Here is the text of a letter I sent to my Texas Congressmen in response to Trump’s proposed ban on Muslims and refugees, the Wall, and the ICE raids carried out in Texas last week. Given that it is unlikely to be read by my state reps, I chose to address a broader audience and am now sharing it here in support of all immigrants in our country, regardless of documentation status.
As a Texan, I cannot envision my state without immigration. In Houston, Michel Elias Dabaghi, the son of Lebanese refugees and a world-class innovator in heart surgery, put Texas Medical Center on the map. Without Lebanese-American Clifford Jamal Antone, Austin’s sixth street might never have outshone other Southern blues hubs to make our state’s capitol also the live music capitol of the world. Our state’s most famous universities name Lebanese-American donors among their greatest benefactors: Joe D. Jamail has given over $50 million to the University of Texas, while Michael Halbouty provided not only for buildings, but also the campus’s sponsorship of George H. W. Bush’s presidential library in College Station.
“This arm ok?” Stretch. Wrap. Snap. Click. (pause) “So. What do you do?”
One distracted explanation and half a purple-capped vial of blood later, the nurse exclaimed, “Oh! My father was also a Russian translator!” I looked up. “Russian and Spanish. He worked for the courts down in the Valley.”
“Really? In the Valley? Spanish I get, but how the hell did he learn Russian way down there?”
Shoomp. Click. New vial.
Gentlemen, you can’t fight in here! This is the War Room!
The collapse of the Soviet Union was a major formative event for the modern Russian outlook. At the same time as Russians experienced economic collapse, loss of power and influence, and reduced quality of life, the population also witnessed the international commodification of its natural resources, its consumer market and real estate, and even its brides. Since Former KGB officer Vladimir Putin’s rise to power, Russia has demonstrated an intense rise in nationalism at home and aggressive actions on its borders as the population vies to reassert control over its prospects. The source of Russian power lies in its autocratic leadership, cultural resurgence, and resource wealth, which Putin is aggressively reorienting toward new economic and geographic frontiers. While the current Ukrainian conflict is largely political and, thus, more difficult to predict, the real battleground in this era of globalization will be the energy market, and this fight lies to the East.
Parable with a Skull by Jaroslav Rona (Prague, 1993)
On January 17, 1989, during demonstrations in Prague marking the 20th anniversary of Jan Palach’s self-immolation over the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, Czech novelist Bohumil Hrabal wrote: “Maybe the old gods have died, but new gods are born, who have to pay the price.” Revolution is a Promethean burden, a tax levied in blood and land. If paid in full, a revolution can be successful, even heroic. The 1989 revolutions in Eastern Europe progressed relatively smoothly with the help of land redistribution programs following the collapse of communism and the genocide of the region’s largest ethnic minority population under Hitler.
The American Civil War, however, was the opposite. The Civil War was fought for a number of complex reasons, though slavery remained the banner issue, yet the slaves themselves were largely excluded. The Civil War effectively killed off the landed white lower class, replacing it with a non-land-owning emancipated slave population, in which only the men eventually received three-fifths of the vote, while women everywhere were still unable to vote, leaving the country’s government in the hands of a minority, primarily white male population.
In essence, the 1989 revolutions provided a comparatively ethnically and economically homogeneous population with land ownership and political rights through a seemingly simple, bloodless process. Conversely, in America, the North won the blood-soaked Civil War and effectively ended slavery as a legal institution, yet ultimately lost the revolution by failing to enact a policy of inclusion, instead entrenching slavery in the country’s cultural make-up. The effect of these revolutions, their successes, and their failures, can still be seen to resonate in the modern struggles of the United States and European Union today, while the region’s differing histories have proven predictive of the differing ethnic and economic tensions that have developed in the decades and centuries since.