Who is American enough to sing the national anthem?

We live in the age of over-sharing. Anyone and everyone with access to the internet can post whatever they feel like and blast it to their followers on Twitter or friends on Facebook in a matter of seconds. While this new-found freedom of expression has its benefits, it most definitely has its failings too. SDLC_Thumbnail

Anyone with five minutes and a Wi-Fi connection can express their hatred and intolerance without thought; recently, a little boy was deemed “not American enough” to sing the national anthem. While the technology that bigots frequently use to express hate is new, the hate itself is not. This bigotry extends to most ethnic minorities today, and goes far back into our nation’s history, even to its conception.Last week, at a basketball game in San Antonio, eleven-year-old Sebastian De La Cruz sang the national anthem. Thousands of fans cheered his performance in the stadium.

At the same time, hundreds of bigots took to Twitter in order to express their frustration, complaining that De La Cruz should not have sung the American national anthem because he is a) wearing a mariachi outfit, b) he is Latino and c) he is most probably “illegal.” They assumed he is undocumented because of his ethnicity, because of course all people of Latino ethnicity are undocumented. De La Cruz was, therefore, labeled “not American enough,” and repeatedly requested in those tweets to leave the country and go back to Mexico.

A little research shows evidence to the contrary, proving that De La Cruz is a natural born American citizen who loves the San Antonio Spurs and playing basketball. Not only is he a citizen, his father served in the US Navy, and therefore, is so loyal to America that he is willing to defend it with his life. And even if he was not an American citizen, but spent his entire life here, doesn’t that still make him American?

Then why was there such a backlash against an innocent, talented little boy whose only crime is that he chose to express his love for his country in front of thousands of people?

The truth is that even after decades upon decades of minorities struggling for fairness and justice, America is still not the beacon of equality and freedom that we assume it should be or advertise it to be. We still choose to marginalize and demean cultures that we do not understand, and instead, label them as “other” than American.

From the Native Americans to the African Americans to the ethnic Chinese, to anti-Irish and anti-Catholic bias in the 19th and 20th centuries, every minority and ethnic group has experienced blatant discrimination at some point in American history. Even Polish and Italian immigrants were not considered “white enough” by Caucasian Americans who were proud to declare themselves superior, according to a belief in racial superiority. Those with light skin, light hair, and light eyes were considered more intelligent, refined, and sophisticated.

Just a few days ago, celebrity chef Paula Deen admitted to using the N-word casually and wishing she could have African Americans, and only African Americans, serve as butlers at her parties. A few weeks ago, a young Caucasian woman walked into a Dunkin Donuts and proceeded to verbally attack the employees, using racial slurs and insults. She complained that because she wasn’t provided a receipt after her last purchase, she should get her food for free. Not only did she expect preferential treatment, she also verbally abused a female employee, and threatened to “nuke” her. All that to get a free ride.

This begs the questions: Why is there such a hatred of anyone who looks or acts differently than the “mainstream”? Why are Americans so segregated in our thoughts and beliefs? And as a country, as a collective, aren’t all Americans immigrants anyway? Only Native Americans can claim that they were here first.

I believe that people are afraid of what they don’t understand. They choose to “other-ize” entire communities or nationalities of people rather than communicating with them or trying to educate themselves. We need to replace open mouths with open minds.

According to a Census Report from 2008, non-Hispanic whites will no longer be the majority in the US by 2042. It is, therefore, imperative (as it has always been) that Americans from all racial, ethnic, religious, and socioeconomic backgrounds learn to coexist. Not only is this common sense, it is a fundamental aspect of our constitution. We must put aside petty differences and come together as one nation, a nation of immigrants.

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Kenyatta and the (in)effectiveness of the ICC

The International Criminal Court was established in 1998 to prosecute war crimes, genocide, crimes against humanity, and crimes of aggression, under the Rome Statute. Based in the Hague, Netherlands, the ICC has till date worked on eight cases, all of which originated in African nations.

Today, 122 nations are party to the ICC, including half of the African and all of the South American nations. However, three major world powers, without whose presence the ICC cannot significantly influence global change in terms of international criminal law, the United States, China, and Russia, are not state parties.

Along with Israel, a critical presence in the Middle East, the US refused to become answerable to the ICC in 2000. The ICC holds no power over them as they have not ratified the Rome Statute, and hence have no obligations, legal or otherwise, to uphold its laws.

