Sunday, 29 August 2010

So You Wanna Be A Tough Guy?

Here at Lacking Credentials, a lot of time gets spent detailing why I think everything in the west is more or less doomed to fall apart at some point. However, not having ever lived in a conflict zone or a poverty stricken economic dead zone, I really have no appreciation for the possible circumstances which may befall us North Americans and Westerners in the long term. The downtrodden of this world are not concerned with the speculative preoccupations of what could happen in a week or a month or a year from now, because they don't know if they are going to make it through tomorrow. Therefore, it makes sense for them to try making it to a place where they might survive today. The West, last time they heard, was still rich.

As such, there is a trickle from "hot" zones (not climate - war and poverty, although it says here the trickle will soon include the former too, and according to the U.N. it already does (google “Climate Refugees”)) to safer and more economically productive countries. The refugees/migrants/"illegal" immigrants (Noone is illegal. 3 words. A very powerful idea. More on that later) are often shaken out of their disoriented state on arrival by the "cold shoulder" of the receiving country's government. They are not deterred, however, because survival is clearly now a possibility, and even in an era of ever-tightening regulation and borders, navigating Canada's Citizenship and Immigration bureaucracy has to still be easier than dealing with whatever bullshit they fled.

In these situations, right leaning govenrments will typically try to score points with xenophobes and in public opinion at large (which, we learn in these cases, remains more xenophobe than we would like to believe) on the backs of such people. Today, we will take a look at some migrant routes, what they mean for the countries on the receiving end, and whether the middle aged right wing man/politician/radio host/newspaper columnist tough-guy stance is justified or even backed up by anything substantive.

There is very much a "hoarder" mentality at work in all Western Democracies that penetrates people's psyche over time. Something like, "We can't take anybody else on, because we've already done our fair share to solve the problems of the world, and there's too many immigrants already, thank you, good bye." There is the idea that, well, we've been so welcoming, and people just take advantage. We can't have people who aren't from here collecting entitlements from the state, who don't integrate to our culture, and did I mention we're doing just fine, thank you? And we can barely even claim that anymore. I mean, Rob Ford said if he becomes mayor of Toronto that he can't even promise he'll be able to take care of 2.5 million starving Torontonians. Lord knows we've taken in enough people and gave poor places enough aid, and frankly we're just wiped from being taken for granted to be such an endless beacon of goodness and hope to humanity named Canada.

Thus, with the propogation of such myths the immigration "debate" becomes so ridiculous, cuts across so many lines, and involves such deep study of attitudes and mentalities that it can't even really be explored here. Most of the aforementioned ideas, which you may have already heard in some form or another, are so stupid that I don't actually want to spend much time refuting them here. But I will. First of all, the notion of "We", "yours" and "ours" is complete bunk, since we stole this land, and the fact people feel entitled to speak this way is insanity. Second, all immigrants do end up becoming relatively prosperous and integrated, compared to the average Canadian and the average human. If they don't, public education takes care of their kids. Don't believe me? How many generations has your family been in Canada? Were they millionaires when they showed up? Third, immigrants are way more appreciative and economically productive, since that is how we insist on measuring the value of people in this debate, on average than regular Canadians. Most of the really poor, really messed up people you see in rural Canada or streets of Canadian cities are white or native.

But beyond generalizations (because it's just my opinion and it doesn't actually mean anything), there is a fact that's undeniable. The reason a boat full of Tamils is an oppurtunity seized upon by the Conservative government to stoke the flames of anti-immigrant rhetoric and fire up its redneck base is because the media has done an excellent job of teaching every Canadian that this is a terrorist group. Actually, it was officially designated as such by the previous Liberal Government. Yes, we have an actual list of people we don't like and won't entertain conversations with in this supposedly open-minded country, and the Tamil Tigers are on it. Even I was convinced they were bad guys, until I did about five minutes of research.

Turns out, in a literal carbon copy of the Rwanda situation that culminated in the 1994 tragic genocide, the colonial power (England) stumbled upon two ethnic groups in Sri Lanka, the island formerly known as Ceylon, in the 1800s. The Sinhalese had two kingdoms and the Tamils had one, logical based on the proportions of their respective populations. Then of course, when the British leave in 1922 they put the dominant group in charge. The Tamils get shit on for 60 years straight, pushed around, and denied their rights, until the seventies when they form the Tigers to create a state in the areas in which they are majority. After 22 years of civil war that began in 1983, a hardline Sinhalese government was elected by the Sinhalese majority in 2005 who set to work exterminating the Tigers, rounding up any potential sympathizers (e.g., all Tamils) into refugee camps, and reassuring the international community that despite systematic discrimination and oppression of an ethnic minority, the country was now open for business. They are pleased to see today that they have been largely successful in achieving these objectives, and are hard at work making their country an economic powerhouse, with dynamic industries like tourism, sweatshops, and before long, who knows? Maybe even call centres. Music to the Wall Street Journal's ears, cultural, political and economic genocide be damned.

