IMPERMEABLE BORDERS, IMPASSABLE
WALLS, IMPOSSIBLE HOME/LANDS?
MARY N. LAYOUN
In his acceptance speech for the Peace Prize of the German Publishers and Booksellers Association in mid-October 2001, entitled “Faith and Knowledge—An Opening,” Jürgen Habermas cautions that when “current events become so overwhelming that they rip the choice of topic out of our own hands, so to speak, the John Waynes among us intellectuals are of course greatly tempted to compete instead as to who can be the quickest to shoot from the hip.” Habermas heeds his own caution with a sustained and almost poignant reflection on “the still-unresolved dialectic inherent in our own western process of secularization” between “religion and secular society,” or the “faith and knowledge” of his title, insisting on a “hope for a return of the political in another form … as a world-wide, civilizing power of formation.”1
Habermas's specific reference to overwhelming current events is, of course, a reference to what we elliptically refer as 9/11. In this essay, I, too, address a succession of events in the months and years since 11 September 2001.2 Yet given my disciplinary predilection for comparative languages, literatures, and cultures, I focus on two terms (“terrorism” and “security”), two terribly instructive instances that deploy those terms (the USA PATRIOT Act and Israel's “security wall”), and two literary texts that offer a perspective on those terms and on their deployment.3
There is a model of sorts for this comparative configuration in the example of reading nationalisms.4 If the rhetoric and the grammar of national formations are in fraught and sometimes productive tension with one another,