I am a big admirer of the president.
The Boyd Family has a photo of the First Family stuck on our refrigerator door, held on by a magnet that says, “Someone in Asheville misses you.”
To a lesser degree, I’m a fan of Speaker of the House John Boehner.
Both are reasonable men. Well-meaning leaders acting out of conviction when it comes to intervening in the Syrian Civil War, trying to stop President Bashar al-Assad from using nerve agents on his own people.
But as someone of Middle Eastern descent who has spent a great deal of time there, I wish I could get five minutes in a room with both leaders to plead, “Don’t do it.
“Nothing good ever comes from getting involved in the Middle East.”
This from someone who loves the Middle East. I do. From Turkey to Oman, it’s the most endearing, mystical and fascinating place on the planet. The Middle East is my heroin. And I had to quit it cold turkey a few years ago, because it was going to kill me.
After visiting every Middle Eastern country except Israel, I can tell you this: There are political and ethnic tensions, historical resentments, psychological scars and societal divides even American presidents can’t overcome. The Middle East is designed by history and European manipulation to remain forever dysfunctional.
Trying to nudge Iraq, Syria or Saudi Arabia toward being Switzerland is a fool’s errand.
All that said, we can benefit from the madness.
We can again make a conscious effort to relocate Syrian refugees of all religious groups – Shi’a, Sunnis, Christians, Alawites, Yazidis and Sufis – to Louisville.
I say “again,” because the Jewish Family and Vocational Center, Catholic Charities of Louisville and other groups have helped relocate, then support, waves of immigrants to Louisville since the 1980s including Vietnamese, Bosnians, Russians and Somalis.
The city is all the better for it.
One of those newcomers was Valentina, a woman I met when my mom moved into a nursing home four years ago. Valentina and her husband, Ivan, came to Louisville from Moldova literally with nothing. They didn’t even speak English. They taught themselves English.
Ivan came first in the mid-1990s and hustled menial jobs. Separated from his family for five years, he managed to save enough to bring Valentina and the girls to Louisville. Valentina went from being a well-paid engineer who ran a big factory under the Communists to doing menial work at a nursing home. But she was free to make the most of her circumstances, and boy, did she.
She ended up getting an American university degree. Ivan opened up his own auto repair shop and both daughters got full scholarships to Massachusetts Institute of Technology!
I know what you’re thinking, but that’s not an atypical outcome. I would contend far more refugees succeed in Louisville than fail. Moreover, there’s a precedent for this.
In the early 1900s,a wave of Christian Lebanese and Syrians came to Louisville. They went very quickly from immigrants to being some of our top intellectuals, civic and business leaders. Men such as the late attorney Frank Haddad. The Salem family and the Karems.
We have plenty of room for more great people. As econ-dev Czar Ted Smith will you, Louisville is a big landmass city with too few people.
There are empty areas from the far East End to Dixie Highway corridor into Fort Knox; the South End, the West End and downtown.
And yes, some new arrivals might spend a bit of time on assistance. But there are no more industrious people than the people of the Middle East, where the work ethic in countries such as Turkey easily rivals what we used to call “the Protestant Work Ethic.”
It will be a matter of weeks or months before they’re opening restaurants and shops, and enrolling in college to become doctors, lawyers and engineers. They will make the most of their opportunity.
We can give them the opportunity of a lifetime … to leave behind anarchy for the Greatest Country on Earth.