Sunday, November 25, 2018

The cost of border wars.

We're wrapping up a lovely, restful, four-day Thanksgiving weekend here at La Casa Cantwell. On Thursday, I made turkey with all the trimmings and we ate ourselves into oblivion. I've spent the rest of the time alternately working on the NaNo novel (the WIP is finished -- yay! -- but I have another 8,000-ish words to write before I can claim victory this year) and picking out decorations for the balcony that we didn't have last December but we do now.

As always, though, the respite is coming to a close. Some returns to reality are harsher than others, and this weekend's seems to be among the more brutal variety.

News reached us last week that a Christian missionary named John Allen Chau had broken the law by trying to land on North Sentinel Island off the coast of India and convert the members of the last pre-Neolithic tribe in the world. It's illegal to get within three nautical miles of the coastline. The regulation is there to protect both the Sentinelese and outsiders: Indian authorities fear that contact with modern people would transmit diseases that the tribal members have no immunity to, and the tribe itself has communicated its desire to be left alone -- its members shoot arrows at anyone who gets close.

Apparently none of that mattered to Chau, who was so bent on spreading the gospel to people who clearly didn't want to hear it that he paid some local fishermen to take him to the island. That was on November 14th. Chau reportedly spent two days shouting verses from Genesis at the islanders from a kayak. On the morning of the 17th -- just over a week ago -- the fishermen saw the Sentinelese dragging Chau's body along the beach. No one's seen him since. And the Indian authorities have been unable to retrieve the body because the Sentinelese won't let them onto the island.

Chau was 26 years old and a graduate of Oral Roberts University. By all accounts, he had his whole life in front of him. He told friends that he was willing to risk his life to bring Christianity to the Sentinelese. Looks like his God took him at his word.

Then this afternoon, word came from San Diego that U.S. border agents had fired tear gas on hundreds of migrants as they protested near the border between Mexico and the United States. More than 8,000 migrants from Central America are waiting in Baja California to cross, but processing has slowed to a crawl and the official border crossing was closed today because of the protest. While the march itself was peaceful, some of the migrants tried to breach the concertina wire at the border and others threw rocks at border personnel. That gave the agents the excuse they needed to open fire with tear gas. No one was reported hurt, and the border crossing has since been reopened.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection said the tear gas was used "because of the risk to agents' safety." Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen said, "DHS will not tolerate this type of lawlessness."

Except the "lawlessness" was minor: Rock throwing.

On the surface, these two incidents are similar only in that they both involve defense of a border. But they rhyme for me in another way.

Here in the United States, we have prided ourselves for generations on being a haven for all those who have been oppressed -- and yet we have a history of suspicion and outright hatred of those who come to America from other lands. The Chinese and the Irish were among the first targets of distrust. Then it was the Japanese during World War Two. More recently it's been Muslims and anybody who's brown -- even Native Americans, which is particularly laughable when you realize that for them, whites are the interlopers.

And as for these latest waves of Central American migrants, they're coming here because the United States has long worked to destabilize the governments in their home countries. Why? Because it was helpful for U.S. companies doing business in Central America if dictators were in charge. We are responsible for the migrants' plight -- and now that they've come to us for sanctuary, we're turning them away.

This isn't a Democrat-vs.-Republican thing. The clandestine effort to stick our noses into Central American politics has been going on at least since the end of the Cold War. Administrations of both political parties have been complicit.

I'm ashamed at the way we've treated these people and at the way we continue to abuse them.

And that's where I see an intersection between the migrants at our border and the Sentinelese. John Chau had no thought for the people he wanted to convert beyond his own personal interest. Just as the United States has used the people of Central American as economic cannon fodder, Chau was determined to sacrifice the Sentinelese in service to his God -- even if it killed them.

May the gods forgive us for what we have done.

These moments of borderline blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell.

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