This text has been professionally transcribed. However, for timely distribution, it has not been edited or proofread against the tape.
HOSSEIN HAFEZIAN: Russia has been the main source of supplying weapons to Iran after the Cold War.
KRISTIN MCHUGH: This week on Common Ground, the uneasy yet strategically important Russian-Iranian relationship.
KEITH PORTER: Plus, Web savvy Iranians reject government control of the Internet.
UNIDENTIFIED IRANIAN COLLEGE STUDENT: [via a translator] It is not good to censor political sites. People should decide themselves what they should or should not read or watch.
PORTER: And a 23-year-old pianist and singer is shaking up the British jazz scene.
JAMIE CULLEN: I’m not trying to be a musician who re-creates old music. I’m trying to approach Cole Porter like it was written yesterday. You know, I grew up with pop music, I grew up with rock music, and I’m trying to get new people interested in this music.
MCHUGH: These stories—coming up next.
Listen to This Segment: MP3
PORTER: Common Ground is radio’s weekly program on world affairs. I’m Keith Porter.
MCHUGH: And I’m Kristin McHugh. In recent months, Washington has put relations between Iran and Russia into the limelight. The Bush administration accuses Iran of pursuing nuclear weapons—a charge Tehran denies—and has called on Moscow to cut back on its nuclear energy cooperation with Tehran. This pressure is creating a new climate for Moscow and Tehran, who have been partners as well as competitors in various areas. With help from Roxana Saberi in Tehran, Anya Ardayeva brings us this report from Moscow on relations between Iran and Russia.
ANYA ARDAYEVA: The official line in Iran’s capital is that Tehran’s relations with Moscow are quite satisfactory and only getting better; this despite US growing pressure on Russia not to cozy up too much to Tehran. Washington wants to make sure Iran is not pursuing nuclear weapons with Moscow’s help.
[The sound of a press conference held by Iran’s Foreign Minister]
ARDAYEVA: In May, Iran’s Foreign Minister, Kamal Kharrazi, told reporters in Tehran he believes Russia will uphold a deal to help build a nuclear reactor in southern Iran—a reactor Tehran has said is part of its peaceful nuclear energy program.
IRANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER KAMAL KHARRAZI: [via a translator] Russia has helped us a lot to build the Bushehr nuclear power plant to produce electricity, and it has committed itself to finishing this project. This power plant is in the last stage of construction.
ARDAYEVA: But analysts say the relationship between Moscow and Tehran is more complex than it may seem. Russia encroached on Iranian territory in the 18th and 19th centuries. But since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, various political, economic, and security needs have prompted Russia to forge a partnership with its large neighbor, Iran. And Tehran has its own reasons for forming friendly ties with Moscow. Its 1979 Islamic Revolution thrust the country into relative isolation from the international scene. The US cut off its diplomatic ties with Iran and replaced its military supplies with military sanctions. More recently, President Bush has included Iran in his axis of evil. He’s accused Iran of harboring terrorists and interfering in post-war Iraq. Iranian analyst Hossein Hafezian says these factors have forced Tehran to rely on Moscow for many things.
HOSSEIN HAFEZIAN: Iran depended on Russian technology both military and non military to compensate for the technological needs that Europeans and Americans were not ready to grant to Iran. Russia has been the main source of supplying weapons to Iran after the Cold War.
ARDAYEVA: Russian-Iranian relations have grown to include economic, political, and scientific links. In 1997 Russia agreed to help develop Iran’s South Pars natural gas field, despite US threats of imposing economic sanctions on Moscow in return. And Russia realizes Iran’s Islamic regime holds influence in Russia’s Islamic areas. Analysts say Iran has always implicitly backed Russian operations in Chechnya, which Moscow is still struggling to subdue. Through its relations with Iran, it may seem as if Moscow is trying to explore its pressure points with the US, or simply aiming to improve its economy. But Ivan Safranchuk, an analyst for the Center for Defense Information in Moscow, says he believes cooperation, not alienation, will help Iran from becoming a threat to the international community.
IVAN SAFRANCHUK: I don’t think that Russia is taking Iran as an ally, or as some sort of close partner, as a friend. But in some spheres Russia prefers to cooperate with Iran; in other spheres the relations are quite tense. Like, for example, the Caspian Sea problem.
ARDAYEVA: Indeed, the alliance between Russia and Iran is not as carefree as it used to be. They have grown to favor different ways of dividing the neighboring oil-rich Caspian Sea and support alternative transit routes for the region’s oil and gas reserves. Reformist member of Iran’s Parliament, Elaheh Kulaie, says Moscow’s changing position toward Tehran is largely due to US pressure.
ELAHEH KULAIE: The main factor is Russian interest, Russian national interest, and I think they can’t do, they can’t continue previous policies towards Iran because of the increasing in America’s pressure on Iran. They don’t want to confront with America.
