Message Received

My colleague Joe Graziose sent me a story from Al Jazeera, that Arab news agency based in Qatar, with the title “Sicilians have an Affinity for the Islamic World in their DNA.” Essentially, Sicily is the place to go for Muslims looking to live with their distant cousins and reclaim an ancient Islamic emirate.

Sicily was, indeed, occupied by Muslims for two hundred years between AD 831 – 1091. They founded Palermo, among other cities, and introduced oranges, lemons and sugarcane.  But google “The Emirate of Sicily,” and you’ll see that those two hundred years were anything but peaceful.  They were two centuries of conquest and revolts, forced conversions of Christians, discriminatory taxation, Sunni/Shiite fratricide, and attacks on mainland Italy.  In short, the Middle East planted in Latin Sicily.  The Christian Normans drove them out, however, many Muslims stayed and converted, hence the blood connections.

Like Muslim Spain, Arab Sicily is the darling of scholars, Muslims, and many Sicilians themselves – the stuff of legends.  (If only the indigenous peoples of America could see Columbus’s arrival this way, Italian Americans would be feted on every reservation and casino across the nation!)

To further attract Muslims to Sicily, Al Jazeera’s reporter Savin Mattozzi interviewed Mayor of Palermo Leoluca Orlando. Orlando not only brags of having 25,000 Muslim residents but wants as many as he can get. “We are not European…Palermo is a Middle Eastern city in Europe,” he proudly says.  Muslims interviewed by the reporter, as well as Mayor Orlando, condemned the rest of Italy as bigots for resisting African and Muslim illegals.

This crisis of illegals, affecting Europe, the United States, and Australia is challenging our compassion. One family’s travails tugs at our heartstrings, but millions of such stories send a different message:  how did they all become so desperate?

The New York Times ran a story this week on the shortage of public housing around the country.  Ben Carson, Secretary of HUD (Housing & Urban Development) announced a new rule to alleviate the shortage by banning any family with illegal aliens.  The Times cited the story of one such family whose mother (Margarita) was undocumented and is now forced to move from subsidized housing to make room for a citizen family. Margarita’s two children, both born in the U.S., must now suffer for her illegal status. Ending her story with only these facts would easily elicit sympathy.  But Margarita has a history.  She is a Mexican college graduate who overstayed a tourist visa seventeen years ago to escape an abusive husband in Mexico City.  She not only abandoned her husband but also her two daughters. She met a man here and had another two children with him – but found him abusive also – walking out on him with her second set of children. Does our government reward Margarita with subsidized housing at the expense of an all-American poor family?  Is this the message we want to send Margaritas around the world?

Much is said about the irony of our “nation of immigrants” excluding illegals today. Italian Americans always top the list of an ethnic group welcomed here by the millions despite having few skills, a resistance to American language and culture, and an inflated reputation for criminal behavior. Of course, the immigration spigot was open in those days, and crossing the Atlantic illegally was not a practical undertaking.  Besides, America was looking for ditch-diggers and tunnel rats. And, aside from “stealing” undesirable jobs, Italian immigrants certainly had no social safety nets provided them.  Invariably, the men came alone and sent for their wives and children at an appropriate time.  Abandoning children and taking on new conjugal partners was not common among us.  Clearly, this traditional behavior is not in vogue among our contemporary damn-the-rules crowd.

There is much we don’t understand about illegal immigrants. There is little doubt that the flood of desperate people crashing our Western doors is spurred on by ill-conceived messages. The proof lies in Asia where few flock to enter prosperous China and Japan.  Why?  No mixed signals there. –JLM

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