This month’s Mother Jones has one of the most thought provoking articles I’ve read in some time, concerning refugees (primarily from Iraq and Afghanistan) who are making their way to Australia only to find themselves imprisoned or deported. The stories of the refugees are completely heartbreaking, and for most of the article you think of the Australian policy on handling refugees as cruel and callous. But if Australia accepted every refugee that wants to resettle in the country, they would soon outstrip the meager resources of the continent, because literally millions of people around the world would prefer to live there over the hellhole where they were born (or fled to at some point).

People aren’t stupid. They know that if they immigrate to a western country, whether it’s the US, Canada, Australia, or any of a number of European countries, they’re going to live a better life than they would in their country of origin. If every country in the world opened its borders to free immigration, there would be an incredible mass exodus to these countries. The only way for us to get around this problem is to build up the countries that are losing population. Iraq is certainly blessed with more natural resources (not just oil, either) than Australia, but Iraqis are desperate to leave. Everyone knows why. That’s why if I really thought this administration could get rid of Saddam Hussein and rebuild Iraq as a successful state, I’d be all for giving it a shot. That’s why Thomas Friedman is in favor of war (or was).

Furthermore, I think that reading about these refugees provides a lot of insight into al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups that are not pursuing a specific political agenda but are rather basically just anti-us. It’s already well known that terrorists are not just recruited from the ranks of the destitute and hopeless, but rather from the disaffected. The success of western culture, not just in providing us with lots of stuff, but in exporting our popular culture to the rest of the world, attracts some people to do everything in their power to live here. For other people, it offends their certainty that it is they who should be on top.

If you’re already angry that an inferior culture seems to be getting all the breaks, the next logical step is believing it when an Osama bin Laden tells you that the “crusaders and Jews” are intentionally keeping you down because they hate you. Next thing you know, you’re in Afghanistan at a terrorist training camp, looking for a way toget even.

In this sense, I very much agree with conservatives. It’s not our foreign policy that motivates people who join al-Qaeda, it’s cognitive dissonance. They know that they’re better than we are, but by most modern measures that doesn’t seem to be the case. Nothing makes that more clear to me than seeing the other side of the coin, the refugees who yearn to live among us.