An American Perspective to Global Terrorism

(The following is an op-ed.)

Working in the media, I once again get to watch the aftermath of a terrorist attack in a European city. This time it is Brussels.

It should be noted that there was barely a mention in American media of the terrorist attacks in Ankara and Istanbul, Turkey; Maiduguri, Nigeria; Mastaba, Yemen; or Grand-Bassam in Côte d’Ivoire.

Flag-Pins-Belgium-TurkeyThere was no changing of Facebook statuses for the other places or a public outcry of grief. While we publicly announce that we stand with Brussels, we stay silent of standing with the people in these other places that have suffered in the exact same way and from the exact same militant religious extremists.

It all comes down to how we Americans view the world, and how the media reinforces those stereotypes.

During a presidential election year, a terrorist attack takes even more precedent. Opponents instantly claim that the current administration isn’t doing enough to prevent such horrific acts, and it is the same old talking points that seem to be resurrected.

We can blame immigrants and refugees but then we are just scapegoating. Most are escaping from a hellish nightmare that we can’t even begin to imagine in this country. Yes, nothing is 100% fool-proof and some could possibly slip through that shouldn’t but that doesn’t make it right to blame all of them.

And ask yourself this question: Do you know how a refugee comes to the US? They don’t get to pick where they go and very few even leave the refugee camps. For coming to the US, this infographic gives you the steps that it takes. It is a rather lengthy process.

As some would like done, constant government surveillance of Muslim-American communities, including their mosques, would be a violation of the Constitution. I find it interesting that after a mass shooting, these same candidates will start screaming about protecting the Second Amendment, but are willing to violate any and every amendment (with the exception of the Second) when it comes to a terrorist attack.

I’m actually more concerned about mass shootings than terrorism. Both are essentially the same thing. They can be unexpected, violent, and have a great deal of casualties.

And then there is our military. Our military force does not need to be made great again as some might say that it does in order to fight global terrorism. We have the the world’s largest, most technologically advanced military. It would take the next seven countries to equal what we spend on our military. To stand and proclaim that our military needs to be made great again is an insult to the brave men and women that don the uniform and serve throughout the world.

There are no easy answers to fighting terrorism. There is no soundbite from a political candidate that will instantly give us the solution that we seek. We have to see things from a global perspective instead of the narrow-minded American-way. We must get past generalizations and stereotypes of other places, people, and cultures.

I’ve been to Europe a few times over the past decade. I love visiting. And despite the attacks in Paris and Brussels (and anywhere else), I will return. It can be fun to immerse yourself in something different and to get a new perspective.

Working in the media industry can be difficult in times like these. But then I think back to those trips… to those great places and wonderful people. And no terrorist can take that away from me.

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Where Do Our Rights Begin and End?

In the United States, there is no shortage of controversy.  With those always comes the discussion of our rights as American citizens ranging from our freedom of speech to freedom of religion, right to a fair trial, our right to privacy (via the 9th Amendment), and even our right to own a gun.  Since we all have these same rights, where do those rights for you begin and end as compared to someone else?

Take our Second Amendment right to bear arms (or own a gun).  There are different interpretations of this particular amendment, but the Supreme Court has ruled that it applies to all citizens having this right.  And any time there is a mass shooting, we all dive in to the same talking points.  We may have the right to own a gun, but that right ends when it affects the safety of others.  For an example, you have a right to own a gun but not to go around shooting people with it.

With the NSA in the news these days, we talk about our right to privacy which is guaranteed by the Ninth Amendment according to previous Supreme Court rulings.  This also gets discussed when talking about red light cameras or cameras in public places like they do all over London.  We always make the claim that they violate our right to privacy.  Though we have this right, it does not extend beyond our personal space (i.e our homes, our cars, etc.).  When someone is out in a public space, they are surrendering their right to privacy.  It’s not just cameras attached to police departments, but anyone these days can be filming or taking pictures with their phones and posting it online for all to see.  There is no privacy violation as you are in a public space where anyone in that space can see you.