ARDAYEVA: Russia’s new friendship with the US is creating rifts between Moscow and Tehran in other ways. American pressure has stopped Iran from receiving the $2 billion dollars or so worth of weaponry it wanted to buy from Russia. And of course, there’s the nuclear issue. Washington has been urging Moscow to give up its nuclear cooperation with Iran for months. And recently, United Nations inspectors said they found traces of weapons-grade uranium at a nuclear facility in Iran, again raising concerns that Tehran may be secretly developing a nuclear weapons program. Iranian analyst Hafezian believes what Russia does next is crucial.
HAFEZIAN: I think that the future of such relations depends on Russian commitment to complete Bushehr nuclear facilities. If Russians decline to complete such facilities, Iranians would come to the conclusion that they should no longer depend on Russia.
ARDAYEVA: Some Iranian leaders have promoted improving relations with other countries so that Tehran doesn’t need to rely so much on Russia. And in Moscow, Ivan Safranchuk says Russia is playing a balancing game to stay on good terms with both Iran and the US.
SAFRANCHUK: I agree that Russian-American relations are more important for this leadership than Russian-Iranian relations, but it doesn’t mean that this leadership is, is willing to close all other relations except Russian-American relations.
ARDAYEVA: And the latest announcements made by Russia and Iran only prove that. In an effort to ease US concerns over their nuclear cooperation, Moscow and Tehran said they were planning to sign an agreement requiring Iran to return nuclear waste from the Bushehr plant back to Russia, to ensure that the spent fuel is not used to develop weapons-grade uranium. However, no firm date for signing the document has been set. For Common Ground, I’m Anya Ardayeva in Moscow, reporting with Roxana Saberi in Tehran
Listen to This Segment: MP3
PORTER: In the past few years, Iran’s Islamic regime has shut down dozens of reformist newspapers and has put controls on those that remain. Partly in response to this, many Iranians have been turning to the Internet for information and news. A number of users also access Web logs, or online journals, and some youngsters visit Internet chat rooms to talk freely about taboo subjects such as sex. But recently regime conservatives have stepped up their controls of the Internet, banning certain web content deemed to be of a depraved nature or against the Islamic regime. As Roxana Saberi reports, the controls are prompting criticism from many Iranian Internet users.
ROXANA SABERI: The Internet is casting its web across a wide range of Iranians. A visit to Tehran’s first annual Internet Fair proves it. Here families, college students, and women in chadors scramble to buy discounted Internet cards and to surf the Web for a few moments, for free.
UNIDENTIFIED IRANIAN INTERNET USER: [via a translator] The Internet is like a global network that links all of the world together.
SABERI: Officially, about two million Iranians have access to the Internet. But some experts say the number is higher and rapidly growing. Many of the users are young people. About two-thirds of Iran’s 70-million people are under 30. To use the Net, they buy Internet cards or sign up with an Internet Service Provider. Or, they go to Net cafes, which are becoming more and more popular.
[The sound of a clacking keyboard and people talking at an Internet café.]
SABERI: Here at the Internet Fair, users like this college student check their e-mail, chat online, and check out the latest news.
UNIDENTIFIED IRANIAN INTERNET USER: [via a translator] I use it for pleasure. Whenever I have free time or am bored I go to Internet and find some jokes and pictures . If we have any research to be done the best way is the Internet; it’s easier than finding a book. It’s also a good way to communicate with our friends. Sometimes we chat with one other from midnight to 4 am.
SABERI: But Web users here in Iran can’t access everything they might want to on the Internet. Vartanian, overseeing a booth at the Internet fair, says the reason is censorship. He was told to follow certain regulations when his company, Cybertel, received its mandatory ISP license from the government.
VARTANIAN: [via a translator] Some Websites cannot be opened because of national or as we say, moral policy. In the moral aspect, some Websites present obscene and offensive pictures. These sites should be censored so that children can’t have access to them. Other Websites are about political issues. Not only in Iran is it like this.
SABERI: In countries like China, Vietnam, and Cuba, the Internet is under tough government scrutiny. Tehran, too, has recently tightened its controls, ordering many political and pornographic websites to be blocked. The move has been attributed to hard-line conservatives, who hold most of the power in the Islamic Republic of Iran. Banned websites include some US radio stations that broadcast in Farsi and those with close links to reformists, such as the Internet political bulletin Emrooz. But these Internet controls are going too far for many users, such as this college student, who preferred not to give his name:
UNIDENTIFIED IRANIAN COLLEGE STUDENT: [via a translator] Censorship for porn sites is appropriate, but not for political issues. For example it’s not good to censor political sites. People should decide themselves what they should or should not read or watch.