Predictably, government leaders from Senegal and Djibouti have raised objections to the ICC specifically targeting and prosecuting African nations for crimes against humanity, largely ignoring dictators or abusers of power of other nationalities.

Most recently, the ICC held Kenya’s newly elected President Uhuru Kenyatta accountable for murder, rape, and displacement of members of the opposition in the unrest that followed Kenya’s 2007 elections.  However, the ICC’s negative press and accusations neither seem to have harmed Kenyatta nor helped his political rivals, as he has still won with more than 50% of the popular vote.

This raises questions of not only political clout and governmental power structures, but also the relevancy and authority of the ICC itself. Even if Kenyatta was found guilty of the crimes he is accused of committing, there is a slim chance that he will face a prison sentence or that his conviction will be of any real consequence. His “crimes of aggression” will never hold up in the face of his monetary wealth, which translates into power; Kenyatta’s lawyers are expected to pressure the ICC to drop all charges against him. And the ICC is expected to comply.

One wonders whether this court which was created to punish international criminals has any real authority whatsoever, as war crimes and crimes of aggression continue unchecked in nations around the world. A war crime is defined as an action that “violates international rules of war”. It can consist of murdering innocent civilians, and stealing from, lying to, or terrorizing them. Crimes of aggression are defined as the military occupation of another state, and bombing, attacking, or using the army, navy, or other armed personnel to control said state by using unnecessary force.

We do not need to look farther than the U.S. to witness examples of these crimes committed by our own soldiers.

Modest estimates show that between 16,000 and 19,000 civilians have been killed as a result of the War in Afghanistan since 2001. Deaths continue to be caused by bombings, assassinations, burning, and most terrorizing of all, night raids into the homes of suspected insurgents. This is not to mention the thousands of rapes of women and girls by US soldiers in KandaharBalkh province, and other villages in the country.

The War in Iraq shows an even more gruesome picture. To date, it has resulted in between 111,000 and 122,000 civilian deaths, not to mention the kidnappings, arrests, and indefinite detentions of suspected insurgents. (Let us also not forget the billions of dollars spent on these wars and the effect they have had on the economy.)

Perhaps the most horrifying example of the US military’s arrogance and brutality is the Mahmudiyah killings, carried out on March 12, 2006. Abeer Qassim Hamza, a 14-year-old Iraqi girl was gang raped, shot, and killed by Private First Class Steven D. Green and his colleagues. Her parents and six-year-old sister were also killed. After killing her, Green set fire to her body.

Green and his colleagues blamed the deaths on Sunni insurgents, hoping to get away with cold-blooded murder. However, another US soldier who had witnessed the crime confessed that Green had planned and executed the murders, therefore he and his accomplices deserved severe punishments.

Green was found guilty of murder and rape in 2009 and sentenced to life in prison. This is only one of the thousands of cases of rape and abuse of civilians at the hands of American soldiers, who view Iraqis and Afghans as less than human, and Green is probably one of the few criminals who has ever been brought to trial.

Aren’t these considered crimes of aggression or war crimes? Who prosecutes these? Why are they not given the same attention or value as other crimes in the International Criminal Court? Why is the US allowed to get away with almost all blatant abuses of power without accountability or moral obligation? Have we stopped to think what exactly we have done to countries like Afghanistan and Iraq under the guise of spreading freedom and justice? Kenyatta is equivalent to Libya’s Gaddafi or Syria’s Bashar-ul-Assad or the Shah of Iran.

These rulers are accepted by the US as long as their policies reflect American interests. But when their power threatens to influence the regional majority and challenge the status quo, the American government labels them dictators, totalitarian rulers, or terrorists.

Then, not only does the US withdraw support, it also actively works to destabilize the country. While the ICC is content with exerting influence over so-called “third-world” nations, it has absolutely no power or say in American foreign policy or crimes committed in the name of spreading democracy.

Even if we, as Americans, cannot significantly influence our government to take moral responsibility for its actions, we must be informed and educated about said actions. These issues do not exist in a vacuum; they have lasting effects on how the world sees us, how we form opinions about other nations, and what kind of world our children will inherit.

