us again of how the Wall became a stark symbol of the divide and differences between the Communist block and the West. It brought clarity to the Cold War struggle and made efforts to claim moral relativism between the two sides more difficult (although certainty not impossible as proven by many on the left). Building it turned out to be an enormous public relations blunder for the Communists. It was hard to argue that your system was better when you had to build a wall to keep your own people from escaping to the other side.

One of the difficulties in the current struggle against radical Islam is that aren't such concrete examples readily available to highlight the differences between the combatants. Yes, we see the evil in suicide bombers, terrorizing civilians, oppressing women, etc. but there isn't that one symbol that really clarifies matters as the Wall did. If the Islamists had their way they probably would like to erect their own version of a wall around their fantasy "caliphate" to keep their own people in and keep the forces of modernity out.

Thoughts of the Wall also lead to the observation that you can still judge a country by how difficult they make it to enter and exit. For example, coming into the United States--even for a US citizen--isn't always a breeze. The immigration folks are going to check your passport and almost always ask you some questions about where you've been and where you're going. But there are almost no controls on leaving. If you fly out, the airlines will make sure you have a valid passport, but that's about it. Pretty much the same for an EU country. Show your passport when you arrive, leave with ease.

Other countries that I've traveled to--Mexico, Russia, China, the Philippines--control your coming and going. For Russia and China you need a visa to enter and are expected to have your passport on hand at all times. In Mexico and China you fill out an entry card upon arrival and are expected to turn it in when you leave (someday I'll recount my tale of evading that requirement once in Mexico--after the statue of limitations expires). In all of these countries you have to go through some form of emigration control before you leave and in Manila you even get to pay an "airport users charge" for the privilege of departing. None of these examples are anything like the Wall of course, but the degree of a country's freedom and prosperity can still be related to how easy or difficult it is to leave.

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