Monday, January 23, 2017

A Country Divided

The Western Wall, Jerusalem
It is difficult these days to think about anything but the mess US-Americans are making of the country. I wanted to write a humorous, entertaining post about my trip to Israel, but I'm not going to do that. Instead, I'm going to tell you about a country deeply divided by resentment and the need for retribution.

A gun pointed at me the whole time
Tev Aviv--a patchwork of modern and ancient, polite and impolite, slick and filthy--has everything you'd expect from a large, multicultural city. To answer this question for the hundredth time, we felt safe. And that's saying a lot since our hotel was in a derelict area along the marina where the only open venue was a strip club. Just two streets in any direction was perfectly normal. We can pick them.

Most US-Americans who travel to Israel on vacation are probably not going to stay in Tel Aviv unless they're going there for the nightlife or the beach. Most US-Americans are going to head to Jerusalem, which is actually just 33 miles away from Tel Aviv. You'll probably fly into Tel Aviv to get to Jerusalem, so why not spend a few days there? At least you'll find a restaurant. Restaurants in Jerusalem are pretty scarce.

Jerusalem is a divided city. Men from women. Muslim from Jew, Greek Orthodox Christian from Armenian, the latter Christians by religion but considered Palestinians politically. The old town is a maze of narrow, often dirty, confusing passageways and stairs. It's a war-ish zone with armed soldiers and police officers everywhere. The tense atmosphere you missed in Tel Aviv? You'll find it in Jerusalem. Here is where you really get a taste of trouble seething just under the surface.

The first time I was in Jerusalem, in 2008, I was struck by how rude the Greek Orthodox priests were at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. I was infuriated when a man pushed my mother out of the way in the tunnel leading to the Western Wall plaza and then again when a child did the same thing on the Via Dolorosa. Pushing and shoving are apparently completely acceptable behavior in Jerusalem. To top that, we had one of the rudest, most inconsiderate tour guides I've had in my long life of travel. Jerusalem might be holy, but it's also bitter and unpleasant. 

Church of the Holy Sepulchre
That's not to say there aren't friendly people. The guys who made my falafel were sweet, the guy sitting at the reception desk of the Erlöserkirche (Church of the Redeemer) was nice, the guy who showed me how to get to the Dome of the Rock from the Western Wall (the only way to get there for non-Muslims apparently) was nice but then asked me for money. The shops in the old town rely on tourists, so of course they're friendly. This place is not Venice, where an ever-flowing glut of tourists has turned many Venetians into rude assholes.

Christians visiting Jerusalem will probably need to visit the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the Garden of Gethsemane. You'll probably wind up at the Western Wall and, like me, stand there for a while wondering what Hasidic Israelis think about tourists gawking at them while they pray. I felt really uncomfortable. I grew up knowing about the Western Wall, but of course being Christian I called it the Wailing Wall unaware that this is derogatory and that Jews would never use this name.

You should of course do those things, but by far the most important place to visit in Jerusalem is Yad Vashem, the museum and memorial to the Jewish people who were murdered by the National Socialists of Germany (and the complicitous masses) in World War II. It's forbidden to take pictures inside the museum, so of course I have no photos. I did, however, take lots of photos outside. Here are a few:

Above the Children's Memorial at Yad Vashem
The entrance to Yad Vashem, Jerusalem
The stone memorializing the unknown victims of National Socialism
The entrance to the main museum/memorial at Yad Vashem
Yad Vashem
I live in Germany, and I've seen more WWII documentaries than I can count. When I entered the museum/memorial, I knew what to expect of course. I knew that I would be sickened and overwhelmed by sadness the whole time. And I was. It is so important to visit this place. As a US-American it's especially important to visit Yad Vashem so that we see the methods and the rhetoric fascists use to take over a country, and what happens when a leader promises to make the country great again while denigrating a particular religious group. It is important for us all to remember this.

As we were leaving Tel Aviv to fly back to Berlin, we had a telling encounter with an airport employee who was helping us to the plane (we were traveling with a person in a wheelchair).

He started by telling us a Jewish joke (he was himself Jewish I assume). I don't remember it, but it enouraged us to laugh at how cheap and greedy the Jews supposedly are. I suppose he told us the joke to let us know the Jews have a sense of humor about the prejudice they've endured. We did not laugh. 

"Just because we're here together," he struck a more serious tone, as if to say Just between us victims of Islamic terrorism. "What happened in Nice and at the Berlin Christmas market wouldn't happen in Israel. We're prepared. I can't believe the Germans aren't prepared for attacks like that."