The Rape Epidemic

The night of December 16th 2012, a 23-year-old medical student named Jyoti Singh Pandey and her male friend boarded a bus to take them home after watching Life of Pi in Delhi, India’s capital. The six men already on board the bus, including the driver, beat the girl and her friend with a metal rod for more than an hour, gang-raped the girl, and threw both victims from the vehicle onto the road. Jyoti, who has now become a symbol of outrage and resistance to violence against women, suffered extensive damage to her internal organs. A metal rod was inserted repeatedly into her body and removed with such force that it pulled out her intestines. Jyoti was taken to Singapore for an intestinal transplant but she succumbed to her injuries and died on December 29th.

A December 16 assault on a bus in New Delhi, which left a 23-year-old victim fighting for her life, has triggered nationwide revulsion and protests.
Photo by NARINDER NANU/AFP/Getty Images

Protests and marches for women’s rights blasted the incident and its perpetrators across the globe and especially in India. Millions of people, men and women alike, condemned the attack as a senseless, bestial act of violence against innocent civilians. Lawmakers in India proposed stricter punishments for crimes of sexual violence. The six men accused of committing this heinous crime are charged with kidnapping, rape, and attempted murder. Their imminent conviction makes them eligible for the death penalty.
But even as the Jyoti was fighting for her life and afterwards, when the world was mourning her death, rapes and murders continued across India and outside of the country. An 18-year-old girl from Patiala, another city in northern India, committed suicide after being raped. Not only was she molested, this girl was continually harassed by the local authorities and asked embarrassing questions about the incident itself, which drove her to kill herself. A nine-year-old girl was raped in Bahawalpur, Pakistan after being kidnapped by three men from outside of her house. No arrests were made by the police.
While these crimes against women increase at an alarming rate, many have come forward to try and give solutions for this rape epidemic. Some have said that the responsibility of not getting raped lies with women. These critics argue that if women dressed modestly, if they were not out late at night, if they did not act in a promiscuous manner, and if they were more cautious, they would not be harassed or raped with such frequency. But how does this explain female and male children raped by adults?
According to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN) in Washington, D.C., 15% of sexual assault and rape victims are under age 12. A 2010 study in the UK estimated that about 5% of all boys and 18% of all girls in the UK had been sexually abused. And in India, an alarming and rather frightening 53% of all children have reported physical, emotional, or sexual abuse. War torn regions like the Congo and now Syria, are using terror, intimidation, kidnapping, and rape as tools to keep populations under control. Keep in mind that because most rapes go unreported, these are modest estimates.

Can rape really be controlled by how women act? And does it not make more sense to shift the responsibility from women to men, and argue that men should not rape, instead of insisting that women must try not to get raped? Why can we not agree that we live in a patriarchal, misogynistic world where, in many countries, women are not respected? And why must we pretend that women are not careful enough to resist sexual violence and that in order to not become a statistic, they must spend their entire lives in fear?
The answer to these questions is that misogyny is rampant in our world today as it has been for centuries. If women survive nine months in the womb and are not killed at birth, they face discrimination at every turn in their lives. School for girls in the northern tribal areas of Pakistan are being ritually blown up and destroyed by extremists to discourage education for females. Even if young women from underprivileged strata of society manage to get their education, they are harassed at the workplace, while commuting to and from work, and worst of all, at home. According to the website for Domestic Violence Statistics, every nine seconds, a woman is beaten or assaulted in America. In many Asian countries, women are expected to bring a dowry with them to their husbands’ house after they marry. If they refuse or if their in-laws are not satisfied, they will suffer death threats and risk physical or verbal abuse. There are hundreds of thousands of cases of women who have been burned with acid or set on fire because of disagreements with their husbands or significant others.

But this is not all.

Even women in positions of power and authority are routinely abused by their superiors. The Invisible War is an excellent documentary on the epidemic of rape in the United States military. According to the film, about 19,000 female soldiers were raped by their fellow male service members. All of the women featured in the documentary agreed that they were violated twice: once when they were abused, and secondly, when the military refused to help them or convict their attackers and conveniently covered up the attacks. What is the answer to this epidemic?
As a young woman, I am deeply affected every time I hear about any incident of violence against women. No matter how I look at it, the solution to this epidemic is that we must respect women. Our media, society, and we ourselves must stop portraying women in a negative or stereotypical manner. Our mothers, sisters, daughters, and wives deserve better than to be treated with brutality. They deserve to be born, to have an equal chance at life, at an education, to marry of their own free will, and to have children if they wish. They deserve to be paid the same salaries as their male colleagues for doing the same work and they deserve to be treated with respect in our workplaces. Women constitute more than half the population of the world. Let their contributions to our society not go unnoticed. Let women live.

