Karen, Tanzania and Islamic Immigrants

Growing up, there were a number of books that I read numerous times. Among them were Karen and With Love from Karen, both written by Marie Killilea. They tell the story of her family’s life after her daughter was born with cerebral palsy. Ignoring the common advice given in the 1940s to institutionalize their daughter and forget that she had been born, the Killilea’s raised Karen as they raised her siblings, with the goal of maximizing each one’s potential. 

While I haven’t read those books recently (though this Musing is going to encourage me to do so) one scene is imprinted on my memory. At the insistence of her parents, Karen’s older sister, Marie, stays put while her sister makes a physically daunting and exhausting journey to the kitchen for a glass of water. Marie is anguished as she recognizes that she could easily and immediately bring the drink to her sister. At her age she doesn’t comprehend her parents’ wisdom in recognizing that Karen’s life will be destroyed if she views herself as a powerless victim of her birth circumstances rather than as a capable human being.

Maturity doesn’t necessarily make it easier for us to ignore the tugs at our heartstrings. That is a blessing. Being able to ignore the suffering of others makes us callous. Yet, maturity demands that feeling the suffering of others doesn’t automatically translate into performing what seems to be the kindest response. Sometimes,  what looks like kindness is actually cruelty, just as Marie’s getting her sister a drink would have ended up harming, not helping, Karen. 

I regularly read an apolitical blog. Sporadic clues make me think that the writer proudly considers herself liberal, but that is immaterial to her focus. I read it for its honest portrayal of the writer’s family’s life. Her son was born prematurely and, now as a young boy, faces tremendous physical and emotional challenges. The author reveals black days along with bursts of light, the times that frustration and anger overwhelm her, those moments when optimism and joy reign and the constant seesaw of a mother’s heart being broken and mended. Reading her blog and getting a peek at the love she and her husband lavish on both their children makes me a better person.

Recently, she recounted how painful it is for her when other children gawk at her different-looking, son, especially when they mock or laugh at him. When reason dominates her emotions, she recognizes that the ridicule isn’t set in stone. The more time children spend with handicapped children or those who look different from them, the more they focus on the commonalities rather than the differences. 

She then extends her views into the political realm. Her conclusion is that those of us who are suspicious of Islam and wary of letting in Moslem Syrian refugees are ignorant of the knowledge that they are just like us. Just as the healthy child’s first instinct is often to distance himself from the visually impaired or wheelchair bound child, if only we could get to know those refugees we want kept at a distance, we would realize that underneath superficial externals we are the same.

If only it was true. Just after I read this blog post, I read a book by a different mother. This book, Beyond the Pale, is the personal recounting of a mother who gives birth to a child with albinism. As part of the author’s exploration of the subject, she goes to Tanzania, appalled to discover that albinos there are often murdered or mutilated so that their limbs can be sold to witch doctors. The examples recounted in the book are horrifying.

I wonder how my blog author would feel about inviting Tanzanians into her community if albinism was her son’s particular challenge. Not every Tanzanian is going to attack a defenseless child. Some will. When we allow an immigrant from a culture where such attacks are acceptable into our country, we need a plan to ensure that the culture won’t accompany the immigrant. Since our country’s immigration policies encourage family reunification, even allowing in a Tanzanian albino fleeing dismemberment could result in opening the door to many more people. Tragically, family members are often complicit in the attacks. In the real world, compassion and good intentions don’t easily turn into policy. 

Sadly, the Moslem culture in many countries (not warped individuals, but the educational system, the government’s official message and the religious establishment) teaches that non-Moslems or the ‘wrong type’ of Moslems should not be treated with respect and even encourages murderous attacks on them. America is now home to ‘honor killings’ even if the press chooses not to highlight them. Certainly, immigrants or refugees can be exposed to a new culture and they can change. Certainly, some of those who want to come to America want to do so because they reject their home culture. Yet, there is nothing in place in our policies or educational systems which suggests that such a change will take place or that favors people who find their birth culture’s views abhorrent. 

In a fantasy world, all cultures are equally good. In reality, they aren’t. What seems to be the compassionate response to areas of the world that are riven with strife and misery can actually lead to a proliferation of strife and misery in our land as well. A different, truly compassionate answer, is needed. 




13 thoughts on “Karen, Tanzania and Islamic Immigrants”

  1. I am not only worried about being offensive in vague ways demanded by the ugly society around us, but I was always the diplomat of the family. The thing runs deep! Thankfully, I have made progress in not being that useless kind of nice that I have warned my kids about. I always appreciate your insights!
    I came back to especially add that I also value what Prime Minister Netanyahu has to say. He made a statement this afternoon about this very thing.

