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Gary Younge
No refuge from reality

"All-pervasive fear of life outside the gates is a frequent result of this type of attachment," concludes Anna Minto, in Building Balanced Communities, a report published by the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors last week. "Those behind the gates become detached not only physically but politically."

This perceptive document, which compares the development of gated communites in Britain and the US, links the psychological motivations of middle-class flight to the political consequences of what happens when they take their resources with them. Their desire to find a small area in which they feel secure only expands the vast areas where they feel insecure. "People feel safer behind gates although at the same time their fear of the outside world increases," writes Minto. "This voluntary exclusion is mirrored by the involuntary isolation from society of those trapped in the ghettos of the socially excluded."

An entire infrastructure is erected to keep the undesirables out. In America private security firms outspend government law enforcement by 73%, and have three times as many employees. The result? "Ironically," concludes Minto, "according to American research, crime in gated communities has been shown not to decline. What changes is perception."

Its publication was timely not only because it highlights a national trend, but also because it serves as a metaphor for the global order that is simultaneously being constructed and collapsing around us. Through inequities in trade abroad and iniquities of social policy at home we are creating a local and international underclass with little stake in our immediate society. Through our immigration legislation and enhanced security networks we seek to contain them. Through our criminal justice system and foreign policies we seek to police them. From gated communities we move inexorably to gated countries and continents. Our prisons are full, our borders fortified, our embassies armed and global summits take place behind cordons of riot police - the private affluence and public squalor of the Thatcher years gone global.

"There is nothing so dangerous as a man who has nothing to lose," wrote James Baldwin, the African-American writer. "You do not need 10 men, only one will do." One such man was the shoe bomber, Richard Reid, who converted to Islam while he was in and out of young offender institutions and prison.

For evidence of how little Reid felt he had to lose, look at his guilty plea to a Boston court in October. Facing 60 years to life for trying to blow up a plane Reid told the court: "Basically I got on the plane with a bomb. Basically I tried to ignite it. Basically, yeah, I intended to damage the plane... I'm a follower of Osama bin Laden. I'm an enemy of your country and I don't care."

"The socially excluded are exiles from the industrial age," says Geoff Mulgan, head of the government's performance and innovation unit. "People who can't swim with the tide of globalisation."

A more accurate description would be not that they cannot swim with it but that they are being drowned by it. And as the tides rise they will grab on to anything available to keep themselves afloat.

Take the Caribbean. US administrations, Democrat and Republican alike, all funded by American banana-growing interests, have lobbied to remove the preferential treatment given to banana growers. Meanwhile US aid there has slumped by around a quarter. In small islands dependent on single crops, this has had a huge impact. Dominica earned £16m from bananas in 1993 and only £6m in 2000. With that kind of decline replicated in the region, people look for alternative sources of income. They have found it in the lucrative and pernicious trade of drug trafficking. The UN drug control programme estimates the net regional earnings of the drug industry in the area at £2.2bn.

So our cheap bananas come at a price. First, most of these drugs come to the west to feed more crime, create more fear and build even bigger gates. The second is that with drug trade of that intensity comes a culture of violent crime. Before you know it people coming to the Caribbean to "get away from it" are having gated holidays - cooped up behind huge walls in all-inclusive hotels, for fear that global inequalities interrupt their rest and relaxation.

Herein lies the problematic response to the bombings of Bali and Mombasa. The shift towards such "soft targets" is a sinister one. But with the condemnation of the attacks came indignation that there was something particularly heinous about anyone being killed on holiday.

This is not only ludicrous because it presumes that paradise can reside in incredibly poor nations, like Indonesia and Kenya, where impoverished people have suffered under repressive governments that the west has propped up for years. But primarily because it suggests that we can take weekend breaks from the mayhem of which we are an integral part and to which our governments have contributed.

Israeli and Australian holidaymakers can no more escape the horrors of terrorism on the beach than Palestinians can escape the tyranny of the Israeli army in their own homes or Afghan refugees can flee their incarceration at the hands of the Australian government. The same is true for the British, Americans and every other democratic nation.

Not that those who carried out these atrocities act in the interests of Palestinians or refugees. Their murderous ways will only make things worse for everyone. As the past 15 months have shown, terrorism of this nature only strengthens the arm of the most conservative sections in every community - whether they champion Mohammed, Moses or the market. Each attack only goes to make those who are already vulnerable even more so. Every Jew is now regarded as a potential terrorist target, and every Arab or Muslim regarded as a potential terrorist.

Nor should it suggest that we are individually to blame for what is done in our name, any more than what is done to us. But that we are collectively responsible for the actions of the people who claim to represent us. We are no more able to flee from that reality than Felicia is able to flee the chaos of San Antonio. So long as we continue to threaten others with war, poverty and exclusion, we can only expect that we will continue to feel threatened also. It is not gates we need to build, but bridges.

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