Sammy Syed

There was a striking piece of writing I came across when in Vienna, the one at the NSK exhibition, titled “An Apology for Modernity.” It is a rather forward, ethical, and tendentious piece written to display the current Western state-building liberalism that has effectively shown it sees those who do not believe the same way it does to be evil and in efforts to dismantle such evils has created the refugee crisis. The writing is also calling out those who live in the aggressor states as well.

This made me think to myself, that as someone who has taken actions to support refugees and is from the United States: am I actually at fault? Has my complacency been a detriment to these people? At the same time, have I really been complacent? I am not the one to have waged wars, engaged in politically destructive behaviors, or used hegemonic leverage to strong-arm weaker states to bid to my will upon them. I am one with parts of the masses that condemns many of the unethical actions our government has engaged in. I wonder as I say “many” and not “all” if I say it because despite all of our voices for peace, that there are things that happen and need to happen for our state to do what states do: remain a state. This is my complacency and rationale, that “bad” and unethical things happen and need to happen to benefit my own country at the expense of another. If this is true, then now I see my own faults. I recognize I do in fact give the green light for some of our unethical actions because we all do what we need to do to survive. But then again, this is not really necessary to survive. These clashes of ideologies are a string of occurrences and misconceptions that are for the state to exist, not people. The question then remains as to why we need- or do not need- states as “modern” peoples in this time and space; I lack the proper explanations or ideas that could elaborate on alternatives.

Another particularly distinct experience I encountered while in Vienna was not with or about refugees, but of Muslims. I was able to find a group of Pakistani Muslims who own a mosque, pointed out by a refugee from the Refugees Welcome get-together. It was the first day of Ramadan and having been away from home, it was the first time I was beginning the holy month away from my family. I was able to find comfort being with Muslims-Pakistani ones at that- despite not knowing any of them. It was in that time that in which I reaffirmed what truly is a part of my own identity and what would also be important to other migrants when being in a foreign land. I figure the people at this mosque were here for economic purposes because it is typically not a destination many Pakistanis go, being used to more Anglo-Saxon culture, systems, and language. I found most of these people spoke English as their second language, not German, which most knew only with conversional proficiency at best. In a quick exchange, one member did mention there was a political figure similar to our Donald Trump in Austria who made him and assumedly other Pakistanis and immigrants feel alienated, but I was not surprised to hear that.

On my way to the airport in the morning of my last day, I was at a train station needing to wait for about an hour for the next ride to the airport. After about 30 minutes, a drunk man came over and sat with me. He mumbled something in what I assumed was German, but spoke English after I mentioned I did not speak the language. He was an Austrian native. He noticed my suitcase and asked me where I was going. I briefly told him of what I was doing in Vienna and took the opportunity to ask him what he thinks of immigrants coming to his city. It sounded like he did not have much issue with it, although he did think some who are Muslims, after filing as refugees with UN, want to implement Sharia law. But he was rather fine with them coming there, at least from what I could gather. He told me he works in IT. He mentioned he likes Donald Trump because he can make fun of him. He thinks Muslims fighting each other are silly and that there is no reason to, that world religions all are the same with the same messages and it makes no sense for people to kill each other over it, that it is all political and it is not worth the trouble. He tells me I have it bad being an American Muslim in Trump’s America. He likes Trevor Noah, a host on The Daily Show and a well-known critic of Trump. He has family in San Francisco, Las Vegas, and D.C. As we approached his stop, he hugged me and fist bumped me several times. His name was Gregory. I was surprised that we did not do this more often. The everyday citizen has many opinions and to find this man who knows as much as he did about the asylum-seeking process, refugees and their integration, and Muslim relations was beyond what I could expect an average American to know (but I would argue that is because a large number Americans do not actually have interactions, or incentives to interact, with refugees or Muslims).

As an immigrant myself with identities that often confuse me as to which is more salient from another and to what degree I feel comfortable with revealing is a predicament I have found myself in often through my life. I do however believe that I “have it good.” As part of my research on this trip but also of minority populations in America, I conclude it will always be difficult for minority populations to succeed and prosper in foreign lands, especially if they did not grow up there. Combined with language barriers and lack of cultural knowledge, it is understandable why those of refugee status find it problematic and strenuous to be in strange places but also why those native or assimilated to a place find it hard to bring others in.

I believe that there is a division between those who see the state as the more powerful entity with its lawfulness and specificities and those who see humanity as the surviving force when all else is gone and that it should prevail when making judgement on people without making the distinction of whether or not they should be counted as important enough as a state’s own citizens. I intend to delve deeper into the political theories and implementations of all this to understand how and why states are deemed as important as they are and what would be feasible alternatives, if any at all, given how destructive a successful and powerful state can really be.