BOOK REVIEW: EMBRACING THE INFIDEL
Born in Iran of Armenian descent, and now a US Citizen with a respected position as a professor of economics and political science in a small New Jersey college, the author traveled extensively in the Middle East and Asia in the years after he received his US citizenship. But in the late 1990's on a visit to Tehran, he was warned by friends to leave as soon as possible since various branches of the Iranian government were now aware of his presence and his lectures on political economy and were searching for a scapegoat.
Not long after, border guards at a crossing from Turkey to Greece noticed his physical resemblance to emigrants seeking to enter Greece and refused to honor his US passport without a bribe.
Intrigued by his experiences, he returned to Turkey with a small tape recorder and camera and began to interview persons, mostly Muslim, from various parts of the Middle East and Africa were had begun to trek across the continents seeking political asylum in the West.
The stories he tells are fascinating, often hair raising and in some cases tragic. Men, women, children and in some cases whole extended families mark time in makeshift camps, sterile refugee centers, and drab apartments and "squats." Taking their stories at face value, the overwhelming majority of them have good reasons to leave their former homes behind. It's frustrating to read that various refugee assistance programs and others who have the authority to grant asylum all too often deny the migrants permission to stay, or visas to keep moving legally. Preyed upon and cheated by human smugglers, many of them spend months and years in a depressing "round robin" circuit of clandestine departure, seizure and arrest, and return to the starting point. The author points out that many of these refugees hold jobs, usually in some branch of an underground economy. Lucky ones find sponsors and helpers, usually from Canada who manage to break bureaucratic logjams open. The overwhelming remainder continue to hope and try.
Inevitable comparisons arise to other refugee movements throughout history. And one conclusion is inescapable. In this age of cell phones, satellite TV and radio, and intrepid journalists, people world wide will be aware of the opportunities which exist in other parts of the world. The movement out of areas ravaged by war and political unheaval will not stop.
The book concludes with an interview with a young woman in New York City. She has completed her education in the West, and overcome with homesickness and feeling completely out of place in the country which lured her for so long, she contemplates a return to Pakistan and perhaps to her childhood home in Afghanistan. One wonders if there could have been a way to make this intelligent thoughtful woman feel welcome, or is her origin in the Muslim Middle East a handicap the West will never allow her to overcome?
REVIEWED BY WOODSTOCK
Thanks for visiting!