SABERI: And it’s frustrating to Iranian Parliament reporter Zibậ Esmaili, who likes to use the Net for research:
ZIBậ ESMAILI: [via a translator] I use political and news Websites for my job, but because of certain recent limitation here in Iran, I can’t freely access political news, especially news about domestic issues, that some sites offer.
[The sound of a clicking keyboard]
SABERI: Arash Khamoosh, a 25-year-old manager of an Internet Café in Tehran, says he became aware of the controls about four years ago, after student-led protests calling for change in the Islamic Republic.
ARASH KHAMOOSH: [via a translator] After 18th of Tir some Internet café managers were summoned by the country’s watchdog department and the officials asked them to increase their control over users, to see if they send or scan illegal documents. But this is not practical because by checking on the users, we will violate their personal security zone.
SABERI: Khamoosh also says it is difficult to control the burgeoning Internet. Indeed, some blocked Websites have changed their addresses so they can be accessible to users who know how to find them. But in March this year, the country’s hardliners reminded Internet users and providers that they are watching.
[The sound of a clacking keyboard]
SABERI: Iran’s official news service reported nearly 70 men and women were arrested in Tehran after using a website to arrange dates. For Common Ground, I’m Roxana Saberi, in Tehran.
MCHUGH: Withdrawing Syrian troops from Lebanon, next on Common Ground.
Listen to This Segment: MP3
MCHUGH: For over 25 years, Syrian troops have remained in Lebanon. The US has recently stepped up demands that those troops withdraw, and significant numbers of Lebanese agree. But Syria still has the support of many other Lebanese, and any withdrawal won’t be easy. Reese Erlich reports from Beirut.
[The sound of a car door opening and closing]
REESE ERLICH: Taxi driver Mohammed Awad frequently makes the drive from Beirut up the winding mountain roads to the ancient town of Balbek.
MOHAMMED AWAD: We are going to be going to Balbek. There is about five checkpoints for the Syrian Army and the intelligence of the Syrian Army.
ERLICH: And what do they do at the checkpoint, the Syrian checkpoints?
AWAD: You know, sometimes they, where is, when there is, you know, a small van, you know, small cars, cargo cars, they took some money from them.
ERLICH: So basically they’re taking bribes from the, from the drivers?
ERLICH: Awad is a Shi’ia Muslim. For many years Lebanon’s Muslims supported the presence of Syrian troops in Lebanon to counterbalance the political domination of right-wing Christian parties. But that support is shifting.
AWAD: Of course, of course, of course. They should leave. You know, because they are destroying our economy, they are destroying our tourism, they are destroying, you know, our life.
ERLICH: The position of the Lebanese government, which includes both Christian and Muslim parties, is that it wants Syrian troops to remain in Lebanon in order to maintain stability. That’s also the official position of the Syrian government. Hashem Akkad is a member of Syria’s National Assembly and a former member of its Foreign Relations Committee.
HASHEM AKKAD: Syrian troops could leave Lebanon immediately if the Syrian government received an official request from the Lebanese government to help the Lebanese government to have security in Lebanon. Most of the Lebanese people want the Syrian troops to remain there.
ERLICH: The controversy began back in 1975 when Lebanon erupted in civil war between right wing Christian militias and a coalition of leftist Muslim parties and the Palestine Liberation Organization. Syria, under mandate from Arab countries, sent in peacekeeping troops in 1976. In 1982 Israel invaded Lebanon and initially occupied a wide swath of territory. The invasion had a deep impact on Syria, according to Haithem Kelani, a former Syrian ambassador to the United Nations.
HAITHEM KELANI: [via a translator] In 1982 Israel invaded Lebanon and they occupied the route between Damascus and Beirut. That’s why the Syrians do not want this experience to be repeated again, do not want Israel to occupy Syria.
ERLICH: The US sent peacekeeping troops to Lebanon in 1982 to evacuate the PLO and facilitate an Israeli withdrawal. But the US became embroiled in that country’s complicated civil war, siding with the right wing Christian forces. The US was forced to withdraw in 1983 after a truck bomb killed 241 Marines in Beirut. Israel continued to occupy the southern part of Lebanon until 2000. Ambassador Kelani says all these events make Syria wary about withdrawing its 20,000 troops from Lebanon.
KELANI: [via a translator] The Syrian presence in Lebanon is to maintain stability in Lebanon and at the same time to prevent Israel from attacking Damascus. The Syrian presence in Lebanon will prevent some of the Lebanese and Israeli to meet together at, as it happened in 1982.
ERLICH: But many Lebanese disagree. Farid el Khazen is Chair of Political Studies at the American University of Beirut. He notes that under the Taif Agreements which ended Lebanon’s civil war in 1990, Syria was required to deploy all its troops to the Bekka Valley in eastern Lebanon—something that never happened.