"Yeah, that particular Christmas market in Berlin is sort of exposed to traffic," I offered. "But I was at one last week in Berlin that had cement barriers."

"After!" he said and laughed. "When I see two Arabs walking towards me," he continued, "I tense up. They want us dead."

Hmmm, I thought. OK. Maybe because you're not respecting the boundaries you agreed on in the 60s and you're building settlements on their land? But I didn't say this. Although I've done quite a bit of reading on the subject, I'm still not sure who's right and who's wrong here. It all feels wrong.

"And then Merkel," he went on, "letting them all in. Big mistake. I respect the East for standing up to her and not letting them in. The European multi-culti experiment didn't work!"

Hold on there. "But the East takes money from the EU," I said. "If they want money, they need to adhere to the policies of the EU, and one of them is that the burden of asylum seekers is shared. Out of the million or so people Germany let in, maybe a couple of thousand have caused problems."

And then he said it: "But if you know there's a snake in your house, you're always afraid." The Nazis used similar rhetoric to turn the country against the Jews. If anyone should know the danger of prejudice against an entire folk, it should be the Jews. I'm not trying to imply that this man represents the prevailing public opinion in Israel (and I don't have enough information to make assumptions about what Israelis think), but I do see it as a warning sign for my own country. If you demonize an entire group of people, you should probably expect that group of people to resent you.

And, in fact, the truck ramming attack in Jerusalem happened the very next day. 

Resentment breeds resentment, and none of us is immune. If you elect a President because you're angry that you can't discriminate against non-whites, non-Christians, and non-straights, then you're going to feel my resentment. If you're angry that I won't accept your President, my only response is that I will not tolerate intolerance. And so on. Your President is planning to abolish the National Endowments for the Arts and the Humanities, has removed climate change, LGBT, civil rights, and energy from its Top Issues on its website, and has assembled a cabinet of rich robber barons that do not have the best interests of US-Americans at heart and don't even have the experience to run their ministries. Education is nowhere among the priorities of this administration and quality health care will be the priviledge of the wealthy. Do I feel resentment? Loads of it.

Recently someone on Facebook remarked that it was shameful to boycott the inauguration; doing so, she said, was to disrespect the office of the President. On the contrary, allowing a man who brags about being able to sexually assault women because he's famous, a man who cons thousands of students out of their tuition, a man who does not pay his bills or his taxes, a man who tweets inflammatory and childish messages to political leaders--a man in short of the lowest moral character--to occupy the office of President of the United States is in itself disrespectful of that office.

This has not been a humorous, entertaining post about a beautiful place--I know. I'm afraid, at least for the time being, my posts will probably be less humorous and less entertaining than usual.

What I will do: I will remain vigilant. I will keep encouraging Trump's administration and the Republican Party to put education first not only for their children but for all US-Americans. A country cannot function without quality education and health care for all its citizens. If you don't believe this, you need to build a high-security electric fence around your property and stop calling yourself patriotic.

I must be off,
Christopher

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Christopher Allen is the author of Conversations with S. Teri O'Type (a Satire), an episodic adult cartoon about a man struggling with expectations. Allen's writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Juked, Eclectica Magazine's 20th-Anniversary Speculative anthology, Indiana Review, FRiGG, The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, and over a hundred other great places. Read his book reviews in [PANK], Necessary Fiction, Word Riot, The Lit Pub, and others. His creative non-fiction has appeared in Chicken Soup for the Soul, Bootsnall Travel, and lots of other fine places. A finalist at Glimmer Train in 2011, Allen has been nominated for Best of the Net, the storySouth Million Writers Award, and the Pushcart Prize. He is the 2015 recipient of Ginosko Literary Journal's award for flash fiction and in 2016 took third place in the K. Margaret Grossman fiction award given by Literal Latté. Allen is the managing editor of SmokeLong Quarterly.





    




 


Thursday, January 19, 2017

Racism and Immigration in the USA

Eight years ago I was in Rome on a guided tour of the city. Our group was divided into two groups, one English-speaking and one Spanish/German-speaking. Because the Spanish/German-speaking group was quite small, I chose to go with that one. This is how I wound up touring Rome all day with three women from Germany.

"You're voting for Obama, right?" One of the women asked in German in lieu of a How do you do? Germans can be quite forward about politics and have no qualms about asking who you're voting for.

I was actually planning to vote for Obama and had no problem telling the woman this. While her question was a bit rude and aggressive by US standards, it only tickled the margins of appropriate conversation. Back then.

