Tag Archives: Middle East

Pity the Poor Immigrant

Anti-Fascist Protest in Banska


Banska Bystrica     Traveling across Slovakia and listening to my guide, I recalled the contradictions of Bob Dylan’s song, “I pity the poor immigrant,” where he is both sympathetic to the plight of immigrants and suspicious of them.



I pity the poor immigrant
Whose strength is spent in vain
Whose heaven is like ironsides
Whose tears are like rain
Who eats but is not satisfied
Who hears but does not see
Who falls in love with wealth itself
And turns his back on me

I pity the poor immigrant
Who tramples through the mud
Who fills his mouth with laughing
And who builds his town with blood
Whose visions in the final end
Must shatter like the glass
I pity the poor immigrant

I asked my new friend how the Slovakian policy had evolved towards accepting their share of immigrant refugees from Syria and the Middle East.  Initially, as the Guardian had reported, “Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Romania opposed agreeing to the relocation scheme for asylum seekers in 2015, but were outvoted. Although generally opposed, Poland eventually voted with the majority.”  The European Union, responding to the complaints from Greece and Italy where many immigrants had traveled, had set a quota eventually.  The refusal of Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic to accept any level of the resettlement quota has led to the European Union initiating legal action against these countries.  My colleague had told me the economy was strong in Slovakia and listed the number of auto plants that were in various stages of development in the country and the concerns that Slovakia didn’t have enough labor to fill the needs there and in fact had been hiring thousands of Romanians and Bulgarians to work there.

His was a complicated answer involving bizarre politics, where the President had not been publicly defiant, but in practice had only accepted a ridiculously small number, perhaps 60, and then stopped.  My friend told this story in a complicated and convoluted way, much the same way that Americans embarrassingly describe the antics of President Trump around accepting immigrants and refugees now.  At first, he said it was not a problem, but as I pressed on, based on what I had been reading in recent years, he told more, including the political story, I just mentioned.  By the end of the conversation, he conceded that immigration was a major issue.

It is obviously a deeply one as well, and clearly racialized, unless I’m missing something “in translation.”  As he talked about what he called “white Slovakians” and the difficult integration situation in schools with the Roma population, who by default were being defined as non-white or “other,” it seemed that this was likely the same cultural and political commitment to homogeneity that was erecting barriers to Middle-Eastern, Arabic speaking immigrants, even internalized by progressives who had worked in refugee settlement and favored their admission to Slovakia.

Studies indicate that only 1% of refugees are ever able to return to their home countries, demanding less pity “for the poor immigrants” and more justice.  All of this makes Eastern Europe and its faux populism seem like the South in the 1950s, and that’s not a good thing.


Drone Debate, Killing “Clean,” Volunteer Army, and National Service

New Orleans    Stick with me on this, brothers and sisters, because I swear there is a ironclad connection welding all of these pieces together:  drones, the draft, and national service or killing “clean,” the volunteer army, and social equality, if you prefer.

Suddenly, there is a bit of kerfuffle about our unmanned, million dollar drone killing machines that we guide from remote control, game like stations, and swoop down on presumed bad guys, terrorists, and innocent civilians sometimes all over the world.  This new global war capability seems lawless to many, given that there is little authority or accountability involved, which is prompting some to suddenly cry, “oh, my,” and demand a special court or some kind of review on this awesome exercise of raw power.

Is this sincere?  I doubt it.  In the post-Viet Nam world over the last 40 years, we like our killing clean and quick.  We can’t handle a slough whether in the swamps of Southeast Asia or deserts of the Middle East or deserted highlands of Afghanistan.

Well, that’s not really true, is it?  With no draft pinching the toes and the future of most middle class families and virtually no one among the upper ups, in fact in the good ol’ USA, we’ve proven that we many people can get much more exercised about their time in line at airport security and the outlines of their body scans as they play their small part in the “war on terror,” than about the body count in Iraq and Afghanistan.  The real issue that is forcing these wars to finally come to something somewhere between retreat and withdrawal is really more about the huge price tags involved and our crippling recession more than the human toil, so unevenly distributed among the volunteer army of minorities, women, and the working class desperate for employment with more meaning than McDonalds and Walmart.

A friend recently raised with me the issue of universal national service.  What happened to that?  Certainly the proposition had been a core of the Clinton platform and was the inspiration behind Americorps which still continues to this day, and the controversial, though popular rise of programs like Teach for America still speak to a strong heartbeat for such service.  We lost the trail during the Bush terms to the uniform of the day, but even President Obama spoke of the need for such service though we have only seen it evinced in such programs as delays and forgiveness of student loans for nonprofit work in some circumstances.  In a somewhat perverse neoliberal twist, Obama essentially incentivized some level of service, rather than moving forward on the equity inherent in a program of universal national service.

Reading about recent political developments in Israel, where military service is mandatory, was interesting because the issue of equality of service, and the sacrifice it entails, is so entrenched that exemptions from such service, even for religious reasons became a national election issue, because there was inadequate equity.  Given the widening gaps and disconnects within American society, it is impossible to argue that some form of universal national service, whether teaching or the military or rebuilding the urban core or abandoned rural communities, would not be a huge social good with deep and lasting benefits to society and our future.

Instead we continue to punt on core issues.  We celebrate our young college dropouts who flee to Silicon Valley and high-tech centers to reap their millions and create the next Googles, Facebooks, and, yes, drones to allow us to live in total denial neither recognizing our country or ourselves any longer or carrying much in any real way about the world and the footprints we are leaving there.

Politically, it would seem that national service would be something where both parties could find easy agreement.  Unfortunately, there is neither a citizen campaign for such service with any traction.  Nor, more meaningfully in these times is there a donor base for decreasing inequality, especially if it means that the sons and daughters of those same donors would be put in the vast melting pot for a year or two of their youth and the country’s benefit.

Keeping everyone’s hands clean and on separate, disparate paths may allow us more time with our head in the clouds, but it won’t build this country or a better world.  We’re proving that every day with blood.