I happened upon a great site called Refugee Resettlement Watch, and here was a post it had from July of last year. This Albanian-American lawyer is to be commended for his efforts with Iraqi and Congolese refugees.

Class to teach immigrants not to beat their wives or kick their dogs

Posted by acorcoran on July 6, 2008

This is one of those days when interesting news is coming from all directions. One of my favorite (not) volags, US Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI) has partnered with an immigration lawyer to teach refugees, men in this case, how to behave in America. The article from Schenectady, NY started out o.k. Afterall, we have been advocating for refugees to assimilate.

“CAPITAL REGION — Artan Serjanej understands how difficult it can be for new immigrants to navigate the thicket of unfamiliar laws they encounter when they move to America.

“Now 43, Serjanej fled the Eastern European country of Albania as a young man, arriving in the United States in 1990. He earned his GED, attended law school and is now an immigration attorney at Tulley Rinckey PLLC in Albany.

“Serjanej is leading a series of workshops to help male immigrants understand laws regarding domestic violence, child abuse and animal abuse. He has already held two workshops, one for male Congolese refugees living in the Capital Region and another for Arabic-speaking Iraqi male refugees, and more are scheduled for later this summer.”

Then it reveals that really much of this series of classes is geared toward teaching refugees their rights in our legal system. The participants here will give you some idea of the direction this is going:

“The new program, called Legal Rights and Responsibilities in the United States, began two months ago. The workshops have been organized with help from local community groups, such as the Capital Region chapter of the New York Civil Liberties Union and Equinox Inc. Last month, Melanie Trimble, the executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, and Serjanej conducted basic civil liberties training with the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants staff.”

This is so good I couldn’t help copying a large section of the article so that you can get the full impact of what is being said here.

“‘I’m trying to change their idea of what it means to be a man,’ he said. ‘These people are coming from a very patriarchal society. The man of the house is the man of the house.’

“Serjanej said he understands these attitudes and why the men have them.

“‘Albania is a very patriarchal [Islamic] society,’ he said. ‘When I was growing up, once in a while my dad would get physically violent with me. We didn’t have a Department of Social Services. Women had no way to complain [about abuse], and it was socially unacceptable for them to do so.’

“He said one of the things he tells the men who attend his workshops is that even if their wives do not complain to the police, other people might.

“‘Even if the wife is silent, outsiders can call the police,’ he said.

“‘I tell them that if you get upset, you cannot use your hands,” Serjanej continued. “I tell them that you can only talk and that you should talk in a quiet voice. A real man doesn’t have to get physical. I try to convey that they can use their mouth and voice and be respected in this country by all.

“‘I don’t want people to end up in trouble for something they think is acceptable,’ he added. ‘The idea is to protect them so they don’t have any criminal records. They really need to understand how to live a clean life.’”

Notice that Mr. Serjanej is not saying he is trying to protect women and pets and keep them safe from abuse, he is protecting the men from having a criminal record. It is all about the men!

“In the workshops, Serjanej talks about the age of consent and rape laws and how it’s illegal to kick or otherwise abuse dogs and cats.

“Assimilating into a new culture is very stressful, Serjanej said.

“‘Refugees get culture shock,’ he said. ‘They have certain expectations, and when they reach this country, things are not as great as they thought they would be.’”

Not so great you say? You know what my answer is to that!

Yes, Mr. Serjanej could have chosen his words more carefully so that the reader doesn’t come away thinking that he’s just helping these primitive people navigate the system to their advantage rather than having genuine concern for women and animals. Which I believe Serjanej does have, despite his choice of words. The most interesting part, however, is the upshot to this interview that he gave. Despite his already very politically correct choice of words with regard to the refugees, and his overall pro-refugee stance, what he revealed here was enough to get him booted from his volunteer work. Below is an excerpt from a follow-up blog by Refugee Resettlement Watch, starting with a quote from the Peter Huston blog –which first got wind of Mr. Serjanej’s work — and finishing with the RRW blogger’s comment:

“…Una Hardester, 22 year old idealist activist, and her companions, insisted that…Serjanej’s comments should not have been voiced, as they were not consistent with the view of the world or the view of refugees that they wished to promote. Therefore they did not invite him back to participate in any more programs. Their programs were now sanitized and politically correct. The cultural gap between some refugees and the young American activist community was again preserved! Oooooh Rah! Mission accomplished!”

Seriously, did it ever occur to you humanitarians that by silencing Serjanej you may now be responsible for violence to some women and children whose husband’s [sic] and father’s [sic] do not get his message about what behavior is unacceptible [sic] in America.

The original source, blogger Peter Huston, sums up the mindset of the American do-gooder nicely:

Now Americans tend to be very ethnocentric, idealistic people and therefore the way they deal with people who tell them things they don’t wish to hear, particularly if these things don’t fit their ethnocentric ideals, is often interesting. At times, they will go so far as to argue with people about things they know nothing about if these people have experiences that don’t meet their idealistic view of the world.