September 17, 2003

Australia, Immigration, and the Idea of America

I'm going to give away one of my favorite sources for cutting satire and straight shooting. His name is Tim Blair. You can read his blog at It doesn't have anything to do with investing. But he does comment about geopolitics from an Australian perspective. I'm sure his isn't THE definitive Australian perspective. But all the Aussies I've met here in Paris are...similar. And I quite like it. In fact, I'll confess I'm kind of fascinated by the Aussies. It's a young Anglo culture. It's geographically isolated...but is going to occupy an intriguing position in what I'm dubbing (rather unimaginatively I admit) "the Asian Century." In fact, had things gone my way, I'd be getting set to move to Sydney early in 2004. But I've been baffled by the Australian immigration process. It's incredibly complicated...almost as if they don't want folks coming in. Maybe the government is concerned about its proximity to terrorist cells in South east Asia. Or maybe the Aussies are worried that all that cheap labor will ruin living standards...or maybe it's just a racial thing since most of the immigrants would have brown skin and not white skin (and NO, I'm not accusing anyone of racism I'm just pointing out that this is often an element in immigration discussions in America that is politely ignored). Truth is, I have no idea why the strict immigration laws. I remember talking to Jim Rogers on the phone a few months ago about his trip around the world (Adventure Capitalist). He pointed out to an Australian MP that a foreigner couldn't buy land in Australia. The man insisted it wasn't true, and was a little embarrassed to find out later that it was true. Maybe the government gives generous benefits to immigrants or asylum seekers and is therefore leery of opening the door too wide. Like I said, I have no idea. I'm still interested in moving there. But until I figure out the best way to do will have to wait. If you're reading this and you're in Australia and you have a suggestion, send me an e-mail at Now...on to Tim Blair. Again, you can find the whole thing at . This SBS interview with a young Australian Muslim is the best thing you'll read all day, guaranteed. It's especially worthwhile for the interviewer's concerned responses: REPORTER: Afroz's son Andez, who lives mostly elsewhere with his mother, has a passion for television and video games. This is giving him a very different view of the world. ANDEZ ALI: There's actually one game I really like. It's called 'Not Against Allah 2'. It's an anti-terrorism game. REPORTER: Anti-terrorism? What does that mean? ANDEZ ALI: It's like, um, like taking out all the terrorists and kind of like that. I've been watching the news every single night. REPORTER: When did you start doing that? ANDEZ ALI: Right when September 11 happened. The planes crashing into the twin towers, that's why I started, just in case anything else happened. REPORTER: And you wanted to be able to watch out for it? ANDEZ ALI: Yeah. REPORTER: Do you know what you want to be when you grow up? ANDEZ ALI: I want to be in the army. Yes. REPORTER: In the Australian Army? ANDEZ ALI: Yes. REPORTER: Why do you want to be in the army? ANDEZ ALI: I want to serve Australia and make sure everyone is safe. Oh no! An Australian citizen wants to join the army! As the interviewer remarks, "All of this comes as a surprise to his father Afroz;" AFROZ ALI: This is interesting and in fact quite shocking that he has that, which means that he is watching the very thing that I would like him not to watch, and that's television. It is certainly giving an exceptionally warped and wrong information to, here we go, my child. And that, to me, is really beyond belief. Too late, Afroz! Your boy is OURS! Incredibly, the interviewer describes the kid's pro-Australian, anti-terrorist mindset as a "problem";. And it gets worse: REPORTER: The problem is even more complex than it appears. Since Andez has been spending only weekends with his father, he has started to call himself a Christian. AFROZ ALI: I personally think that the episode of September 11 has had a negative impact upon him, a negative image of Islam on him. I believe that he has not fully made his mind up about it, and that's where the confusion arises. On the contrary. Sounds like this youngster isn't confused at all. Makes you sit up and think, doesn't it? I recall getting in a conversation about immigration with someone a year or so ago. I remarked that immigrants are typically the cream of the crop. Not always, of course. I'm sure there are free loaders who come just for the great government peanutbutter and cheese and the chance to clean toilets and do dishes for minimum wage. But my experience is that immigrants (legal or otherwise) work hard and have taken huge risks. They've left everything they know behind to start all over with nothing somewhere else. Sure, what they're leaving may be a nightmare compared to where they're heading. But how many Americans would pack up and leave for another country and leave the language and everything familar behind if there were no economic opportunities in the States? Maybe that's a question we'll find out the answer to in twenty years. There is one other interesting aspect to American immigration. I'm not sure if it's true in other countries. But with the exception of the Chicano Student Movement of Aztlan, which aims to reclaim the Southwestern United States for the bronze people from whom it was "stolen", you don't find many separtist immigrant groups in America. In fact, most immigrant groups seem to be eager to call themselves just "American," not some hyphenated version. I imagine that first generation Americans who grew up in a different country are anxious to preserve some idea of where they've come from to their children and grandchildren. But should it be all that suprising when a second or third generation American is more interested in the only country he's known as home rather than the one his parents came from? For example...consider the solider below. You remember that picture right? It outraged CNN. It was put up there by a Marine named Edward Chin. Corporal Chin and his family are ethnic Chinese, originally from Burma. His family moved moved to America when Chin was one week old. They live in Brooklyn. In television interviews is father said, "I thought, 'Oh, my son, you are making history, you are part of the Iraqis' liberation"' His sister said, "I'm very proud of him. Here's a 23-year-old doing all these amazing things and representing America and representing it well, I think." You can talk about the imperial intentions of a global hyper-power and Arab sensibilities etc. There's a place for that. Here on the blog even. But maybe the more interesting question is what is it about the idea of America (whether its true right now or not) that makes American immigrants so eager to give back to their country? In fact, what Americans think about when they think "America" is a lot different than say, what the English think when you say "England" or what the French think when you say "France." Different, I said. Not neccessarrily better, or worse. It does remind of a great quote from an old F. Scott Fitzgerald story called "The Swimmers" The narrator, an Amercian expat living in France, says, "France was a land, England was a people, but America, having about it still that quality of the idea, was harder to utter--it was the graves at Shiloh and the tired, drawn, nervous faces of its great men, and the country boys dying in the Argonne for a phrase that was empty before their bodies withered. It was a willingness of the heart." By the way, the whole somewhat less romantic crew at the Daily Reckoning have put together their own version of "The Idea of America." You can find out more about it here or at


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