Smart Borders

All future postings from blogger Matthew Webster will now appear on:

http://smartborders.wordpress.com

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Duty Free

        The border is a fascinating anomaly. Here, pesos and dollars can be spent on either side of the Rio Grande. Spanish and English are accepted at most places of business, and the schools teach countless students who cross a bridge every day for their education. Everyone knows medicines are cheaper in Mexico, and just a 90-cent toll to walk across. Animals cross in broad daylight unhindered by la migra.

Which brings us to the singular case of duty-free goods. A host of duty-free shops on either side of the border sell discounted liquor and tobacco products. The buyer gets a claims ticket, walks to the bridge, and as they are passing through the turnstile, their product is then handed to them. All that is left is to walk across to Matamoros, then turn around and head back through U.S. Customs. The very idea seems ludicrous, laughable, and yet thousands of people do it a week.

Duty-free stores highlight the absurdity of our current, unresponsive, dehumanized borders. They are set up to be impermeable for people (think the 2006 Secure Fence Act), and yet goods and products are encouraged to cross the border many times. When the United States moved many of its automobile and textile manufacturers over to Mexico, this free movement of products was surely brokered into the deal. Why then are people viewed so differently by the current immigration laws?

America’s immigration laws are being disobeyed covertly nationwide. Some 12 million illegal immigrants currently work and reside in the United States. The problem, is, that those businesses which lured them to the United States do not want to “declare them” to customs or fight for a real path to their citizenship. No, instead, American capitalism is content to keep them illegal (read exploitable).

In his publication Young India, Mohandas Gandhi worded it in the following way.

We have too long been mentally disobedient to the laws of the State and have too often surreptitiously evaded them, to be fit all of a sudden for civil disobedience. Disobedience to be civil has to be open and non-violent. (emphasis mine)

Gandhi clearly saw that the rules were being bent freely. He decried this form of evasive disobedience, though, because it merely bends the law and encourages lawlessness. The world is a different place because men like Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. chose not to bend bad laws but instead break them, openly and fully intending to accept the state’s punishment. Only then can true change happen.

Starting with the Bracero Programs in 1942 which sponsored about 4.5 million migrant workers, the United States has uneasily bent its laws concerning immigrants it deems it needs economically but does not want socially. Countless restaurants and fields and factories across these United States currently employ Mexicans and other illegal immigrants at substandard wages and without benefits. This “duty-free” work force is capitalistic cowardice.

If we truly welcome immigrant labor, our immigration laws must be reformed immediately. For too many years, government policy has been “hard” on immigration and soft on enforcement. This sort of double-speak, this mental disobedience embodied by the border has allayed the conscience of Capitol Hill, has freed it of its duty to its citizens, those Americalmost immigrants, and those businesses valuing an economic edge above social welfare.

However, we are never free of our duty to any resident of these United States. Pretending that 12 million living and breathing and loving and working people are negligible simply because of they lack a classification that came to many of us freely at birth is to ignore our duty. For Americans, our borders have been “duty-free” places for decades. Our modern wars abroad do not touch us anymore with rationing, peace-gardens, and can drives and so cease to be real; in the same way, Americans are granted an international bill of rights at birth which enables them almost carte blanche access to the rest of the world. How different it is just a few hundred feet across a river!

There is no such thing as “duty-free” living, and it is our duty to speak out against border policies and immigration laws which are unjust and limit residents’ rights. As Gandhi famously wrote, “Noncooperation with evil is as much a duty as cooperation with good.”

The Effects of Not Choosing Nonviolence

“’You are unleashing certain things in a human being we don’t allow in civic society, and getting it all back in the box can be difficult for some people’, said William C. Gentry, an Army reservist and Iraq veteran who works as a prosecutor in San Diego County.” (Sontag, Deborah)

As the United States erects borders and infiltrates more and more countries with its military, it is chilling to see the effects of choosing violence over nonviolence. Today’s New York Times article entitled “Across America, Deadly Echoes of Foreign Battles,” states that 121 veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan have been involved in a killing after returning home. The stories are heart-wrenching because everyone is a victim. Sadly, peace is not a choice we make after war happens. Nonviolence must be the means if it is to be the end.

Martin Luther King voiced it this way in Loving your Enemies..

Another reason why we must love our enemies is that hate scars the soul and distorts the personality. Mindful that hate is an evil and dangerous force, we too often think of what it does to the person hated. This is understandable, for hate brings irreparable damage to its victims. We have seen its ugly consequences in the ignominious deaths brought to six million Jews by a hate-obsessed madman named Hitler, in the unspeakable violence inflicted upon Negroes by bloodthirsty mobs, in the dark horrors of war, and in the terrible indignities and injustices perpetrated against millions of God’s children by unconscionable oppressors.