PROFESSOR FARID EL KHAZEN: Over the last decade or so Syria has come really to dominate Lebanese politics. And Syria, Syrian-Lebanese relations have been totally uneven, giving Syria of course almost full access to Lebanon. And this imbalance in the Lebanese relations is not confined to politics but it has to do with the economy, with trade, with, in fact every single issue this relationship is really very much in favor of Syria.
ERLICH: Gebran Tueni, publisher of the conservative Al-Nahar newspaper, goes even further. He says that Syria manipulates Lebanese elections to make sure its allies stay in power.
GEBRAN TUENI: The way that Syria is dealing with Lebanon is exactly like a country which is occupying another country. Our government is not free to decide what it wants to do. The governments are formed in Syria. The elections are prepared in Syria. If you want to take the smallest decision it’s the Syrians who, who will give you orders.
ERLICH: Secretary of State Colin Powell has recently emphasized the US demand for Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon. But even publisher Tueni admits that the Syrian troops and intelligence agencies have been in Lebanon so long that their immediate withdrawal could cause political instability.
TUENI: No, we’re not asking, you know, to see the Syrians leave tomorrow morning. What we are asking is for a clear agenda of the withdrawal of Syrians from Lebanon. What is asking for is a normalization of the relations between the Lebanese population and the Syrians. Like I told you, we don’t want to go into a war against Syria. And I hope that the Americans would be serious.
ERLICH: Yet Syria continues to have support among some Muslims and among the 350,000 Palestinians living in Lebanon, who make up about 10 percent of the total population of the country. The Palestinians still vividly recall the massacres at the Chabra and Shatila refugee camps in 1982. They blame Israel and the right wing Christian militias for those killings and see Syria as a force for peace.
[The sound of children playing in a refugee camp]
ERLICH: Here at the Shatila camp children play soccer on a rutted field. Poorly constructed concrete block apartments sit in the sweltering heat, not much changed since the 1982 massacre. Grocer Mohammed Affifi says the Syrian presence here is an issue for Lebanese to resolve but indicated that he, like other Palestinians, doesn’t want them to leave.
MOHAMMED AFFIFI: [via a translator] There is a land occupied by Israel, so two armies is better than one.
ERLICH: Syria also has the backing of the major Christian and Muslim parties such as Amal and Hezbollah. They say Israel continues to occupy Syria’s Golan Heights and a sliver of Lebanese land called Shebaa Farms. They say the Lebanese Army isn’t strong enough to resist Israeli attacks, so they see the Syrian troops as a form of protection, according to Mohammed Raad, a member of parliament for Hezbollah.
MOHAMMED RAAD: [via a translator] The Lebanese government which won the support or the approval of all the, of most of the MP’s in the Parliament views or sees that or considers that, the presence of Syrian troops in Lebanon, is temporary and necessary. We are with the government with this stand.
ERLICH: But Professor El Khazen argues that while the lack of security was a genuine issue in the early 1990s, conditions have changed.
PROFESSOR EL KHAZEN: Lebanon has rebuilt its army. Today the Lebanese Army is three times the size of the pre-war army. It’s been retrained, reequipped, etcetera, and is in a position to take control. And in fact the reason why we have this large army is because to fill the vacuum. And now the Lebanese Army is in a position to do so.
ERLICH: But diplomats say the withdrawal of Syrian troops has less to do with conditions inside Lebanon than with the overall politics of the region. Ambassador Kelani says Syria won’t withdraw until there’s a comprehensive settlement to the Israeli-Palestinian issue, including return of the Golan Heights.
AMBSSSADOR KELANI: [via a translator] When Israel withdraws its forces from the Golan Heights and the Shebaa Farms, the door will be open for the withdrawal of the Syrian forces from Lebanon.
ERLICH: That doesn’t make many Lebanese happy. But so far neither the US nor Lebanese pressure has changed the reality of the Syrian presence in Lebanon. For Common Ground, I’m Reese Erlich in Beirut.
Listen to This Segment: MP3
MCHUGH: The world of jazz is not usually one of big headlines. But an almost unknown 23-year-old British pianist and singer recently created a huge stir when he became the subject of a bidding war between two recording giants, Sony and Universal. Jamie Cullum finally signed for $1.5 million with Universal’s Verve label—the biggest sum ever for a jazz singer in Britain. So who is he? He made his first CD, called Pointless Nostalgic two years ago at his own expense. He hails from deepest rural Wiltshire in southwest England, and before being signed by Verve, had mainly played pub and club dates Max Easterman recently caught up with Jamie Cullum.
[The sound of Jamie Cullum’s jazzy version of Lover You Should Have Come Over, written by Jeff Buckley]
[The sound of Jamie Cullum’s jazzy version of Old Devil Moon, written by Cole Porter]
MAX EASTERMAN: From Jeff Buckley to Cole Porter—that gives you a pretty good idea of the range of Jamie Cullum’s musical book. And as the title of his first album Pointless Nostalgic implies, he doesn’t believe in looking back, even when he’s playing pop classics.