Now this does not mean the government can read your mail, tap your phones, etc.  We have a right to expect such things to be private.  Our mail comes in envelopes… email is placed in our email box.  Phone calls and text messages go to our private phones.  Again, though, we surrender our right to privacy on our side of any phone conversation if we are in public as anyone can hear us.

bill_of_rights

What about our First Amendment right to religion, speech, the press, and to assemble?  For this, I’m going to use the Duck Dynasty controversy which most of us are tired of hearing about.  The person in question does have the right to speak his mind regardless if its his religious beliefs or just personal ones.  Being a TV personality though, he has a much larger stature as compared to just someone sitting in a room full of people.  As with any TV or film actor/celebrity/personality, companies generally want to make sure they reach a broad audience so they have more viewers.  So they don’t want to alienate any particular group with such brash comments.  In any case, he does have the right to speak his mind and what he believes without retribution from the government or law enforcement, but it does not protect him from being terminated.  TV personalities and celebrities have to be very careful because they are more public than most of us and their words travel a lot farther.

I also give this as an example… you can’t just walk into work and starting yelling at your boss about what a horrible person he/she is, how horrible he/she is as a boss, how bad the company is, and how much you hate your job and think that your right to free speech is going to protect you.  Your boss at that point does have grounds to fire you.  Now this does not mean that if you were to have a Jewish boss, that he/she could fire you if you walked up and said, “Praise, Jesus, for He is King.”

Nothing sets off religious furor more than same-sex marriage.  Let’s be clear about this.  The First Amendment allows us the freedom to peacefully worship however we choose without government interference and does not establish an official religion for the nation.  No one has the right though to take their religious beliefs and impose them on other people that do not share in those beliefs.  One can state that they aren’t against same-sex marriage because of their religion, but they don’t have the right to impose that view on others that do not share it.

Anytime I hear a politician stating that they want to make the Bible the law of the nation, my brain screams that they can’t legally do that.  It would violate the First Amendment for those that don’t follow the Bible… or have different interpretations.  All politicians are supposed to uphold one key document… the US Constitution (state constitutions, as well, for state politicians).  Nothing, not even someone’s religion, can violate that document for it is the rule of law that all of society must abide by.

My point in all of this is that we do all share the same rights but those rights are self-inclusive.  They do not extend beyond us and our connection to the government.  So though our rights are protected, they do have a finite space.

The Life and Legacy of Nelson Mandela

A little over an hour ago, the news was released to the world that former South African President Nelson Madela had died at the age of 95.  In recent years, his health had been declining but that still does not diminish the impact of his passing.

Mandela was born in July 1918.  While living in Johannesburg later, he became involved in anti-colonial politics.  In 1948, the government began implementing the policy of apartheid, which he would be a voice against.  Although he was a man on non-violence, he co-founded the militant organization Umkhonto we Sizwe in 1961.  He would be arrested in 1962 and sentenced to life in prison.  An international coalition managed to get him released in 1990 while civil strife was escalating throughout the country over apartheid policies.  He led negotiations with then-South African President F.W. de Klerk to abolish apartheid and establish multiracial elections in 1994 to which he won the presidency.  He would serve as President of South Africa from 1994-1999, when we would step aside.

“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”

Toward the end of apartheid, he managed to be a unifying figure to a nation that was in desperate need.  Civil strife and violence were escalating.  South Africa was on the verge of becoming like any other African nation… ripped apart by constant civil war and revenge against enemies.  Mandela called for peace and worked with the current government to bring about the free elections.  Even once he had won the presidency, he sought about not violence or revenge, but working together to build South Africa up and to make it a world player.  To have it be a shining light of democracy on a continent that knows darkness.

It was through the leadership of Mandela that South Africa stabilized.  At a time when the nation could have gone one of two ways, he helped steer it the right way… a way to help end the divisions and hatred.  He unified South Africans and made them see each other as countrymen and as neighbors.

