Not a Country of Immigrants

Citizens of the USA are almost all immigrants and their descendants. Were this not so, only Native Americans would hold citizenship here.

The United Arab Emirates is not a country of immigrants. For the most part, only the descendants of native Emiratis may hold citizenship. Those who move there will never fully belong, and neither will their children, no matter now many generations their ancestors have been there. As a result, about 80% of the population of the UAE consists of expats (and non-citizen residents who are the descendants of expats). The 20% who are citizens benefit from a wide variety of benefits involving land, housing, healthcare, and education, among other things. They run the country.

The UAE is a modern nation, newly built out of an almost uninhabited desert. Over the past sixty years, oil wealth and air conditioning have allowed thriving cities to spring up where only a few thousand people once huddled along the coast.

Visitors can’t help but be impressed with how clean and safe Dubai and Abu Dhabi are. Everything seems new and shiny, and helpful people abound.

Yet, if you begin to ask questions (something I have a habit of doing) you will find that most if not all of the friendly people serving your coffee and carting your luggage are not Emiratis. They are from Indonesia and the Philippines, or from India or Pakistan. Most (but not all) are Muslim, and they are in the UAE seeking a better life, just like your Uber driver in most US cities. The big difference for them is that they know they and their children will never belong.

So, why do they come to an Arab nation that is so determined not to be a country of immigrants? Well, the UAE is arguably the richest land of opportunity near their original homes. They appreciate the clean and safe environment, too. For many, the common religion is a big factor. They like the lack of income tax on money made here. In short, it is the best alternative for them.

Expats are held to a high standard of good behavior, here, and if deported they can never come back. Our guide brags about how the UAE led the development of retina scanning. Ours have been scanned and recorded when we entered the country, we are told. I find the fact chilling. They have the right to do this? I guess they do.

The point of the retina scanning is that no fake passports will work for those who are not welcome to come back. The UAE makes sure all expats know this.

I’m from a nation that has a horrible history of having overrun those who originally lived there. It’s something to be ashamed of, but after its ignoble start, the USA did become a land of welcoming opportunity to many and I was raised to be proud of that. So, I find the clearly articulated nativism of the UAE disconcerting.

I remind myself that one travels to learn about other lands, and other lands do not have to have the same philosophy as my own homeland.  Of course they don’t.

I look up the definition of “nativism” to make sure I am using it correctly. It is the policy of protecting the interests of native-born or established inhabitants against those of immigrants. Yup, I’m using it right.

The UAE is full of wonderful sights and wonderful people. I’m so glad I visited, and I’d recommend the trip to others. However, I prefer the messy but welcoming enthusiasm with which my own homeland once greeted others seeking a better life, and I look forward to the day when the USA returns to being that sort of country.

 

Wise words spoken

torch3For all the tales of hatred and abuse that one can find throughout human history, there are times when humans rise above. Sometimes, in those moments, they speak out and their words leave a bit of glowing light. Those embers now shimmer at us from the past. On a good day, a fellow human will look up and point to one of those faint beacons to remind us of it.

Two such sets of hopeful words crossed my trajectory this past week, and I’m thankful for it. One came from a fellow blogger who posted this speech delivered by Charlie Chaplin in a 1940 movie called The Great Dictator. Made before World War II began, it made fun of Hitler and Fascism and was intended to both amuse and support the cause of democracy. Once the real horrors of Nazi Germany became better known, much of the movie seemed a poor choice for satire. None-the-less, the speech at the end was moving then and its moving now. The modern photos and videos that have been spliced into this version give it an extra punch. Thanks to the fascinating blog Ha! Tea ‘n’ Danger for this post.

The other bit of shiny light has to do with the Gettysburg address, delivered by President Abraham Lincoln exactly 150 years ago today. It has been receiving a lot of press, of course, and part of the appeal of the speech is its eloquent humility in assuming that the words themselves will pass away and only the men who died will be remembered. We all know how that really worked out.

A recent video put together by filmmaker Ken Burns splices together famous people reciting the address, including all five living presidents, who are joined by politicians and popular media personalities that cover the political spectrum. One of the things that I did not like about about the Charlie Chaplin remix is that there was a sort of faint demonizing of all recent U.S. presidents, implying that each had lost his way. This second video hints to us that there is another side to each of them, whether we agree with their politics or not.

Tonight I say thank you for two shiny bits of light from the past that, when put together, leave me feeling that there is hope for the future.