06 June 2013

Reality check

Despite all the sticks and stones being thrown at Americans by prominent voices in Russian leadership, we continue to experience courtesy, hospitality, and friendly curiosity at the Russian grassroots. Yesterday a checkout lady at the Dixie grocery store asked the same question we hear over and over again, "What's it like here for you Americans? How do you compare life here with there?" Much of the time, there's at least a hint of surprise at the very idea that we might actually like living here.

It's depressing enough to follow the news of the latest prominent Russians who've decided that it's not worth risking humiliating arrests and interrogations to remain in their homeland. Even worse, and more immediate to our own concerns as teachers, are the poll results indicating that nearly half of Russia's students dream of emigrating.

Many of those students are frank admirers of the USA. As a loyal citizen, I sometimes seethe with frustration, wishing I could be as positive about my extraordinary country as some of my students are. Unfortunately, just at the moment I want to say "hooray for due process," or extol the virtues of the Fourth Amendment, the daily news offers me a reality check.

The Russian government is apparently leaning on the popular Facebook-like "Vkontakte" social network for serving as a channel for oppositionists. Of course, in the USA, the Internet is secure, right? As it turns out, according to a story in today's Guardian, every major Internet communication channel is being accessed constantly, without warrants or other due process, by the U.S. National Security Agency. This revelation follows on the heels of the Verizon call records scandal the day before, which in turn followed on the heels of the Associated Press call records scandal last month.

No wonder the USA doesn't defend its own citizens from intrusive and racist border-control policies of such allies as Israel. What could Israel's border-security staff collect from an American's e-mail that the NSA doesn't already have?

Russia is being criticized for a pro-regime bias in Syria these days, and although the situation is much more complex than Russia's critics sometimes let on, maybe Russia has earned some of that criticism. But at the same time, USA behavior in the region is the very definition of bias. The latest embarrassment: American anger at Egypt's treatment of NGO workers. The concern itself is not the problem; it's great that someone shows concern for human rights and the NGO sector. But where is the equivalent concern for human rights in Israel and Palestine?

I haven't even touched on the constant embarrassment that is Guantanamo, or the deadly drone attacks that the USA feels entitled to make half a world away while criticizing Russia for imperial behavior on or near Russia's actual borders. And I don't have any easy answers to these incongruities. All I know is that we followers of the Prince of Peace must never let lazy patriotism or the romance of expatriate life replace our primary allegiance to God. Rather than comparing "our" side's shining ideals with "their" side's realities, we carry on our daily discipleship of hope, love, grace ... and stubborn, unbiased critical thinking.

Related article: "America's Patriotic Blinders." "China, which remains a closed society in many ways, has an open mind, whereas the U.S. is an open society with a closed mind." Fair or unfair?

Is America's only real cultural deficiency our lack of what Clive James calls a lack of "hostile literary criticism"? Michael Miner presents a case study: "Garry Wills and William Pfaff go at it."

More on that segregated amusement park.

Remembering Will Campbell: Christian Century. The Atlantic. The Tennessean.

"Where's the sanctuary?"

"In search of Van Cliburn."

Byther Smith combines two of my favorite themes, blues and space.

Byther Smith - Live At The Rhythm Social Club - "Blues On the Moon" from Santiago Blues Mafia Facebook on Vimeo.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Not everyone receives such welcome here.