Even after stepping down as president, he continued to speak out for peace at home, throughout the continent of Africa, and in the rest of the world.  He showed us all what could be accomplished if we started working together.  He worked to fight poverty and HIV/AIDS through the Nelson Mandela Foundation.

In the United States, we revere the father of our country, George Washington.  Though he led a war against a monarchical government, he still stepped aside when the task was complete.  At a time when the new nation was about to split apart at the seems, it was Washington who stepped in to bring us back together as a people.  And yet, when the time came, he voluntarily stepped aside and gave up power again.  He worked to keep us out of war and to unite us a people and a nation.  We see this type of person in the character of Nelson Mandela… characteristics in a national leader that come around once in a lifetime.

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves ‘who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn’t serve this world.”

Though Mandela belonged to the people of South Africa, he was shared with the rest of the world.  The  life and legacy of Nelson Mandela will reach far beyond the borders of that nation as it will encompass all nations.  He has shown that we should not seek violence, revenge, or war.  We must step up and do better.  Through peace, we can achieve so much more and raise up humanity.

Mandela showed the rest of the world that Africa was not a lost cause.  It could be a global player under the right leadership.  Given a chance, the people there could step up and be a loud voice for change.  With his passing, the people of Africa (as well as all national leaders) should take note of the example that he set, and to set about doing what is right.

Today, the people of South Africa mourn the loss of the father of their modern nation.  Those of us around the world join with them in their time of mourning for we have all lost a great and just man.  But though we are saddened by his loss, we keep his legacy alive.  We must endure, as a people, to continue the message that he spoke… that he believed.  He set us up and pointed the way.  Now we must take the torch and carry it forward.

To the people of South Africa, I say thank you for sharing him with the rest of us.  He was an inspirational man… and one that we may never see again.

Nelson-MandelaNELSON MANDELA
1918-2013

The Irony Of Our Foreign Policy

Chemical Weapons In Syria

As President Obama currently mulls over the situation in Syria and for whether the US will get involved, we at home sit and hear the stories of the use of chemical weapons by that nation’s government against its own people.  Yes, any government using chemical weapons against its people is wrong, but when it comes to US foreign policy, it hasn’t always been that way.  The way the US has usually determined whether to get involved or turn a blind-eye to those types of attacks usually depends if the government is pro- or anti- American.

So let’s back up the story a bit and move it outside of Syria.  According to newly released CIA documents, in 1953 the United States overthrew the democratically-elected government of Iran after the Prime Minister there nationalized the oil fields.  The US installed the Shah government which was pro-Western.  However, the Shah became more autocratic as time passed and the Iranian people rebelled against the government 1978 and forced the Shah to abdicate in 1979.  At that point the Ayatollah Khomeini took charge of the country and remains to this day… regardless of who is “elected” the “President” of Iran.  Obviously, the Ayatollah is very much anti-Western and anti-American.  This sets up our current problem with Iran… something we basically initiated back in 1953.

mideast1aIn neighboring Iraq, the Ba’ath Party overthrew the government in 1968 which gradually came under the control of General Saddam Hussein by July 1979.  Roughly a year and a half after the Iranian 1979 Revolution, Iraq invaded Iran initiating the Iraq-Iran War that ended in 1988.  The two nations were enemies simply because they were ruled by different sects of the Islamic faith.  So why is any of this important, and what does it have to do with our current situation in Syria?  According to a recently article in Foreign Policy, the Reagan administration stated that Iraq must win that war against Iran.  Why?  At the time, Iraq was our ally in the region and our buffer against Iran.  During most the war, the United States took a more sideline approach to the whole thing though.  They wouldn’t give Saddam any tactical surveillance.  However, that changed in 1988 when it looked like Iranian forces might take advantage of a hole in the Iraqi line.  By the time, according to that same article in Foreign Policy, the Reagan administration was aware that Saddam had authorized the use of mustard gas against his enemies.  But seeing how this new tactical advantage of Iran, and how it could spell disaster for Iraq, the Reagan administration decided to change tactics and give Saddam the tactical surveillance that showed the Iranian military positions and locations for certain strategic military facilities knowing already that Saddam would use chemical weapons against them… and he did.  This time he used sarin.  There is also evidence that the Reagan administration was aware that he used the exact same chemical weapons against the Kurds in northern Iraq.  Again, the administration turned a blind eye to these atrocities since it would help Iraq win the war against Iran and Saddam would stay in power.

