Last week, the Biden Administration announced immigration policies that would make it virtually impossible for migrants at the southern border to seek asylum in the United States. Among the new — and unlawful — policies is the requirement that asylum-seekers show they have applied for asylum in one of the countries they have traveled through. But, according to international law, applying for asylum in one country disqualifies a refugee from seeking asylum in a second country, such as the United States. Places like Guatemala, El Salvador, and Nicaragua are not safe for refugees, and processing asylum claims can take years. The Administration’s cruel Catch 22 will cost many lives and require Central America and Mexico to assume even more responsibility for problems created by the United States itself.
I’m in Munich, where there is no traffic, but lots of walkers and bikers and public transportation. It’s quiet and clean, and loaded with museums, good food and, of course, beer. Like Bilbao and Rotterdam, Munich seems like one of the most livable cities, so I did a little research. Forbes Magazine recently named Munich the world’s most livable city and everyone else puts it the world’s top ten. Felicidades, Munich!
It’s not quite 6am, still dark, and I wake to the call to prayer from the mosque a few blocks away. Another call to prayer begins from a mosque in the opposite direction. The voices harmonize in spite of differences in cadence. The sound is unexpectedly reassuring, a nice way to start the day. I’m in Tunis, the capital of Tunisia, the first country to demand and win democratic reforms in 2011 following “Muslim Spring.”
During my ten days in Vienna, I’ve formed some impressions. Because I’m a tourist doing tourist things, my observations are superficial and anecdotal, but that’s ok. The big surprise: Vienna is multi-cultural, youthful, and very cool.
After almost a week in Vienna, I’ve barely scratched the surface, even as a normal tourist. I realized this yesterday on a walking tour with Hannes, whose knowledge and humor focused on Austrian history. Here’s the very short version of my main take-aways….The modern Austrian republic was created in 1918 with the fall of the powerful Austro-Hungarian Empire lead by the Hapsburg dynasty. Twenty years later, Hitler was welcomed to Vienna by a cheering crowd of 200,000 Austrians — none of whom could remember attending the event by 1945. For its role in World War II, Austria had to promise that it wouldn’t join any military alliances. These days, the only war here is between Cafe Sacher and the Demel Bakery over which one of them invented the Sachertorte.
Jean-Michel Basquiat is one of America’s most important 20th century artists, so when I heard his work would be exhibited at the Albertina Museum in Vienna, I put Vienna on my itinerary. I saw the exhibit yesterday and it was amazing, displaying dozens of Basquiat’s paintings and telling the artist’s story.
I arrived in Beirut on Monday night to my hotel in the very cool neighborhood of Gemayzeh. Cool but confusing, actually. Bombed out buildings and piles of garbage are next door to edgy bars, organic cafes, and upscale art galleries. Crumbling walls are stenciled with political messages and poetry. There is a feeling of a fight for survival, and after learning a little about Lebanon’s history, I understand why.
Istanbul is at the crossroads of the old world and history. Once called Constantinople and the center of Christianity, it was the capital of the Roman Empire, the Byzantine Empire, and the Latin Empire. In 1453, the Ottoman Turks captured the city, renamed it Istanbul, and made it the capital of the Ottoman Empire and the Muslim world. It lies on two continents and three strategic waterways. And it’s a very cool place to visit!