  2. Lora, I think many people are wrestling with the same paradoxes that you are. I think your sentence, “I hope I am not being offensive in any way,” is a great part of the problem. We are giving up our First Amendment right to free speech ( many college students think it is wrong!) by allowing bullies to shout, “I’m offended.” Without a free, honest and open conversation, we cannot reach a proper conclusion as a society.
    A great deal of the problem is also that our government and press are dishonest. BTW, I do believe there was a cover-up re Timothy McVeigh and that we do not know the truth about him. The increase in gang violence, anger and feelings of victimization in many communities under Obama means that there are more Americans ready to be radicalized.
    I do think many of us, especially minorities – Jews, LDS, Blacks – tend to look too much out of our rearview mirror rather than at where we are going. Like the French building a useless Maginot Line because it would have helped in WWI and being invaded quickly in WWII because the Maginot Line was out of date, we are trying to deal with today’s problem with naive views based on a history that isn’t really applicable here. That’s my take.

  3. I wrestle something horrible with this issue of the refugees. Someone pointed out that we accepted the Jews in the 20th century, so we must accept the Syrian refugees. This argument ignores the fact that the Jews were not trying to attack Americans. They were truly seeking safety and freedom. We must be wary of any immigrant who brings any destructive culture with them…although I have no idea how to measure the mind of a person for such tendencies. Especially in the present political atmosphere.
    In the meantime, I am extremely sensitive to the position my church leaders have taken. They offer true refugees the chance for safety and freedom. This is because of our Christian upbringing. It is also because of our LDS, or Mormon, background. In my own lifetime it was still legal on the books in Missouri to shoot to death any Mormon on sight. No one would have allowed such an argument in the 20th century, of course. In the 1970s the Missouri governor made a nice public ceremony of removing the law and apologizing to the LDS church. But when the US gov’t went after our church in the century before that, not only did they confiscate entire properties (like temples) and disenfranchise people, they arrested them, many were beaten or shot, and the women risked rape from such good ol’ boys as found Mormons offensive to their rough idea of what being an American was about. Mormons were forced to flee their homes in the dead of winter with little more than their clothing; their property was conveniently claimed by nearby neighbors, or bought cheap because the owners feared for their lives. Mormons fled the States to settle in the Great Basin region in what has become Utah.
    I am quite torn today.
    Trump used to amuse me; now he alarms me. Obama? I can’t even begin to describe the many ways his very name deeply saddens me.
    The surge of true refugees causes me to want to extend charity.
    The fear of terrorists and their ways makes me want to shut out just about any group of people.
    The knowledge that enough attacks have come from other kinds of evil besides Muslims (like Timothy McVeigh or the gang activity that is spreading) alerts me to the idea that the violent evil of attacking innocent people in large crowds does not and will not come just from Muslim extremists. But then again, if we can identify groups and stop them before they carry out their plans, are we not responsible to do so? I think we are.
    I hope I am not being offensive in any way. I am truly distraught over this.
    The final idea I have is that we did not have this rampant curse upon us in generations passed. We could still turn back to the Lord as a nation and have true enlightenment, real protection, and more. The cultural, spiritual, and political attack on all things Judeo-Christian is at the very root of this matter.
    I have yet to clarify my own thinking about this. In fact, I can’t even figure out how to wrap up my comment. I will leave it hanging and hope for the best.

  4. You make an excellent point, Nancy. I remember reading that Madalyn Murray O’Hair, whose lawsuit took prayer out of schools said that she would use America’s own system of democracy to destroy us. Compassion does not necessitate national suicide.

  5. Susan, I see now that I take for granted the definition of a refugee is one that seeks to escape the culture from which they have fled. Perhaps I have been way too naive to think everyone else honors this definition as your having to go into detailed explanation connotes the difference between a refugee and a re-settler, that comes under a pretense of refuge. In asking for protection for certain ways of life, if it becomes necessary to compromise other’s way of life, it would seem the one asking “refuge” would be the one that have the interest to concede. Otherwise, it would seem to be imposing on the hosts, without allowance for the courtesy of reasonable protest.
    I can’t stress enough how reassuring it is to get glimpses of reason, even if it is systematically refuted as absurdly archaic in comparison to the more “evolved” ways of thinking.
    Recently, I encountered a post in a New York Times, Cnn or WSJ forum, I can’t recall exactly which article, discussing the candidates who spoke at the RJC event. OBGYNKenobi used derogatory feminine terms in reference to Graham, which creeps me out considering the occupation of this poster necessitates that women render themselves most vulnerable when in his (or her) care [shudders]. I am afraid to think that America is in a very similar predicament.