Back then, politics seemed relatively normal. Obama was scandalously liberal and a bit too dark for some people--in short, he was history in the making--but it all seemed like something I could talk about with a stranger. The world is different now. No stranger has enough time for me to tell them how furious I am about our current political situation. I'd ruin their holiday. They'd be talking about the US-American guy who actually foamed at the mouth. Their grandchildren's grandchildren would be telling some mutated version of the story 60 years later. OK, when I look at it this way, maybe it would have some entertainment value. I'd be a legend.

Our current situation didn't start, and will not end, with Trump. History doesn't work that way. There would be no Trump without Obama, no Obama without Bush, and so on. We don't have Obama to thank for illegal immigrants or American jobs going abroad. These situations are much older than Obama. In fact, the first "illegal" immigrants were the 50,000 slaves smuggled into the US in 1808 after President Jefferson made foreign slave trade illegal (Roger Danniels, PhD, Guarding the Golden Door). And then between 1814 and 1850 around a million Native Americans were denied citizenship and forced to cede their land, essentially making them foreigners in their own home while Protestant Europeans were offered fast-track citizenship because of course they were white and non-Catholic. Native American weren't given citizenship until 1924.This was the first "Make America White Again" movement.

In the second half of the 19th century, so many people from around the world came to the US legally. As workers. The Chinese and the Irish built the first transcontinental railroad. It wasn't until 1864-1880 that Congress actually tried to start organizing and controlling immigration and didn't create an agency to regulate immigration until 1891. The Chinese were discriminated against and forbidden to buy or own land. In 1862, Chinese laborers were officially excluded from citizenship. 

Between 1880 and 1924 25 million Europeans emigrated to the US, legally. And in 1898, the Supreme Court confirmed that the 14th Amendment gives citizenship to anyone born or naturalized in the US, so the birther movement is a bit older than anyone living now.

But here's when it gets really interesting: 1910 and the Mexican Revolution. This is when thousands of Mexicans fled Mexico to the US where they found jobs in agriculture, mining and the railroad. World War I only fueled the need for cheap labor. Oddly though, when mounted guards were stationed along the Mexican-US border, it wasn't to keep the Mexicans out but rather the Chinese who were trying to get into the US illegally. Long story short, almost all of the immigration laws enacted by the US have been to keep non-white people out. It must be said, though, that we weren't really that fond of Catholics either.

1927 -- US Labor Secretary estimates that over 1,000,000 Mexicans are in United States illegally

During World War II 5 million Mexicans came to the US legally as part of the Bracero Program to work on farms and railroads which officially ended in 1964 but did not stop the flow of Mexicans into the country. So 1964 is a sort of milestone: the beginning of our current era of illegal, undocumented aliens from Mexico. 1964: not Thanks, Obama. Not even Thanks, Bush. Or Thanks, Jimmy Carter. By 1980 almost 2 million undocumented Mexicans were living in the US, very few of them having arrived before 1960 (so apparently some of those from the 1927 figure either became legal citizens, came legally, or went back to the Mexico). You get the idea. We have a history--a relatively complicated one marred by racism and discrimination. We've passed some awful laws, and we've repealed them. And the situation of illegal immigration goes on. It's a complex issue.

So can you imagine having this discussion with a stranger on holiday?

As you inaugurate Trump tomorrow, remember that history repeats itself. Those who do not learn from it are doomed to repeat it. The US has a long history of racist immigration policies. We'll heal only once we confront them. We seemed to be on the right path, but maybe that was an illusion.

I must be off,
Christopher

___________________________________________________

Christopher Allen is the author of Conversations with S. Teri O'Type (a Satire), an episodic adult cartoon about a man struggling with expectations. Allen's writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Juked, Eclectica Magazine's 20th-Anniversary Speculative anthology, Indiana Review, FRiGG, The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, and over a hundred other great places. Read his book reviews in [PANK], Necessary Fiction, Word Riot, The Lit Pub, and others. His creative non-fiction has appeared in Chicken Soup for the Soul, Bootsnall Travel, and lots of other fine places. A finalist at Glimmer Train in 2011, Allen has been nominated for Best of the Net, the storySouth Million Writers Award, and the Pushcart Prize. He is the 2015 recipient of Ginosko Literary Journal's award for flash fiction and in 2016 took third place in the K. Margaret Grossman fiction award given by Literal Latté. Allen is the managing editor of SmokeLong Quarterly.

Art by 281_Anti nuke. See more HERE.