JAMIE CULLUM: Really what I’m trying to get away from is that I’m not trying to be a musician who re-creates old music. I’m trying to approach Cole Porter like it was written yesterday. You know, I grew up with pop music, I grew up with rock music and I’m trying to get new people interested in this music. Not by watering it down, not by playing hip-hop beats to George Gershwin. For instance, I played It Ain’t Necessarily So to a bunch of people between the age of 16 and 25 and they were grooving like it was written yesterday. And they’re saying, “Oh, did you write that song? That’s kicking.” You know. So I mean this is the point. If you approach it like it was written yesterday, like it’s new music, then young people will hopefully go for it.
[The sound of Jamie Cullum’s version of It Ain’t Necessarily So, written by George Gershwin]
CULLUM: My sound changes every day ’cause I’m still learning so much about myself as a musician, ’cause I’ve never trained or I’ve never been pushed in any direction. Also, I was never a prodigy at anything when I was younger. I was never a great piano, never showed great promise as youngster or none of that really. I kinda developed as I worked harder at it. And two years ago I was going through a real heavy jazz phase, like really just listening to nothing but jazz. But also I still was playing in a rock band. And I really, I’ve never kept them separate, ’cause I never thought of them as separate entities. I’ve always thought of music as just being music.
[The sound of Jamie Cullum’s version of High & Dry, by Radiohead]
CULLUM: There is a certain amount of me that can’t do certain songs yet. Maybe when I’m older I can, maybe when I think differently about certain things. But there are some songs that you’d never ever think about anyone else doing that I think, “Oh, I’m gonna a go at that.” I’ve done a Jimi Hendrix tune. The Wind Cries Mary by Jimi Hendrix, I mean that again is another very iconic song, which we’ve made like a New Orleans street march kind of tune.
[The sound of Jamie Cullum’s version of The Wind Cries Mary, written by Jimi Hendrix]
CULLUM: Technically, I’d like to be a lot better. You know, having a big major label behind me and all that kind of stuff, there is a certain amount of pressure. But really the only pressures I’ve put on myself are the ones about becoming better as a musician. ‘Cause jazz is still a dirty word for people my age. And it would be great if, if I do get a large audience for the music, who are kind of excited by it enough to go out and check out other people as well, to open up the doors to the genre.
[The sound of Twentysomething, written by Jamie Cullum]
EASTERMAN: For Common Ground, I’m Max Easterman in London.
[The sound of Twentysomething, written by Jamie Cullum]
KRISTIN: Jamie Cullum is scheduled to appear in the Oak Room at the Algonquin Hotel in New York City through October 18th.
PORTER: This is Common Ground, radio’s weekly program on world affairs.
KRISITN MCHUGH: I’m Kristin McHugh.
KEITH PORTER: And I’m Keith Porter. Coming up this half hour on Common Ground, the US government moves to limit the number of highly skilled immigrant workers.
US REPRESENTATIVE TOM TANCREDO: There are literally thousands of my constituents that have been thrown out of work because they have been displaced by foreign workers who will work for less.
PORTER: Plus, a Middle East peace activist. And Baltimore’s role as an immigration port.
Listen to This Segment: MP3
MCHUGH: Since 1990, thousands of foreign workers have come to work in the US on H1-B visas, a temporary immigration program that grew out of the need to staff up the rapidly expanding computer and Internet-related technology industries. In 2002 alone, nearly 200,000 people came here on from other countries on 3-year permits to work and fill jobs that might otherwise go unfilled. But, now, that program is under fire. Priscilla Huff reports.
[The sound of a clacking keyboard]
PATRICIA HUFF: Computer programmers.
[The sound of an explosion]
HUFF: Defense contractors.
[The sound of disco music at a fashion show]
HUFF: High fashion models? The Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services, the successor agency to the Immigration and Naturalization Services, defines these jobs as specialty occupations. That makes foreign workers eligible to win visas to come here under the H1-B visa program. Maia Jachimowicz studies immigration for the Migration Policy Institute
MAIA JACHIMOWICZ: The majority of H1-B visas are computer related and the number one country of origin is from India. About one-third of all H1-B visa beneficiaries come from India.
HUFF: The original intent of the H1-B visa program was to fill those high tech jobs, but Sanjay Puri, with the US India Political Action Committee says the program has been expanded.
SANJAY PURI: The perception is—to a certain extent which is true—is that it’s largely IT, high technology, and computer-related jobs and those are the predominant. But then, you know, there are people in the health care, bio-tech sector and lately you’ve seen now, teachers now are coming in on the H1-B visa because there’s a serious shortage of teachers here in this country. So, it’s, if you were to start looking at it’s, the high-tech workers—you know, technology people, then in bio-tech sector, people who have math and those kinds of skills and then you have got other professionals like teachers and things of that nature.