Now you know why those Tamil protestors in Toronto last year were indignant and crazy enough to block a highway. And now you know why the migrants promised this year to pay huge sums of money to get the hell out of Sri Lanka. I'm not naive about the Tigers either - I know that suicide attacks and child soldiers were widespread current practives, and they were also ruthlessly efficient at eliminating moderate elements and opposition to such questionable practices within their own ranks. But they were the last best hope for the Tamils (who still cannot believe the assassinated leader Velupillai Prabhakaran is dead - the guy built up quite a personality cult around himself), who now seemed eternally condemned to be second class citizens in their homeland, and it doesn't mean all Tamil people are dog shit, okay Canada? Read up on what they been through.

Elsewhere in North America, one of the cause célèbres of the famous Tea Party is the expulsion of current and blocking of future "illegal aliens". It's time to get tough, they claim, because Mexicans are threatening the constitution and America's greatness by stealing jobs. No wonder the laid off factory worker or middle manager can't get that job cleaning the Starbucks toilet or picking lettuce. I know those tea party members are just dying to roll up their sleeves and make America great again, and since they talk about ad-nauseum how one of the things that made America great was that tough, can-do attitude, so lets see some of that tough elbow grease already.

Across the Atlantic in France, the Roma are being expulsed in large numbers by a government led by a ruling party who, similar to America's, came to power promising bold reforms and change. Although it likes to think of itself as "right", compared to the American Democrats' "left", both governments have actually done little other than maintain/expand the status quo and increase the anger and malaise of their citizens. But the French government has the ability to score cheap political points on this issue because it is more in keeping with the values of its basic core constituency - sending off people who wear rags, live in trailer parks and tent cities, have no jobs and don't go to school back to Romania and Moldova with 300 Euros in their pockets because they're killing the vibe in a nation with free university education, 250 cheeses, guaranteed minimum wage and welfare, heating, air conditioning, and the best rail system I've ever encountered. 20 or 30 thousand gypsies were the crack in the system threatening to bring it all down. Real tough. A pampered, cable TV watching nation with insurance on their house and cars cannot tolerate this encroachment on their lifestyle and threat to their security. Good thing they can count on the government they are otherwise disgusted with to at least make a tough decision to score some cheap popularity points.

Another tough guy making life easy for his people is the President of Georgia, Mikhail Saakhashvilli. In 2008, after boosting his country's defence budget for the previous four years to total a third of all government spending, he launched an invasion of two territories (South Ossetia and Abkhezia) who voted 99% for independence from Georgia in referendums. This tough-guy action of course resulted in Russia, a much tougher country, crushing Georgia and protecting the two territories which are now under dispute. The Harvard-educated Saakhashvilli wants to make Georgia a Western nation allied with the United States, and even has a former Reform Party evangelical running a private university there, but he has caused citizens wanting to go attempt their chance in Russia (because Georgia's economy is stil weak, partly from getting all its ports shelled by the Russian Navy in 2008) the grief of now having to pass through Turkey then be shunned upon arrival, thanks to his tough guy actions.

I don't understand why North American Tea Party libertarians who preach free trade and markets, free movement, and zero encroachment on their civil liberties are willing in the same breath to practice totalitarian discrimination and exclusion over territory, land, and resources. They will have no doubt supported Georgia, France, and the Governments of Canada and Sri Lanka in the above case studies because those are the sides that chose provincialism, aggression, and punishment of ethnic minorities. Yet these are the people who cry wolf at "liberal media" and "socialist takeovers" and send their trolls over to articles on news paper pages to protest the conspiracy against them and their freedom. I guess the freedom they talk about means freedom for them and whoever supports them to do whatever they decide we are free to do, which is the very antithesis of what they are preaching. Our borders are closed, but the world's better be open to our oil and pipelines, mines, fast food chains, shitty movies, and GMO seed patents. And let's not forget freedom of speech, which means freedom to lie and distort to further their agenda. That is why there are trolls on Canadian newspapers today stating things like the Sri Lankan migrants are entitled to 29k a year from the government and free dental care.

The "great country" that has "lost its way" (which is the narrative chosen by demagogic fear mongering politicians whenever illegal immigration is the subject in question) would never have been possible, if the pilgrims hadn't crossed the ocean on the mayflower, if the descendents of those pilgrims who remained loyal to England hadn't fled to Canada's atlantic provinces, if the Gauls hadn't wandered into France thousands of years ago just as this Gypsies did in the last few centuries. Stalin left Georgia in his youth and became a self-styled father of all things Russian to the Russian people, for better or for worse, and that legacy continues in the minds of many Russians today, yet the government wants to define their most famous son's adopted country as the enemy and have a closed border with it.

Jim Rodgers, a successful billionaire who travelled all over the world in a sort of buggy he had Mercedes make for him, and a true capitalist if I ever saw one, openly makes this point in the book he documents those travels in. Columbus and Magellan had no passports. What the world be like today if we imposed the constraints of ancient explorers we impose on ourselves? We claim to be a "global society", yet remain more distrustful of each other and provincial than ever.

In a society that imagines itself global, anybody who manages to get anywhere and survive and thrive is not just a human, they are an exceptional and above average human. They are subject to the laws of earth, not the laws of any country or government, and by surviving they are in accordance with those laws. If they kill or commit acts of terrorism they should of course be punished, but to say they are more likely to do such things puts us down the slippery slope of racism. Instead, we have to accept that this is what real globalization would look like. We are a long ways away. Real tough guys should look in their own mirrors and backyards, if they want to be tough, and stop blaming people who look and talk different for all their problems.

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