Thursday, February 28, 2008

Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits

There’s a writer I’ve been wanting to blog about for a while now but wanted to wait until her book, Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits had arrived in the mail from Amazon, and until I’d finished reading it.

It’s a thin little novel, less than 200 pages, and worth all the hype I’d previously read about it. The author, Laila Lalimi, is the creator of a popular blog, Moorishgirl (the site has since changed names to simply where she covers a fairly wide range of topics about contemporary literature, Arab issues at large, literary Arab figures, and Moroccan issues in particular. Lalimi herself is a transplanted Moroccan, now a lit professor living in Portland, Oregon.

What I really like about Lalimi is her grace.

She tackles some very serious, sad stuff without anger or virulence, something most passionate, opinionated people have a hard time with, with elegant, understated prose.

Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits may be about a raft full of Moroccans from wildly different walks of life about to cross the dangerous Straits of Gibraltar to a (one hopes) better life in Spain, but as the collection of character sketches unfolds, we see the life of the illegal immigrant in all of its tragedy, melodrama and universality. It’s a book about very specific people and very specific circumstances and yet it’s one of the most relevant books I’ve read in a long time.

Take the current illegal immigration crisis in the States. I hate to break this to those of you who think that America (or any country) belongs only to its citizens, and who support anti-illegal immigration laws, but we’re about to find out what “immigration crisis” really means.

Americans (and Canadians) should count themselves very lucky as the poor masses that come sneaking into their country come from one direction only. You’ll have a much easier time protecting your borders when your country is isolated from all sides but one by oceans (and in Canada’s case, icebergs). It’s not as easy for, say, Chinese migrants to hop onto a raft and paddle their way to California as it is for a Moroccan to make it to Spain. Fourteen kilometers, Lalimi writes, is all that separates abject misery from a life of human dignity.

Another important point is capacity. If the entire population of Cuba were to take to inflatable rafts, that’s just….. eleven million souls. I bet Florida (population: 18 million) could take half of them on without too much trouble. Eleven million… that’s 6 million less than how many people call Cairo, Egypt home. And we are talking about the United States of America here, the world’s largest economy by a few light-years. We are also talking about a country (like Canada) with massive tracts of yet-uninhabited land – not because there’s anything wrong with the land, mind you – just because people would rather live in New York, or LA, or Phoenix, or Miami.

We’re not talking about, oh, I don’t know… Syria.

Syria’s population is 19.4 million. Syria, as a consequence of the Iraq war, has absorbed 1.2 million displaced Iraqis.

Would you like to know how many “innocent Iraqi civilians” the United States has absorbed?

800 since 2003. That’s an average of 160 a year, for five years.

800 people??? 100 people came to my launch party last year… that’s 12% of the total amount of Iraqi refugees accepted into the United States since the start of the war!!! (They have since signed-on to 7000 more in 2008, after some much-deserved hoopla over the disgustingly low figure. Will they honor the promise? Who the heck knows)

800 out of a population of 300 million is… my calculator doesn’t have enough space for all the zeros in this one.

1.2 million out of 19.4 million?

That’s a 6% population increase in just half a decade.

And we’re talking about just one war, one tiny little man-made crisis in a world that’s going to see massive displacement of peoples as a result of natural disasters, rising water levels, and more pronounced inequality than the world has ever seen.

Over 2 million refugees created by the Iraq war. How many refugees will be created if a big portion of a southern Indian province is lost to rising water levels? Who will “absorb” those people? And what kind of life awaits them in their adopted countries? What future awaits us all if we continue to treat these Global Untouchables as “surplus humanity”?

It might be time to start talking about the “immigration crisis” as it really is, as opposed to how we imagine it to be in our pampered, sheltered little fantasies.

Read Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits. It’s a good start.

1 comment:

Marilyn Brant said...

Glad you had a chance to read and enjoy Lalami's book. I was so impressed by her when I first read her blog. Thanks for the detailed post on Hope & Other Dangerous Pursuits.

Hope your week is going well :).