HUFF: And, Sanjay Puri confirms, up to 40 percent of all H1-B visas go to people from one country—India.
SANJAY PURI: If you consider 40,000 or so were coming in at some point, there were almost 60,000 to 80,000 people coming in from India on the H1-B visas. So, you know, especially during the technology boom, you have a large number of people that have come in.
HUFF: But that’s about to change. On October 1, the total cap for H1-B visas will be reduced, from nearly 200,000 to about 65,000. And, the US Congress is considering several bills to end the H1-B visas program and related L-visa programs entirely.
US REPRESENTATIVE TOM TANCREDO: It’s a very simple bill. It says that essentially we don’t need this visa category anymore and we’re going to eliminate it.
HUFF: Representative Tom Tancredo, a Republican from Colorado, is sponsoring HR 2688, legislation to end the H1-B visa program. He says his bill is not about workers from India or any other nation—it’s about protecting jobs.
REPRESENTATIVE TANCREDO: Totally an economic issue. I have people in my neighborhood, you know, I have, there are literally thousands of my constituents that have been thrown out of work because they have been displaced by foreign workers who will work for less. That’s the bottom line, that’s the, that’s the way it has turned out.
HUFF: But experts say, if H1-B visas were banned American companies would be hurt. Maia Jachimowicz, of the Migration Policy Institute
MAIA JACHIMOWICZ: The argument in contrast to that is first of all that data shows that there aren’t sufficient numbers of employees with the skills necessary to fulfill these jobs in the US and so bringing in H1-B visa holders allows the business sector in the US to complete these jobs in our home country. The effect of eliminating the H1-B program is either to outsource or off-shore all the operations which in essence hurts the US economy.
HUFF: Sanjay Puri of US India Political Action Committee agrees. The U.S. economy needs workers from other countries, especially those with special skills
PURI: It’s like throwing the baby out with the bath water. There are people who have come in on H1-B visa program who are doing some mission critical work in this country, people who have become citizens and have built successful companies. I mean I can rattle off names after names—companies like Exodus and others. People like Sabil Parthia who started Hotmail and things of that nature. These are people who have produced some immense amount of technology, immense amount of jobs and we are, you know, we are a country that thrives on being the, attracting the best and brightest.
HUFF: Opponents argue that what jobs there are should go to Americans and that there’s no need to bring foreign workers into the US. Sanjay Puri supports programs like the H1-B visas. He admits that there are abuses of all government programs, but this is one that works.
PURI: Its all about the market. If there’s a requirement in the marketplace, the market is a self-correcting mechanism. If a company needs a skill, the H1-B visa has a requirement that you had to file a Labor Department’s approval that you have to pay market competitive salaries. It’s not, you just bring a person and pay whatever you want, but you have to pay a market competitive salaries. If you have a need for that skill and if you can prove that you have that need, then you should be able to bring that person so that you can keep doing your work that you need to get done. And obviously we want to make sure that it is not to replace, it is to supplement whatever shortages, fill the shortages that we have in this country.
HUFF: Immigration experts see challenges to the H1-B visa and related programs likely to come up again and again, but they also believe that the legislation to end the programs is unlikely to gain much traction, partly for the simple reason that America is a nation of immigrants. For Common Ground, I’m Priscilla Huff.
Listen to This Segment: MP3
PORTER: A Middle East peacemaker believes the majority of Israelis and Palestinians are willing to peacefully live side by side. Reverend Elias Chacour is a Palestinian Christian. He tells Common Ground‘s Cliff Brockman that although Palestinian Christians are largely overlooked by the Western media they bring an added perspective to the peace process.
REVEREND ELIAS CHACOUR: Well, it’s true we are now a small minority. We are becoming more and more smaller minority because of the immigration of Palestinian Christians from Palestine/Israel. And that phenomenon of the immigration of Christians is coming also to all the Middle East. But very specially and more intensely so from Palestine/Israel because Palestinians find themselves always between two stools, between the fanatical Jewish group and the Muslim fanatical group who refuse Christianity. And Christians cannot bear any more to be without job, without education. They prefer to leave everything and go for the sake of the future of their children.
BROCKMAN: You’ve said peace does not need contemplators it needs actors. What do you mean by that?
CHACOUR: I mean it’s easy for peace, for people to sing the praise of peace, it’s beautiful, and to keep away from getting their hands dirty, from doing something to build peace. Peace in Hebrew, in Aramaic, and in Arabic has two roots. The one, shalem–pay and the other shalem-perfect. So in order to have perfection you need to pay, to pay your comfort, to pay your tranquility, to get disturbed, bothered, in order to build peace stone after stone, provided these stones be living stones, a Jew and a Palestinian. Peace cannot be given only from heaven if we don’t get ready to accept the peace of God. And we learn from our holy books, whether the Bible, the Koran, or the Gospel, that peace is a result, is a fruit of the quality of relation we have together, which we call commonly justice. And there is a minimal amount of justice that has to be practiced in order to dare hope for peace, which is not done now in the Holy Land.
