In the new fall 2019 issue of Bookforum, Suzy Hansen reviews This Land Is Our Land: An Immigrant’s Manifesto by acclaimed journalist Suketu Mehta. Himself an immigrant – he came from India to the US with his family when he was fourteen – Mehta’s book is a strident denunciaion of the anti-immigrant turn in US politics and around the world, as well as a carefully historical sketch of how the colonialism and wars of the past led to the migration crisis of today. As Hanen notes in her review, “Mehta reminds us that the haphazardly drawn nation-states of the twentieth century demanded the movement of millions of people in the former Ottoman Empire, a trend that would continue during World War II and then the Vietnam War, throughout the wars of the 1980s in Latin America, and in today’s war on terror, especially in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria.” Here’s an excerpt from the review:
Here is where Mehta’s most authoritative and undeniable argument unfolds. The huge worldwide shifts of the twenty-first century—which have a long history but seem quite new, thanks to the immediacy and visibility of the internet—are impossible for many people to comprehend. Mehta fills in the blanks. He tells a bloody, traumatic story, and one no Western reader will feel proud of, though there can also be a strange comfort in understanding the logic of the present. History might be the best weapon against fear.
Mehta’s narrative proves that mass migration has long been inevitable, even encouraged by its very detractors. He begins with British colonialism: “The rich countries have always claimed the freedom to move around the planet, not just to sightsee or seek employment, but to invade, conquer.” This might seem like old news, but it isn’t even conventional wisdom anymore that colonialism was bad; popular thinkers like Niall Ferguson have spun narratives that have become commonplace on both sides of the aisle, offering self-aggrandizing notions that imperialism brought the benighted countries of the world “Western norms of law, order and governance.” Mehta points out that colonialism first meant the devastation of livelihoods, communities, and economies, which has naturally led to the mass movement of peoples.
Image of Suketu Mehta via The Guardian.