If you are just arriving at RRW and don’t know what this is all about, please read last night’s post first, here. Mr. Huston whose blog I quoted has sent this very thoughtful and interesting reponse to my post and our ‘comments worth noting’ category is especially appropriate for a comment such as this one that shouldn’t be lost in the bowels of this blog where readers might never see it.
If I were to have a conversation in person with Mr. Huston it would be a long one because he says so many things that interest me, but I will have a few brief comments at the end. Here is Mr. Huston:
First let me say that although I disagree with much of what you say, I think it’s good that you say it. As you said recently in your post where you introduced people to my blog, “Let the debate begin.” And the more debate, the more discussion there is, the more likely it is that a complete range of views and a full set of facts is likely to emerge. You write about important issues and you bring to light important problems, problems that I hope will be corrected in part through your efforts.
Secondly, let me say that although I disagree with many of Una Hardester’s opinions, and at times I do think she makes the mistake of presenting her opinions as facts and seeing them as such, I hope we will all agree that the world needs people who are willing to work and work hard to make things better. And, I think we will all agree that Una is such a person, just as you are.
Therefore let me just clarify that I am not an expert on the program or what happened with Artan Serjanej. I believe what I wrote is correct but my real interest in this case is how to prevent domestic violence against refugee women, as well as other domestic violence victims, male, female, foreign and domestic. Should people consider it important to find out what really happened with Mr. Serjanej and this program I expect that he should be easy to contact as he is an attorney and therefore should be licensed with the American Bar Association. I do not plan to do so, but suggest that anyone who actually wishes to judge this situation and evaluate it completely should make an attempt to get both sides of the story. I have never met Mr. Serjanej. I have never attended the program under discussion. I based my comments only the newspaper reports and Una’s responses and not on any particular insider knowledge.
My impression is that it would have been better to try to work with him, as a 43 year old former refugee turned attorney willing to volunteer does sound like a very valuable addition to a refugee center, particularly one with a high turnover rate among volunteers as this one does. But never having met the man, I cannot really say if that is the case or not.
What I will say is that idealism is a double edged sword. Through idealism you get people like Una who are willing to work, work hard, and work for free to help refugees and make the world a better place. On the other hand, as someone who feels very strongly that the prevalence and form of domestic violence, like any other human activity, can and is shaped in part by culture, a statement that from what I understand Una disagrees with (Una correct me please if I mis-state your views here, as if I have to tell you . . . ), I also think that the very idealism that causes people to work with refugees sometimes gets in the way of them arriving at an accurate assessment of what is needed to help them. Which is why we need a constructive discussion as part of the debate on these issues and I thank you, Ann, for helping to foster one.
As I allude to briefly on my blog, when I was 23, and was an idealistic young peace activist, I went off to Taiwan to see the world and teach English. I found it an eye-openingly unpleasant experience in some ways. For instance, it forced me to realize that my political views were often naive and unrealistic. For instance, I actually remember having a mild argument with a young Costa Rican policeman who was in Taiwan for counter-insurgency warfare training to resist Sandinista incursions on his border. (Costa Rica is an unusual nation in that it has no army and therefore uses the police for this task.) I began by asserting that he could not possibly understand the political situation in Central America, a place I had never and still have not visited but where he lived, as he disagreed with my views which were the ones most intelligent people I knew home in the USA held and, furthermore, asserted that the Sandinistas could not be crossing his border and killing his people and they did not do such things. Make a long story short, he won by claiming to have seen the bodies, and we wound up getting drunk together and watching bootleg porno tapes that he had borrowed from a friend as a Costa Rican leftist woman insisted that these tapes were a sign of the corruption that America brought to the world but she got shouted down to as they were her tapes and she had brought them.
Which probably has nothing to do with anything at all but I hope you will agree makes an interesting story.
On the other hand, this experience also opened my eyes to other things too. For instance at the time, should one wish, in Taiwan you could actually visit an area of Taipei where prostitution was legal and one could see the girls standing outside the brothels put on view for customers. And I choose the word girls consciously as they were often about 14 and, being Asian, looked even younger, and in some cases were. (When the brothel owners purchased a pre-pubescent girl, they would actually forcibly inject her with hormones to speed up the onset of menarche and the development of breasts.) Although this sort of thing is much less common in Taiwan today, and forced underground instead of being done openly, this is also among the actual fates and hazards that women refugees in southeast Asia face today.