BROCKMAN: Being an actor rather than a contemplator would seem to fit your history. What types of things have you done?
CHACOUR: I am a contemplator also. I believe in the power of prayers. I spend hours every day praying and asking God for inspiration and looking for inspiration in the holy books. But that led me really to make of my prayer an act of life. I try to do very simple things. I try to restore public libraries in the Arab villages in Galilee. To build kindergartens, libraries, community centers. And the last thing that I was very privileged to build and nourish and grow was the Mark Elias Education Institutions, which we started with 80 children 20 years ago. From that very village, Ebelin??, and now we have over 3,500 students who come from 70 different towns and villages from all over Israel, from the very north the Negev. And we are working now with an outstanding team of scholars—Jewish and Palestinian Arab Christians and Muslims—towards the opening of the first Arab Christian Israeli university.
BROCKMAN: How do you think peace will finally be achieved?
CHACOUR: Well, peace can be achieved through giving, stopping, ending the occupation. Without the, the continuing of the occupation there is no hope for peace. How do you want three millions to accept to be under occupation of five millions. The three millions have no right to circulate, no right to go from town to town, no schools are secured, no hospitals—all the infrastructure has been destroyed. All that has to be built again. And the occupation has to end in order for the Palestinians to have some kind of hope things might be better. Otherwise there will be no peace. Because now what we are doing is reducing each other into pieces. That’s not peace.
BROCKMAN: We have a number of listeners to this radio program. What could one of those listeners as an individual do?
CHACOUR: If you listen to me do not please misunderstand me. I do love my Jewish people in Israel as much as I love my Palestinian people inside Israel and the occupied territories. What you can do is at least refuse to be one sided. Refuse to accept collective labeling of, of a nation. That was a crime against Judaism and against humanity before and during World War II and Jews were considered dirty Jews. I think it’s the same crime now against Palestinians who are considered terrorists, bloodthirsty, and dirty Arabs. This could be done. An individual can resist to such shallow condemnation of people you do not know. All we want, we Palestinians—and many Jews, I think the majority of the Jews—is to live side by side in peaceful terms with security for both of us. We don’t know how to achieve that. So do not pour some more oil on the fire. Rather be the friend of both of us.
BROCKMAN: Do you think that will happen?
CHACOUR: Well, on one side it’s already there. The problem is the decision makers. Would they be clever enough to understand that unless they live together they will die together? The Jews suffered enough in World War II to accept causing perpetual suffering for the Palestinians. And the Palestinians, despite all what they have gone through they do not hate the Jews as a race. They hate the Jewish policy towards them. And they would be immediately willing to embrace—oh surely there are some smaller groups, radical groups, Islamic groups, who think that Islam is the way to solution. It’s not. They are wrong. And these will never be silenced all the time. The big majority has no power to say, “We have done it. We are together. We make peace together.” If the big majority does not make the peace and go together the smaller groups will have always the upper hand.
BROCKMAN: Dr. Elias Chacour works and lives in the Galilee area of Israel. He has received a number of awards, including the Japanese Peace Prize, the French Humanitarian Medal and the World Methodist Peace Prize. For Common Ground, I’m Cliff Brockman.
MCHUGH: Coming up next, immigration by way of Baltimore. You’re listening to Common Ground, radio’s weekly program on world affairs.
Listen to This Segment: MP3
MCHUGH: You have only to mention immigration history in America for people to conjure up images of Ellis Island, and the long immigration piers in the shadow of the Statue of Liberty. But for millions of Americans—though many may not know it—their families first stepped ashore in Baltimore. The global connections of this gritty Maryland seaport are not well known. But local community leaders tell Nina-Maria Potts they are determined to highlight Baltimore’s multi-ethnic part, present, and future.
DEAN KRIMMEL: Most Americans think of immigration and arrivals of ancestors associated with Ellis Island. I think if you stopped anyone on the street and asked them if their ancestors were immigrants, as most Americans are, they would say, if they said yes, and you asked them where they came through, they probably would say Ellis Island. Most people are not aware that if you were a port city, you would have immigrants coming in, because immigrants would come in any way they could. And the fact that Baltimore was a major port.
POTTS: That was historian and curator Dean Krimmel, who is working on the Baltimore Immigration Project, founded in part to commission research into Baltimore’s largely untold immigration story. Dean Krimmel says the charting of Baltimore as a gateway to America can’t happen fast enough.