Needless to say our track record in this particular region isn’t the greatest even if we are attempting to do right this time around.  The Assad-government in Syria is very anti-Western.  It’s only allies are generally considered Russia and Iran.  This is why the actions of the Syrian government are getting any kind of attention from the US and the Obama government.  If the government was pro-Western, then it is likely that the Western governments (the US included) would turn a blind eye and might even offer some support so long as there would be no direct evidence linking us to it.  But, we have the opposite scenario which makes our involvement a little easier when it comes to the rebels that are trying to overthrow the authoritarian Assad regime.  However, the US may be stuck between a rock and a hard place on this one.  Just because the Assad-government is anti-American, doesn’t mean the rebels will be pro-American.  We could very well be arming and aiding people that will still be anti-American and will not hesitate to turn that technology on us.  Again, our track record with this scenario isn’t that great either.

syria_tank_AP120130113000_620x350I’ve already discussed how we armed Saddam in Iraq only to go to war against him in the 1990s after he invaded Kuwait and then again in 2003 where we finally overthrew his government.  In both instances, he still had use of the military weapons that we had once given to him.  When the Soviet Union was at war in Afghanistan in the 1980s, it was the US that armed the Taliban to thwart the Soviets, and yet it was us fighting the Taliban starting in 2001… who were using the exact weapons we had given them to defeat the Soviets against us.  Iran is a bigger conundrum in this regard.  After we overthrew the government in 1953, we began giving them nuclear technology for nuclear power.  It was under the plan “Atoms for Peace.”  It was increased during the Ford administration under the auspices of Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld and would continue until the 1979 Revolution.  (Persian Rug)  And now here we are, all these years later, trying to keep Iran from developing that nuclear technology into a nuclear weapon.  Now this still ties into us toppling the Saddam-government in Iraq in 2003.  There is the likelihood that Saddam would have taken care of the current situation in Iran if he was still in power since there’s no way he’d let them have a nuclear weapon.  But Saddam was “bad” and needed to go still.  Again, the rock and the hard place.  In Egypt during the Arab Spring, canisters of tear gas that had labels “Made in USA” were used against the people.  Though we had given the government these canisters long before the uprisings, they were still used against the people and didn’t help our public relations any… especially since we had helped keep Mubarak in power in that country for so long since he was our ally despite what he was doing to his own people.

The Syrian government’s biggest problem is that they are not allies of the United States and the Western countries.  That is what this will all boil down to in the end.  It has nothing really to do with the fact that the government used chemical weapons on its people.  We are just using that as an excuse though we have allowed other authoritarian regimes use the exact same tactics to stay in power.  Using any type of chemical weapon on people is simply wrong.  That is not in question, and it does need to be stopped.  But let us also be honest about our past history and be constant with any government that chooses this course of action… whether they are an ally or not.  And we must tread carefully on how we treat the rebels, as well.  There may not be an easy solution to this mess, but let’s try to make it to where we aren’t fighting against them again… only with them using the weapons we gave them in the first place.

SIDENOTE:
If we do end up engaging in military action, as is looking more like the case, I believe President Obama should go before Congress and the American people (as he is supposed to do) and tell us why we are getting involved, what our objectives are, how we will know once they have been accomplished, and how we will get out in the end.

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