The National Defense Authorization Act

The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), signed into law last December by President Barack Obama, has a new provision which punishes the Palestinian Authority and discourages Palestine from seeking protection against Israel through the United Nations. Palestine, which has won non-member observer status in the UN, will see its foreign aid cut if it tries to prosecute Israel for war crimes in the International Criminal Court, according to Amendment #3209. These cuts will significantly limit the amount of critical aid Palestinians need in order to survive in the face of illegal Israeli blockades on food, building materials and medicine, among other provisions. Introduced by Lindsey Graham (R-SC), John Barrasso (R-WY) and Bob Menendez (D-NJ), the arbitrary amendment would make Palestine’s new status in the UN worthless without the capability to affect the ICC. Israel has already announced that it will build 3,000 new illegal settlements on Palestinian land in retaliation to Palestine’s winning bid. The amendment also calls for the closure of the Palestinian Liberation Organization’s (PLO) office in WashingtonDC unless Palestinians cooperate with Israeli aggression.

NDAA

Furthermore, the NDAA harbors a controversial indefinite detention provision, which gives President Obama unchecked powers. Under this specific part of the act, any individual suspected of aiding, financing or planning terrorist activities can be arrested and detained indefinitely without charge or trial. The US military was, with the express authority of the President, able to keep even US citizens in prison on the basis of suspicion. This amendment is left purposefully vague, making it possible for future administrations to implement it in a harsher way. This frightening part of the act has been justified by senators like Graham on the basis that the United States must “win the war” on terror, even if it comes at the cost of sacrificing civil liberties and freedoms.

Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) recently introduced an amendment which seems to give US citizens protection against indefinite detention. The amendment reads, “An authorization to use military force, a declaration of war, or any similar authority shall not authorize the detention without charge or trial of a citizen or lawful permanent resident of the United States apprehended in the United States, unless an Act of Congress expressly authorizes such detention.” However, this amendment can be easily misinterpreted or misconstrued. The US military can still detain individuals who are not US citizens but reside in the US. Also, a future administration can interpret the amendment in a way which makes it possible to give hasty trials to suspects, charge said suspects, and still result in indefinite detention. Moreover, the Feinstein amendment might not have much say in court whatsoever, considering that the President still has the power “to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks [of] September 11, 2001, or…to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons,” according to the joint resolution titled Authorization for Use of Military Force. This resolution was passed soon after 9/11 by then-President Bush and still has relevance in the Supreme Court.

But the question which comes to the forefront and is most problematic is this: Who is a suspect? If a person chooses to donate money to a non-profit organization which then sends the donation overseas to help victims of a natural disaster in another nation, and said money ends up in the hands of a political party or government organization which is seen as a threat to the national security of the United States, that person can be considered a suspect. If the US government deems necessary, it can charge them with “aiding a terrorist organization”, even though they were not sending money overseas for terrorist activity. The US military can charge them with treason, send them to prison and keep them there for as long as “hostilities persist”. In other words, the never-ending war on terror, which has nothing to do with why that person sent money, can have a direct effect on their life and the lives of their friends and family, who might never see them again. The President is also authorized to use video and audio surveillance to monitor that “suspect’s” family, listen in on their phone conversations, and read their e-mails. Information collected from such surveillance can be used as evidence of the person’s guilt in court. Such a trial blurs the line between lawful and unlawful conduct by the US military.

While protecting the United States from threats to its national security is of paramount importance, so is the protection of Americans’ civil liberties and freedoms. The NDAA not only makes it easier to forego those liberties and freedoms, it enables the President and the military to exercise unchecked powers over civilians. It promotes fear and mistrust of our government’s policies and agendas, creating a divide between figures of authority and the general public. As Americans, we should urge the government to void the amendments regarding Palestine and indefinite detention. Take action by contacting Senators Mark Kirk and Dick Durbin and urging them to oppose said amendments of the NDAA.

Senator Richard J. Durbin
711 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington D.C. 20510
Tel: 202-224-2152
Web contact form: www.durbin.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/contact

Senator Mark Kirk
524 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington D.C. 20510
Tel: 202-224-2854
Web contact form: www.kirk.senate.gov/?p=contact