KRIMMEL: The routes, as in r-o-u-t-e-s of immigrants, there are a number of German groups who’ve come to Baltimore tracing their ancestors. There’s an explosion of interest in family history. And as more and more ship—records like the ship passenger lists, as they become more and more available, there’s people all over the country who are finding that they’re surprised their, their ancestry came through Baltimore.
POTTS: By some reckonings, Baltimore ranked second to New York as a port of entry during the period of mass immigration. It was this discovery that led a Baltimore realtor and community leader, Ron Zimmerman, to set up the Baltimore Immigration Project. He wants to raise public awareness and honor Baltimore’s immigrants by recording oral histories, reinterpreting historic sites, and creating an immigration park and exhibition area.
RON ZIMMERMAN: With this immigration project, it’s a project that, that honors all people, all nationalities. Some people just have a Polish museum, or a Jewish museum. This is going to take in everybody. Not only that, it’s going to be a point where new citizens who are going to be sworn into this country can come here and see what people came into this country done prior to them, what they accomplished here.
POTTS: Dean Krimmel says the numbers of people who came through Baltimore are staggering.
KRIMMEL: Over about a 100 year period probably two million people came through. And in the era when there was a formal immigration depot, which would be similar to Castle Garden and Ellis island in New York, and this depot was in Locust point, where we are now, about over a million came, about 1.2 million came. You know, not a small number.
POTTS: So why did they come through Baltimore? Dean Krimmel says the reason was financial:
KRIMMEL: It’s competitive in that they—you know, the price of passage, as the North German Lloyd might say, is cheaper if you go through Baltimore. “We can offer you a great railroad rate.” It gets a little less romantic when we talk about the business history. [laughing]
POTTS: Dr. Melanie Shell-Weiss is an immigration historian at Johns Hopkins University and says Baltimore has a long tradition of ethnic diversity.
DR. MELANIE SHELL-WEISS: Immigration to Baltimore, as to many east coast cities, goes way back to the 18th century and before. And you’re talking about a large variety of individuals and groups of people who are coming during this time—English, French, German, Irish, Polish—in addition to other important waves of migrants such as escaped slaves and those you know, leaving rebellions in Santo Domingo and the like. Chinese laborers who came through Baltimore, some of whom stayed and some of whom left. So the real peak period, what’s called the Great Wave of migration for Baltimore, begins around the 1860s and extends through the early part of the 20th century.
POTTS: Dr. Shell-Weiss says the reason Baltimore’s immigration history has been overlooked by historians is because many immigrants arrived, but then left :
DR. SHELL-WEISS: We tend to focus on communities where people stay. The tendency up till now has been to look at, you know, where immigrants congregate. And Baltimore I think, if one looks at this through a slightly different frame is very exciting for understanding the migration process. Because the city provides us with a window into where immigrants go. I mean, Baltimore really is a port city, it’s a doorway in. Some individuals stayed, but many more moved somewhere else.
POTTS: Many immigrants moved west, mainly because there was a good railroad connection in Baltimore. Again, Dean Krimmel.
KRIMMEL: Most of the steamship companies in Europe were offering tickets to Europeans that included both the steamship passage and rail to a destination. So people were choosing Baltimore to come into and then moving out because of the rail connections.
POTTS: One Baltimore family to move west, but which later moved back again was that of Bill Struever, a property developer with a special interest in re-interpreting Baltimore’s historic sites. His ancestors were among Baltimore’s earliest arrivals.
BILL STRUEVER: My great-great-great grandfather was a French doctor, Loius Dounan, in Haiti, and he had saved the life of a young slave girl that was horribly burned, and when the Tousant revolt was in full swing and they were killing the whites, the mother of this young girl hid Louis and his fiancé and got them to the coast and they got on a ship and in the great tradition of America’s fugitives, came to Baltimore in 1803.
POTTS: Baltimore’s immigration story may have an early beginning, but it is also ongoing, according to Dean Krimmel.
KRIMMEL: We always talk about the period 1820 to the 1920s as the great, kind of the great mass migration but there are people coming in after World War II, and then particularly after the 1960s. And in our case, in Greektown for instance, there’s plenty of people who are first generation. They’ve just, they’ve come over in the last 20 years.
POTTS: Dr. Melanie Shell-Weiss agrees. She says the real strength of Baltimore’s ethnic identities lies in their ties to history.
DR. SHELL-WEISS: Anyone who comes to Baltimore for the first time I think is amazed at the strength and evidence of its ethnic communities. I mean, Baltimore very much remains the patchwork quilt of ethnic communities. You know, traveling through downtown Baltimore and one passes through Little Italy, one passes through centers, large Jewish communities, African-American communities, West Indian communities, Hispanic communities. And you can knock on the door in Little Italy and find a resident there who would be happy to tell you that they are still in the row house that was inhabited by their great grandmother.
POTTS: For Common Ground, I’m Nina-Maria Potts in Baltimore.