37. Living in the Promiseland
Written by David Lynn Jones, 1986
Performed by Willie Nelson, 1986
From the CD Willie Nelson – 16 Biggest Hits (Sony, USA 1998)



Give us your tired and weak and we will make them strong
Bring us your foreign songs and we will sing along
Leave us your broken dreams we’ll give them time to mend
There’s still a lot of love living in the Promised Land

Living in the Promised Land our dreams are made of steel
Prayer of every man is to know how freedom feels
There is a winding road across the shifting sand
And room for everyone living in the Promised Land

So they came from a distant isle nameless woman faithless child
Like a bad dream
Until there was no room at all no place to run and no place to fall

Give us a daily bread we have no shoes to wear
No place to call our home only this cross to bear
We are the multitudes lend us a helping hand
Is there no love anymore living in the Promised Land

Living in the Promised Land our dreams are made of steel.
Prayers of every man is to know how freedom feels
There is a winding road across the shifting sand
And room for everyone living in the Promised Land

About the song

Willie Nelson’s recording of Living in the Promiseland launched the career of Nashville songwriter David Lynn Jones. Nelson, along with Johnny Cash and Kris Kristofferson, was responsible for a democratic, socially inclusive ethos and activism that challenged at least some of the ideas about race, class, nationalism, politics and power, that underscored and informed country music’s beginnings.

On Irony and altruism


From ‘Letter from A Vietnamese to an Iraqi Refugee’, by journalist Andrew Lam, New America Media, Oct 03, 2007:

‘More than three decades ago, I left Vietnam as a refugee and found asylum in America. Last night on the Internet, I chanced upon an image of you: a teenage refugee from Iraq newly arrived to America. Your shy smile reminds me of myself a long time ago.

Many have stepped onto the American shore since my arrival but few share such parallel tracks as you and I do. You and your family fled Iraq; my family and I were once refugees from Vietnam. We found asylum in a country that had a direct hand in the chaos and bloodshed in our own respective homelands. Iraq, it seems, is about to trump Vietnam in the American psyche as the reigning metaphor for tragedy.

I could, like baseball cards, trade the Gulf of Tonkin Incident for weapons of mass destruction, the My Lai Massacre for Haditha, boat people for Iraqi refugees, and ‘Vietnamisation’ for ‘Iraqisation.’ The similarities continue to pile up as the war in Iraq goes on.

Though I know little of your past, I have an idea of what you’re going through. Life in a new country is difficult and bewildering, but for those forced into exile, it torments to the core. You will always grieve for what was robbed from you and your family, and yet, while many perish, languish as refugees in Iraq’s bordering countries, or face a nightmarish existence back home, you have survived and found your way to the Promised Land.

A new reality is upon you and you must rise to meet it. This entails a drastic change in your nature, in your thinking, and, possibly, in your very constitution. You will learn soon enough that in the land of plenty there’s plenty of irony. […]


The following are excerpts from ‘Iraqi Refugees: Helping Them Thrive in America – Transcript’ (November 2008). This was a national conference discussion hosted by the International Rescue Committee for volunteers, activists and others working to assist Iraqi families throughout the United States. You can read the full transcription at http://www.theirc.org

By the way, there’s also some related listening material available via the International Rescue Commission which is available at their website: Iraqi Refugees: Helping Them Thrive in America – supporters discuss challenges and solutions (MP3). Description: ‘People across America are helping the more than 16,700 Iraqi refugees who have come to the U.S. become self-sufficient. These Iraqis are among the millions who fled their homes, mostly after the bombing of the al Askari mosque in Samara, Iraq, in February 2006. Challenges for these latest refugees welcomed to the U.S. include jobs, housing, accessing benefits and services, navigating the refugee resettlement system, and managing their high expectations. The IRC hosted a ‘national dialogue’ with these Iraqi refugee supporters, and people from 22 states joined the call.’

Anyway, the conference. This took place on November 19, 2008, via conference call.

IRAQI REFUGEES: THRIVE IN AMERICA Date: November 19, 2008, 12-1:30 EST

Host of National Conference Call: International Rescue Committee

Moderator: Kathleen Newland, Board of Directors, IRC and Commission, IRC Commission on Iraqi Refugees
Presenter: Bob Carey, Vice President for Resettlement and Migration Policy
IRC Presenter: Kate Reid, Resettlement Programme Manager
IRC-Phoenix Respondent during Q & A: Elissa Mittman, National Immigration Director,
IRC Respondent during Q & A: Danya Pastuszek, Programme Officer, Project for Strengthening Organisations Assisting Refugees (SOAR)
IRC Contact: Nathaniel Hurd Nathaniel.Hurd@theirc.org 202-822-0166 X 45


Kathleen Newland: Shall we go on to the next question?

Kate Reid: Yes, that’s fine.

Operator: Certainly. We’ll take our next caller.

Kathleen Newland: Please go ahead.

