When the performative turns into complete indifference
The idea of a meritocratic version of migration always bothered me. Like when Trump called developing nations "shithole countries," a quick defense was "hey, a lot of app developers immigrated from these countries!"
As if the mean words are the issue, and not the cruel exclusionary policies that have us ranking people by how much they "deserve" to come to the US based on their ability to make other people money.
The Afghan Robotics team was a similar issue. Of course they deserve to be celebrated for their accomplishments, but holding them up as the "good ones" and focusing specifically on their fate so that we can feel better about ourselves always rubbed me the wrong way.
Then again, if the alternative is to just ignore *everyone* including them, I suppose tokenism is the lesser of two evils.
Thank you for writing this piece. One of my acquaintances worked with Afghani women. She is in tears. I am in tears. And I am angry. When I looked at the picture of all the Afghani people packed into the military jet that took off, I saw only a few women and children in the picture. Women are at most risk here. Why weren’t they the ones on this plane? Because caring about the plight of Afghani women and children has never really mattered to politicians. Power brokers ignored it before we invaded Afghanistan, used it to win propaganda points during the occupation, and ignore it again now that we have left. I have no doubt the plight of these women will be used as propaganda talking points by the West when it becomes convenient to do so.
Sad. Angry. Disillusioned. But I guess I shouldn't be surprised that the Afghan Girls Robotics team is yesterday's entertainment/feel-good-display for political leaders. Read George Packer's most recent article in the Atlantic and know that Biden the Empathic is much less so when it comes to both the Vietnamese and Afghan people: https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2021/08/america-afghanistan-allies/619784/
from that article: "Watching the address, I sensed that the years of futile war have left Biden with a kind of animus against Afghanistan and Afghans—that he is the same man who, in 1975, said on the Senate floor, “The United States has no obligation to evacuate one, or 100,001, South Vietnamese.” The same man who, according to the late Richard Holbrooke’s diary, in 2010 told Holbrooke that he wanted to withdraw every troop from Afghanistan regardless of the consequences for Afghans. 'I am not sending my boy back there to risk his life on behalf of women’s rights, it just won’t work, that’s not what they’re there for,' Biden insisted. When Holbrooke asked what a complete withdrawal would mean for Afghans who trusted us, Biden replied: 'Fuck that, we don’t have to worry about that. We did it in Vietnam, Nixon and Kissinger got away with it.'" [Packer wrote a book about Holbrooke, so he seems a reliable source.]
A professor (female, French nationality, French name, pale skin, blonde hair) living here in Montreal was refused entry to the US when she tried to take her daughter to a conference. The rationale was that she was bringing her daughter on a "business" trip, and they found that suspicious. They basically told her that they were afraid she would illegally immigrate to the US (never mind that she would have to give up a professor's salary in order to pick oranges in California) and that they would really like to see her daughter in Canada so they would know she would have to go back. At that time Obama was President, so this was pre-Trump. I hope that doesn't give any insight into the mentality of the post 9-11 immigration control, but I'm afraid it probably does. For people not coming from Western Europe, things probably get worse from there.
Canada is pretty difficult too, and it's more explicitly meritocratic, but it seems to be better than what I just described. Trudeau's up for an election, so there might be hope of getting a nice gesture out of him. That is assuming that Canada even has the ability of taking in the team (only one airport and the US/Taliban controls it). That would be token, but I'm sure the press would cover it. It would get a lot of publicity for what the general public will see as nice normal people, and I think now humanizing any Afghans will help a lot, at least for the few Afghans who are already here. It's probably close to useless to hope that Biden would do anything differently, but even a one in a million chance is worth trying.
Several years ago I talked with a waiter in a restaurant in a tourist spot in Cappadocia. He spoke excellent English with what sounded like a little bit of an Indian accent and talked a bit when he found out I was living in Canada. He said he had a brother studying engineering in Montreal and he was hoping to go somewhere in Canada as well. He had been through a language program in India, which is where he picked up the accent (which was not heavy at all). I'm not sure why he was in Turkey in particular, but I think he was taking some classes. He didn't strike me in any way different than many of the students I've met here. Unfortunately, I suspect the average person in the US has met far fewer immigrants than I have (excluding from Latin America) has never knowingly met any person from Afghanistan, so what they know is only what they have seen on the news for the last two decades.
The post 9-11 security apparatus of Patriot act, ICE and immigration freezes has grown into what military wags might call a "self-licking ice-cream cone." Once you have set it up, it self-perpetuates no matter what the result. No terrorism acts? Great, it's working! Terrorism acts? Better do more!
How to get off the treadmill? It will require an incredible amount of political will.
The immigration process is a total mess in this country, a mess designed to keep things going slowly with maximum bureaucratic friction. This is especially true on work visas, as there is no respect for the people involved in either end of the transaction. Last year our crew got in 2 weeks late; they lost earnings and we lost fruit yield. This year? 2 weeks early, and they are hanging-fire, wondering why they had to leave their families in such a hurry.
In this manner of system, it doesn't bode well for the tens of thousands of Afghans who will want to come here. Maybe though, this will be the event that generates the sympathy and the political will to do something about it. That would be a good outcome.
This reminds me of when I was following Syria closely in 2011 (which led to cancelling some travel plans.) The Christian Science Monitor was publishing frequent stories about a family there. I eventually either quit reading because it was too depressing, or the CSM lost track of them during the civil war.
I've never had to worry about someone I knew personally in a war zone. At this point, I'm not going to jump to any conclusions about whether indifference is happening or not: if Canada or some other entity is trying to get them out, it's probably better to keep it out of the news.
When do we as Shakespeare wrote "Cry 'Havoc!', and let slip the dogs of war"?
A really good answer was given by John Quincy Adams:
"Wherever the standard of freedom and Independence has been or shall be unfurled, there will her heart, her benedictions and her prayers be. But she goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy. She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own."
Pursuing that policy comes at a cost, think Rwanda, Syria and period prior to WW2, and ignoring it brought us Libya and Iraq. In Afghanistan we both followed and ignored Adams' advice.
So I think we have to judge, in terms of our morality, our intentions and especially how we implement our intentions, but even when we have done the best we can the consequences are often outside of our control or our imagination.
Looks like they got out? https://www.nbcnews.com/news/world/oklahoma-mom-11-helps-rescue-10-girls-afghanistan-s-robotics-n1277153