And when I think that for each Burmese woman newly arrived in the United States who I’ve laughed, joked with and tutored in English there’s another one somewhere in the world who is in forced sexual slavery somewhere in a dark room in Southeast Asia, it makes me feel ill until I stop that thought and move on to something else.
Ann, I know we agree that the refugee resettlement system in the USA needs a closer examination and discussion, and I know you believe that the less money spent on resettling refugees the better, and I know you and I disagree over the numbers to bring here, but I hope we can focus our energies on how best to focus and guide the energies of young, idealistic volunteers to best give real assistance to the refugees who are here now instead of merely mocking them, a practice that I foolishly started on my blog because I was distracted by concern for someone who is in a bad situation.
Anyway, morals of the story (or stories):
1) I am not an authority on the problem between Serjanej and this program although I described events as I understood them.
2) I was very upset when I wrote that as someone I care about, a refugee, is still enmeshed in a domestic violence situation and I am concerned about her emotional and physical well-being and therefore was low on patience. I feel as though with you and Una Hardester and others focusing much energy on words that I wrote, many of which were poorly chosen and poorly typed, you are forgetting that there is an actual, living, breathing person out there who is in trouble and in a very ugly situation and that she is not alone and that there are many refugees who are in similar situations who are not aware of where to turn for help, and these things are difficult even when the people involved know where to turn for help. I hope you will join me in praying that all turns out well for her.
3) Yes, young idealists sometimes do foolish things but what would the world be like without them? Of course, they need guidance, but their drive and energy is unparalleled.
4) Don’t listen to Costa Rican leftist women when they insult your country for watching the bootleg American porno tapes which they owned, brought to the gathering and then personally placed in the V.C.R.
5) Please remember that although the issue is complex, and we must care for our own needs too, the refugees who come here come here because their previous situation was often worse that most Americans can imagine.
I hope we can assist each other in coming up with positive solutions and proposals for real complex problems.
I could write a book in response, but because I don’t have all week or even all morning, Mr. Huston’s comment gives me an opportunity to repeat some of my core beliefs on the refugee program. It would be better if I could relate them to Mr. Huston’s points in his comment but since I am short on time, here they are:
First, culture matters, not everyone in the world wants to come to the US and be like us, many want to come and bring some very bad aspects of their culture here. The problem is then compounded when many in the refugee industry have adopted this idea of cultural relativism. A prime example of that in recent times has been the discussion on female genital mutilation. Believe it or not, there are some supposed women intellectuals in the US who believe that the heinous practice is none of our business. And beyond even the tolerance issue on our part is the issue that some cultures will simply refuse to accept our values. Muslims, for the most part, are here to change America.
I bet the decision to shut down Mr. Serjanej’s program came from the top of USCRI because what he is saying doesn’t fit their political agenda—to hell with whether it might save some women from abuse. And, by the way, this is the sort of thing that has puzzled me from day one—-refugee welfare is not the first concern of the big volags.
I also believe strongly that local American citizens have rights too—they have a right to say that they like the culture they grew up with and want to preserve it without being told they are “racists” or “xenophobes.” They should be given a say about the direction some federal program is taking their community.
Then there is the question of sheer numbers, we simply cannot absorb the millions who wish to come here without destroying what we have, so those few we do invite should be people eager to take advantage (advantage in the best sense of the word) the many opportunities a free society offers. Please watch the NumbersUSA link at the top of this page to see what I mean.
The third core point I want to make is that the Refugee Resettlement Program is seriously flawed. It is not good government policy to hand out millions of tax dollars each year to unaccountable non-profit groups. We plan at RRW to continue to show examples of the fraud and corruption that I believe is woven throughout the program to the detriment of the refugees and the taxpayer.
And, finally, there is some bigger motive afoot here. This isn’t just a bunch of do-gooders at the highest levels of government pushing for more immigrants to get into the US because they themselves love America and want to share it with the world. Those true humanitarians working in the refugee community are being duped and the refugees are the pawns. This is about doing away with borders and creating a world government—ostensibly a socialist one where ‘brilliant’ elitists will tell all of the rest of us riffraff how to live our lives. And, they, the elitists, are happy to keep us busy talking about who is being a good person to whom. Ask Una’s big boss at USCRI, she knows what I’m talking about.
Mr. Huston, heartfelt thanks for your comment!