But there is another side which we must never overlook. Hate is just as injurious to the person who hates. Like an unchecked cancer, hate corrodes the personality and eats away its vital unity. Hate destroys a man’s sense of values and his objectivity. It causes him to describe the beautiful as ugly and the ugly as beautiful, and to confuse the true with the false and the false with the true.

It is startling to look back on the last 50 years of American history and cringe at the spiraling cycle of hate from WWI, WWII, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, etc. Our nation, as well as our soldiers, suffers from PTSD. How can we pay men and women to travel to other countries to engage in actions which will endanger their lives, their minds, and their souls, yet has never been proven to work and in fact has done exactly the opposite? We shiver to imagine the future of a world which continues to up its use of violence.

“’Seth has been asked and required to do very violent things in defense of his country,’ Captain Tiffner wrote. ‘He spent the majority of 2003 to 2005 in Iraq solving very dangerous problems by using violence and the threat of violence as his main tools. He was congratulated and given awards for these actions. This builds in a person the propensity to deal with life’s problems through violence and the threat of violence’.” (Sontag, Deborah)

In this century, we must dust off the proven theory of nonviolence and assert that it is not only the effective tool of the African-American girl marching in a civil rights demonstration, but also the path to diplomacy and lasting peace in the Middle East and the Midwest. Nonviolence is much more than the civil disobedience of Gandhi’s satyagrahis; it can also be a national policy which works with the opposition to create two winners and true progress. Nonviolence cannot be solely left to those of impeccable character like Martin Luther King, Jr., or the ascetics like Gandhi, or even the ornery curmudgeons like Henry David Thoreau. We have seen enough; it is high time the United States and the United Nations take the lead in truly employing nonviolent strategies not just in conjunction with military power but in stead of violence. Nonviolence is more than civil disobedience, noncompliance, more than sit-ins and hunger strikes, more than boycotts and speeches and marches and voting. It is love in action.

“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear…” (1 John 4:18a, NASB)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sontag, Deborah and Lizette Alvarez. “Across America, Deadly Echoes of Foreign Battles.” New York Times. January 13, 2008. Web:

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/01/13/us/13vets.html?_r=1&hp&oref=slogin

 

This is part of an ongoing series entitled “War Torn.” Look for it in upcoming issues of the New York Times.

Whose Story is History?

     “History is written by the victors.”

     This means history is written by a scant few cultures about meager few “victories” over the silenced vanquished. History, then, is focused on violent clashes where one language, one culture, one “truth” is imposed on others. As Gandhi writes in his book Indian Home Rule, “History, then, is a record of an interruption of the course of nature. Soul-force, being natural, is not noted in history.”

     Forgiveness is not made famous. Love is rarely lauded except as the cause of events such as the Trojan War. Nonviolence and civil resistance, as a recorded mass movement, is a relatively recent development; however, nonviolence has always existed at least as long as violence. There are multitudes of people in the world too, because love is the rule.

The fact that there are so many men still alive in the world shows that it is based not on the force of arms but on the force of truth or love. Therefore, the greatest and most impeachable evidence of the success of this force is to be found in the fact that, in spite of the wars of the world, it still lives on. (Indian Home Rule)

Violence is the aberration, a suspension of sense. Cain’s selfish choice as opposed to Abel’s sacrifice

     A scan of our children’s history and geography textbooks is an overview of violence and borders slashed with swords. How much more should we teach peace and community? Nonviolence and civil disobedience should be at the heart of every child’s education. Whether or not students attain full satyagraha or not, they must understand the efficacy of nonviolence and the ridiculous futility of violence perpetuating violence. If all they are taught is war and power, then these things will seem inevitable and necessary.

     As a result, the civil rights movement has been bronzed in our minds but not bequeathed to our hearts. SNCC has disappeared and nonviolence is relegated to the Sixties. Martin Luther King did not copyright nonviolence any more than Gandhi or Thoreau. It was the reason the civil rights movement was successful, but its effectiveness is not limited to a single such issue. It can be adapted to such different issues as colonization and segregation and discrimination and education; it is only dependent on the soul-force of those willing to practice it.

     Immigration reform, education inequality, our increasingly militarized country- all of these need to be civilly disobeyed. Instead of merely looking up to the civil rights heroes of the past, we and our children must start to stand on their shoulders and continue their nonviolent soul-force to the current inequalities.