Column: Huddled Masses Yearning to Be Free

As tens of thousands of terrified men, women and children struggle to exit Afghanistan, America’s conspiracy theorists have gathered in their usual gutters to assign blame for the collapse of this country. Some have suggested that the return of the Taliban and the flight of educated Afghans was engineered by left-leaning liberals to pack the United States with “brown-skinned refugees” whose votes will permanently establish the U.S. as a socialist nation. These “pundits” have obviously been smoking too much marijuana and snorting too much cocaine. Their vision of the world involves too much intelligent design and not enough intelligence. 

The American obsession with skin tone is an anachronism that should have been smothered at its birth. I attribute it to the insecurity of Europeans who found people of various hues who were just as clever or more clever than themselves wherever they explored. It must also have roots in the longstanding American tradition of treating darker skinned people as less than human. In any case, it is a non-issue in the case of the diverse population arriving from Kabul. If they settle in Queens, even the most racist observer will be unable to tell if they grew up in Afghanistan or Astoria.

The concern that these new arrivals will advance the rise of socialism in the U.S. is equally absurd. Socialism is already here and is jealously guarded by those demanding to be called capitalists. Any politician who threatens Social Security benefits, Medicare, Workers’ Compensation programs, public education or any other strictly socialist programs will soon find himself or herself out of work and applying for unemployment benefits and food stamps. Focusing on the Afghan experience, one should remember that the Soviets spent 10 years trying to get these people to support a communist government and failed.   

The tragedy unfolding in Afghanistan is not the result of an international conspiracy targeting capitalists. It is a consequence of a craven and heavily armed contingent seeking power and wealth and intent upon imposing its philosophy and practices upon those whose homes it has invaded.

As Pol Pot discovered after murdering millions of educated Cambodians, killing your most talented citizens undercuts your own viability. The Taliban can impose 13th century laws on the people it keeps trapped within the borders of Afghanistan, and it can murder many of those it feels threatened by, but it has already assured its failure by prior bad acts. Genocide, ethnic cleansing, forced religious conformity, and denial of fundamental human rights are lethal to the societies that adopt any or all of them. A small group of people with money and power or strategic alliances may prevail temporarily, but ultimately the positions they hold or the nation they seek to hold hostage will diminish in value. The city dwellers of Afghanistan have seen the 21st century and are running for the exits because they do not want to time-travel back to 2001. They are voting with their feet for peace, justice, women’s rights, and religious freedom.

But what of the health threat posed by this wave of humanity? How do we deal with the threat of Covid-19 as planes, each carrying hundreds of refugees, land on our pristine soil? These people may be screened for obvious health problems, as were many of the prior immigrants to our country, but after being forced to stand or lie shoulder-to-shoulder for days at the airport and after being packed by the hundreds into airplanes designed to carry a fraction of their number, we must assume that many are sick, and some have contagious diseases, like the delta variant of Covid-19. What should we do with these people? 

I believe the answer is obvious: send them to Florida, Texas, Alabama, and the other states whose governments have resisted all rational efforts to protect their citizens from communicable diseases. These new arrivals pose no additional threat to the health and welfare of the citizens of these under-vaccinated, mask-rejecting, crowd-promoting states. These states long ago reached virtual viral saturation. These new immigrants will not occupy hospital beds: there are none left. They will not overwhelm the labor markets: Covid-19 has already produced numerous employment opportunities in these states. Best of all, many of these new immigrants are highly educated and probably do not want to send their children to school systems that rank teaching football as more important than teaching science.

There will be no need for an endless and ultimately futile campaign to get these people vaccinated or to wear masks. It is inconceivable that any of them would object to getting a vaccination after all they have given up just to get to a safe place for themselves and their children. Having left behind their homes, relatives, possessions, and two decades of achievements, they will not object to wearing a surgical mask or to accepting a potentially life-saving injection. The Afghan people are seeking shelter from barbarians: their introduction into states with millions of unvaccinated residents and with legislators striving to diminish the rights of their citizens may have a civilizing effect on their American neighbors.

You may think it inappropriate for a physician to make this resettlement suggestion, but what of the proposals coming from the governors, legislators, and religious leaders of these Covid-overwhelmed states? Not only are they acting against the interests of their citizenry, but they are simultaneously forcing through voter suppression measures that will ensure that they remain in control in these states. They may not be trying to re-establish norms that were acceptable in the 13th century, but they are resurrecting practices that were commonplace in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Every attempt to turn back the clock, whether it be by the Taliban or the Texas legislature, diminishes the status of and the prospects for those they govern.

Dr. Lechtenberg is an Easton resident who graduated from Tufts University and Tufts Medical School in Massachusetts and subsequently trained at The Mount Sinai Hospital and Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center in Manhattan.  He worked as a neurologist at several New York Hospitals, including Kings County and The Long Island College Hospital, while maintaining a private practice, teaching at SUNY Downstate Medical School, and publishing 15 books on a variety of medical topics. He worked in drug development in the USA, as well as in England, Germany, and France.