Thursday, December 30, 2004

Judeo-Christian Guilt versus Muslim Practicality

Nothing better contrasts the divide between Western, self-imposed guilt and the stark realities of the Muslim religion than a couple of news items over the past year. Specifically, I refer to cultural differences in the proper way to handle illegal immigrants in predominantly Judeo-Christian countries (read: America) and those predominantly Muslin (e.g. Malysia). To examine this single issue speaks volumes about the way these countries and their people deal with "outsiders."

In our first example, let us look at our own country. We are certainly a multicultural land and our country was founded on the premise that all are created equal and all, regardless of race, creed, religion, etc. are deserving of the same benefits and protections under the law. Over the last 100 years, we have established a formalized method for immigrants to come to our country and, through a process, become full citizens of America. We issue nearly 150,000 "green cards" annually for immigrants to legally live and work in the U.S. "Illegal" immigration continues at an estimated rate of 8-10,000 per day and has become a much-debated issue with rising unemployment among documented citizens and, particularly, after the 9/11 attacks.

How do we, as a culture and a people, propose to deal with the ever-rising tide of illegal immigrants? Our President has declared that "the nation has failed millions of illegal immigrants who live in fear of deportation," and in January, 2004 proposed an ambitious plan that would allow undocumented workers to legally hold jobs in the US for the first time. The program that would bestow temporary legal status for at least 6 years on 8 million undocumented immigrants, as long as they keep their jobs. But it would not automatically put them on a path to obtaining citizenship or even permanent resident status. He said recently "We must make our immigration laws more rational, and more humane. I believe we can do so without jeopardizing the livelihoods of American citizens." What Bush calls his "temporary worker" program was eagerly embraced by business groups but condemned as stingy and impractical by advocates for immigrants. Many said it has little chance of passing Congress in the form Bush described.

So, once again, we must make amends for our sins. What sin is this, you ask? The sin of being a prosperous nation with a high living standard and land of great opportunity. In my opinion, it is analogous to the bee apologizing to the bear who is raiding the hive for the bee's honey. It goes like this:

"Mr. Bear, I am so sorry to have made such wonderful, nutritious and tasty honey. Mea culpa! It was so wonderful that it has attracted you, through no fault of your own, to my hive. You have eaten the honey that I produced by the hard work and sweat of my brow but I won't sting you because it is clearly my fault. You couldn't help yourself and, besides, I can always make more. Though some of us will starve this winter from lack of honey, we shouldn't blame you. Slurp on, Mr. Bear and I will get back to work."

Perhaps, a real-life example will be better appreciated. According to Heather Mac Donald, reporting in the Dallas Morning News, "Fear of offending the race and rights lobbies has trumped national security at DHS. This spring, for example, Asa Hutchinson -- the department's undersecretary for Border and Transportation Security and now a contender for the top job -- shut down a successful border-patrol initiative to catch illegal aliens.A specially trained team had apprehended about 450 border trespassers in several Southern California cities. The Los Angeles Times, La Raza and every other advocacy group for illegal aliens protested that the arrests were racially motivated and that they were 'scaring' illegal aliens."

God Forbid, we scare the illegal aliens! This is the way the Judeo-Christian mind is supposed to work and has worked for centuries.

As contrast, let us examine the Muslim way of dealing with the same problem. Malaysia is the most populous Muslim country in the world. As background, you should know that, beginning in the 1970's, an Islamic revival called the dakwah movement has rapidly taken hold, mostly among young, educated urban Muslims. They sought to return to the fundamental beliefs of Islam, inspired by Islamic movements in other parts of the world, including the 1979 revolution that established an Islamic government in Iran. The dakwah movement contributed to a growing Islamization of Malaysian life. Malyasia is one of the most prosperous nations in Asia.

A a comparatively well-to-do country in Asia, illegal immigration from Thailand and other neighboring countries has become an increasing problem to the native Malaysians. In 2004, the Malaysian government announced an "amnesty period" during which an estimated one million illegal immigrants can return home without penalty. Loosely quoting from Amnesty International, mass deportations could start at any time. Penalties include jail, fines and caning [for the uniniatiated, "caning" is much like flogging; bamboo stalks are used instead of whips and/or chains]. Malaysian government officials acknowledge the contribution to the economy that foreign labour makes. After mass deportations in 2002 there were severe labour shortages in the construction and plantation sectors, prompting the authorities to ease the immigration process for certain industries. Malaysia has refused over the years to offer protection to refugees on its territory as it is not a party to the UN Convention on Refugees. Home Minister Azmi Khalid told Agence France-Presse recently there would be no change in plans to deploy more than half a million Malaysian members of volunteer neighborhood security groups to track down and detain the illegal migrants.

A distinct difference in philosophy, no? In the Malaysian government and, I have to assume, the Malaysian mind, if we need labor, come on in. When we no longer need laborers, we will, if you're lucky, jail or fine you. If you are not so lucky, we will summarily cane you. The cutoff seems to be around 3-4% unemployment. If unemployment in Malaysia drops below 4%, come on down! If it goes above 4%, you could get caned. In Malaysia, the bee still, apparently, resents the bear's gluttony.

Before we collectively start wringing our hands in horror over the Malaysian government's "insensitivity" to the rights of illegal immigrants, we need to cut them some slack. After all, in response to the tragedy of the December tsunami, the Malaysian goverernment, in a robust display of benevolence and empathy, announced the amnesty period for getting the hell out of Malaysia has been extended to January 31, 2004. You want to see compassion? Now, that's what I call institutional humanity and charity!

Perhaps it is time America to truly embrace some of "humaneness" of the Islamic faith. Let us learn from other faiths and governments and incorporate some of their high ideals in dealing with some of our own problems. The only problem I see, though, is where the heck are we going to get all that bamboo cane?


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