Sunday, July 10, 2016

Social Contrarians

Here, the Trump populist movement is focused on ousting Mexicans (and presumably others from points south) and keeping “nasty and untrustworthy” Muslim refugees – desperate people fleeing desertification of once-productive farms, repressive police states (either under brutal dictators or genocidal “religious” leaders), as well as conquest, bombs, bullets, torture and unimaginably-horrific imprisonment – out of our country. American citizens are falsely admonished that American Muslims know all the bad guys in their midst and simply refuse to point them out to authorities.
Hard right European populists have gained rapidly-accelerating momentum in Eastern Europe and Austria, all drilling down against Muslim migrants fleeing Iraq and Syria. Brexit was a very strong anti-immigrant vote, against workers from Eastern Europe to fleeing Muslims. The reaction in much of the West to the recent ISIS-directed attacks at the Istanbul airport and the ISIS-inspired lone wolf mass shootings in San Bernardino and Orlando has, in the minds of a very large coterie of Westerners, resulted treating Muslim refugees with incredible skepticism… or outright malevolence.
“Much of the world is reacting to the refugee crisis — 21 million displaced from their countries, nearly five million of them Syrian — with hesitation or hostility. Greece shipped desperate migrants back to Turkey; Denmark confiscated their valuables; and even Germany, which has accepted more than half a million refugees, is struggling with growing resistance to them. Broader anxiety about immigration and borders helped motivate Britons to take the extraordinary step last week of voting to leave the European Union.” New York Times, July 1st.
But what do we call a country that has not experienced any significant economic downturn in the entire 20th and 21st centuries, has only tangentially been involved as a secondary player in NATO efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq (pulling its forces out of the coalition), has serious gun control, where religious fundamentalists have almost no credibility, where poverty is exceptionally low and which cherishes its stable middle class that continues to live with positive expectations for a solid economic future? Where fear is not the norm? Where charitable empathy is the predominant value? Where “different” does not instantly provoke a knee-jerk negative reaction in any major segment of its population? Where fleeing and desperate refugees of vastly different religious and cultural experience are welcomed with open arms?
We call that country “Canada.” “Across Canada, ordinary citizens, distressed by news reports of drowning children and the shunning of desperate migrants, are intervening in one of the world’s most pressing problems. Their country allows them a rare power and responsibility: They can band together in small groups and personally resettle — essentially adopt — a refugee family. In Toronto [the most ethnically diverse city in the world] alone, hockey moms, dog-walking friends, book club members, poker buddies and lawyers have formed circles to take in Syrian families. The Canadian government says sponsors officially number in the thousands, but the groups have many more extended members…
“One frigid day in February, Kerry McLorg drove to an airport hotel here to pick up a family of Syrian refugees. She was cautious by nature, with a job poring over insurance data, but she had never even spoken to the people who were about to move into her basement… ‘I don’t know if they even know we exist,’ she said.
“At the hotel, Abdullah Mohammad’s room phone rang, and an interpreter told him to go downstairs. His children’s only belongings were in pink plastic bags, and the family’s documents lay in a white paper bag printed with a Canadian flag. His sponsors had come, he was told. He had no idea what that meant…
“When Ms. McLorg walked into the hotel lobby to meet Mr. Mohammad and his wife, Eman, she had a letter to explain how sponsorship worked: For one year, Ms. McLorg and her group would provide financial and practical support, from subsidizing food and rent to supplying clothes to helping them learn English and find work. She and her partners had already raised more than 40,000 Canadian dollars (about $30,700), selected an apartment, talked to the local school and found a nearby mosque.
“Ms. McLorg, the mother of two teenagers, made her way through the crowded lobby, a kind of purgatory for newly arrived Syrians. Another member of the group clutched a welcome sign she had written in Arabic but then realized she could not tell if the words faced up or down. When the Mohammads appeared, Ms. McLorg asked their permission to shake hands and took in the people standing before her, no longer just names on a form. Mr. Mohammad looked older than his 35 years. His wife was unreadable, wearing a flowing niqab that obscured her face except for a narrow slot for her eyes. Their four children, all under 10, wore donated parkas with the tags still on.
“For the Mohammads, who had been in Canada less than 48 hours, the signals were even harder to read. In Syria, Abdullah had worked in his family’s grocery stores and Eman had been a nurse, but after three years of barely hanging on in Jordan, they were not used to being wanted or welcomed. ‘You mean we’re leaving the hotel?’ Abdullah asked. To himself, he was wondering, ‘What do these people want in return?’” NY Times. Funny that the skepticism is coming from the “other side” (refugees). Instead, Canada envisions a new and growing ethnic minority that it believes will be grateful for salvation, willing to work extra-hard to rebuild their lives in a new land, and ultimately generating solid new productivity and growth for Canada. All this as American political dissatisfaction at any form of benevolence toward immigration continues to grow.
“Just across the border, however, the Canadian government can barely keep up with the demand to welcome them. Many volunteers felt called to action by the photograph of Alan Kurdi, the Syrian toddler whose body washed up last fall on a Turkish beach. He had only a slight connection to Canada — his aunt lived near Vancouver — but his death caused recrimination so strong it helped elect an idealistic, refugee-friendly prime minister, Justin Trudeau.
“The Toronto Star greeted the first planeload by splashing ‘Welcome to Canada’ in English and Arabic across its front page. Eager sponsors toured local Middle Eastern supermarkets to learn what to buy and cook and used a toll-free hotline for instant Arabic translation. Impatient would-be sponsors — ‘an angry mob of do-gooders,’ The Star called them — have been seeking more families. The new government committed to taking in 25,000 Syrian refugees and then raised the total by tens of thousands… ‘I can’t provide refugees fast enough for all the Canadians who want to sponsor them,’ John McCallum, the country’s immigration minister, said in an interview.
“In the ideal version of private sponsorship, the groups become concierges and surrogate family members who help integrate the outsiders, called ‘New Canadians.’ The hope is that the Syrians will form bonds with those unlike them, from openly gay sponsors to business owners who will help them find jobs to lifelong residents who will take them skating and canoeing. Ms. McLorg’s group of neighbors and friends includes doctors, economists, a lawyer, an artist, teachers and a bookkeeper.” NY Times.
Hard to understand why American resistance to those most in need, the antithesis of “Christian” charity, is strongest among the Evangelical constituency and its sociological white traditionalist allies. I guess menu Christianity – picking those elements of the Bible you like and rejecting the rest – is a growing phenomenon within a rather significant segment of the American Evangelical movement.
I’m Peter Dekom, and for a nation built on the backs of immigrants, the ‘United’ States of America is becoming one of the most exclusionary countries on earth.

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