America, Home Of The Intermittently Free And The Rarely Brave

Illustration for article titled America, Home Of The Intermittently Free And The Rarely Brave

Rasha was a Syrian-born immigrant who'd spent most of her life living in New York, not that such things mattered when the FBI came knocking in the middle of the night in February of 2002. Detained on immigration charges, she and her entire family spent almost 3 months in various jails until they were released with as little notice as they were detained.That night, the FBI shackled her older brother, handcuffed the entire family with the exception of the two (underaged) brothers born in America — who were left alone in the house — and took them downtown on suspicion of being terrorists. You know, because they were Muslim, they were obviously involved in something. During questioning, Rasha realized that they'd been following her for a while and, after a night in custody, her father offered to be deported. The FBI agent in charge refused, stating they needed to continue investigating the family, while "Another agent told them in more private tones that they should have expected to be arrested at a time like this and that they would have a better life over there" — meaning in the country they'd come from more than a decade before. Rasha, her mother and her sister were initiallly held in the same facility in New Jersey, where the guards were by turns helpful, cruel and uncaring — and where Rasha was refused medical treatment one night until the guards were done with their conversation. After 3 weeks there, the women were transferred to Metropolitan Detention Center facility in New York where her adult male relatives were held in a separate wing. One employee, in charge of counseling the inmates, refused to allow Rasha's mother to call her underage son at his juvenile facility in Pennsylvania just because he could. The entire family was released in May, almost three months after they were taken without warning or notice and told by an immigration official, "You know, you have grounds for a residency petition here." Now released, Rasha's older brother and father, who had also been housed at the MDC, refuse to speak much about their experiences. Amnesty International exposed serious abuses at the male side of the facility in the wake of September 11th, reports that were later confirmed by the Department of Justice's Inspector General. Despite the record of abuses there, the DOJ has released no official accounting of the number of people arrested or deported since November 2001 — when the number of arrestees was already 1,182. After she was released, Rasha ran into the counselor who had refused her mother the phone call to her son. He told Rasha, who was never actually charged with a crime, "See? You cleaned up your act." Stories like this make me deeply ashamed of my government. Moreover, these stories and the actions of my fellow citizens turn these words, inscribed on the Statue of Liberty, into a lie:

Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me: I lift my lamp beside the golden door.


Instead, I'm reminded of these:

When the Nazis came for the communists, I remained silent; I was not a communist. When they locked up the social democrats, I remained silent; I was not a social democrat. When they came for the trade unionists, I did not speak out; I was not a trade unionist. When they came for the Jews, I remained silent; I wasn't a Jew. When they came for me, there was no one left to speak out.


I know which country I'd rather live in, and I'm tired of the acts committed in its (and my) name for the sake of "national security." This country was founded on the basis that freedom brings security, not that security brings freedom, and, in many ways, the last 7 years and proved, to me, why exactly that was. American Girl [New York Magazine]

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@k122n: I love love love love Manu Chao's music, but his feelings on American politics are the same one-dimensional stereotypes that pervade the feelings of most foreigners when looking at America.

America is not a democracy on paper. America is a democracy in practice. It is a representative democracy, not a direct democracy, because the land area and population of the United States makes a direct democracy unmanageable and unfeasable. It is a WORKING representative democracy, as evidenced by the fact that despite the obviousness of Bush's asshattery, the (shameful) majority of Americans voted for him in 2004 (though not 2000, but I won't go there because I'm trying to be nice to my blood pressure) and therefore we got stuck with another four years of his asshattery. And now we're in a horrible ditch.

From Europe (where Manu Chao is from, and he might like his Latin American revolutionaries, but that dude was born and raised in PARIS), where the countries are small and where the governments tend, at least in Western Europe, towards the Socialist Democracy variety, we seem like a farce of a democracy, or at the very least like a disfunctional bureaucracy or republic. They are wrong. Like someone already said, it is very easy to criticize our government when you are not inside our country. We have somehow managed to be not just a functional country, but a prosperous and powerful country, while operating under a system of government so complicated that no one else (aside, kind of, from France, but they're so close to socialist now that it almost doesn't count) has been able to successfully transition to it. We have a lot to be proud about in terms of what KIND of government we have. We have a lot to be ashamed about in terms of WHO we've been letting run the farm.

The most beautiful thing about this country and about our government is that this is FIXABLE. If we elect the right leaders, if we are able, as a citizenry, to get our priorities back in order, then we can absolutely right all of the wrongs we've committed in the past 7 years. But it takes a concerned, involved and informed citizenry to do this. And that is where we have a responsibility to perform the duties asked of us in the document we use to ensure and even exploit our freedoms.

You know, Kenedy always said it best: Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.