Same Old, Same Old

When they don’t need you anymore, they flush you down the toilet.

—Rutgers University professor and economist Paul S. Nadler, 1930-2007

If you want a vision of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face—forever.

—author George Orwell (Eric Arthur Blair), 1903-1950

Jeffrey here. Joey, dangling precariously above the toilet, is silent today.

This morning a client wrote to me:

Just seeing what is happening with people who supported us in Afghanistan trying to flee and thinking how you helped me . . . how you saved J_____ and her children, K_____ and her daughter, L_____ from being forced back and countless others. I just wanted to say thank you. Nothing we can ever say to thank you is enough. You have been a beacon of light for all of us who have found ourselves bereft in the darkness. Thank you.

What a kind note. But it overstates my role.

I helped find refuge in America for people from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Iran, Iraq, Tajikistan, Syria, Kurdish and Palestinian areas, Lebanon, Egypt, and other places in the Middle East and Central Asia.

Glimpses of some of the carpets I was given by Afghans who fled from Soviet invaders a couple of wars ago.

Big deal. I did it from comfort and safety in America.

The clients did the hard part.

To claim asylum, the refugees had to wrestle with fears and nightmares, abandon home and family, evade weapons and jails, fight geography and bureaucracy, to reach our border.

Then they had to prove both an objective and a subjective fear of persecution on account of (in the case of Afghanistan) religion (belief in anything other than the Taliban’s twisted version of Islam), membership in a particular social group (girls, women), or political opinion (belief in any system other than Taliban rule).

Today’s Afghans don’t need to prove an objective basis for those fears. Read any account of life under the Taliban. Q.E.D.

Many Americans, including our friends at Human Rights First, have been screaming bloody murder for years that we must rescue at least the thousands of Afghans and their families who trusted the United States and tried to help Americans create a humane Afghanistan.

To coin H. L. Mencken’s 1925 phrase, we might as well have “bawled it up a rainspout in the interior of Afghanistan.”

Less poetically: We were spitting into the wind.

Congress authorized only a small fraction of the Special Immigrant Visas needed to grant American protection to our Afghan (and Iraqi) friends and allies. The law—narrow, grudging—excluded tens of thousands.

Presidents of both major parties failed or refused to order even those limited numbers of SIV applications to be processed promptly.

As a direct result, tens of thousands of Afghans who trusted our country have been abandoned, betrayed. Hundreds are known to have been murdered while waiting to be saved. Taliban gunmen separate survivors from putative American rescuers. The survivors risk death if they’re caught carrying papers proving their American connection.

I’m glad I could help the few I’ve helped.

I can do nothing for those our country left behind.

I feel sad. Helpless. Ashamed.

Don’t say “USA Number One!” to me. Not today. You might not like hearing at what feats we’re Number One.

Don’t wave the Stars and Stripes at me. You might not like hearing its symbolic value to, among others, the Kurds of Iraq (1991, 2003) and Syria (2019), the Hmong of Vietnam and Laos (1975), the Lenape Nation (1778), the Ukrainians (2019), the Filipino WW2 veterans of the U.S. military (1941-46), our Iraqi allies of 2003-21, our Afghan allies of 2001-21.

“The flag should never be displayed with the union down, except as a signal of dire distress in instances of extreme danger to life or property.” Title 36, United States Code, Chapter 10.

Our friends in Afghanistan should have known better than to trust American promises. Better to rely on the promises of dictators.

The late Nobelist and author Elie Wiesel wrote in the 2006 corrected translation of his 1956 Yiddish memoir, Night:

My faceless neighbor spoke up:

“Hitler has made it clear that he will annihilate all Jews before the clock strikes twelve.”

I exploded:

“What do you care what he said? Would you want us to consider him a prophet?”

His cold eyes stared at me. At last, he said wearily:

“I have more faith in Hitler than in anyone else. He alone has kept his promises, all his promises, to the Jewish people.”

What promises have we Americans kept to the people of Afghanistan?

2 thoughts on “Same Old, Same Old

  1. Oh Jeffrey, I weep. I too feel helpless, sad, ashamed of our country and our immigration policy- especially for our Afghani friends and allies who we are abandoning. Open our doors to all of them. Grant SIV visas to them We have room and responsibility.


  2. I agree with Mimi Rice. You know much more than I do about the history of who, how and when immigrants were granted access to the USA. From what I know, my grandparents and one set of great-grandparents needed: a sponsor, good health (Ellis Island) and fit into the quota for that particular year. I was born in NYC in 1943 and later in life recognized how each new wave of immigrants were received with suspicion or put through challenges to be accepted into their communities. I am guessing that those of us who have lived and/or worked in immigrant communities are more understanding of the gifts immigrants bring to us. Other than donations, is there anything else we can currently do to help settle our newest immigrants, after they are permitted to enter the USA. .


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