  6. Oh ! I had read and loved at least one of those books when I was young.!…. 30 years ago I went to lunch at my sisters’ in laws home in California. They were Syrian and Muslim, and I believe possibly in the Govt. because when my sister went to their home in Syria it was next to the Presidents home .They all lived in huge “compounds” with their own armed ( with machine guns) guards. (pretty impressive for a girl raised on welfare in the Midwest ) The sister in law told me they were going to take America from us , because we were ignorant , and did not deserve this beautiful country, etc . Then she got mad at me because I did not get mad at her….LOL. She said I did not even understand when I had been insulted. She was very kind in giving us a very lovely lunch , and I really did appreciate her candor , 30 years ago she was speaking the truth, If we trust them we ARE ignorant.

  7. I think many of us think that things are spinning out of control. Obviously, we need prayer and Divine help, but I think more people who thought they could just ignore politics and get on with their lives are realizing that they cannot.

  8. During the first Gulf wart here was a man who was from Iran living in the little town I lived in at the time. He had come to Colorado for college. His family owned orchards in Iran and our climates are similar and a local college had a good program for agriculture/fruit production. He fell in love and married a girl from that little town. They went back to Iran in the late 1970’s. They escaped out of Iran after the revolution in 1979. The one thing I remember so well at the time of the first Gulf war was he kept saying over and over, “You don’t understand how they think. They don’t think like you do!” meaning the people of the Muslim Faith. He grew up Muslim but did not continue in it. I so often hear, in my mind, his words. It use to be that when you came to America you knew that you were coming to a different place and it was for a reason. You wanted to leave where you were from, thus there was an embracing of the American culture and a leaving of the old. Dr. Carson stated, after visiting the refugees in Syria, that they didn’t necessarily want to leave their homeland. They want protection while there is conflict. Could we not just give them that for now? I don’t think wanting to make sure that my family is safe, should be something that demonizes me.
    I’m incredibly discouraged and angry about what happened in San Bernadino, two days ago. I had my three year old granddaughter on Wednesday, so purposely did not turn on the news. I’m glad now, that I didn’t have to agonize over what I would have seen and heard that day, if I had been without her and had watched the whole ugly mess unfold. Which I’m sure I would have, news and political junkie that I am. The shooting in Colorado Springs last Friday (gosh, was that just a week ago?) was just around the corner from where my mother use to live. I’m tired of this feeling in the pit of my stomach that things are spinning out of control. Common sense. Prayer. Trust God. Pray for holy protection for our families. Pray that those we trust to make decision for our country, get out of their politically correct play suits and do what is right for the American people.

  9. The New Testament gives a clue – be wise as serpents and gentle as doves. (Matthew 10:16)
    God gives us the ability to reason. He also give us His Spirit to discern. Sadly, too many suppress that Spirit.
    I liken it to my German Shepherd. She senses a threat so she barks. She doesn’t “rationalize” her instinct, she doesn’t second guess her instinct.
    She doesn’t think “Am I a racist, islamaphobe or any other “phobe”. She perceives a threat, she alerts.
    And while, a simplistic analogy, the point is – we should be more like my German Shepherd.
    Rather than trying to be politically correct, ignoring that “gut reaction”- that something isn’t right, trying to convince ourselves that all beliefs have equal value, perhaps we should be more willing to trust that gut reaction and “bark” a warning?
    Thursday is my most anticipated day – I know I will get my “Ask the Rabbi” and “Susan’s Musings”
    Appreciate you and your husband very much – you are blessings to me

  10. With regard to your Musing tonight on the relativity of acceptance and rejection of differences by other cultures, I am reminded of a scene from that great old musical (showing my age!) South Pacific. French children and native Polynesian children are playing very sweetly together as equals, which is apparently not the rule. The parents lament the prejudice which is the norm, and wonder how people can drift so far apart. The answer is found in the song ‘You Have to be Carefully Taught.’ Prejudice and hate are very carefully taught, and virulent barbarians in desert isolation are likewise enculturating their children, teaching them to hate our children without question, without meeting them, without opening a dialogue, without even speaking to them. I hope this is not the rule. Isn’t it funny that the Muslims who most interact with other cultures tend to be the most tolerant?
    Giving a sly nod to the Rabbi’s message for today about spirituality suffering as technology advances, here is a quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson: “Once we had wooden chalices and golden priests. Now we have golden chalices and wooden priests.”

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