Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Refugees, domestic violence, young activists and controversy.

Author's note: I'm starting to over-post and go in to competition with myself. If you haven't read it yet, please read the post below as it contains much more vital and basic information on dealing with refugees and domestic violence that is difficult to obtain. This post basically criticizes past refugee center policies.

As I've mentioned on this blog, one problem with the local refugee center is that many vital positions (and others) are staffed by young college interns who leave their position about the time they become competent at their position. Another implication of this problem is that most Americans and other persons from the developed world do not really understand refugees and who they are and how they think and what they want until they've been around them for a while, which is about the time they leave their position. Not to mention the fact that although people at this point in life are full of energy, idealism and enthusiastic, they often don't quite understand the world or older people, much less older people from a different culture.

Therefore they have a tendency to offer refugees things that they think are important and that they think a refugee should want and not necessarily the things that a refugee actually wants. i.e. poetry lessons being the ultimate example, when offered to people who need jobs, driver's licenses, a basic understanding of American society and bureaucracy, as well as a functional level of English language ability. (For the record, in my experience, the refugees really don't mind these programs. They see them as a chance to do something interesting and practice their English with a friendly American, but that does not mean that these classes are the best use of their time or that they are what they really need.)

Now Americans tend to be very ethnocentric, idealistic people and therefore the way they deal with people who tell them things they don't wish to hear, particularly if these things don't fit their ethnocentric ideals is often interesting. At times, they will go so far as to argue with people about things they know nothing about if these people have experiences that don't meet their idealistic view of the world.

For instance, when I was in my early 20's I went through my Quaker, peace-activist, save-the-world-from-war, all-people-want-peace, USA-is-the-source-of-all-evil-and-I-am-so-ashamed-because-of-it phase. For better or worse, however, at that point I went off to Taiwan and soon found myself in situations and meeting people whose thinking just didn't fit my preconceived notions of how the world should work. These were not just the Asians who were quite eager to go to war and bomb each other (i.e. this was back in the day when some Taiwanese would still lobby for retaking the mainland, and, of course, the Koreans were often perfectly willing to go at it again) but it didn't help either that at the time Taiwan was being used as a training center for persons engaged in combating or preparing to combat the Sandinistas and were therefore directly on the side of the people who I had thought were the "bad guys" in this conflict in which the United States was very much involved. And they were thanking me as a US citizen for providing them with the very assistance that I had protested against just a few months before.

Which meant that I was forced to undergo some painful growth. Alas! Painful growth sucks, it really does, its painful, disillusioning and unpleasant, but, to quote from Richard Ryan, the self defense author, "if you don't acknowledge reality than reality will work against you." So, like so many times in life, you get knocked down, spiritually in this case, and then pick yourself up and trudge ahead once again only with a slightly different perspective.

Which brings us back to this silly issue:

Artan Serjanej was a 43 year old former refugee who put himself through law school and then volunteered at the local refugee center to teach refugees about their rights in the USA as well as the importance of not beating one's wife or dog.

He made some comments to the local newspaper to the effect that some refugee men came from places like he came from (the Muslim country of Albania), where it was acceptable to beat one's wife or children and that therefore he was doing his best to tell them it wasn't acceptable here and keep them out of trouble.

Sadly, the Daily Gazette in Schenectady now has a paid-only reading policy but if you'd like you can read the comments he was quoted as making here at Refugee Resettlement Watch: HERE! Now, Refugee Resettlement Watch is an interesting blog that contains much useful information but they clearly have an anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim agenda.* Therefore this article is also mixed in with the bloggist's interesting but not necessarily very nice comments.

Here's some quotes:

“I’m trying to change their idea of what it means to be a man,” he said. “These people are coming from a very patriarchal [read: Islamic] society. The man of the house is the man of the house.”

Serjanej said he understands these attitudes and why the men have them.

“Albania is a very patriarchal [Islamic] society,” he said. “When I was growing up, once in a while my dad would get physically violent with me. We didn’t have a Department of Social Services. Women had no way to complain [about abuse], and it was socially unacceptable for them to do so.”

He said one of the things he tells the men who attend his workshops is that even if their wives do not complain to the police, other people might.

“Even if the wife is silent, outsiders can call the police,” he said.

“I tell them that if you get upset, you cannot use your hands,” Serjanej continued. “I tell them that you can only talk and that you should talk in a quiet voice. A real man doesn’t have to get physical. I try to convey that they can use their mouth and voice and be respected in this country by all."


It does look like although Serjanej's comments are undoubtedly the truth as he sees it, and I'm quite inclined to accept his opinion in this matter as he undoubtedly knows more about Albanian culture than I do, they could have been better chosen.

In response to these comments, Una Hardester, 22 year old idealist activist, and her companions, insisted that since Serjanej's comments should not have been voiced as they were not consistent with the view of the world or the view of refugees that they wished to promote. Therefore they did not invite him back to participate in any more programs. Their programs were now sanitized and politically correct. The cultural gap between some refugees and the young American activist community was again preserved! Oooooh Rah! Mission accomplished!

* Oh those wacky Muslims. What will one ever do with them? It's so dog gone easy to just view Islam as one of many of the world's great religions and treat it as such, acknowledging that its believers include both good and bad. And, in fact, that's why the week of September 11, 2001 I suggested to the WRPI radio community, of which I was a member and a non-commerical DJ that we do something as a radio station to try to reduce the possibility of an outbreak of anti-Muslim violence or hatred. (This was after I made six calls to see if I could go down to NYC and help. There were so many people from around here who wanted to go down to NYC and help that week that we were being turned away in droves. In fact, many people I knew who went to help found the site so overloaded that all they could do was stand around and look respectful and take their hats off when another body was pulled out of the rubble. But as for me, I was on the radio invited by members of the RPI Muslim Student group to discuss the event in the context of local Muslims. I was helpful, I was good, I asked the tough questions that others were scared to ask. (i.e. Q: "Okay, so you say the Koran forbids acts such as this one, but clearly someone believed that he was doing this for the Koran and Islam, How would you respond?" Them. A: "Anyone who crashes an airplane into a building full of innocent men, women and children and thinks he's doing it for God has moire serious problems than his religion." -excellent answer. Alas, however, it was soon after that they blew most of their good will with me when they began sending me idiotic e-mails blaming the September 11, 2001 tragedly on an Israeli conspiracy. F-ing morons. They just couldn't grasp the fact that although I think it's stupid for their sister to wish to walk to class at engineering school dressed in an outfit that looks like a black gunny sack, as an American, I will support her right to do so in safety.

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