Elizabeth: Hi. My name’s Elizabeth, and I’m calling from the Committee to Protect Journalists in New York. And we’re trying to develop a project to support Iraqi journalists who are resettling here through the resettlement program. And I think one of the things we want to do is talk to some of the news outlets who are bringing their – or helping to bring their staff people here, and some of the questions that they give us. It would be helpful to just get a sort of – I know it varies state to state. But what is sort of the ballpark estimate of support that most Iraqi refugees receive when they get here?

Bob Carey: In terms of duration or amount?

Elizabeth: Both.

Bob Carey: Well, it’s – you know I think as I mentioned earlier, under the State Department agreement it’s one month. Now, many agencies have, as Kate mentioned, say, Health and Human Services matching grant funds to support people who are employable as they – for a number of additional months – as they search for work. Unfortunately, that programme is not funded at the level we would like it to be. So, most of the slots in that programme were used up by the time Iraqis began to arrive in the fourth quarter of this year.


Female: And I just have one quick question.

Kathleen Newland: Sure.

Female: And it’s for – do you know off-hand what options there might be for counselling, especially for post-traumatic stress counselling?

Bob Carey: Yes. Unfortunately – and Kate can talk to this, as well – I think this is a concern for many of us, because that really is a state-by-state system. And there are centres for victims of torture, but they don’t exist in all locations. I know that IRC, and I’m sure many of our colleague agencies, to the extent we’re aware of people’s suffering from severe trauma, which we recognize is very common among this population and not always reflected in the information we get, to the extent we’re aware of it, we try to place people where there are services. Some states have been much more proactive than others in funding this kind of service. For instance, in Arizona, IRC’s offices do have mental health services. And in some other locations there are close relationships with mental health providers or with torture victim centres, which work with refugees. But there are other locations where the system is really inadequate, and, as it is inadequate for Americans in need of such services. And one thing we would like to see in a new programme is a baseline of mental health services for all refugees who need them across the country.

Female: OK.

Kate Reid: Yes. Just to add to that – I’m sorry, Kathleen. We do have a mental health programme here, so we are able to offer counselling. We also have – like, for an Iraqi woman right now – we have a support group that meets about once a week. And then we do have a pretty good mental health system in Phoenix, where we can refer to if something’s more serious than just the counselling needs.

Kathleen Newland: And this is an area where there certainly is a role for other nongovernmental organisations to bring in additional help beyond what the governmental programmes offer. Shall we go on to the next question, please?


Anne C Richards is Vice President, Government Relations & Advocacy, for the International Rescue Committee (IRC). In America’s Responsibility to Iraqi Refugees, posted on the Globalist website, Richards wrote that in September 2007 the United States resettled 1,608 Iraqi refugees whereas Sweden had taken in over 12,000. Earlier that year U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice set up a State Department task force to deal with Iraqi refugees and displaced people. Richards reports that a pledge was made by a number of State Departments that the U.S would resettle between 7,000 to 25,000 Iraqi refugees. Richards informs us that the IRC is one of a number of nongovernmental organisations that have recommended an Iraq assistance package of $1.4 billion; a sharp increase on the $240 million that Richards tells us was recently requested from Congress.

Searching for information about the IRC and its work, we found a text by the Interhemispheric Resource Centre titled The International Rescue Committee, Inc. Here’s an extract:

‘The International Rescue Committee, Inc. (IRC) was founded in 1933 in response to a request from Albert Einstein – ‘assist anti-Nazi opponents of Hitler’; IRC works with refugees fleeing from ‘persecution and violence in totalitarian countries, as well as uprooted victims of civil conflict’ IRC focuses its programs primarily on refugees from communist and socialist countries but is quite adamant that it does not tow the U.S. foreign policy line. Robert DeVecchi, executive director, said: ‘It is… inaccurate to characterize IRC’s operation as having historically reflected the interests and directions of foreign policy. IRC establishes and follows its own policy directions which may or may not coincide with U.S. foreign policy objectives. It is immaterial to us whether they do or not.’

Despite such disavowals, the IRC has consistently followed policies which have indeed coincided with U.S. foreign policy interests. It has operated in such geopolitical hotspots as Southeast Asia, Central America, Afghanistan, and Eastern Europe, conducting programs which have bolstered Washington’s anticommunist activities. Descriptions of such programs are given below.

The group provides resettlement, medical, agriculture, education, and social welfare services. Many of IRC’s members have ties to the intelligence community, and at least one author calls the IRC ‘a long-time ally of the Central Intelligence Agency’

IRC is a tax-exempt organization under IRS code 501(c)(3). More than 90 percent of IRC’s income goes to support its programs. The group claims that ‘The work of the IRC is supported by individual Americans and people abroad, the business community, unions, foundations, schools, church and civic groups’; but its literature fails to mention the support it receives from the U.S. government. In 1987, it received approximately 72 percent of its funding from U.S. government contracts and grants.’


Letter from A Vietnamese to an Iraqi Refugee by Andrew Lam, New America Media.org Oct 3, 2007

International Rescue Committee http://www.theirc.org

America’s Responsibility to Iraqi Refugees, by Anne C Richard, Globalist, October 31, 2007 sourced from Global Policy Forum

International Rescue Committee. Inc., by the Interhemispheric Resource Centre



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