Decatur Daily, December 11, 2005
By John Davis
I recall reading an obscure news account of Moroccan boat people, setting off for Europe and a better life. They were storm-tossed at sea, and their unseaworthy vessel was sinking. Spanish naval guardsmen intercepted them.
What would have been handled differently in different lands resulted in a strange solution. The boat people were not wanted, or allowed, back in their country. So they became part of the strange exodus of Muslim migrants to the Western world.
Behzad Yaghmaian takes us to join this diverse, wandering march of millions. He is a carefully observant researcher who has personally lived among these outcasts who live on the margin of Western societies. An author and professor at Ramapo College in New Jersey, he is an Iranian-born American.
He knows what travails one must suffer to join another society, indeed another world.
They come, he notes, for many reasons. Economic betterment drives many to leave lands where ancient tribal ways govern who shall prevail. Persecution moves others to abandon their homelands when their ethnic group is oppressed, as were the Kurds in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.
Sheer hopelessness drives others such as Afghans attempting to escape an endless series of wars, tribal feuds and international chicanery, which has tossed their land to and fro.
Yaghmaian visits them in their jump-off places. He lives among those in tent cities waiting to secretly cross borders into those Balkan lands, which were once Ottoman territory.
He notes the others who take any craft to challenge the seas to land in Italy from Moslem lands.
Perhaps a microcosm of this entire process, which varies so greatly no one example suffices, is Athens.
There, one block from a famous upscale street of boutiques and bars, one finds a teeming third world of Kurds, Africans, Albanians, each and more searching for a better life.
There is a sequence from arrival, meeting of co-religionists and fellow nationals, to earning a basic wage, to betterment, to community life.
Integration into the new land, however, is another story altogether, as recent events in France have shown.
Yaghmaian’s book puts a human face on this legion of wanderers. No one is without a family, a name, and a face in this book.
From young thugs who make the news, to quietly suffering and good family members who seek only what is best for their children, we follow each on this journey to a new world.
We see that children are not born bad, nor that whole communities are dangerous and alien. This is a book about facts, which can lead us to a measure of tolerance, understanding, and with understanding, perhaps justice.